How to use the overcasting stitches

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

We've been looking at seams and seam finishes in order to get a good looking result on our seams both inside and out.  Today, one of my favorites – the overcasting stitch.

Where to use Overcasting stitches

The overcasting stitch is one of the most versatile on your machine.  My machine has 3 options, stitches 6, 7 and 8, for thin to medium weight fabrics, heavy fabrics and stretch fabrics.  That pretty much has everything covered.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

The overcasting stitch can be used to finish the edge of your fabric rather like the zig-zag stitch we looked at before, but often gives a much neater finish.  My machine came with an overcasting foot as standard and if you don't have one, I highly recommend getting one.  You'll find that you will use it a lot.

The overcasting foot has an edge guide, so you run the edge of your fabric along the guide as you sew.  It also has a ‘pin' or bar running through the center and this controls the stitch so that it lays nice and flat, overcasting the fabric edge without making it bunch up and pucker.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

You can also use it to neaten both seam allowances together at the same time, or even on stretch fabrics – to sew the seam and finish the edge at the same time.  If you don't have a serger and just use a regular sewing machine like me, this is one of the best options for sewing knit fabrics and getting a narrow finished seam similar to that you would find on a ready to wear garment.

How to sew an overcast seam

For non-stretch.  Pick the correct stitch for your fabric.  Line up the two raw edges of the fabric against the little guide and sew.  It runs through nice and neatly because of the guide.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

I like to overcast the two edges together first, and then I go back and sew my regular seam on the seam allowance line.  This gives a really neat finish.  Press the overcast edge over to one side.

As an alternative, you could also sew your seam as usual, then use the overcasting foot separately on each of the raw edges and press your seam open if you preferred.  It all depends on your fabric and your project.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

For stretch fabrics.  I use my stretch overcasting stitch and foot to stitch the seam and neaten the raw edges all in one go.  It doesn't need me to go back again and sew another line of stitching, the stretch overcasting stitch does it all in one go.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

You can then stretch the fabric as much as you like and that seam will stretch right along with it.  Because the stitches aren't connected in the same way as a regular running stitch, there's pretty much no chance you'll pop those stitches no matter how much you stretch the fabric.

How, where and when to use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. Perfect for sewing knit fabrics too.

Do you have mystery stitches on your machine that look like these?  Give them a try.  Even if you don't have the special presser foot, you might still get a good result with these stitches.  Get out some scraps and give it a go.

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1 – the zig-zag seam finish

Part 2 – the flat-felled seam

Part 3 – the French seam

Part 4 – the Turned Under seam finish

Part 6 – coming up next, the perfect narrow hemline

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38 Responses to How to use the overcasting stitches

  1. Kathy says:

    You say to choose the right stitch for your fabric. You also refer to the regular overcast stitch and the stretch one. Which of those icons on the menu machibe is which, and what is the third one for?

  2. Mary says:

    Just what I needed to know as I try to make a pair of PJs of cotton knit. Thank you!

  3. nclawson49 says:

    Thank you. This is great info to finish raw edges without a serger.

  4. Elaine Ash says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge with everyone, I really appreciate your explanations of the different uses of the various machine ‘feet’.

  5. sara flowers says:

    Um… If you are using the overcast stretch stitch on a knit and use it to also sew the seam, all in one step, won’t it mess up the pattern sizing? Most patterns have a 5/8 of an inch allowance and if you are stitching on the edge the sizing will be off…Yes? What am I missing? I am fairly new with knits so it could be obvious to everyone but me. Help!

  6. Laura says:

    I have a question about the stretch overcasting stitch for stretch fabrics.
    Since you are using the stitch to make the seam, would you say it is a strong stitch? Would it only work for side seams? what about the center back seam that gets a lot of stretch and is usually more reinforced?


    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Laura, if you are thinking about gym clothes for example then yes the use of a serger with 4 threads would be better. If you don’t have one the overcast stitch is your best option.

      • Laura says:

        Yes, I don’t have a serger. I was thinking on something like your leggings tutorial, where you suggest using a narrow zig-zag stitch for seams (or a stretch stitch). It looks like the overcast stitch could be used instead of using the zig zag/stretch twice?

        • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

          Yes, have a go and test on a scrap of fabric that you are planning to use. Strech it with your hand and see what stitch recovered better. let me know which one you end up using.

  7. Sam says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful information. I am hoping for some help troubleshooting. Every time I try to use this foot, no matter what Stitch I use it with, the thread bunches up on top of the pin and stops the whole thing from feeding. Mine stitches do not magically fall off the back as you describe. I have no idea what is going wrong but it is no end of frustration. Has anyone else had this problem? The two suggestions I have found on other sites are to use a long stitch length and/or change the thread tension. Neither helped me. I would really appreciate any feedback from sewers who have had the same problem. Thanks!

    • Katie says:

      I have the same problem! I have yet to figure out a solution :/ Could someone help us out with this please?

      • Barbara Floyd says:

        I’ve also had that problem and what I learned to do was to Surge a little bit of thread ahead and on the tail and as I am feeding the The material through pulled the thread and that keeps it from bunching up on some Fabrics. Hope that is helpful

  8. Spinning Anna says:

    This is such a helpfull series. And the comments and your answers to them are of equal quality. Thank you for all this.

  9. CarrieM says:

    This is really helpful! I’ve used the overlock stitches on my sewing machine, but I never realized there is a special foot to use with them. I’ve had okay success w/o the special foot, so I’m hoping that with the foot it’ll be even better.

  10. Kate D. says:

    This is so helpful! This afternoon I’m organizing the feet that came with my machine and wondering “what the heck does and overcast foot do?” and now I know. And I know exactly what I’m going to use it for next: finishing the edges of cross stitch fabric so they don’t fray on my next project.

  11. Peggy in Madison Wisconsin says:

    HI Deby, Thanks so much for sharing SO much. I’ve tried your teeny key case
    and get many oohs and aahs and what a genius comments!!! Tonight I tried my
    overcasting foot for the first time after reading your tute. Dah-why did it take me
    35 years to learn this. Thanks millions -it works like a charm and now I will pass this knowledge on to my two 10 yr old sewing students. They will be light years ahead of me before too long. Thank you again for sharing in such clear pics and for all your encouragement. Much appreciated!!!!

    • Makes me so happy to hear this Peggy. Everyone love the teeny tiny and the overcasting is a great alternative to the serger too. I used it all the time before I got mine and still think its better in some applications.

  12. Lorena says:

    You did it again Deby, thank you I have the overcasting foot but I never use it because I didn’t know how. Now I know and I going to try it.

  13. Graceeh says:

    I have to laugh in spite of myself. How timely your post is for me. A while back I got a bunch of feet all bundled together in one package. The other day I was going through them all, one by one, and looking intently at each one. When I got to this foot I thought that they had messed up this quarter-inch foot and put the bar on the inside instead of the outside. Hah! Thanks for the excellent explanations and now I know what to do with this foot. Cool! You’re a gem!

  14. cweetgal says:

    Hi Deby. Thanks for compiling such a detailed post. I have loads of things to ask you now Hope you will find time to reply me 🙂
    1) More clarity on stitches – 6 is for this fabrics. 7 is for medium weight and 8 for heavy weight right ? Which is for stretch fabrics then ?
    2)Right now I dont own a overcast foot hence I zig zag my seams. I notice that when I use single layer of fabric the fabric edge buckles as it is zig zagged. Where as with multiple layers of fabric the fabric edge buckles lesser. So this problem is not there with the overcast foot?
    3)In your previous post(on zig zag) as you said the zig zag stitch does not look all that good. In between the triangles the threads are shabby right. This is not going to happen with overcast foot ?

    Please let me know.

    • Deby Coles says:

      1) On my machine, 6 is for light to medium weight fabric, 7 is for heavy weight fabric and 8 is for stretch.
      2) Correct, the overcasting foot has a little pin or bar running down the middle that stops the stitch pulling so tight and buckling the fabric. The magic comes with this little foot. If you look back at the post for the zig zag, at the top of the post, I use a regular foot and the stitches are kind of tight and yes, you get those little triangles of fabric between the stitches. But at the bottom of the post I show the same zig-zag stitch using the overcasting foot and it makes everything flatter because the zig-zag isn’t pulling so hard against the edge of the fabric.
      3) So if you combine the two, the special foot and the overcasting stitch, your fabric doesn’t buckle up and you don’t get those points of fabric between the stitches in the same way. The stitch is slightly different so more is flat with the seam, not just back and forth like the zig-zag.
      Hope this helps.

      • Diya says:

        Hi Deby. I ordered this overcast foot. I tried it out . But what I experiences was that it does not work well with fabrics which fray a lot like gabardine:(. The seems puckers just like my zig zag stitch too.

        • Deby Coles says:

          You may be able to shorten the stitch length on those types of fabric to give a closer overcasting perhaps. Or try a slightly looser tension? I admit, I rarely sew with difficult fabrics, I’m still too new, and I’m a knits girl at heart.

  15. So glad I found your site on Nifty Thrifty Sunday!

  16. I LOVE this tip! I had to check my sewing machine to see if I had these stitches, I’ve never used them before, and I’m so glad I do…I’m going to the fabric store today and picking up that foot…I never knew there was a foot for that!! LOVE all your helpful tips! I’ve been sewing for years, but there’s still so much to learn!! 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m pinning to the party board. Have a great weekend!! 🙂

  17. I have learned so much from you! thank you so much for sharing all your tutes and patterns. Love your blog.

  18. Cookie Crumbs says:

    Very interesting! Deby, I’d like to let you know that I really appreciate your blog. I really like it that you also make mistakes now and then. It makes it easier to jump into doing something when I know that you have the same problems that we do. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • Deby Coles says:

      Oh yes, I still make plenty of mistakes, but they don’t all make their way here. I try again and again until I feel I have got it down, then I’ll take photos or a video as a reminder to myself how to do it next time! Thanks for following along Cookie.

  19. Suzan says:

    I have the same stitches on my machine and also discovered how much I like using them. No more worries about fraying seams when I am working with burlap or painters drop cloth. I use #8. I have not tried using the stitch with knits but what a great idea! I am making some infinity scarves out of a lightweight knit. I will give it a go!

    • Deby Coles says:

      Wow Suzan I love your bags. I’m really keen to have a go at sewing with vinyl or leather myself and those tote bags you have with the vinyl bottom and handles are just what I have been thinking about. Thanks for dropping in and giving me some inspiration.

  20. Debbe says:

    I tried using this stitch and foot the other day and the stock went over that little bar so that I was sewing the foot onto the fabric. I has to cut and switch immediately. I must be missing something with this.

    • Deby Coles says:

      That’s exactly how its supposed to work Debbie. The stitches fall either side of the little bar or pin in the center of the foot and it looks exactly like its sewing it onto the fabric itself. But there is a tiny gap at the end of the bar and as the fabric feeds through, those stitches fall off the back and it all works like magic. When you are done sewing, you just feed it off the end of the pin and it pulls free like normal. Assuming you have the right foot of course. Pick up a scrap and give it another try! Do report back how you get on.

      • Debbeg says:

        Wow. I guess I didn’t use it properly. Thank you for sharing this! I was using the stitch, not knowing its specific purpose, to sew on applique. I’ll try as you suggested. Thank you!

  21. Megin says:

    Thank you for sharing! I have a fancy sewing machine and I’ve always wondered how to finish the seam. I will pin this and give it a try!
    Thank you for sharing this at Brag About It Link Party on VMG206.
    ~ Megin of VMG206

  22. Brandi says:

    So helpful! Thank you for sharing!

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