Learn to Sew Series Lesson #1: How to Sew a Straight Line


Here we go! It’s Learn to Sew time. Who’s ready?! This is Lesson #1 of the Learn to Sew Series. How to Sew a Straight Line.

Before you read this post please make sure you have Met Your Machine, checked out the Sewing Dictionary and know How to Buy Fabric. Also, please read through and commit yourself to our Learn to Sew Series Pledge. THEN you can get started.

How many times have you heard-”This is easy as long as you can sew a straight line?” Well, let’s start with the basics today and learn to sew a straight line.

Sounds easy enough right? Let me just preface this by saying, it takes time and practice to sew a straight line. Your lines may not be perfectly straight to start with. They may not be perfectly straight for a while. That’s OK! I promise. Just do your best and keep practicing.

Online sewing classes

How to Sew a Straight Line:

Get a piece of fabric ready to practice with-just a scrap of something will do. It’s going to be easiest if you fold it so that you are sewing through 2 layers of fabric while you practice.

First, thread your machine (including the bobbin of course). Make sure you have your machine set to sew at an average stitch length (your manual will probably tell you what that is).

Now, take your piece of fabric and place it under the presser foot. For starters I want you to line your fabric up so that the right edge of your fabric matches up with the right edge of your presser foot as you look at it like I have done in this picture below and lower the presser foot so that it is holding your fabric in place.

Before you start to sew use your hand wheel (or button if you have a computerized machine) to lower the needle so that it is all the way down into your fabric: (always do this when you begin to sew)

Now, slowly press your foot pedal down to begin to sew. Stitch for 1 inch:

Then push the reverse button or lever to back stitch for 1 inch (sew backwards over what you just sewed):

After you have back stitched over that 1 inch, proceed with a forward stitch again. You have just created a knot so that your stitches won’t come loose.

Continue to sew forward. As you do, try to keep the edge of the fabric lined up with the edge of your presser foot. This will help you maintain a straight line. Also try to keep a nice steady pace.

Once you reach the end of your fabric, knot it again. (Sew to the end, back stitch for about 1 inch then sew forward again.)

Raise your presser foot and gently remove your fabric. Snip the threads that are attached to your fabric. Guess what? You just sewed your first straight line!

But wait-there’s more to learn.

What if you are sewing a straight line and you come to a 90% angle corner (like if you are sewing a rectangle or square) that you need to turn to continue sewing (because you will in this week’s project)? What do you do?

Sew almost all the way to the corner, but leave yourself about 1/4″-1/2″ of space between your needle and the very edge of the fabric. Making sure to lower your needle all the way into the fabric (this is very important), lift your presser foot. Your fabric will stay in place because the needle is holding it, but you can now pivot it so that it is positioned to keep sewing, now in the new direction. Lower your presser foot and continue to sew. (See in the image how I have sewed down the fabric and I am now turning to sew a new direction. My needle is down in the fabric but my presser foot is lifted so that I can turn my fabric while not losing my place):

A couple more things. Sometimes you will be asked to baste. A baste is a long stitch that is much looser than a typical stitch. When you baste you do not knot at the beginning and the end. This is because you will probably be picking the baste stitch out (if it is just there to hold your fabric in place for the time being) or you will be using it to gather (which we will learn about in a few weeks). Here’s a baste:

A hem is when you fold under the fabric twice and sew it in place to create a nice finished edge (like at the bottom of your pants). To hem you will first fold the fabric under about 1/2″ and press (iron) it into place. Then fold it the same amount again, press it again and then do a straight stitch along it:

Here’s a hem being sewed:

And here it is finished:

Here’s an important thing to know when sewing a hem or at other times. If you are sewing a small area, like a pant leg, guess what? You can take off part of your machine to make it easier. See, now I can sew that complete loop so easily. Give it a try-that part of your machine will come right off and then go back on when you need it back on:

Now, I told you to use the presser foot edge and match it up with your fabric edge to sew a straight line. This is what I do at least 90% of the time when I am sewing, because it creates such an easy guide. But occasionally you will be asked to sew a certain seam allowance. When that happens you need to use your seam guides to guide you instead of the presser foot. In that case you will line up the edge of your fabric with the seam guide you need and try to keep it steady with that line as you sew:

OK, that’s it. That’s lesson #1-How to Sew a Straight Line. Practice, practice, practice. You will sew millions of straight lines in your sewing life. And you’ll get better as you go. DON’T get frustrated if it’s not perfect. It’s OK!

And, one last thing-don’t forget this guy-your seam ripper. When you make a mistake, the seam ripper will fix it. Trust me, I have been sewing for years and I use my seam ripper all the time. That’s the beauty of sewing. If you make a mistake, you can fix it.

Your Assignment (This Week’s Project):

With the lesson you just learned, you can now sew baby burp cloths made from cloth diapers. It will involve a hem and a straight line-perfect practice right? Here’s the tutorial:

Baby Burp Cloths

Amber
Hey there! I'm Amber, mom of 4 crazy boys, wife of 1 and non-stop, always busy, crazy project doer. (There's a reason why we call it *Crazy* Little Projects.) I love chocolate, reading, sewing and being with people!
Amber
Amber
Follow me on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/crazylittleproj

Comments

  1. Jana says

    I don’t know anyone with a baby, so I made a little blanket for a plush animal instead. It went pretty well. The lines are not quite straight, but that’s okay. I will improve! Hope that counts instead!
    Looking forward to trying out new techniques! I love colourful fabrics and would love to be able to make more things from them!

  2. Linda says

    Can’t wait to get home from work tonight and give the lesson a try. I figure if I practice each day by the end of the week I should be an “expert” lol or at least a beginner…lol

  3. Nicci says

    I love how you make this simple enough to understand, and you don’t take for granted that we know little things that total beginners wouldn’t know. Just a couple of days ago, my sister was talking about hemming pants, and I said, “I don’t know how you can sew the fabric around like that without getting it tangled.” She thought I was kidding, and I didn’t have the heat to tell her I wasn’t–and here you explained it for me! Thanks!

  4. Stephanie P. says

    Great first project! Can’t wait to try out these burp clothes! Perfect timing since I have a baby shower to attend soon! :)

  5. DinT says

    Thanks you for the great lessons. Your blog is wonderful and inspiring me to get my sewing machine going again.

  6. Allison Blaszak says

    I sewed my first straight line!!! Thank you for making it easy for me to understand… I’ve never done that before!! I even took a picture of my scrap practices and sent it to my mother!!! I think I’m going to practice some more and then try these burp cloths… :-)

        • Allison Blaszak says

          She was hysterical laughing at me. Lol. But I think so…. its nice to make your mom proud even at 35! Lol

          • Linda says

            Oh Allison, I’m 44 almost 45 and the other day when I was “practicing” I got a piece of scrap and just sewed a few lines to get the hang of the machine and the levers and showed my husband. You would have thought I was Martha Stewart I was so excited…lol So I completely understand. : )

  7. Lindsey says

    Thank you so much for doing this series!! I practiced sewing straight lines this morning and am looking forward to starting on the burp cloths, hopefully, this afternoon. Your directions are so easy to understand.

  8. Kenya says

    Just a question on seem allowance guide. My machine has the seem allowance markings but does not have the length listed just the lines. Where do I start to measure to know which line is 1/4 or 1/2….? Thanks for the first lesson.

  9. says

    I never knew how to make a knot on the sewing machine *lol* No wonder all my stitching came loose! Thank you for starting with the bare basics, I need them.

    –shaunterria
    ca11i0pe.blogspot.com

  10. Jana says

    How fun! I don’t know anyone with a baby, so I made a little blanket for a plush animal instead. It worked out fine. The lines aren’t quite straight, but that’s okay, I’ll get there! Hope this counts instead!

    • Amber says

      That’s perfect. All of my projects are just optional ways to practice the skills. You can do any project you want each week.

  11. Val says

    Love this post, even as a beginning sewer I was able to learn something new. I’ve taken a beginner’s class before, but was never told to place my needle down into the fabric in order to turn. I was so disappointed with my “straight lines” that turned because they always looked cooky. Thanks for the awesome tip!

  12. Anna says

    What a great post. I wish my machine had those seam allowance guides. Mine just has lines but no numbers or anything. I’m thinking about making myself a small ruler I can tape on as sewing correct seam allowances have always been difficult for me to do.

    I love how you talk about back-stitching too. I have only just started doing this instead of literally tying my threads together and it makes such a difference. Thanks!

  13. Cara says

    I’m not actually going to make this project…I have some sewing skills already, and I don’t have any reason to sew burp cloths! Thanks for the lesson, though!

  14. says

    Cant wait to do this. I have already been sewing and I have completed some big projects even being a beginner. I have been planning to make some burp cloths and this is the week to do it. I’m using terry cloth instead. I purchased a remnant from JoAnns.

  15. says

    awesome tutorial! can’t wait to get started. my sister taught me to use painters tape on the machine if you need to make a seam allowance, so it is easier to see.

  16. Nikki says

    I couldn’t figure out what they ment by knot… Thanks for finally clearing that up (: great lesson. Do we have to use cloth diapers for the burp cloth? Would a hand towel work? I am not close to a target. And I ready to start tonight! (: thanks for the great lesson

  17. Jessi says

    I’m so excited to get started! Someone I work with just had a baby boy, so he’ll be getting these as gifts!

  18. Janet says

    I just had a baby 4 months ago. This is perfect two birds in shot. Learning and making something for my baby!!! I couldn’t ask for more. Have a Bless week.

  19. stormyyskyy says

    Great idea for burp cloths. I usually use terry cloth & flannel and zig-zag around the outside. They make great washcloths that way, too.

  20. says

    Great post!!! I made some burp cloths today and instead of putting a strip down the middle I did a rectangle at the bottom! They look super cute!!! :) and so will my newly adopted niece! :)

  21. Alana says

    I LOVE that we’re starting with the very basics!! I’m so excited to move “ahead”, but know that this great foundation will help all of us to be able to do bigger projects correctly! Thanks!

  22. Lorie says

    I made 1 burp cloth tonight…it went well (if I do say so myself). My lines aren’t perfectly straight but this is only the 4th thing I’ve ever made so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I plan on doing another on tomorrow. Thank you so much for creating this series Amber! I am from a mall town and there are not many options for someone learning to sew so this is fantastic!

  23. karla says

    I found you on pinterest and I’m soooo glad I did! I bought a new sewing machine and started a fabric stash and this was a great project for me thank you especially since I’m going to be an aunt again in a few months :]

  24. Wendy Reichle says

    Wow. I have been sewing for years. And my girls are and have been learning just a little over time. But, as they get into their teen years, their patience with me and my “over-explaining” everything, has made those lessons nonexistent. Enter high school and the sewing class. They don’t need my sewing experience at all. :( But they still have a lot to learn, starting from the basics. Your post is as thorough or more so than I have been, but I can’t wait to show them the tutes in this series, as it will be much easier for them to learn from you at their pace than me. Pictures and print are way better than mom repeating. :) Thank you so much for this! Oh, and I came over from Straddling The Gap!

  25. Trasity says

    I’m super excited to be doing these lessons the next few weeks! I just got a brand new sewing machine and have always wanted to learn. So, I was very enthusiastic about the first lesson starting! My husband was too, haha!

    I completed two burp cloths last night while my husband did his p90x. He was very impressed and kept stopping his workout to watch me lol. He would ask, “what’s that lever do?” Or, “what are you doing with that knob?” It was hilarious but he is so supportive and excited for me to be learning. I turned out two pretty good looking burp cloths I will be giving away to expectant friends. Thanks again for this opportunity! Can’t wait for lesson 2!!

  26. Dixie says

    Hi there :)
    So I’m completely new to sewing! I have wanted to learn for a really long time but nobody I know knows how to sew (including my mother).. So when I came across this on Pinterest I was so excited, and for the first time ever I now own a Sewing machine. I can’t wait for the next 6 weeks and thank you for helping beginners like myself!! :)

  27. says

    If you’re looking for cloth diapers don’t buy them at Target. They’re $17 where I live in Idaho for a 10 pack or 5 pack for $12.99!! You can buy a 10 pack at Walmart for $13.50. Just thought I’d share that.

  28. Darcy says

    So excited to start, I learned my lesson though to read ahead of time — tonight was set aside as sewing night and my diapers aren’t prewashed! :(

  29. Kim H says

    I just finished (it was a 3 day process – washing and ironing fabric on Monday, cutting and pinning hem Tuesday, and finally ironing, pinning and sewing today) and it went much better than I expected. Nary a hiccup and only had to seam rip once when for some reason my top thread got all bungled up on the bottom (do you know why that happens? Do I have it set up wrong?). But I noticed every once in a while a thread of the diaper itself got snagged as I was sewing and pulled and puckered the diaper. Sometimes I could pull it back, sometimes I couldn’t. Any advice?

    • Amber says

      Be careful that your threads aren’t getting tangled on or caught on the presser foot at all while you are sewing because that could pull them and cause puckers. Tension could be off?

  30. Linda says

    Made three burb cloths tonight. Did a pretty good job. Learned a few things like make sure you iron everything first because it does make a difference. My lines were straight when I used the presser foot as the edge guide.

  31. Sharon Joyner says

    Thanks for the tutorial…I will not be making burp cloths but hand towels instead and you are so right it is harder than people think to make a continual straight line but it worked out wonderfully….thanks so much.

  32. Makenzie says

    I made 6 so far! I’m so excited to be sewing again. I didn’t have space for a sewing machine in our old small duplex. We just moved and I have a whole craft room to myself. I am loving it!

  33. emily says

    Had a blast making these! Right now I have 6 lovely ladies that are expecting so these along with your diaper wipe bag are going to make cute gifts! Thank you!!

  34. Kate says

    Thank you for the tutorial! I’m finally getting to start the burp cloths tonight, as soon as the baby goes to sleep. It’s been fun seeing the finished cloths on the Facebook group.

  35. Natasha says

    So excited to start this week! I’m hoping to understand my new sewing machine a lot better after the 7 projects. Thanks for putting this together!

  36. Ashley says

    Finally made my burp cloth last night… I definitely wouldn’t gift it lol. I messed up several times (first time sewer–i expected it!), but couldn’t figure out how to use a seam ripper efficiently (do you have to rip out EACH stitch?). I’m proud that I did it, but I need more practice! :)

  37. ANNA FINLAYSON says

    Did it! I wasn’t sure I was doing it right because it seemed almost…. *gasp* … easy!! Thanks for the first lesson!! Looking forward to more!!

  38. Leslie says

    I made three burp clothes for a cousin, who recently gave birth to a beautiful little girl! I used a cute flannel fabric, in pink & green with butterflies. What a simple yet practical gift for any new mother! Thanks for the lesson, and the tutorial!

  39. Kathy Antley says

    All Finished! I made five of the burp cloths for my little one. I found my biggest problem is knowing how to slow down! when I slowed down the stitches were much more controllable. Their not only very practical but very cute! Im so thankful for these lessons and am excited to try the next projects!

  40. Karis says

    Finally finished! I made 10, since I didn’t know what else to do with the diapers :) My stitches still aren’t perfect, but I’m getting there! Overall, it was a great refresher for me. I never got any further than sewing straight lines for the past 20 years, so the next few lessons will be awesome! Now if only I could do these projects without using my iron… :P

  41. Becca A says

    Thanks so much for this tutorial and series. I started sewing last year, with some major help from my mom. I’ve made a few cute things, but just got my own machine. I am about to go make my burp cloths right now–they are actually going to be doll burpies/blankets for my three girls. They are very excited to have them!

  42. Laci says

    Instead of doing burp clothes I have been working on two pillowcases. I didn’t have the supplies for the burp clothes and I live 1.5 hours away from craft stores, and 45 minutes away from the worst walmart ever. Thanks for the tutorial. I am so glad I get to participate.

  43. Bonnie Nyquist says

    Great tutorial,very useful little items too, Make several ahead for gifts! Cannot think of a better first project.

  44. says

    Woohoo! First sewing project ever, and I think they turned out great. Thanks so much! This was exactly what I needed to break my brand new sewing machine out of the box. Success!

  45. Mackenzie says

    Thanks for finally helping me understand how to machine baste stitch something. I do wish however that there was a way to see a printer friendly version of this blog post so that I can print it out each week and make a “Learning to Sew” Manual/Bible!

  46. Renee says

    Thanks Amber… my burp rags look suitable, well, to be barfed on. So I guess they are successful, then. Here’s to hoping I improve as we go. :)

  47. Heather says

    A little behind, but so excited! I haven’t sewn anything since middle school home ec. but I bought a machine and just made 3 burp cloths (perfect since I have a newborn)! Thanks for the lessons.

  48. Mary Jane says

    Do you have any other projects that we can make using the straight stitch, other than the burp cloths? It would be nice to have some different choices.

  49. Linsey says

    OK, apparently I am sewing machine illiterate. I’ve loaded everything according to the directions. Both the bobbin thread and the top thread pull easily when I pull extra thread through, then when I start to sew it all binds up and tangles. I seriously have a pile of thread that I’ve removed from this stinkin’ machine sitting next to me. It does fine until I either reverse stitch or if I try to sew a hem. What’s the deal!?!?! I know I’m doing something wrong but I don’t know what :(

    PS. Mary Jane, my DD and I did manage to make a small pillow for her American Girl doll. :) all straight lines.

  50. Jenn says

    Thanks so much for these tutorials!!! I just found them on Pinterest, and decided to follow along!! I’ve been doing some straight line projects, and I tried your diaper and wipes case! It turned out gift worthy!!! One pucker and a few runs with the stitch ripper but now I’m torn as to whether to use it myself or give it as a gift!! Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with the rest of the projects!!! Thanks!!!!!! :)

  51. Kayleigh says

    Thank you soooo much!! I needed this. I’ve always wanted to learn & just got myself a machine! You’re a life saver!

  52. robyn says

    hi, just need some knot advice. It seems when i do reverse stitch and then go forward again, the stitching on the other side loops up…what am i doing wrong?

  53. Tiffany says

    I just finished this! My first sewing project ever! I def learned some lessons lol, especially sewing the ric rac on. Now I just need to have this baby and test it out :)

  54. Chrys says

    Thank you!! So excited to find this site. I’ve wanted to learn to sew for years, so this year, I finally broke down and let my students buy me a machine (using the Visa gift card from the class.). I found a machine I liked and the best price was on Amazon, so I had to wait a day for it to arrive. Luckily, when Amazon split my order, the machine was the first to arrive. It would have been tough to be surrounded with fabric scissors, bobbins, and other assorted sewing stuff, and be unable to really play with it! I was off to Target today, and have completed 5 burp cloths. I’m hoping my cousin can still use them for her baby; otherwise they’ll get stored in the linen closet and will be gifted at the next baby shower that comes up. I do have one question about turning fabric. How do you know when to stop and turn? I was eye-balling it, trying to line up with the presser foot on my turn, but I didn’t quite match up with my beginning stitches on a couple of the cloths. Is there something that I’m not thinking of?

    • says

      Oh that’s a good question! I think you kind of just get an eye for it eventually, but let’s say you are sewing a 1/2 inch seam, then you are going to want to stop and turn the corner 1/2″ before the edge of the fabric so that when you turn you are all lined up to keep going with a 1/2″ seam. Does that make sense?

  55. says

    Hi Amber – I often use the walking foot for sewing straight lines – it keeps the layers from slipping – especially when using any sort of stretchy/soft/furry/fabric with a sheen sort of material. I don’t know if this idea would help anyone.

  56. Abbey says

    I know this post is a little older but I’m hoping for a response.. As I was reading your post I realized while making a quilt (just picking an easy pattern and trying to teach myself)
    I never “knotted” the seams of the different blocks… I just sewed to the edge of each block and then snipped the thread… So is my quilt basically going to fall apart once I sew all the blocks together? >_<

    • says

      Well, you would have sewed over them going the other direction while you were sewing rows together right? So that should help lock things in. It will probably be ok.

  57. Joey says

    I cannot thank you enough for this tutorial! I’ve owned my sewing machine for 17 years and never used it because I just really don’t know how… Now, I’m going to be a
    Glam-Ma in July and I’m desperate to learn how to make straight lines and ruffles for my Dakota-Mae, thank you so much!!

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