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How to Sew a Basic Straight Seam

In order to develop skills, it is important to practice, practice, practice! And then, practice some more. In this lesson, I will be showing you how to sew a basic straight seam on your sewing machine. Essentially a seam is a line of stitching (hand or machine) that holds two or more fabrics together. It is important to learn how to sew a straight, consistent line so that your seam allowances will be even and straight.

When you purchase your basic sewing supplies, buy a half yard or so of some inexpensive fabric as well. You will want to buy a light to medium weight 100% cotton fabric such as muslin or some other inexpensive fabric. Purchase a light or medium toned fabric, such as a light blue or green that is different from your sewing machine bed so that you can easily distinguish the fabric from the sewing surface. For this exercise, you do not need to pre-wash the fabric as you would normally. Cut an even number (6-8) pieces of fabric that are about 3 inches wide by 5 inches long. Thread your machine with two different colors of thread that contrast with the fabric you are using (one in the bobbin and one in the upper needle - this is so that you will be able to tell which is the needle thread and which is the bobbin thread).

Turn on your sewing machine and set it for a straight stitch, if necessary. For most machines, the default stitch is the standard straight stitch.

Take a look at the markings on the plate and determine which line you should use for a 5/8 inch seam allowance (this is the most common size of seam allowance used on commercial patterns). One of my sewing machines is metric so I have to remember to adjust the needle position each time to make 5/8 inch match up with one of the lines.

Pick up two pieces of fabric and place them right side together (the fabric that you are using may not have an obvious right or wrong side) matching up the edges on one of the long sides.

Pin fabric together. There are several different pinning methods that I will describe below. Try out the different ones and see which one works best for you. Please remember that you always want to remove the pins and not sew over them or you risk damaging your sewing machine.
sewing seams

Pin perpendicular to the seam

This is how I was taught how to pin and is how I do most of my pinning. Insert the pin near the seam line from the top through the layers and then back up through the layers to the top on the other side of the seam line, taking a small "bite" of fabric with the pin. As you sew, you will remove the pins as you approach them. If you are left-handed or prefer to pull pins with your left hand, you can pin from the left side of the seam line.
pinning seam

Pin parallel on the seam line

This method is sometimes used when matching a seam line is important. Insert your pins into the fabric on the seam line from the top and then push the pin slightly forward so that it comes back through the fabric. Make sure the pin heads are facing away from how you plan to sew to make it easy to pull them out as you go.
pinning seam

Pin parallel outside the seam line

This is similar to the method described above, but the pins are placed further away from the edge of the fabric, away from the seam line. If you are sewing a 5/8 inch seam, you would pin the fabric at about an inch from the edge of the fabric. If you pin this way, it is not necessary to remove them as you go because they are away from the seam allowance.
pinning seam

Now that your fabric is pinned, you are ready to sew. Lift the presser foot and place the top edge of the fabric under the needle with the raw edges sticking out on the right side of the presser foot so that they line up with the 5/8 inch seam guide line. Lower the presser foot and stitch three stitches forward and then stitch three backwards to lock the seam (it may take some practice to learn how long to hold the backstitch button for this). Stitch forward again, keeping the right until you reach the end and do a backstitch at the end again to lock the end of the seam.
sewing seam

Ta da! You have sewn your very first seam!

Continue practicing your seams on the additional cut pieces of fabric. Be sure to keep your first effort. As part of this lesson series, you will be assembling a stitch and technique sampler book to track what you are learning.
sewing seam

In the next lesson we will talk about how to press seams to give your garments and other sewn items a professional look.

Want to learn more about sewing? These books are great references

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Content copyright © 2013 by Tamara Bostwick. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Tamara Bostwick. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.

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