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How To Sew In A Straight Line

Struggling to sew in a straight line? Frustrated that your straight seams aren’t straight and look a little more like wonky seams? Need some help learning how to sew straight seams? It isn’t easy when you’re a sewing beginner to sew in a straight line – mostly down to all those moving parts! – but sewing a straight line is what helps to make a neat seam look so good.

If you’ve been struggling to sew neat seams that are straight, this post, Sew Straight Guide, should help!

Today we’ll run through some methods that will help you begin to sew in a straight line and some tools to help with sewing straight lines!

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase at no further cost to you.

Photo of a sewing machine needle sewing a straight line

Why Can’t I Sew A Straight Line?

First, don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to sew straight seams! There can be several reasons for why you think you can’t sew a straight line:

  • The machine is sewing too fast
  • Too many moving parts in view
  • Hand-eye coordination struggles

The great thing is that it is possible to ‘improve’ each of these reasons so that you can sew a straight line. It just takes the two P’s – practice and patience!

How To Sew In A Straight Line

The best way to get those sewn lines straight is to choose a fixed guideline, kind of like a sewing line, and practice. Oh, and you’ll need to have patience as it can take a bit of practice! 😉

To start practising, you can either try sewing lines on paper or some old scraps of fabric. I recommend fabric!

  1. Using a ruler, draw some straight lines onto your fabric. Make sure they are visible, in a colour that contrasts well with the fabric.
  2. Place the fabric under the sewing machine presser foot and turn the hand wheel until the tip of your needle is inserted into a line on your fabric.
  3. Hold the fabric between two hands. I like to get my fingers in close to guide the fabric, but be sure not to get *too* close to the needle!
  4. Decide which *point* will be your sewing guideline. (There are suggestions further below!)
  5. Slowly push down on your sewing machine treadle so that the machine starts to stitch, but keep your eyes on your chosen guideline.
A piece of fabric has a drawn line to help sew in a straight line.

Your Chosen Guideline

One reason people usually end up sewing wonky lines is that all the moving parts become confusing or distracting and they ‘take their eye off the ball’! Getting straight sewing lines when you’re not concentrating is nigh impossible – and one of the reasons I’m always shattered when I’ve spent a day sewing. It takes so much concentrating!

When sewing straight lines, you’ll want to keep your eyes on a fixed point so that you don’t become overwhelmed by all the moving parts.

You could focus your attention on one of the following:

  • A point on your sewing machine foot
  • An existing line that is drawn onto the fabric
  • The seam guideline in the sewing machine plate

A Spot On Your Sewing Machine Foot

To make this an effective method, you would keep the edge of your fabric – the raw edge of your seam allowance – aligned with a point on your sewing machine foot. Depending on whether you are left or right handed, you could choose one of the outer edges of the sewing machine foot you are using.

If the straight line you are sewing has a very small seam allowance – like a French seam – you could even align your fabric edge with the inside edge of your sewing machine foot!

You can also use the outside edge of your sewing machine foot as a sewing guide to help you sew straight lines.

Existing Line Drawn Or Basted Onto Fabric

This method only really works when you have a drawn or basted line on the fabric. You would insert the needle near to the start of this line, make a few backstitches, and then continue sewing forwards.

You want the drawn or basted line to be *inline* with the centre line on your sewing machine foot. Here’s an example photo of me sewing straight lines in this way.

Easy tote bag pattern - sewing tutorial photos

Sewing Machine Seam Guide

For a standard seam allowance amount, I myself use this method. I find the line on my sewing machine seam guide that is relevant to my seam allowance. My machine is metric, so I always use a fixed 1cm seam allowance. If a sewing pattern calls for ⅝ of an inch, I will place the edge of my fabric in the midway point between the 5mm and 10mm line. Here’s me using the sewing machine sew guide on my machine’s throat plate!

Using the sewing machine plate as a seam allowance guide

Note that there are not always measurements on the sewing machine throat plate, so if you forget to pay attention to this area when sewing, you’ll possibly see your straight line become slightly less so as your seam allowance amount wobbles.

The sewing machine throat plate has simple lines on to use as a guide when sewing.

For complete sewing beginners, I recommend using non-tacky masking tape to ‘set’ your edge. Accurately measure the distance from the needle and place the masking tape there, with the left edge (for righties, reverse if you’re a leftie!) being the ‘aligned’ edge. Here’s what I mean!

How To Keep Fabric From Shifting While Sewing

Now, this is all well and good, but what if you’ve decided on a specific ‘guideline’ that you’ll stick to, and you’ve been practising, but the lines you are sewing still aren’t being sewn straight?

One of the main reasons that your straight seams aren’t sewing quite as straight as you’d like is down to the fabric shifting. And this can still happen despite having set yourself a ‘fixed’ guideline, and despite having practised and practised! And as sewing over pins isn’t recommended, you need another way to stop the fabric from shifting while you’re sewing!

You see, the problem is that when your fabric shifts, you often end up with a kink in your sewing line. Not what you’re aiming for, right?

Not being able to sew in a straight line is something that we can work on with different tools. You can either spend a little on a seam guide tool or make a DIY seam guide!

Seam Guides For Sewing Machines

Now, most sewing machines come with a sewing machine seam guide built into the throat plate. While these guides are super useful for helping you maintain a rough seam allowance amount, having a seam guide that prevents the fabric from moving beyond a certain point can be much more helpful!

Magnetic Seam Guide

A great way to prevent your fabric from shifting while you are sewing is to attach a magnetic seam guide to your sewing machine. Prices for a magnetic seam guide vary, but I have seen various seam guide versions for less than a cup of coffee!

A magnetic sewing guide can also be a great and simple tool to help you sew straight lines.

A magnetic seam guide is a simple tool to help you maintain a fixed amount of seam allowance, and once attached to your sewing machine, helps to keep a straight line when you sew, as it prevents the fabric from slipping past.

How To Use A Magnetic Seam Guide

A magnetic seam guide is an easy-to-use tool for anyone wanting to sew a straight line!

  1. Buy a magnetic seam guide – I love this Prym magnetic seam guide!
  2. Measure, from the needle, the amount of seam allowance you need.
  3. Place the magnetic seam guide on the sewing machine at this measured seam allowance point.
  4. Place your fabric under the sewing machine foot, keeping the edge of the fabric flush with the magnetic seam guide – this will keep the seam allowance amount consistent.
  5. Sew slowly, making sure that the fabric doesn’t attempt to slip underneath the magnet or bunch up.
A magnetic sewing guide can also be a great and simple tool to help you sew straight lines.

DIY Seam Guide

If you don’t want to use a magnetic seam guide you can create your own DIY seam guide using cardboard and tape. I recommend using a tape that is non-tacky so that you do not end up with a sticky residue on your sewing machine.

To make a DIY seam guide you’ll need just three things:

  • Cardboard
  • Glue stick
  • Masking tape
masking tape and a piece of cardboard.

Cut the piece of cardboard into multiple pieces as you will want to use a few layers of cardboard to ‘build up height’ so that your DIY seam guide works to restrict the movement of the fabric.

Pritt stick glue tube and chopped up cardboard pieces to make a DIY sewing guide.

Glue the pieces together so that you end up with a sort of card block!

A stack of card pieces glued together to form a DIY sewing guide.

Add some tape to secure everything together!

Masking tape is used to complete the stack of card pieces glued together to form a DIY sewing guide.

That’s it! Now you just need to use the masking tape to attach your DIY sewing guide to the throat plate of your sewing machine!

Attach the DIY sewing guide to the sewing machine using masking tape.

And then you’re all set to start sewing straight lines! Here’s how the DIY sewing guide worked out for me!

fabric and a sewing guide for sewing a straight line

It definitely works to keep the seam allowance amount fixed in place, and helps to keep a straight line when sewing! Win win!

Are Your Ready To Sew A Straight Line?

How do you feel now? Are you ready to tackle sewing straight lines with one of the methods or tools talked about here? Which one will you opt for?

Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to know how it works out for you!

Share to Pinterest or Facebook below!

Angie Hancock

Monday 11th of May 2020

Thank you, just discovered you on Pinterest - love your easy to understand instructions. Angie

Eve Tokens

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

Thanks for your lovely comment Angie!

Nadia

Thursday 16th of May 2019

Thanx Eve for this post. I cannot seem to get a straight line of stitches but thia information and hacks will definitely help me get there...hopefully ‍♀️

Ev R

Thursday 9th of May 2019

I think the next battle is to sew a consistent seam allowance when sewing a curved edge as in a crotch curve or an underarm curve.

Eve Tokens

Thursday 9th of May 2019

Yes! That is a post planned for two weeks time - how to sew a neat curved seam! It'll be included in that week's email! :)

Carol

Thursday 9th of May 2019

Thanks for this Eve. I've always struggled with straight lines but have found magnetic guides a great help. the ones with the little corners are useful for curves too.

Eve Tokens

Thursday 9th of May 2019

Hey Carol! How are you doing?? Yes - absolutely agree with you! On my sewing machine (it may have just been noticeable on the top left hand side of some photos) I have a masking tape line to 'remind' me of the 1cm seam allowance needed 'from the back' on certain patterns. I have been known to have the magnetic seam guide on that point (and the 5mm point too!) to help with sewing accurate curved lines on collars etc! :)