Back to Basics: Simple Straight-Stitch Sewing

If you’ve got bread cooling on the counter, lettuce growing in a raised bed, cards ready for the next birthday, ketchup, mayo, and chocolate syrup in the fridge and jam in the freezer, what better thing to do now than sew some simple projects?

And we’re talking projects that can be made with only a straight stitch. You can’t get much more basic than a straight stitch. Well, OK, I guess hand sewing is more basic, but work with me here.

Luckily, we have machines now and we don’t have to hand-sew all our clothes, curtains, and bedding. And the best part? Any old sewing machine can make a straight stitch. In fact, I started sewing on a vintage treadle sewing machine (you know, the kind you had to make go by pushing the pedal up and down with your foot?) in the 70s- back when it was just old and not “vintage” cool, and the only stitch it sewed was a straight stitch.

I made a maroon (polyester, of course) skirted jumper for my “wrestler-ette” outfit, in case you’re wondering. I didn’t care about wrestling, but my friend did and she talked me into doing it as a freshman in high school (we kept score- we didn’t wrestle in skirted jumpers, thankfully, though I’m sure there’s some reality show now that would think that’s great…).

So…I sewed on polyester fabric using a treadle sewing machine and produced something that I could actually wear (amazing) and then she quit before the season started. I was not happy.

Anyway, once you learn how to work your machine (which hopefully is electric…), the straight stitch can see you through most of the simple projects that make it worthwhile (money and time-wise) to sew. With this one stitch you can create things like pillows, napkins, tablecloths, bedding, curtains, skirts, and even simple quilts without ever using another stitch (though eventually you may want to try, I’m making no promises, here).

So why would you want to take the time to sew these items? Things are so cheap to buy nowadays, right? Well, yes and no. Sometimes you can buy an item pretty inexpensively that will fill the need or want that you have. And this works fine for most clothing items, and some table linens.

But when you want a unique item or a look for your home or yourself that doesn’t look like you (and everyone else) just went to Target, sewing is the way to get it. Well, that is if you can’t afford to hire it done, which is certainly not the case at An Oregon Cottage.

Do you have some great designer fabric a friend gave you? Grandma’s vintage embroidered tablecloth? A cool old needlepoint you found at a thrift store? These will make your home be about you and not the store where you bought them.

Some items I’ve sewn recently that I couldn’t find in the stores include an extra long toile shower curtain, black and white pillows filled with feather inserts, and cafe privacy curtains for the bathrooms. The curtains, in particular, were made with vintage embroidered fabric that I had collected from thrift stores and garage sales.

Not a sewer and don’t know where to start? There’s a great article for non-sewers over at Sew4Home, a site I have done some articles for in the past. I love this site for the treasure trove of information, patterns, and clear tutorials there as well.

What to start sewing? Two of my favorite easy projects that we use everyday are napkins and pillows.

I’ve mentioned before how we use cloth napkins for our meals, saving them for a few meals before washing by using individual unique napkin rings for each person. Sewing up a few of these in different patterns would take only a few minutes and less than a yard of fabric, salvaged or new, with this step-by-step napkin tutorial from Sew4Home.

It’s also a way to use up some scrap fabrics and even old shirts and clothes just like our great grandmother’s did. In fact, for those with a little more sewing experience, there’s another tutorial for making napkins from men’s old button-down shirts.

I’ve collected vintage materials and needlepoints for years and I love to make simple knife-edge pillows with them so that their beauty shines. I’m not into too much froufrou, so this works great for me. Any embroidery piece from grandma or aunt Sally would make a great decorative pillow, and it’s something that will not only be unique to you, but have some meaning, too.

And wouldn’t it be special to give a gift to someone using a fabric or embroidery that had some meaning for them?

Pillows, napkins, personalized and frugal gifts? Yes, all with a straight stitch on a sewing machine.

Now that’s basic.






  1. Under Her Wings says

    I love this post! It inspires me to use up some of my old fabrics and “stuff.” My next project is pillows for my banquette. Well, maybe after I finish making the cushions for it! Blessings to you and yours.

  2. says

    fun….I’ve been meaning to get my sewing machine out of it’s box. I still haven’t done it yet…I think the hardest part is making the time…but once I get going, there’s no stopping me.
    My grandmother had an old Montgomery Wards sewing machine from the 1940s…one of the first electric ones made, I think. It looked like the old fashioned sewing machine/cast iron…attached to a table with the treadle and everything. She could flip it upside down out of site, when not using it. It had THREE stitiches..forward, backward and zig zag. She made me some cool things on that machine. I’m not sure whatever happened to it though.
    Have a great weekend. Hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  3. Anonymous says

    I have been thinking about making cloth napkins for a while so now I am inspired. What is the best type of fabric to use? Thanks!

  4. A piece of cake says

    I learned to sew on a treadle machine, too!! My Grandmother was a seamstress…not professionally…but she could’ve been!! She could make a pattern out of something you already loved to wear…so you could have every color!! We own a shop in PA and took a few days off for the July 4th holiday. One of my projects was to sew burlap curtains for our poolhouse! They look great and did the job ( a little extra privacy…) I wrote on my blog how I always seem to feel the need to do these sorts of projects in the summer…funny that your writing about it, too!!! take care!!

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