Quilting Blog

Sewing Basics: How to Sew a Straight Line

Sometimes the most basic of tasks are the hardest, like sewing straight! Mostly this comes with time and practice as you build muscle memory and develop a relationship between your hands, your fabric and your machine. But there are a few key things that will help you get there faster.

I have been teaching sewing students from beginner to advanced for nearly a decade, and I see a couple of habits come up repeatedly, and a couple of solutions that seem to help everyone. Even if you are an advanced sewer, keep reading, you might learn a new trick for how to sew a straight line too!

Helpful tips for how to sew a straight line

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1. Sit straight

So often in my beginner sewing classes I see my students pull themselves up to their sewing machine, all off-kilter and approaching their machine and table at an angle. It’s so hard to sew straight if you aren’t lined up straight with your machine.

First, straighten your machine in relation with your table, and pull the machine close to the edge of the tabletop so you don't have to stretch your arms out fully extended to do your sewing. Then square your chair up with your table, directly in front of your machine. Sit up straight in a comfortable position, and place your foot pedal on a spot on the floor where you can reach it without changing your sitting position. Now that you are straight in front of your machine, you have a chance to sew straight too!

2. Follow the seam allowance 

Nearly all machines come with seam allowance markings on the foot plate of the machine. The only ones I’ve seen that do not have these are older vintage machines, so it is likely that your machine has these lines unless you have inherited an older machine. Not only are the seam allowance lines there so you can sew at the correct seam allowance, but following the guides will help you stay straight along the edge of your fabric too.

Having trouble seeing the seam allowance lines or have a machine that does not have any lines etched into the foot plate? Read on to tip number three…

3. Use washi tape

I have two lines of measurements marked with washi tape on my sewing machine (pictured at the top of this post), to the right of my foot plate. They are there to mark larger seam allowances that I need to use often, and my machine doesn’t have seam allowances this large automatically marked. But you can also use the tape to mark any spot to aid in your sewing. A lot of my students have trouble spotting their seam allowance marks while sewing, so I encourage them to use washi tape or painter's tape to mark the line for easier viewing.

4. Don’t watch the needle

You really are better off following a guide, a line of tape, or the edge of your fabric, rather then watching the needle go up and down. So if you’re topstitching or edge stitching, find something to use as your guide instead of just eyeballing it by watching the needle sew as you go. This will be too dizzying and won’t put your stitches in context with the big picture of the project. I find that watching the needle will result in a wavy line most of the time.  

5. Mark your stitch line

If you are really struggling to stay on track, especially when sewing exposed topstitching in highly visible locations, consider using a water-soluble marking tool to mark your stitch line before sewing. This can serve as your guide to ensure straight sewing. This is especially helpful when topstitching a collar, a patch pocket or anything involving a pivot, like at an angled corner. As always, be sure to test the marking tool on a scrap of fabric before using on your garment to ensure it will wash out of your fabric before using.

6. Slow down

Something I see my students forget all the time is the connection between their machine and their body. I often see them get out of control, loose their place in their sewing, speed up and then panic. But they seem to forget that they can stop at any point along the way, because they are the ones powering the machine with their foot on the pedal. But when you’re thinking about all the other things going on, I can see how this can happen. Just remember that if it feels like the machine is getting away from you, it’s you that’s making it go, and you can just as easily make it stop. Some machines have speed control settings on them, which is a wonderful way to set yourself a slow and comfortable speed so you can just focus on the sewing and seam allowance. 

7. Move the needle position

When you need to use your seam allowance markings, you need to leave your needle in the “center” position so that the distance from your needle to the measurement is correct. But often when topstitching, edge stitching, or hemming, you are not using a seam allowance and instead you are sewing near an edge. So you can move your needle from left to right as much as you want without any consequences. I think it is really helpful to follow the edge of your fabric along the right edge of the presser foot. To make this happen, simply move the needle to have it hit your fabric where you want it to be, while keeping the edge of the fabric along the side of the presser foot so you can use it as your guide. 

8. Think of it like driving

Much like when you are driving a car, you are not just looking at the immediate distance in front of you, you are also looking at what's coming ahead, as well as where you have been in the rearview mirror. Same goes with sewing! Remember to keep in mind the whole item you are working with and think about the follow-through from where you just sewed, where you are sewing now, and what is coming along the way. If your fabric is pulling down as it falls down the table, or bunched up behind the presser foot, take a moment to pause and keep the project fluid on either side of the needle, so it is going though with ease. 

Get to know your sewing machine!

sewing class

Learn to fix common sewing machine problems & get better results with this FREE beginner sewing class.Enroll FREE Now »

11 Comments

Ana Sullivan

Sometimes the simplest tasks seem overwhelming for the beginner. This is a great, clear, and basic instruction.

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Liz Youll / newcomer

Thanks for that. I don’t feel so scared now .

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Anita

Thank you for posting I having promble with sewing straight line

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Tina W

Great tips! I can remember the days before wasi tape when I would draw lines on masking tape. Glad times are a little more colorful now😊

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DOREEN

I was hoping to see tips for top stitching.

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Evelyn

I find it helpful to put a piece of washi tape crosswise on the needle plate too. I put it 15mm from the needle, closer towards me. When I’m stitching along and need to turn the corner, I turn at the point when the bottom edge of my fabric reaches the tape (15mm from the bottom), then my seam allowance along the next side will be correct from the start. It can be tricky to put tape here if you have a top loading bobbin and need to open the cover, but some sort of marker helps.
Thanks for these tips! I teach kids and they love the colourful washi tape.

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Christine Bbolton

I teach older ladies to sew and I have used the tape on the seam allowance, they use it and are surprised that things actually fit when the garment is complete.

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Deborah

Thanks for the tips…I usually do follow the seam allowance guides but I never knew about keeping the needle positioned in the middle. Thanks!

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Zequek Estrada

I’ve always been envious of people who could sew so I’ve decided to learn. I’m a little shocked that one of the hardest tasks is sewing a straight line. Though I should invest in a sewing machine and try this out before I make assumptions.

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Elizabeth

depending on the garment/fabric I have drawn the seam allowance on the inside of the the fabric especially helpful for sleeves and collars

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Roshae

I’ve been having the hardest problem sewing straight As a beginner, I greatly underestimated it. These tips are gold.

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