All About Decorative Stitches + Project

on September 15 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 39 Comments

Maddie Kertay from Domestic Anarchy is back! She shared the Sweet Dreams Nap Mat in our Back to School series, and today she fills us in on the worlds of possibility in all of those decorative stitches you might just have on your sewing machine. Learn more about Maddie in her introduction, and be sure to stop by Domestic Anarchy where she writes about her “obsessive love of sewing and crafting” and how to homeschool several kids while working from home, all while keeping sane and happy!

Today even the simplest mechanical sewing machine comes with at least a few decorative stitches built in; these are sometimes erroneously called “embroidery stitches.” These fancy stitches might include a nice blanket stitch or perhaps even a scallop or honeycomb stitch.

More expensive machines come with perhaps 60 or more such stitches and possibly even multiple width options depending on the features included. These stitches are produced like any other, by having the fabric under the sewing foot with the feed dogs feeding the fabric in the correct sequence to make the selected stitch. While the stitches can be called embroidery these differ from what an “Embroidery Machine” can do. With an embroidery machine the fabric is put in a hoop and the hoop is attached to a mechanical arm on the machine which moves the hoop to create the embroidered design in conjunction with the needle.

Today we will be talking about the built-in decorative stitches that are produced on just about any machine and are therefore open for everyone to experiment with. And experiment you must since each machine needs it’s own set of adjustments to make the most of these fun and flirty stitches. The first thing to know is that dec-stitching requires stabilization of the fabric to help keep it flat and firm so that the stiches can look their best. There are multiple products that you can use depending on the fabric you want to embellish. Remember to always try a sample before stitching on your actual project; this will save you loads of frustration! Also look to see if your machine came with a foot exclusively meant to be used with dec-stitching.

It will often have an open toe and the underside with be carved out so that the fuller stitches can slide smoothly under the foot. If your machine did not come with such a foot check with your local dealer– Most likely there is one you can buy for just this purpose.

Stabilization, from Lite to Bulletproof
Your first line of defense when it comes to dec-stitching is heavy spray starch.

By liberally starching your fabric you might gain enough fiber strength that you will not need anything else. Spray your fabric giving the starch a minute of two to soak in and then iron until bone dry for best results. Remember: Run a sample!

If starch was not enough your next option is to try tear away stabilizer for close satin stitches. Cut the stabilizer into strips and place under the area you want to stitch. If needed, hold the paper in place with a pin or two. If you happen to be in a pinch with no tear-away around you can use adding machine paper tape or even plain copy paper if you are really desperate. If you are stitching anything that is openwork you will want to use a water dissolvable stabilizer since pulling off the paper will ruin the open work.

For even more support combine the previous techniques for unquestionable support that should work for even the most troublesome fabrics.

Technique Is Key for Top Notch Stitching
Slow and steady are the key words when it comes to making wonderful dec-stitching. This is not the time to put the pedal to the metal and gun your machine as fast as it will go. If you are stitching slow enough to start getting bored then you are probably going the right speed for getting the most out of your stitches, especially the ones that incorporate satin stitching or lots of back and forth action. Feel free to speed up a little as you gain confidence but at a certain point your stitch quality will suffer.

Typically you will be stitching using your regular thread but don’t be afraid to branch out into some of the beautiful rayon threads that have a wonderful sheen and depth to their color. This will more often than not add an extra little something to your project. If using a metallic be sure to use a needle made just for that very situation.

Depending on your machine you might get a better stitch-out by lowering your upper thread tension 1-2 notches so the upper thread pulls to the bottom nicely and you don’t have bobbin show through. If tension adjustment does not help to make a perfect stitch, use matching bobbin thread to disguise this little annoyance.

Getting to Know Your Stitches
So, you have 45 built-in dec-stitches, there they are with tiny little indications on the front of your machine, but what do they really look like? Well here is your time to find out. By making a machine stitch sampler you will never again be at a loss in deciding which one would look best on your newest project!

You will need:

  • 1 piece of firmly woven cloth starched and backed with a piece of tear-away stabilizer
  • 1 wooden embroidery hoop to display your stitch masterpiece (not to use for stitching)
  • Fabric marking pen with disappearing ink
  • Sewing machine and thread(s) of choice

Start by marking the fabric with a circle a bit bigger than your hoop size. Then draw lines through the circle about 1 inch apart as guideline for stitching.

Now take your fabric to the machine and start with your very first decorative stitch and sew it out. Start way off of the circle area so you have time to tweak the settings so that by the time you are in the circle are your stitch is looking great!

When the circle is filled mount it into the hoop, trim the extra fabric. Turn it to the back and hold in place with a touch of hot glue. Use a ribbon to hang it near your machine so you can consult it as you are thinking about adding dec-stitching to your next project!

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39 Responses to All About Decorative Stitches + Project

  1. Sheila says:

    What a great idea! I’m definitely going to have to try this out. 🙂

  2. Angelina says:

    What a great post! I definitely learned something new and am excited to try out these nifty tricks.

  3. Adrienne says:

    Looks just like my purple granny dress I made and posted!
    Stop and see it! i like the machine embroidery sometimes; it’s a quick deco job when there’s little time to do something special by hand.

  4. Dayna says:

    This is absolutely the best tutorial I have ever read about machine dec stitching and I am not new to either the machine with dec stitches or an embroidery machine. Every step was clear and concise. Thanks so much for posting!!

  5. Thanks for the great idea! Love it!

  6. Ramona says:

    I have many decorative stitches on my machine but haven’t really played with them. This is a great project and I won’t feel like I am “wasting” my thread or fabric.

  7. Christine says:

    Very pretty!

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I can do embroidery on my sewing machine but haven’t tried yet.

  9. Erika says:

    beautiful idea.

  10. Jess says:

    I love this idea! I’ve had my machine for years and just don’t use the decorative stitches. I really want to do this now. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Dear all… thank you.. I am blushing. I could not be happier to have shed some light on this topic for so many… As for the comment about now that we have the stitches what can we do with them that does not look like a 70’s re-tread ( gotcha!).. I will get right to work on that and get something up at Domestic Anarchy in the next week or so… got some pretty good ideas in this tiny little head of mine.

    Maddie @

  12. Blossom says:

    I love using decorative stitches! They’re great on baby blankets, and tote bags. What kind of machine was used for those stitches in the photos? I LOVE that wavy stitch!

  13. Forget hanging this by my machine, i want to do this just to hang it the rest of my hoopla wall! Though it would be a good reference. And quick!

  14. Erin says:

    This is such a cute idea and would be great way to add some style to my sewing area.

  15. Lee says:

    Great post! thank you!

  16. Marina says:

    Cute and a great idea!

  17. Collette says:

    Oh, thank you! Stabilizer–a light bulb moment for sure. I wondered why my decorative stitches never came out right!

  18. Leigh Anne says:

    Great inspiration! Thanks!!

  19. Tina says:

    I just got a new Bernina with many decorative stitches and I haven’t used decorative stitches since my daughter was small. But I want to get back to it since my machine doesn’t have just cutesy stitches like my old one! This tute will definitely help!

  20. Alicia says:

    Love love this website! Does anyone know if the tutorials can be converted to PDF for my iPad? Thanks

  21. Cricket says:

    Now I wish I had a machine with decorative stitches just so I could make a sampler. What an awesome and useful projects. Hmmm. Even if I don’t have decorative stitches maybe I should make a zigzag/satin stitch sampler. I can never remember exactly which number to use for the size I want.

  22. MarciaW says:

    This is what I need to do to learn my stitches because you can’t tell what they really look like from the teeny-tiny graphics.

  23. Karin B. says:

    Great idea! I always forget what stitches I have and how great they look. Thanks for inspiration 🙂

  24. Tessa says:

    Thankyou! I have finally figured out how to do this. The thing I learnt was to go slow. I can now use this function on my ancient old Bernina.

  25. My Dear Friend… YOU ROCKED THIS!

  26. Alethea says:

    I so needed to read this. I just bought a Janome with a lot of fancy stitches, and I read a few things in this article that I did not know! Now I’m really excited about incorporating these into a future project.

  27. Katrina H says:

    I didn’t know starch would help stabilize…maybe this is where I go wrong in the beginning 🙂

  28. Christina says:

    I have a dec-stitch project coming up, so this is perfect!

  29. Beezus says:

    This is a great idea! I sometimes use my decorative stitches, but always forget what width and length I like best, so I may play around with that aspect as well. Tanks for such a great post!

  30. Jessica H says:

    I love this idea. The reason I don’t use a lot of decorative stitches is because I’m too impatient. I don’t want to sit there and wait for the machine to go back and forth, back and forth. Now if I had one of those embroidery machines that can sew by itself, I might put a little touch up on everything.

  31. Samina says:

    What a great reference tool & way to get familiar with my machine.

  32. Jennifer G says:

    GENIUS! I love it! This is a fantastic idea and I didn’t know that stabilizer was the key to a good decorative. My only question is: how can one make use of these decorative stitches in a modern sewing application (as opposed to, say, the edge of the collar on a denim shirt)? I’d love to see examples!

  33. kristy says:

    I am totally doing this! Thanks for the great idea!

  34. Suzanne says:

    This is such a great idea and the starch tip, well, that’s just genius.

  35. Rebecca says:

    Great idea! I know I have a more than a few stitches on my machine that I rarely use. This might be a good help in getting them into more projects.

  36. Sonya says:

    What a great idea my new machine has tons of stitches I’ve never tried. This is a good way to try them all out too.

  37. tracy_a says:

    great idea and info – I have been scared of “that stabilizer stuff”! thanks!

  38. Stephanie S says:

    Love this project! What a great way to explore the decorative stitches my machine can do. As a bonus, it’s a cute way to decorate my sewing space 🙂

  39. What a lovely and function idea! I’ve got to try this. I’m new to my machine (and sewing in general, I suppose!) and this would certainly make it easier to get the most out of it! Thanks for sharing!

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