Exploring Decorative Stitches on Your Sewing Machine

My sewing machine was almost twenty years old before I looked at any of the other stitches it offered besides the straight stitch which I used for piecing and the zigzag stitch which I used for mending. What a waste, yet at the same time, what an opportunity.

I decided to explore this neglected resource. I made several twelve inch sandwiches of muslin and a stabilizer. And while I was at it, I decided to evaluate the multiple stabilizers I had on hand so I used a different type of stabilizer on each page.

Using a 50 weight thread, I began stitching at the default setting for each stitch. As I stitched down the page I would lengthen/shorten and widen/narrow the stitch. I labeled the top of each row of stitches with the stitch name/code and I wrote the width and length changes along the side of the row. I was totally amazed how the stitch appearance changed with variations in length and width. After I filled seven pages I stitched them together along the edge to create a handy reference book.

I use the term decorative stitch loosely as even those stitches thought of as utility stitches can be decorative when length and width are altered or when used in rows and in conjunction with other stitches.

The decorative stitches on your sewing machine can be used to enhance your appliqué edges, giving them a lacier look. They can be used as a quilting stitch, giving the quilting itself a decorative element. They can also be the featured element in a piece of art.

Tips for Using Decorative Stitches

    • If you are stitching on fabric you will need to add a stabilizer to keep the fabric from gathering. All stabilizers worked well in my experiment except for the T-shirt stabilizer. I guess it is only meant to stabilize T-shirts. It is said that if you are stitching through a quilt sandwich no stabilizer is needed as the batting will serve that purpose. However, I find that the addition of a stabilizer works better than just the sandwich without the stabilizer.
    • Heavier threads can add texture. Use a top stitch needle and keep the decorative stitch simple. Use lighter weight threads on top and in the bobbin when stitching more complex designs.

Creative Ideas for Working with Decorative Stitches

    • Vary the length and width of the stitch.
    • Use a large straight stitch and then hand weave heavier threads such as pearl cotton through the stitch.
    • Use a double thread through the needle. Using a poly thread with a metallic thread adds strength to the metallic as it rides through the metallic needle.
    • Using a double needle can create two even rows of parallel stitching.
    • Couch down yarns, ribbons, floss, etc. by stitching over them with a decorative stitch.
    • Repeat multiple rows of the same stitch.
    • Experiment with different types of threads – poly gives a sheen to the stitch, cotton has a fuller look, metallic adds glitter.
    • Experiment with different weight threads.
    • Try using your decorative stitches while creating a crazy patch.

Now that you’re armed with some tips and creative ideas for incorporating the decorative stitches you already have available to you on your machine, it’s time to explore and have some fun!


Related Videos:
How to Satin Stitch with Machine Quilting
Quilt Fabric Ideas: Stitched Fusion
Stitching Techniques for Machine Quilting

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