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Decorative Stitches: Love Them! Use Them!

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A plain cotton sheet set at a department store might cost $25-$30. But add a line of decorative stitching along the turn-down edge, and it looks like the $99+ set that came out of a fancy catalog. Maybe you don't care for fancy sheets in catalogs – but the point is: a little decorative stitching adds a lot, and can take a sewing project from ordinary to "Did you really make that?!"

Just about every sewing machine, even the basic ones, have at least a few decorative stitches built in. Here's a look at the stitch chart of the 425 that come standard with the Janome Horizon Memory Craft 12000.

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With a few tips and a little practice, you can be using them like a pro! As is the case with many of today's machines, nearly all the decorative stitches on the Janome Memory Craft 12000 can be sewn up to 9mm in width. Pretty!

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Decorative vs. Embroidery

First, a little nomenclature. Some people refer to decorative stitches as "embroidery stitches." While some of them do look like lines of hand embroidery, in the sewing machine world, "embroidery" always refers to the stitching done by an embroidery machine, using a special carriage and hoops. Decorative stitches are ones you can sew out just like a regular stitch.

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As we mentioned above, top-of-the-line machines often have hundreds of decorative stitches, including alphabets, vintage dress forms, even little hand bags and kitty cats. But you can sew them out just like you would a straight stitch. (Some Janome models even let you create your own custom decorative stitches from scratch, but don't get me started on that.)

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Preparing your fabric

Decorative stitches are generally wider and use more thread than simple utility stitches, so they have a greater chance of making your fabric pucker.

You can try stabilizing your fabric with spray starch. Follow the directions on the can. Then sew a test row of your stitching.

If spray starch isn't strong enough, try a tear-away stabilizer. Since you'll probably be sewing along a relatively narrow area, to conserve, you can cut the stabilizer sheet into strips and pin it in place. Again sew some test seams.

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For expert help in getting the right stabilizer for your project, ask for a little advice at your sewing machine or fabric store.

Slow down a little

Your sewing needle is covering a lot of ground when you sew a decorative stitch. If you try to sew out an ornate stitch at top speed, the quality will suffer. So run your machine a little slower and be patient. You'll be much happier with the results.


It's a good idea to use guidelines on your fabric. Decorative stitches don't sew straight - the needle often moves right, left and backwards as the machine creates each stitch, so it can be difficult to keep the stitches in a straight line. Following a guide line will help you to keep things straight. Using a clear ruler, decide exactly where you want your line of decorative stitching to appear and draw a line right on the fabric. Make sure you use a special fabric marking pen that easily erases or washes away.

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Feet and tension adjustments

Your sewing machine may have come with a foot designed to do decorative stitching, such as a Satin Stitch foot. If you don't have one or aren't sure, ask your local sewing machine dealer about the decorative stitch foot that will work best with your machine.


Now... watch that foot! When sewing decorative stitches, don't watch the needle; watch the foot. As I said above, the needle will move around quite a bit as the machine makes the stitch. The presser foot is your best guide for the placement of the stitch - the center of the foot will indicate where the center of each stitch will be sewn. Janome's Satin Stitch foot has a little red arrow at the exact center, which makes it very easy to stay on track.

Because decorative stitches pull a little more on the fabric, you may need to lower your upper thread tension 1-2 notches. This will keep the bobbin thread from being pulled up to the top where it will show.

Decorative stitching for appliqué

One of the most popular uses for decorative stitches is appliqué. Nearly any machine that offers decorative stitches contains at least one you can use for this technique. These are simple stitches, which are used to hide the seam between the background fabric and the appliqué (while attaching the appliqué at the same time). A Herringone stitch, Blanket stitch and the classic Satin stitch are all great appliqué options. But, why not be creative and try a few other options? Look for a stitch with a wide swing side-to-side and test first on fabric scraps.

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Creating a stitch sampler

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It's one thing to look at the little graphic of a decorative stitch on your machine and quite another to see it stitched out with real thread on fabric. Create a little stitch sampler of your favorites to hang near your machine for easy reference. Check out the framed sample we created of some of our favorites. You could also display them in  a wooden embroidery hoop or simply mount your finished sample on a piece of heavy cardboard.

If mounting in a hoop for frame, use a fabric marking pen to draw a circle or rectangle on your fabric larger than the hoop or frame. If doing a plain mount on cardboard, draw a rectangle of whatever size you'd like.

Using a clear ruler and the fabric marking pen, draw parallel lines, an inch or so apart, across the circle or rectangle you drew on the fabric

Starch or stabilize your fabric. Sew a different decorative stitch on each line. Using a variegated thread for this step produces a cool effect.

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Start sewing a few inches from the closest edge of the circle/rectangle and continue sewing at least an inch beyond the far edge. This allows the sample to fill the hoop or rectangle.

When finished stitching, cut out the circle/rectangle and mount. For the cardboard option, wrap your fabric around to the back and glue in place to hide the raw edges.

Hang it near your sewing machine as a handy reference.

Again, our tutorial shows you the steps in more detail. 

Stitch combinations

This sampler idea is also a great way to keep track of decorative stitch combinations you've built. What are those, you ask? Some machines can actually customize the repetition of decorative stitches. For example, the Memory Craft models in the Janome line can memorize stitch combinations, save them into a built-in memory bank in the machine, and sew them out on command: square, star, oval, feather, square, star, oval, feather, square, star, oval, feather... ad infinitum. This creates a super custom look for garments, pillows and more.

The number one most important technique for sewing successfully with decorative stitches is: experimentation . Take some scraps of fabric and play!

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Comments (35)

Sewinbear said:
Sewinbear's picture

Thanks for all the fun ideas for the decorative stitches on my machine!! I have a Janome 8900 my Husband surprised me with in the Fall...still learning all the Awesome things it can do!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Sewinbear - You are so welcome - and congrats on your new Janome 8900 -- I know you love it already!! Take a look through our Project Index for great ideas for using those decorative stitches on fun projects.

BevAnn said:
BevAnn's picture

I have been planning on sewing a machine cover for my machine. I think this sampler would make a decorative addition to the cover fabric.

Wondering Sue said:
Wondering Sue's picture

What settings do you use to get these stitches.  It is impossible to buy a sample from a shop or even on ebay. I just want to know the length and width in these samples as I would love to do the fancy stitches on some little cot sheets I am making but there are no instructions I can find. Just love to know the settings.

Wondering Sue said:
Wondering Sue's picture

Thank you very much Liz I will go and try them out now.


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Wondering Sue - we used the default settings on our Janome machines. The exact settings and stitches you can do will depend on your own machine and model. Your machine's manual should include a decorative stitch chart, as well as recommending length and width settings and how to access the stitches. As always, we recommend testing your stitch selections on a scrap of fabric first, adjusting width as length until you get a look that's right for you. I have not seen anyone selling decorative stitch samplers, but haven't really searched for them. The selection varies quite a bit machine to machine. Here's a length to a recent sampler article we did: http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/interviews-inspirations/decorativ...

Jenn C said:
Jenn C's picture

I have a different machine, my husband picked it out for my b-day.I used decorative stitches to piece my daughters' t-shirt quilt. She asked for colorful-she got it  and a sampler in one.

anne said:
anne 's picture

Hi I have a janome 7100 qdc and I would like to make a nice fancy stitche to finish the sides of a blanket I am making

also put a silk type binding on it which is about 2 1/2 inches thick.  I am making this blanket out of fleece  what is the best finishing stitche to use   thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ anne - I don't believe the 7100 is sold here in the US so I don't have access to a stitch chart to recommend a specific stitch. If there is a design on the fleece, maybe you can find a stitch that is similar in look to your design. It's not clear if you are looking for a stitch to attach the binding or simply to add as a decorative touch. So again, I don't have a specific recommendation for you. If it is only decorative, it is simply what you like best. If you are using it to attach the binding they are more variables involved in terms of the look you are hoping to achieve. If you're just trying to secure the binding to the blanket in one step, look for a stitch with a wide swing of the needle to the left and right, allowing you to catch the binding and the blanket in one seam.

Pat Perry said:
Pat Perry's picture

I have a Elna 2006. I have tried my decotative stitches, but they never seem to come out right, what am I doing wrong????     grrrrrrr

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Pat Perry - I'm afraid we don't have any experience with that particular model. We suggest contacting your local dealer or ElnaUSA for help. 

Nuella said:
Nuella's picture

How do u make all these stitches? i really luv them.They look sooo beautiful!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Nuella - the exact decorative stitches you can do depends on your sewing machine model. We use Janome machines in our studios, and this article features their Memory Craft 12000 model. Most machines today have at least some decorative options. Check your machine's manual to see what options you have.

kinsley said:
kinsley's picture
Thanks a ton!! I've got a few decorative stitches on my machine, now I know what to do with them!
Debrajoe said:
Debrajoe's picture
Thanks for this article. Just loved the decorative stitches but wasn't sure what to do with them. This is a terrific site and I will return often. Thank you so much!
Beth T. said:
Beth T.'s picture
Sometimes the simple adjustments make so much difference. Thank you for suggesting the use of a stabilizer. That seems obvious, but I wasn't doing that recently and was disappointed at my mediocre outcome--turns out it wasn't the machine, it was me. (Not the first time.)
Bev from Oz. said:
Bev from Oz.'s picture
What an excellent article. I had forgotten a lot of these stitches were in my machine. Have printed notes out for future reference.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Eva V - Good question - you can use just about any type of thread you'd like -- it depends on the finished look you want for your project. I like to use the standard Coats Dual Duty XP for most of my projects because they have such a great selection of colors. Many people like to use a rayon thread to add a little shine. If you want a LOT of shine, try a metallic, but make sure you use a metallic needle and slow down your stitch speed. If you want a super matte finish, try a 100% cotton thread. And, as I mentioned above - the variegated threads are really pretty.
Eva V. said:
Eva V.'s picture
What kind of thread do you use to make a bold decorative stitch? I just got a machine that has decorative stitches and am so excited to get sewing!! Christmas presents here I come!
Nicole Ferguson said:
Nicole Ferguson's picture
Soo Pretty! I love the use of variegated threads, I have not known what to do with that.
Cyndylou said:
Cyndylou's picture
Thanks for more fun and informative ways to use our machines and imaginations. Great details are our best teachers!!!
Dorothy St. Pierre said:
Dorothy St. Pierre's picture
Since wall space is limited in my sewing room, I use a 4” x 6” photo album for ‘my sampler’ with each fabric page cut 4” x 6”. I stitch out the stitches grouped as they are on my sewing machine. With a pen I label each stitch with the appropriate #. I stitch the stitch as it comes up in the machine and then I reduce it to its smallest size & stitch another line of stitches. It is surprising how different a stitch looks in another size. I am often more tempted to use the stitch at the smaller size. My photo album sampler is easily transported as well if I want to take it to a class. It was very helpful when I took an applique class when we were making a child’s quilt using fanciful fun monsters.
Gina T said:
Gina T's picture
I was admiring these pretty stitches and thought I'd really look at what my machine has available. I'm surprised by all the fancy stitches my 10 year old machine has. Why don't I use this capability? I'm so psyched to try them out tonight. Thanks for inspiring!
acwink said:
acwink's picture
I have so many decorative stitches on my machine and seldom use them. You've inspired me! Thanks for this post!
jeancreates.blogspot.com said:
jeancreates.blogspot.com's picture
We so often forget those cool decorative stitches we bought out machines for... this is a great way to play with them and enjoy the finished product!
j.g.sullivan said:
j.g.sullivan's picture
Sort of forgot about them and will certainly use them more often now...
dragicap... made by me said:
dragicap... made by me's picture
fantastic ways to decorate and simple!
and I love them ...