The foot and needle of a straight stitch machine

What Is a Straight Stitch Machine and Do You Need One?

A straight stitch machine does one thing; it sews straight stitches. But it’s no one-trick pony. In fact, you can do a lot more with that one stitch than you might think.

Do you need one for your sewing room? Now that’s a completely different question.

Recommended Read: Singer 9960 Sewing Machine Review

What Is a Straight Stitch Machine?

A straight stitch sewing machine is a specialized sewing machine that sews straight stitches only.

That may not seem impressive, especially when compared to machines like the Singer Quantum Stylist 9960, which has 600 stitch designs, or the Quantum stylist 9985, which has 960.

Even the entry-level Singer Simple has 23 built-in stitch designs.

But the fact is, nearly 90 percent of sewing, whether it be garments, quilts, or other items, uses a straight stitch.

And even sewists who use decorative stitches usually stick with a handful of favorites.

Nonetheless, a general-purpose sewist may start to feel hemmed in, so to speak, by that single stitch.

But for some purposes, a straight stitch-only sewing machine is exactly the tool that you need.

Recommended Read: The Singer Simple Sewing Machine: A Great Machine for Beginners

Thread and needles for quilting with a straight stitch machine

Straight Stitch Machine vs. a Regular Sewing Machine

What’s the difference between a straight stitch sewing machine and a regular sewing machine? It’s more than the number of stitches.

A straight stitch machine is mechanical

Most straight stitch-only sewing machines are mechanical, as opposed to computerized. This means that they have no onboard computer. They don’t need one.

Instead, you control thread tension, stitch length, and stitch speed using manual controls like knobs, dials, and sliders.

One advantage of a mechanical sewing machine is that it’s cheaper and easier to fix them when they break. In fact, a savvy sewist can perform many repairs at home.

Another advantage is that those knobs, dials, and sliders give you much finer control over tension and stitch parameters.

Generally speaking, mechanical sewing machines are less expensive than computerized ones. Straight stitch machines are an exception, however. We’ll talk more about this in a bit.

One stitch type

As we said, a straight stitch-only sewing machine has one built-in stitch design, and one only. There are no decorative stitches, here, no stretch stitches, either.

There’s not even a zigzag stitch, and you won’t be making any buttonholes.

It’s fast

On the positive side, a straight stitch sewing machine is fast.

The average speed of a domestic sewing machine is 850 stitches per minute. Many straight stitch sewing machines can do twice that. Industrial models can go more than five times that fast.

This is because people use this type of machine for long, straight rows of stitching, such as garment seams and straight line quilting.

It’s powerful

Certain crafts, such as sewing with leather and sail making, require not just a dedicated machine for straight stitching, but also a powerful motor to sew through heavy materials.

Some straight stitch models, like Sailrite machines, have an external servomotor, which can power through leather, canvas, and other fabrics that would destroy a regular sewing machine.

Recommended Read: What Is The Best Sailrite Sewing Machine? A Buyers’ Guide

How Do You Use a Straight Stitch Machine?

For a machine that only does one thing, it has a surprising number of uses. Here are a few.


There are many types of quilting. However, two lend themselves perfectly to the use of a straight stitch sewing machine.

Straight line quilting

Quilting means sewing together a “sandwich” that consists of two layers of fabric with a layer of batting between them.

Many quilters like to use their stitches to quilt designs onto their quilt tops. Others prefer straight line quilting.

Straight line quilting means, simply, sewing straight lines across your quilt top.

The speed and power of a dedicated straight stitch sewing machine makes straight line quilting fast, easy, and precise.

Free motion quilting

Free motion quilting means moving your quilt sandwich through your machine in any way other than a straight line.

You might quilt around designs in the fabric itself, for example. Alternately, you could “stipple,” that is, quilt in a wavy freehand pattern.

You might also apply a design to your quilt top using washable transfers or fabric markers, and sew over that.

No matter what sort of free motion quilting you undertake, however, you’ll be using your straight stitch.

Here’s what free motion quilting looks like on a dedicated straight stitch only sewing machine.

Garment making

The majority of garment making comes down to sewing seams. And seams are straight lines.

If you’re making a lot of clothes, this type of machine can help you to power through those seams quickly.


Sailmaking uses two types of seams: the straight stitch, and sometimes a zigzag stitch.

But sails are made from multiple layers of thick canvas. This type of work will wreck a regular sewing machine.

Specialized sailmaking machines generally only have those two stitches. Many only have a straight stitch.

However, they’re built tough, with heavy metal construction. Also, many have a powerful external motor.

Why Is a Straight Stitch Machine So Expensive?

If you’ve been looking at this type of machine, you’ve probably noticed the budget. Why is something that only does one thing cost so expensive?

Like most industrial and semi-industrial machines, a straight stitch sewing machine is specialized equipment. It may only do one thing, but it does it perfectly and all day long.

Another difference is construction. Years ago, all sewing machines were made from metal. But over time and bit by bit, manufacturers began to replace metal parts with plastic ones.

This made sewing machines lighter and more portable, yes. But it also made them less durable.

Many straight stitch-only machines have a durable internal metal frame. Some even have an all-metal exterior. This gives the machine added stability when sewing heavy materials.

Finally, speed and power will increase the expense of any sewing machine.

A straight stitch-only machine is twice as fast as a regular sewing machine. Often, it has a more powerful motor, too.

Straight Stitch Machine: Must-Have Features

So you’ve decided you need a dedicated straight stitch-only machine for your sewing room. How do you choose a good one?

Here are a few of our dealbreaker features.


As we said before, straight stitch-only sewing machines are fast. The average model sews at around 1500 stitches per minute, but many go even faster than that.

How much speed do you need? That’s up to you. Just don’t get a ticket!

Speed control

Yes, super-fast stitching is a plus. At the same time, you may encounter situations where you want to go a bit slower. For example, around curves and corners.

A speed control slider can help.

A speed control function is like cruise control for your sewing machine. It allows you to set a maximum stitching speed.

That means that even if your foot slips on the pedal, you won’t lose control of your stitching.

Many mechanical sewing machines lack a speed control slider. Unfortunately, so do many straight stitch-only sewing machines.

However, there are a few models, like the Juki TL-2020PE, that have this feature.

Presser foot pressure adjustment

The presser foot holds your fabric against the feed dogs, while the feed dogs move it through the machine. For most types of sewing, a standard presser foot pressure is fine.

However, you might encounter other types of sewing where you need more or less than the standard pressure to keep your stitching even and regular.

In these cases, it’s useful to be able to adjust the pressure of your presser foot.

Heavy-duty construction

Many sewists use their straight stitch-only machine for sewing heavy fabrics, thick materials, and multiple layers.

Heavy-duty construction can give your machine greater stability and greater durability.

Look for a metal internal frame.

Alternately, you might find models made with materials like die-cast aluminum, which will help your machine to power through tough jobs for a long time to come.

Knee lifter

Since this type of machine is used for a lot of types of quilting, many of them come with a knee lifter.

A knee lifter is a metal lever that slots into a port built into the front of some sewing machine models. Not every model has this port, and if yours doesn’t, you won’t be able to use a knee lifter.

Once you’ve attached the knee lifter, however, you can move your presser foot up or down with your knee. This allows you to keep both hands on your work.

And anyone who has tried their hand at free motion work knows how important that can be.

Check out a knee lifter at work.

Cone thread accessories

For regular sewing, many of us buy thread on spools. But some types of sewing, like quilting, use a lot of thread. For this reason, you might want to buy thread cones instead.

Thread cones are enormous. While a spool may hold a couple hundred yards of thread, a thread cone holds thousands of yards. It’s a lot more economical and cost-effective.

Sergers are made to work with cone thread. Other types of sewing machines, unfortunately, may not be.

You can, however, purchase accessories so that you can use your cone thread with any type of machine. But it’s always nice if you don’t have to.

So, what do you need to work with cone thread?

Thread stand and splitter

First, you’ll need a thread stand to hold your cone while you sew.  Your stand may or may not come with a thread splitter, to separate and uphold thread from different cones.

Many straight stitch-only machines come with a built-in cone thread stand and telescoping thread splitter.

Cone thread adapters

Cone thread stands, whether attached to your machine or not, are made to work with spool thread, too. Thread spools have a much smaller hole than thread cones.

As a result, thread cones will rattle around on a small spool pin. And this can harm your stitching.

Cone thread adapters are inexpensive and easy to find. But it’s always a nice touch when a manufacturer includes a few in a machine’s accessories pack.

A cone thread adapter slips over the spool pin and allows your cone to sit securely on the thread stand.

Thread nets

Thread cones have a lot of thread. And when it comes loose, it can make a huge, wasteful mess.

Thread nets keep your cone thread tidy and together. Because so many straight stitch-only machine users use cone thread, some manufacturers will include thread nets in their machines’ accessories packs.

But if your machine didn’t come with any thread nets, don’t worry. They’re cheap and easy to find almost anywhere sewing supplies are sold.

Some straight stitch-only machines come with one or more of these accessories, so check carefully before buying separately.

And yes, by the way, you can transfer cone thread to an empty spool. In fact, it’s pretty easy. This video will show you how.

Extension table

An extension table can be a big help.


First, if you’re doing free motion work, an extra-large workspace can help you to view the section you’re working on within the context of a larger section of your project.

Also, if you’re working on a big project, an extension table can support your work. This, in turn, can prevent the weight of your project from pulling on your stitches and distorting them.

Fortunately, many straight stitch machines come with an extension table that attaches and detaches easily.

But if yours doesn’t, you can build your own easily and inexpensively. Check this out.

If you or a friend has some rudimentary woodworking skills, you can make an inexpensive wooden one from a cutting board and dowels from your local hardware store.

Do You Need a Straight Stitch Machine?

That really depends on you.

Do you do a lot of straight-line sewing? What about free-motion work? Do you have a passion for durability and a need for speed?

If this sounds like you, there may be a straight stitch machine in your future.

What’s the best straight stitch-only sewing machine in your opinion? What’s your favorite way to use it?

Tell us all about it in the comments!

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