Using Decorative Stitches for Construction

by Rebecca Kemp Brent for Coats & Clark

Modern sewing machines are packed with decorative stitches that tend to be under-utilized. Put a new spin on your machine’s fancy stitches by using them for construction tasks. The stitches are both functional and fun, and can add a couture touch to your sewing.


  • Rather than an ordinary satin-length zigzag, use a decorative stitch to attach appliqués. You may have stitches that resemble fur to use for teddy-bear appliqués, or select a decorative satin motif. Center the appliqué edge under the stitch for best coverage, but remember that appliqués which are fused in place are fairly stable, and may not need to have their entire edge encased with thread. Blanket stitch and other openwork motif stitches can also be used for appliqué.
  • Use a decorative stitch to attach ribbon or trim. Position the stitch so it overlaps the edge of the ribbon for a finish that stays flat through wearing and washing, or sew a decorative stitch down the middle of a flat trim to give it more pizzazz.



  • Turn a blanket stitch around so only the “legs” of the stitch span the garment edge and use the stitch in place of edgestitching around collars, cuffs, etc.
  • Substitute a decorative stitch pattern for straight topstitching.

Decorative topstitching and edgestitching

  • Choose an appliqué stitch – like a blanket stitch, but with three small stitches between short “legs” – to attach patch pockets invisibly. If the appliqué stitch is not available on your machine, experiment with a blind-hem stitch or blanket stitch instead. The appliqué stitch can also be used to finish collar bands and cuffs invisibly; rather than slipstitching the pressed edge over the seam allowances on the garment interior, sew the band facing to the garment wrong side first and fold the band to the outside, then use the appliqué stitch to secure it over the seam allowances from the garment right side.

Attaching pocket with applique stitch

  • For reinforcement at pocket openings, slits, etc., use the button-attaching stitch. Leave the regular presser foot on the machine and sew the button stitch as a bartack across the seam being reinforced.

Reinforcement_pocket 2

  • Go beyond function by using a decorative satin-stitch motif as the reinforcement for pockets or slits. The reinforcing stitches can also be embellished further with decorative stitch patterns.

Reinforcement with motif stitch

  • Use a patchwork or bridging stitch to create single-layer, reversible patchwork. Apply 1/4″-wide fusible web tape to the edge of one patch on the fabric right side. Using the tape as a guide, overlap the edge with a second piece of fabric, keeping the overlap consistent at 1/4″. Fuse the fabrics together. Sew along the seam with a 7.0 mm-wide stitch, spanning the overlapped area and finishing the raw edges on both sides.

Patchwork in progress Patchwork_single layer


  • The patchwork technique can also be used to hem and finish an edge by positioning the stitch to cover the raw edge of the hem allowance.

Clean finish for hem

  • Attach hook-and-loop fasteners in a three-step process for a more polished appearance. First, edgestitch the fastener in place with a straight stitch. Second, sew a decorative stitch around the fastener’s edges. Third, finish the application with a row of satin zigzag stitches that covers the fastener raw edges and one edge of the decorative stitch. For a simpler application, skip the decorative stitch and just finish the fastener edges with a satin-length zigzag (0.2 – 0.4 mm stitch length).

Hook and loop fastener_decorative




2 thoughts on “Using Decorative Stitches for Construction

  1. Phyllis Reply

    Very interesting ideas to use decorative built-in stitches to change a sometimes boring line of stitches into something fun to look at. I am curious if you used stabilizer on some of the stitches that put down a lot of thread, such as the stars (asterisk shape). I have had trouble with puckering, that without stabilizer, the decorative stitches cause the fabric to sort of pucker. Any help you can give would be appreciated. Thank you

    • lynnbrowne Post authorReply

      Using a stabilizing fabric or tissue paper will stabilize the fabric and prevent puckering especially if you are sewing on a single layer of fabric. For many of these techniques for construction, the area is already interfaced and does not need additional stabilization. Here is a guide to stabilizers from our friends at Pellon.

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