Not Using the Zigzag Stitch? Here's Why You Should Be

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Are you stuck on the straight stitch? It's time to live a little! We'd like you to meet the zigzag stitch. It's found on every machine (even a really basic one), it's totally easy to use, and it's pretty darn clutch in a lot of tricky sewing situations. Now that's what we call a stitch fix!

Sewing machine settings for the zigzag stitch

Selecting the stitch

Most sewing machines have some sort of zigzag stitch setting. Each machine will look slightly different, but you should be able to easily identify it by the zigzag icon.

Choosing the width and length

This stitch is almost endlessly versatile, since you can adjust both its length and width in your machine's settings. Here's how to play around:

  • Adjusting the length: A higher number will make each leg of the zigzag travel farther down the fabric, making a flatter-looking zigzag. A smaller number means each stitch doesn't travel as far; if you used a very small stitch length, you would get a satin stitch.
  • Adjusting the width: A higher number will make each leg of the stitch longer, making the zigzag look bigger. A smaller number means each leg of the stitch will be shorter, creating a tighter zigzag.

Here are some examples of different stitch adjustments:

From left to right:

  • Low stitch width number with a higher stitch length
  • The same stitch width with a lower stitch length.
  • A high stitch width and a lower stitch length.
  • A high width number and a high length number.

Securing your zigzag stitches

File this under very important: Always remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitches!

5 times to use the zigzag stitch on your sewing machine

1. For stretch fabric

Sewing knit fabric can be tricky, since straight stitches don't offer enough give for all that stretch. But, you guessed it: The zigzag is a great solution.

To sew two pieces of knit fabric together, use a narrow zigzag stitch (with a low stitch width and stitch length number).

Just look at how much stretch a zigzag stitch has on knit fabric. Comfy!

2. For finishing a raw edge

When sewing with woven fabric, the edges will fray if they're not finished properly. One way to do it: A zigzag stitch!

After you sew a straight stitch for your seam, use a wide zigzag stitch along the raw edge. You can either finish each raw edge separately or just sew together as shown. This will keep the fraying to a minimum. 

3. For repairing holes

Have a small rip or tear? Patch it up with a zigzag stitch! Place a small scrap of fabric (it doesn't have to match — you won't see it!) on the back side of the fabric. 

On the front of the work, stitch a zigzag stitch back and forth until the scrap fabric is secure. (We used contrasting thread here so you could see the work, but matching thread makes it less visible.)

4. For appliqué

Appliqué one piece of fabric on top of the other with a zigzag stitch. Choose a fairly wide, close-together stitch (that's a high stitch width and short stitch length) for this technique. 

5. For decoration

One of my favorite ways to edge a sleeve is with this lettuce, flutter edge. For this stitch, you sew right on the raw edge of knit fabric and pull the fabric as you sew. This stretches the fabric, and then the stitch keeps it stretched for this wavy look.

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Not Using the Zigzag Stitch? Here's Why You Should Be