Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two-Minute Smackdown: Straight Versus Zig-Zag

Bargello and Frodo

Why a straight stitch machine?  I have lots of other machines, all of which will make a straight stitch in addition to zig-zagging, making decorative stitches, and even doing embroidery. Simple answer:  straight stitch machines make better straight stitches.  If you are sewing miles of straight stitches, cutting them up and sewing them back together again (i.e. piecing a quilt top) precision sewing really helps prevent cussing and tearing your hair.

You can see the reason that straight stitch machines make superior straight stitches in a flash if you own both kinds of machine.  Do your own quickie smackdown (no sewing required).


Examine the needle (aka throat) plates of both machines (that's the whole two minute smackdown, by the way)
15-91 Needle Plate

  • The straight stitch machine has a tiny round hole for the needle to go through.  All of the rest of the fabric is being supported by the needle plate.  As the needle pierces the fabric, it pokes downward but the area of fabric that can get distorted is no bigger than that little bitty needle hole.
  • The zig-zag machine has an oval hole to accomodate the wider stitches, and it bigger in both width and length.  Bigger hole, more instability.
Singer 401 Throat Plates, Straight Stitch and Zig-Zag
If you only own one machine and it is a zig-zag, check to see if a straight stitch needle plate is available for it. Factor in not only the cost of the plate but the cost of all the needles you will break when you switch back to zig-zag and forget that the straight stitch plate is still on.  Can you see the needle strikes on the 401 straight stitch plate on the left above?

There may be other reasons for the superiority of straight stitch machines for straight stitching.  The needle isn't meant to jump around--it wasn't designed to move.  Also, the feed dogs are pushing on a lot more fabric on a zig-zag machine.  If you have any opinions on whether these make a difference or not, please chime in!


  1. I have a straight stitch throat plate for my Bernina. I find it is so helpful when trying to piece points. The wider oval hole pulls the tip down in, but the straight stitch does not. I really don't use it much though, mainly because I try never to piece triangles, lol.

  2. I find that the strait stitch machines make better strait stitches but zig-zag ones are not bad. That said, there are times I will make the effort to switch out plates: when using a very light fabrics like silk, chiffon and georgette. When using a zig-zag plate the fabric sometimes pulls into the larger hole but no so with a strait stitch plate.

  3. @Wilma: I made one flying geese quilt (king sized) before I knew any speed-triangle techniques. That was in 1989 and I am still in recovery! Have fun with your triangles--I have been sticking mostly to squares and strips since then!
    @yardiva: I am trying to imagine a life for myself in which I would be sewing silks, chiffons and georgettes. Perhaps to accept an Oscar for best costumes! Quilting cottons, t-shirt knits and stretch denims rule my sewing room now.


Say hello or leave a comment here. I would love to hear from you! If your own settings are set to receive a comment back, I will write to you. If you don't hear back from me, you will know that your own settings are set to "no reply".

I have to block anonymous posts to prevent spam. I am really sorry if this excludes you.