Stretch your stitch repertoire January 4, 2013 • Robin Stroot
Abasic sewing machine offers many different stitching techniques to suit most any general sewing project. I can remember when sewing machines first came onto the market that had pre-set stitch patterns, including an option called the stretch stitch.
A stretch stitch allows fabric to have give or stretch without breaking the seam threads. Cotton and wool fabrics didn’t need that type of seam ease so a straight seam was all that was needed to construct the garments. Knit and polyester fabrics were very popular in fashion clothes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It didn’t take much to split the seam on the garments because seams were initially stitched using a straight stitch. One stretch and the thread would snap in several places along the seams. Think of a one-piece swimsuit. Now stitch the side seam with a plain, straight stitch and then stretch the fabric. I made many seam repairs on several knit-fabric shirts or blouses. Just putting my arm into a sleeve would snap the seam.
The first machine I purchased after I was married had 11 stitch pattern options with only three settings that incorporated stretch stitches. That particular sewing machine is replaced by my current machine that has 22 different stitch options and eight stretch stitch settings.
A straight stitched seam is made when the fabric layers are guided from the front of the sewing machine, under the presser foot and stitched together with the needle. Using the act of walking as an example, it would be like taking one step in front of the other, moving constantly forward in one direction.
A stretch stitch will periodically move the fabric back and forth under the stitching area. Using walking as an example, it would be like taking two steps forward then one step back … two steps forward and one step back.
One tricky part of sewing stretch stitches is that you need to guide the fabric through the stitching area but allow the sewing machine to have the freedom of the back-and-forth motion. Otherwise, if you hold onto the fabric too tightly or “pull” the fabric through the stitching area of the sewing machine, you will lose the flexibility of the stretch stitch or have uneven stitch lengths along the seam of your sewing project.
Recently, I came across my sewing machine manual and realized that I had fallen into using the same few machine stitches over and over again for my sewing projects. I had forgotten the flexibility of some of the plain pattern stitches as well as the different stretch stitch options to use for my sewing projects. My next sewing project is to make a small sampler of the different machine stitches on muslin fabric (using a different colored thread for my stretch stitch patterns) and hang the sampler on the wall next to my sewing machine. That way, I can see at a glance the different stitches I can use for my future projects.