Decorative Machine Stitching

Programmable machines make decorative stitching easy!

Today, decorative machine stitching is used for personalization, embellishment, and emphasis. With computerized embroidery sewing machines able to create dozens of stitches with hundreds of variations, there is no limit to the uses for this flamboyant sewing technique.

Types of Decorative Machine Stitching

There are three basic types of decorative stitches:

  • Closed stitches are patterns completely filled in with thread to create solid blocks or shapes. Examples include:
    • Thick herringbone ridges
    • Hearts, stars, squares, ovals, diamonds, and other geometric shapes
    • Groups of stitches to form thicker patterns of common, straight stitches
    • Block alphabets
  • Open stitches are tracery outlines of thread that create more complex, intricate patterns, such as:
    • Starbursts and lacey asterisks
    • Honeycomb lattices to cover large areas
    • Floral, leaf, or vine patterns
    • Script alphabets
    • Waves and embellished feather waves
  • Embroidery stitches that are complex patterns and figures typically meant for a single embellishment rather than a repeating pattern, including:
    • Complete floral patterns and images
    • Animals or common hobby items (planes, trains, sports, etc.)
    • Holiday motifs and other themes

In addition to these options (which are programmable on many machines), it is possible to vary the height and width of most stitches to create unique decorative machine stitching to suit the needs of any project as well as the skills of any crafter.

Choosing Stitches

Not all stitches are appropriate to every project. First, you must decide what "mood" your project will have. Playful? Try a light stitch with many variations. Bold? A thicker stitch will work best. Elegant? A simple repeating pattern will not be overwhelming.

The type of fabric (or paper, since many machines can sew on paper and cardstock to create great scrapbook pages or other paper crafts) you use will also play a part in which stitch you select. A very busy fabric with an intricate pattern will work best if you use a thicker, more visible stitch. Thinner, open stitches will add delicacy and distinction to plain fabrics. Similarly, a thick fabric such as denim coordinates well with a bold stitch, while silks and gossamers are more suited to intricate stitching.

One project does not need to be limited to one p

articular type of stitch, however. Many projects can easily accommodate overlapping stitches in assorted patterns, creating coordinated layers of decorative machine stitching that enhance the flair of the piece.

Choosing Thread

Most sewing machines can be adjusted to accommodate a variety of threads. If the stitch you want to use is very complex, choose a sturdy but thin thread that is unlikely to snag. A more straightforward stitch or one that moves linearly rather than frequently changing angles can use more delicate threads.

Just as one project can use different types of stitches, you can also choose different types of threads to add variety and texture to your projects. Some machines even feature multiple spools so that the same stitching pattern can utilize different threads, but more commonly the user needs to switch the threads. Overlapping stitches or choosing different patterns with different threads can turn an otherwise bland sewing project into a stylistic masterpiece.

Decorative Stitching Projects

Crazy patch quilt

There are many fun projects that use decorative stitches, including:

  • Framing crazy quilt blocks with different stitches
  • Adding stitches to ribbons for personalization
  • Embellishing pillows, blankets, jackets, jumpers, or other fabric and clothing
  • Creating a fabric photo frame
  • Creating scrapbook pages, cards, bookmarks, or other paper projects with additional texture
  • Adding fringe to assorted projects
  • Attaching appliqués to different projects
  • Creating unique plaids out of plain fabric with varying decorative stitches
  • Adding contrast to borders on both plain and patterned fabrics
  • Edging sleeves, cuffs, or hems of clothing

Even though the most modern sewing machines offer the greatest range of decorative stitches, many experienced sewers are reluctant to part with their favorite machines, particularly because programmable, computer-controlled machines can be far more expensive than what may be justified for the sake of a few embellishments. It is possible, however, to adjust the width, height, and span of stitches even on simpler machines to create your own decorative stitches.

When experimenting with different patterns, use scrap fabrics or pieces of cardstock to create a key labeled with the precise machine settings so you can recreate desired stitches without retracing your steps. If your fabric puckers when using complex stitches, spray a light starch on the opposite side of the fabric or use a tear away stabilizer for greater control.

Decorative machine stitching is a great way to add distinction and fun to any sewing project without struggling with beads, sequins, or other add-on items. The practicality, versatility, and beauty of decorative stitches make them perfect for a wide range of projects. Regardless of the type of sewing machine you have, you can find ways to create your own personalized decorative stitches for great-looking projects.

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Decorative Machine Stitching