Sewing Blog

Sewing Basics: How to Sew a Straight Line

Sometimes the most basic of tasks are the hardest, like sewing straight!

Sewing straight mostly 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.

Helpful tips for how to sew a straight line

I’ve been teaching sewing students for years, and I see a couple of habits come up repeatedly, and a couple of simple solutions seem to help everyone. Even if you’re an advanced sewer, keep reading — you might learn a new trick for how to sew a straight line too!

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1. Sit straight

I frequently see beginner sewers 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 sew. 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’re straight in front of your machine, you can sew straight too!

2. Follow the seam allowance 

Nearly all machines come with seam allowance markings on the footplate of the machine. Not only are the seam allowance lines there so you can sew at the correct seam allowance, but they also act as guides to help you stay straight along the edge of your fabric.

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

3. Use washi tape

I have two lines marked with washi tape on my sewing machine (pictured at the top of this post), to the right of my footplate. They mark larger seam allowances that aren’t marked on my machine but that I use often.

But you can also use 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 than watching the needle go up and down. 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.  

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. 

5. Mark your stitch line

If you’re 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.

A marking line is especially helpful when topstitching a collar, a patch pocket or anything involving a pivot, like at an angled corner. As always, test the marking tool on a scrap of fabric before using on your project to ensure it will wash out.

 

6. 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’re not using a seam allowance — instead, you’re sewing near an edge. You can move your needle from left to right as much as you want without any consequences.

Personally, I like to align the edge of my fabric with the right edge of my presser foot. To make this happen, simply move the needle so it hits your fabric where you want, while keeping the edge of the fabric along the side of the presser foot so you can use it as your guide. 

7. Slow down

So many people forget the connection between their machine and their body. I often see sewers get out of control, lose their place in their sewing, speed up and then panic.

Don’t forget you can stop at any point along the way — you are the one powering the machine! If it feels like the machine is getting away from you, make it stop.

Some machines have speed control settings, which is a wonderful way to set yourself a slow and comfortable speed so you can just focus on the sewing and seam allowance. 

8. Think of it like driving

Much like when driving a car, you’re not just looking at the immediate distance in front of you. You’re also looking at what’s coming ahead, as well as where you’ve been in the rearview mirror. Same goes with sewing!

Think about the follow-through from where you just sewed, where you’re sewing now, and what’s coming along the way. If your fabric is pulling down as it falls down the table or is bunched up behind the presser foot, pause and keep the project fluid on either side of the needle, so it’s going through with ease. 

Get to know your sewing machine!

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16 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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Ana Paula Gabay

Thank you so much for this. I am a beginner and I am having a hard time sewing straight. I was about to go crazy. Haha

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Cathy

Also, using a straight stitch plate helps sew a more precise, straight stitching line.

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Marilyn Tippett

Don’t watch the needle? And the needle position? I think these two hints will be very helpful. I’ll go and try this right now. Thanks!

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Kathleen

I remember learning to sew in home ec. The first thing the teacher did was give us a piece of paper with a couple straight lines, a couple curved lines, and a couple corners printed on it. She had us sew on the paper without thread to get the feel for the machine and sewing straight or curved or corners.

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Melisa

Fantastic tips! I will have to check to see of my petal has a speed control. I have lead foot even driving. Also love the idea of the marking the fabric. As well as the tape idea. I was currently given a job of making professional grade aprons for a local friend. And i have had to redo my lines so many times its taking a longer time than i expected. I will for sure try these ideas:).

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