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Sewing Tips and Tricks: The Stitch Starter

How many times have you begun sewing a seam on your machine using sheer or very lightweight fabric and before you even get started, the fabric sinks into the needle plate? The threads knot up and in many cases, the machine locks up. Or, when you try to sew a super thick layer of fabric? The presser foot tilts upward and your machine can’t quite get past that hump of fabric. Frustration sets in and it seems you’re doomed, literally, before you’ve begun.

OK, so I’m exaggerating just a bit, but the fact remains that these issues are real.

Close Up on Sewing Machine Foot with Two Pieces of Fabric Feeding In

Starting a seam in very thin or very thick fabric can be problematic. So, what’s a sewist to do? Consider using a stitch starter.

I keep one handy at my sewing station at all times to prevent these kinds of issues from arising altogether.

Close Up of Patterned Fabric with Stitches

What’s a stitch starter, you ask?

It’s a small scrap of fabric a few inches by a few inches in size that’s a few layers thicker than the sheer fabric you are working with, or about the same degree of thickness as the bulkier fabric you want to stitch.

The stitch starter helps create a smooth and easy transition from starter to the real fabric. Think of it as a sewing running board. When using it for sewing sheer fabrics, you begin the stitching somewhere in the middle of the stitch starter. This way, there is no issue with the fabric sinking into the needle plate.

Close Up on Presser Foot Sewing Over Stitch Starter and Onto Fabric

Here’s how to use it:

As the machine gets closer to the end of the starter, simply slip the real fabric under the presser foot to meet up with the starter. Keep sewing right onto your project.

The starter keeps the presser foot in balance and reduces the pressure on the project fabric, thus reducing the tendency for it to sink into the needle plate. At 1/4″ to 3/8″ into the seam, backstitch one or two stitches to lock the seam.

Separated Stitch Starter and Fabric

When your seam is complete, simply snip the threads to disconnect the stitch starter from the project.

Presser Foot "Bumping Up" as it Sews Over Thick Fabric

The stitch starter, when used on very thick fabric, essentially raises the back of the presser foot so it is level with the “hump’”of thick fabric. This, in essence, eliminates any obstruction that could impede or block the stitching.

Close Up of Presser Foot Sewing From Stitch Starter to Thick Fabric

Again, start the stitching somewhere in the middle of the stitch starter so the pressure foot remains horizontal. Continue stitching and transition to the project fabric.

Thick Fabric and Stitch Starter with Stitches

When the seam is complete, once again, simply disconnect the starter from the project.

While sewing can sometimes have its frustrating moments, there is always an easy solution to almost every dilemma.



Thanks for such a helpful article! I hate hate hate when my lovely delicate fabric gets eaten by my sewing machine.


Excellent idea! Thanks.

Christina in Cleveland

A great reminder thank you! I also use that same snippet (or another one) at the end to sew off. Especially important when I am using one of my Singer Featherweights because, without fabric under the presser foot, the Featherweights will get thread stuck behind the bobbin race. Ugly when that happens and tough to get those out. 🙂


Great tip for stitchers. I use layered fabric to stitch onto at the end of every seam, so it’s always there as a stitch starter when I begin again. Saves thread and keeps everything moving in the right direction.


I sort of already do this, without realising!
I use the ‘leaders & Enders’ technique, so say im sewing a cushion, I’ll have something like a pile of Half Square Triangles or log cabin blocks next to the machine, grabbing one for at the start & end of each seen line. It means I use less thread, don’t suffer the thread pinging up inside the machine, and end up with a quilt as a by-product!


I’ve been sewing for 45 years, and had never figured this out or seen the idea before. THANK YOU!!!

Deb S.

Now why didn’t anyone teach me this 30 years ago – so intuitive and yet….thanks!!


This is very good advice. Thanks you!

Kate Hoesing

Great tip! Those little things really do save thread. There are also little plastic devices out there that one can buy to help you over the thick seams, as when hemming jeans. Just ask at your sewing machine dealer for a “hump jumper”. Very handy tool!


I’m wondering about backstitching though. If you are using the stitch starter are you then back stitching after you get onto your project you are making? otherwise its going to come unstitched. Thanks.


Es posible que estas apps para Android no sean tan imprescindibles como un navegador un mapa, pero sin duda que
son entretenidas.

dawn - mi rincón de mariposas

Interesting! Thanks for the tip!


lol, I never had a real name for what I’ve been doing for years and years, so I call it a Buh-bump. Saves thread, frustration, fabric, time, and trimmings all over the place.


I learned this technique from Charlene Jorgensen, who had a quilting show on PBS in the 90’s. Her technique was to leave a thread tail about 1/4-1/2 inch long between the starter and the patchwork seam to be sewn. The thread twisting which occurs prevents the seam from becoming “unsewn”. (Quilters seldom backstitch.)
The other thing that she taught me was to use a sharp pointed tool, either wood or metal, to guide the fabric right at the needle. (I think she called it a stiletto)
These techniques are useful and I always keep a stiletto and leader cloth readily at hand , whatever my current sewing project.


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