Is there anything worse in the world than seeing your child put on a dress or shirt and hearing the tell-tale ripping sound of stitches breaking? Parents everywhere know the dismal look that erupts on your child’s face when ripping their favorite clothing. They look imploringly at you with sad, puppy eyes as they silently ask for you to somehow take out a magic wand and Presto! The clothing is fixed as good as new.
That’s what a sewing machine is like. It is your magic wand to fix any rip, hole or loose hem to instantly transform fabric into that stylish piece of clothing your children will feel great about wearing outside. Yet you will need to know just how to get that sewing machine doing what you want for the clothing project. To do this, you need understand about the built-in stitches.
How Many Stitches are on a Typical Sewing Machine?
This is actually a trick question because there is no typical sewing machine out on the market. There is a wide range of machines designed for different types of seamstress from beginners, intermediate and advanced levels to people who do a lot of embroidery and quilting. You could find one machine that has about 8 built-in stitches or pick out a professional-grade machine like the Brother Project Runway PC 240 PRW that has 294 stitches.
Don’t despair! Most sewist, even the professionals, won’t use that many stitches over their entire lifetime. They will usually have several go-to stitches and occasional stitches in their repertoire. Then they will have a bunch that they will never use. It all depends on the types of sewing projects you do the most and which stitches you are most comfortable at using. I’m using my favorite sewing machine, Brother CS600i for most of the stitches here.
Different Categories of Stitches
A lot of stitches will fall into different categories. Some basic categories for stitches are:
These are usually the stitches that you will use the most. They are the most basic and will be at the beginning of the list of diagrams, letters or numbers on your sewing machine. Some sewing machines will also include several buttonhole stitches as part of their utility stitch category.
Several types of utility stitches you will find include:
00 Straight stitch (left needle): This stitch places the needle to the left side as you can make a straight stitch.
01 Straight stitch (middle needle): You can create a normal straight stitch with the needle set in the middle position. You will use this stitch more than any other.
03 Stretch Stitch: A stretch stitch allows for the thread to be flexible and stretch for certain types of fabric.
04 Zigzag stitch: This stitch is in a zigzag pattern as you can use it to reinforce buttonholes or join two pieces of fabric together.
05 Three point zigzag stitch: this zigzag stitch is used to finish up projects using stretcher fabric.
06-08 Overcasting stitch: An overcast stitch is normally used on unfinished fabric to prevent it from unraveling.
09 Blind hem stitch: Allows you to make a hem without having the thread seen.
10 Blind hem stretch stitch: You will be able to create a hem on stretchy fabric where the thread is invisible.
Buttonhole stitches will allow you to create different types of buttonholes in your garments. Some computerized sewing machines will have buttonholes in their own category.
06 Automatic buttonhole: If you know the size of the button, the sewing machine can automatically make it for you without guidance.
07 Rounded buttonhole: You can make a buttonhole stitch on clothes such as blouses.
30 Squared buttonhole: Let’s you create a square buttonhole on clothes such as shirts, coats, and pajamas.
31 Stretched buttonhole: You can create a buttonhole on stretchy fabric.
33-35 Keyhole buttonhole: The buttonhole will look like a keyhole as this is usually found on overalls and business suits. Brother CS6000i has 3 keyhole buttonhole stitches for different types of fabrics.
Eyelet: You will create an decorative eyelet hole stitch.
Darning stitch: for repairing worn areas of fabric or any part with holes
Decorative stitches (#19-#28) will allow you to make stitches in all types of different designs. You will be able to make flowers, vines, hearts, clovers and swirled patterns. Other types of decorative stitching that may be included on your sewing machine are:
57-59 Cross stitch: This is another type of decorative stitch similar to the cross stitch for hand sewing where it makes a “x” design.
Heirloom stitch: This stitch is very decorative and suitable on delicate fabrics and when you are using lace.
These stitches will commonly be used on the edge of the fabric to give a clean and professional look. Some stitches you might have on your sewing machine:
Saddle stitch: Saddle stitches are similar to backstitches as the thread goes through the stitched hole. This is commonly used when working with leather.
Overlock stitch: You can use this stitch for hemming and seaming where you sew over the two edges of fabric. It’s much like what you would get when using a serger.
Double overedge stitch: If you have fabric that has the tendency to fray, the double overedge stitch can give a clean look.
Satin stitches are another type of decorative stitch that is made using a zigzag pattern. You may use satin stitches to create monograms, to make decorative edgings on blankets, or to create an outline when placing on appliques.
How the stitches are organized will be based on the type of sewing machine you have. Some computerized sewing machines will have stitches grouped into different categories with numbers placed next to each diagram. So you just input the number into the LCD screen and the sewing machine will make the stitch. Mechanical sewing machines will have a dial that has the stitch illustrations on it, letters, or numbers. Simply turn the dial to the right diagram, number or letter related to the stitch you want to do.
Homework: To really find out what types of stitches you will like to use for future projects, grab some spare fabric and try each stitch out. You can save the fabric as a real-life illustration of each stitch. Then when you are working on a project, you can see what the stitch looks like in the actual fabric and figure out if it is the right one to use.