An Overview of Decorative Stitches, Chain Stitches and Overlock Stitches

Decorative Stitches:
Most decorative stitches are made from the basic lockstitch, but instead of the stitch being straight or in a basic zigzag pattern the decorative stitches are done in a variety of more complex patterns. Some decorative stitches are very strong and can be used instead of the zigzag stitch for stretch fabrics, hemming and other applications when a different appearance is desired. There are also decorative stitches intended for overcasting (overedging) on the edges of the fabric if you do not have a serger or overlock machine.
decorative stitches
Fig: Various decorative stitches
If you are going to use a decorative stitch for construction or with stretch fabrics, it is advisable to sew a test seam and try to rip it apart to make sure that it will be strong enough for your needs.

Most of the sewing machines include a variety of decorative stitches. These include zigzag and triple-zigzag, embroidery, smocking, and cross-stitch. Experiment with different widths and lengths.

Tools required for creating decorative stitches:
  • Satin-stitch or open-toe foot
  • Quilting bar
  • Decorative thread (rayon, metallic, embroidery, or variegated)
  • Embroidery needle or metallic needle
  • Wash-away or tear-away stabilizer
  • Iron and ironing board
Process of creating decorative stitches with sewing machine:
  1. Apply the stabilizer to the wrong side of the fabric, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Select a decorative stitch and adjust the length and width as desired.
  3. Install the satin-stitch or open-toe foot and insert the quilting bar into the shank.
  4. Stitch one row of decorative stitches across the entire length of fabric.
  5. Select the next type of stitch. Align the quilting bar on the first row of stitches and then stitch the next row.
  6. Continue sewing rows of stitches until the desired look is achieved.
You may also like: Different Types of Stitches Used in Clothing

Chain Stitches:
The chain stitch produced by a serger or overlock machine. Can be used as a construction seam or seam finish. Chain stitches are formed when a thread is looped with itself or another thread from the preceding stitch. This contrasts to a lockstitch in which a thread crosses or locks with another thread to form a stitch.
  • The chain stitch is made by chain stitch machines, general purpose lockstitch sewing machines do not make a chain stitch.
  • There are many types of industrial chain stitch machines, some models have double or tripple needles.
  • Some sergers and coverstitch machines can make the chainstitch on the edge of fabric.
  • Home sewing machines do not make a chain stitch although there were a few chain stitch adapters for home machines in the past, these were of limited utility and used mostly for making a single thread chain stitch for basting.
  • There are some inexpensive hand held mending machines that make a single thread chain stitch, they look like an office stapler and are sold by Singer and other brands.
type 401 double thread chain stitch
Fig: Type 401 double thread chain stitch
Single thread chain stitches are ISO class 100-199 and multi-thread chain stitches are ISO class 400-499. Within these classes the most common type is the two thread chain stitch type 401.
  • Single thread chain stitches are usually used when easy removal of the seam is required in applications such as basting, hemming, bag closing and tacking. There are a few domestic sewing machine models that can be modified with an adapter to make single thread chain stitches, but they do not tend to give reliable results.
  • Two-thread chain stitches are used for construction seams when strength and elasticity are required. Most jeans and many types of sportswear are sewn with two thread chain stitches.
  • Three thread cover stitches are made with two needle threads and one looper thread. They are used to cover the folded edges of fabric or folded seams.
chain stitches
Fig: Chain stitches
Overlock Stitches:
Overlock stitch is a serger stitch created with one needle thread and one or two looper threads, and used for finishing edges and for seams. Sergers make stitches of the overlock classification. For this reason a serger is also called an overlock machine. An overlock stitch is a multi-thread chain stitch in which at least one thread passes over the edge of the fabric.

Below is a picture of the three thread overlock stitch:
type 504 three thread overlock stitch
Fig: Type 504 three thread overlock stitch
The ISO diagram for the same stitch looks more complicated because it shows both the front and back side of the stitch at the same time:
Overlock stitch
Fig: Overlock stitches
  • The overlock stitches are ISO class 500-599 and within that class the most common types are the three thread overlock stitch type 504 and four thread overlock stitch type 514.
  • Overlock stitches are only made on the edge of the fabric and are often used to join two pieces of fabric together and finish the edge in one operation.
  • Overlock stitches can be used for both construction and for decoration.
  • You can use a zigzag machine to make a mock overlock stitch. A mock overlock stitch is a fake overlock stitch that is also known as an overedge stitch or overcasting stitch.
  1. The Sewing Machine Master Guide: From Basic to Expert by Clifford L. Blodget
  2. How to Use a Sewing Machine: A Beginner's Manual by Marie Clayton
  3. Sewing Machine Secrets: The Insider’s Guide to Mastering Your Machine by Nicole Vasbinder
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