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How to Turn Corners with a Decorative Stitch

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Did you ever have one of those cute little wind-up toys? It's so fun to watch as it tick-tock walks across the floor. But what happens when it comes to a wall? Can it turn left or right or even stop? No! It just keeps going, ka-wonking its little toy head against the wall over and over and over. It's a little like the decorative stitch. As long as you're going straight, all is well. The pattern is pretty, the thread is colorful, it's adding an amazing accent to your project. Then the corner approaches. If making a turn with a decorative stitch has you ka-wonking your own little head against the wall, we're here to help with several ways to take a turn for the better. 

The keys to a good corner for any of the options outlined below are 1) start with a drawn guideline to follow, 2) stitch at a slow and steady pace, and 3) practice your stitch on scraps to memorize how the pattern forms and repeats.

We are a Janome exclusive studio here at Sew4Home, so our techniques and samples focus on their machines. However, we did check several other manufacturers’ models (Bernina, Pfaff, and Brother) and the same programming can be done on their machines as well. In general, most electronic sewing machines can be programmed to stop at the end of a complete stitch pattern with the push of a button, and can be restarted at the beginning of a stitch pattern, or they can stop mid stitch pattern, pivot for the corner and resume mid stitch pattern.

We are using the Janome Satin Stitch foot, which is standard on most Janome models. It's transparent, so you can see the stitches forming beneath the foot, and it has a bright red arrow at the exact center needle drop. This arrow makes it very easy to follow your drawn guide lines. If you do not have this exact type of foot, another foot can be substituted, but do try to find and use a transparent presser foot for the best results.

Instructions for locking off at the beginning and end of each line of stitches

On most models of Janome electronic machines, you will find a Reverse button and also a Lock Stitch button.

Traditionally, the Reverse button simply causes the machine to stitch backwards on a straight stitch, zig zag stitch, and utility stitches. But when used for decorative stitches, when you press the Reverse button, the machine stops immediately and locks the stitch. This means you can stop mid pattern so your stitching fits your desired space.

The Lock Stitch button is used in two ways with decorative stitching. First, you can press the Lock Stitch button and the machine will complete the decorative stitch pattern, lock the stitch at the end of the pattern, and stop.  Secondly, you can stitch just a single pattern by pressing the Lock Stitch button just after starting your pattern. An additional feature of Janome machines is that all decorative stitches automatically start with a lock stitch.

If your model is mechanical or is a brand that does not have a Lock Stitch, there are alternatives. At the beginning, make sure you have long thread tails. Do not lock the stitch at all to begin, simply start sewing. At the end of your line of decorative stitching, stop sewing at your desired position. Re-set the machine for a straight stitch, shorten the stitch length to 0, and sew 4-5 stitches in place. Remove the project from the machine and return to the head of the stitch line. Pull the long thread tails through to the back and hand knot to secure. You could also use the beginning technique of leaving the thread tails long and pulling them through to the back to hand knot at the end of the stitching; we simply prefer the neater finish of the shortened stitches.

Option 1: Continuous stitching with a single stitch pattern

This technique will give you a continuous line of stitching around a square, rectangle or other straight-edged shape.

Start with a practice strip of fabric. Our samples are sewn on handkerchief linen, which is a crisp but lightweight fabric. We used a layer of tear away stabilizer under the fabric.

Draw a guide line on the practice strip. Select a decorative stitch. For our first sample, we chose a small satin motif and stitched a continuous line. We used the Lock Stitch button to end our line of stitching. This is the perfect time to preview thread color, check the tension, and adjust stitch width and length.

When the sample is complete, place a ruler alongside the stitching. Take note of the size of the pattern. Our sample pattern is small, only about ". It takes thirteen patterns to make a 5" line of stitching. With this in mind, we decided to create a 10" square of decorative stitching.

Using a fabric pen or pencil and a ruler, draw guides for each line of decorative stitching. When positioning, remember that these lines represent the center of the stitches. Keep this in mind when plotting distance from a seam or edge. Use a clear ruler and measure carefully to insure all intersections are straight and true. You will be working on the right side of your fabric, so make sure the marking tool you've chosen is one that will easily wipe away or will vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron.

As mentioned above, always practice first. Draw several single corners onto a scrap of your project fabric. Test your chosen stitch to determine width and length, then watch how the pattern stitches out so you can recognize its true starting and stopping points.

To start, center the presser foot over your drawn line and drop your needle directly into a corner intersection point. Start stitching along the guide line towards the first corner.

Slow down as you approach the corner and carefully watch both the forming of the stitch and the position of the needle.

As you start the last decorative pattern, press the Lock Stitch button. The machine will complete the motif, lock the stitch, and stop.

You want to stop and lock the stitch with the needle as close as possible to the coming intersection and with the needle in its center position. When pivoting around a corner with a straight stitch in standard sewing, you do not lock the stitch. You simply stop at the corner with the needle in the down position, lift the presser foot, and pivot the fabric 90˚. For decorative stitching, you are treating each side of your chosen shape as an independent seam with a beginning and an end.

Remember, we are using the Lock Stitch button, so we simply wait for the the machine to stop. Once stopped, raise the needle, pivot the fabric, and re-position it so the presser foot will be centered on the guide line for the next line of stitching.

Carefully drop the needle so it's just barely touching the fabric. Adjust the fabric until the point of the needle butts up against the previous row of stitching. When this needle drop test is precise, insert the needle all the way through the fabric and lower the presser foot. Check once again that the guide line is still centered under the presser foot. Begin stitching along the new guide line. Repeat at each corner until you return to your starting point.

Our sample looks perfect. By using the Lock Stitch button to end each of our rows of decorative stitching, all of our corners are identical.

But take a closer look; Corner 3 did not quite end at the intersecting lines. Instead, the stitch finished about " beyond the intersection before completely stitched and stopped.

No problem! We simply lined up the beginning of the next row by placing the starting point even with the horizontal drawn line but just a smidgen outside the drawn vertical line to compensate. As you stitch the next row of decorative stitching, gradually return the drawn vertical line to the center mark of the foot.

Our second sample uses one of the larger decorative stitch patterns. Our sample stitch-out showed each complete pattern measures approximately 1". Four patterns measure 4" so we'll make a 8¾" sample square.

Again, our sample is sewn on handkerchief linen backed with tear away stabilizer. Start the stitching at a corner, lowering the foot where the lines intersect.

As you approach the next corner, watch the decorative stitches closely to determine when the last pattern starts.

As soon as the pattern starts, press the Lock Stitch button. The pattern will complete its stitches then lock the stitch and stop. Repeat for each side, starting the stitching each time at the intersecting lines.

Another perfect square…

… with a set of four perfect corners.

Option 2: Continuous stitching with stacked stitches

This is similar to option 1, but with an additional guide line to allow you to build multiple rows of stacked stitches. 


Using a fabric pen or pencil and a ruler, draw guides for each of your lines of decorative stitching. In this case, these lines do not represent the center of the stitch line as they did above. They are instead an inner frame on which the stacked stitches will build. You will run the edge of your presser foot along these guide lines to keep a straight line, building from the inside out. Keep this in mind as you plot the position of your finished stitches.


In addition to the main straight lines of your shape, add a 45˚ diagonal line in each corner. 

To start, line up your presser foot with the right angle of the first corner. Position the needle so its starting needle drop will hit the diagonal line. This may be the center needle position or it may be left or right; our sample motif started with the needle to the left. Knowing this starting position is one of the reasons you practice first to recognize each stitch's start and end points.


Start stitching, running the edge of the presser foot along the guide line towards the next corner.

Stop when you reach the diagonal line of the next corner with your needle at the center position (or as close as possible as detailed above). Lock the stitch.  

Re-position as described above and continue around the shape. 

Add additional stitches, building outwards. After the first line of stitches, it's easiest to use the previous stitches as a guide for the next line of stitches, but you could also draw in more guide lines if you want your stitches to be farther apart. The key is to use the diagonal line as the starting and stopping point for each side. 

Option 3: Creating a single corner

When you need just a single corner, it's easiest to start at the point of the corner and sew outwards in either direction.

Draw a diagonal line. This line represents the intersection point of your corner(s). Our sample shows how you can use the same diagonal line to stitch perfectly stacked corners in both directions.

Decide where you want the point of your first corner. Place the fabric under the presser foot so the line runs diagonally under the foot and the needle drop will hit your exact corner point.

Select a decorative stitch.

Stitch from the diagonal line toward the outer edge of the fabric, keeping the line of stitching parallel to the edges of the fabric.

Use the Reverse button to lock the stitches at the edge of the fabric. No need to complete a pattern; the Reverse button locks the stitches immediately when pressed and the machine stops.

NOTE: When the Reverse button is used to end the stitching, the stitch pattern will resume where it left off. Look for the ‘B’ on the machine to restart the pattern at the beginning.

Rotate the fabric and reposition to sew the second side of the corner. We will start our stitching in the same spot, but sew in the opposite direction to complete the corner. Line up the needle drop so it goes in at the exact starting point of your first line of stitching. The line of stitching should be at a 90° angle to the first line of stitching.

Repeat to build as many corners as you'd like along the same diagonal line.

On this sample, you’ll notice that we used all symmetrical stitch patterns. These are the stitch patterns that are the same on either side of an imaginary center line. Most symmetrical stitches start with the needle in the center position, making it easy to match the starting point on each of the sides.

Our second single corner sample uses asymmetrical stitch motifs. These are the stitches that need to be mirrored to make a pleasing corner. Examples of asymmetrical stitches would be rope designs and scallops. Look for the option on the machine to mirror a selected stitch.

Stitch the selected stitch from the diagonal line toward the outer edge of the fabric. For the second side of the corner, mirror the stitch. Rotate the fabric and start the stitching at the same spot as the first line of stitching but in the opposite direction.

NOTE: Asymmetrical stitches may start with the needle in the far left or far right position. In that case, simply make sure the needle starts at the diagonal line.

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Comments (2)

kathntn said:
kathntn's picture

Very good information.  What happens when you cannot choose the length to cover and the angle is not 90 degrees such as the shirt collar of a RTW item?

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

@Kathntn - The steps above still work. Yours is a situation is where sewing a test strip is especially helpful! You can place the strip along the edge of the collar to see how it fits, and make adjustments if necessary. For instance, you may need to lengthen the stitch to make it fit exactly. For small areas like collars and cuffs, a small scale decorative stitch may work better than a large pattern. The corner technique works for any angle - not just 90˚, but a test sew will let you see how the pattern overlaps at the point of the angle.