How to sew in a straight line

If you are new to sewing you may have seams that are wavy. And wavy seams end up looking bumpy and messy on your finished project. 

Wavy seams leave a bumpy finish in your projects

No matter how much you struggle with your machine you just can’t seem to sew in a straight line.

All those seam guides available for sale like these seem like they’ll fix the problem.

But that’s not what they are designed to do. 

Seam guides don’t guarantee a straight seam

Seam guides are designed to help you maintain a consistent seam allowance.

A consistent seam allowance IS an important factor in making neat quilts and clothes that fit right, but the seam guides by themselves won’t prevent you from sewing a crooked line.  

For the guides to truly work well, you have to know how to sew straight to begin with.

You can still sew a crooked line with the guides on your machine AND you can sew a straight line without any guides on your machine.

How to sew in a straight line

There are three simple things you can do to start sewing straight seams – change your focus, relax your grip and slow down.

Change your focus

Most beginning sewers tend to look at the needle.  And I get it, you want to make sure you don’t sew over your finger.  Plus the seam allowance lines on your machine are right up next to the needle too.

But looking at the needle is like looking at the hood of your car when you are driving – you won’t see what’s coming until it’s too late to brake.

Plus, you’ll be making bigger adjustments because you just don’t have the space to make them gradually.  It’s just like passing on the highway.  If you wait until you’re right behind the car you need to pass you’re going to jerk out into the passing lane, but if you see the need earlier you sort of mosey over slowly. 

When driving you’ve learned to look way down the road in order to drive in a nice straight line.  

The same thing with sewing.  By the time the fabric is at the needle it’s already making a stitch.  It’s too late to fix things. So you need to change your focus. You need to look at a point much further down the road so you can make small adjustments early and still sew in a straight line.

To do this you need to use something to move the line down the road. And the best thing is something cheap that you probably already have – washi or masking tape, or any tape that won’t leave a sticky residue on your machine.

You’re going to put this tape right along the seam allowance line on your machine.  It helps to use a ruler under your foot to get a straight line.

How to put washi tape on your machine so you can sew in a straight line

When you’re sewing you can look way ahead, down the tape, and make little gradual adjustments well before the fabric is at the needle giving you a nice straight smooth seam.

Where to look when sewing to sew in a straight line

Relax your grip

How does a new driver hold the steering wheel?  With a death grip.  And then they do all sorts of extra steering too.  Do you need that when you’re cruising down the highway with no traffic on a clear day?  No, you use a very light touch, because the car basically goes in a straight line all by itself.

Your sewing machine also goes in a straight line all by itself too.  If you have a death grip on your fabric you’re going to end up with a crooked seam, and maybe even damage your machine. 

To steer you only need a very light touch on your fabric, like your light touch on a steering wheel.  Very gentle.

Where to hold your fabric when sewing a straight line

Don’t pull your fabric

If you’re tempted to ‘help’ the machine by pulling the fabric through, don’t.  Pulling the fabric through is really bad for your machine.  It puts stress on the needle and also can cause the needle to hit things inside the machine and damage it.

If you have problems with your fabric not feeding through smoothly, make sure you’re giving it the conditions to feed smoothly.  The feed dogs are what move the fabric through the machine.  They need the fabric to be easy to be pulled through the machine.  If it’s hanging off the front of the machine, this can make it harder for them to work right.

Slow down

Almost all the videos of sewing online are sped up.  People aren’t sewing that fast.  Or if they are, they either have years of experience or they’re weaving down the road.  

I speed up my sewing videos too, it keeps you interested.

Sewing is my relaxation time and I want it to be yours too.  So take your time.  Slow down and enjoy yourself.  You are out for a Sunday drive.  Just like going slower in a car means you’ll have less damage if you crash, going slower with sewing means that you’ll have less stitching to rip out.

No one will honk at you for sewing slowly!

How to stop in the middle of a seam

If you need to stop in the middle of a seam, like to adjust your fabric, or to take a deep breath, drop your shoulders and smile, put your needle down in the fabric.
Putting your needle in the fabric will eliminate the fabric shifting under the presser foot while you’re stopped which creates gaps in your seams.

To avoid jogs in your seam, put the needle down when you stop

When to use a seam guide

When you’re sewing nice straight seams with the tape, you can try using one of those guides instead, but you might decide they’re not worth it because you’ll be sewing straight just using the washi tape.

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