Nifty Notions: Sewing Straight

Picture showing a straight seam sewn using edge of foot

Nifty Notions this month has some handy hints for beginners and some reminders for expert sewers. Tips for Sewing Straight by Judy Hall contains pointers, product suggestions and some great reminders to make sewing easier and more accurate.

Many a time a sewing student will jokingly tell me that she can sew consistently crooked seams and her patchwork blocks never match up nor ‘sit right’. Does this sound like you? Sewing a straight line is fairly basic to sewing and is not so much a technique but a skill. For many, it is not as easy as it sounds and I know many readers will be teaching someone who is young or new to sewing. May I offer some tips and advice for the beginner sewer which I hope will also remind the more experienced sewer of some basics for using a sewing machine?

First and foremost, you are only as good as your tools allow and this is the most vital issue with any trade.

Also, your sewing machine needs to be well maintained.

So, before we begin, I suggest you clean your sewing machine from fluff and debris under the throat plate, change the needle, oil where is required and give your sewing machine the tender loving care it deserves. (Please use only fine, white, good quality sewing machine oil). Check the tension on your machine and use the correct foot and throat plate for sewing straight seams. Did you know that there is a straight stitch throat plate? Did you know that a damaged or blunt needle will not sew a straight seam?

Refer to your Instruction Manual and take its advice. If everyone does this I hope you learn things about your own sewing machine that you may have overlooked and possibly realize it may do more and have more features than you’ve been using.

A seam is a row of straight stitching that will hold two pieces of fabric together. Fabric is placed with the right sides together (unless working a French Seam). For dressmaking this seam is normally 5/8” (16mm) though for patchwork it is ¼” (6mm). I told you this article is for beginner sewers!

Sewing straight seam using the throat plate

Getting Set Up:

  • Select the correct presser foot (refer to your instruction manual).
  • Insert a new needle of the correct type and size (refer to previous Nifty Notions article Choosing the correct sewing machine needle).
  • Choose a suitable thread and use the same thread in the bobbin (simply easier for beginners, though not always necessary).
  • Check the tension by sewing a wide zig-zag on scrap fabric the same as to be used in your project. A zig-zag will show imperfections clearer than a straight line of sewing. Adjust if necessary (refer to your instruction manual).
  • Make sure your sewing machine is at the right height and angle for comfortable sewing; adjust your chair height if possible or sit on a cushion.
  • Place your chair so as you are sitting right in front of the sewing machine needle so you may view your sewing square on. A backrest certainly helps keep your posture straight and supports the lower back.
  • Have good light in the sewing area.
  • If working with a large project, make sure you have enough room to support your work to prevent dragging.

CLICK on pictures for a larger view:





Bendable Bright Light









Sewing the Seam:

  • Depending upon the seam allowance you need for the project, you could use the side edge of the sewing foot as a guide to align the edge of your fabric.
  • You could use the needle position to gain precise seam allowance width.
  • Check the needle plate (throat plate) of your machine as often it will have seam guides for you to follow. These marked parallel lines are at different intervals to assist all seam allowance choices.
  • Select the straight stitch and use appropriate stitch length for your project.
  • Pinning a seam helps to hold the fabric pieces together, but be sure to pin the opposite angle to the seamline and only sew up to a pin, stop, remove the pin and then continue sewing.
  • Place the fabric so the first stitch actually penetrates the fabric and hold the excess thread with a little tension preventing irregular stitching or a bird’s nest at the beginning of a seam. Many sewers always use a small waste piece of fabric to commence sewing upon then graduate onto their main fabric. A good practice!
  • Or, commence a seam with the take up lever is at its highest position. This also prevents threads from becoming tangled at the beginning of a seam.
  • Never sew over a pin! Why? Contrary to what many say, by sewing over a pin you will undoubtedly have the needle hit the pin from time to time, thus causing possible damage to your needle tip but most certainly affecting the timing of your sewing machine.
  • What is the timing? It is the exact time of a stitch completion when the needle picks up the bobbin thread to sew a stitch.
  • Depending upon the seam you are sewing, if appropriate, backstitch at the beginning and end of a seam to secure the stitched seam. I say, ‘if appropriate’ because quilters don’t normally since most seams will be cross-stitched with another shape within the block.
  • Sew at a consistent speed.
  • Don’t force the fabric against any guide; simply allow it to nudge gently against such.

Most importantly though – watch the fabric well in front of the presser foot to guide it accurately. It is of little worth watching where the needle penetrates the fabric as then it is too late to offer any alteration to the correct guiding.

Help is here:

Some new products have been developed to assist sewing straight seams and some are old favourites.

  • Magnetic Seam Guide
  • Quilting Seam Guides
  • Machine Sewing Guide
  • Qtools Sewing Edge
  • Sew Steady Universal Straight Sewing Guide
Magnetic Seam Guide


Quilting Seam Guides


Machine Sewing Guide


Qtools Sewing Edge


Sew Steady Universal Straight Sewing Guide



















The Magnetic Seam Guide fits any machine and is completely adjustable to any seam allowance desired. It is easy to apply and is very economical. Simply butt your fabric edge up to it and it will keep your fabric guided straight.

The Quilting Seam Guides come with most sewing machines but may be purchased separately. They are available as a left hand guide or a right hand guide and normally fit snugly into an opening behind the presser foot. Completely adjustable and are normally used for cross-hatching lines that quilters use, but may also be used for sewing straight seams and topstitching. These are also preferred when the fabric covers any other marking on the sewing machine work area.

Machine Sewing Guide is from Westalee Design Rulers and has small adhesive pads on the underside which are replaceable. The black guide is quite high so fabric should never cross over it. Gently nudge your fabric edge against the black guide and your sewing will be straight. Instructions come with the product for various width seam allowances.

The Qtools Sewing Edge is from Alicia’s Attic and has five reusable, repositionable vinyl strips. Fits all machines and should be applied in front of your presser foot at the desired seam allowance width. Full instructions are included and a video available to show how to correctly apply and use. It is deep enough so if using two layers of fabric, the fabric edge won’t wander over the guide.

The Sew Steady Universal Straight Sewing Guide is designed to work on both the Sew Steady Portable Table and the Sew Steady Cabinet inserts. The 7” long 1/8” thick acrylic guide comes with two suction cups to secure the guide to the sewing surface. Bonus – it comes with a cling-on Centring Ruler to help line up projects with the sewing needle.

I am quite sure there are more products to assist you with sewing a straight seam; I have simply listed a few of my favourites.


I hope that the above will help you achieve a professional appearance with all your projects and give beginner sewers more confidence. Practice, practice, practice. We need more sewers! It is therapeutic, self-satisfying and stimulates our creative juices!


Products are available from good haberdashery retail outlets or from Punch with Judy, a regular exhibitor at the Craft & Quilt Fairs and Craft and Sewing Shows. Or visit

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