Reverse Stitch: How Do I Make My Sewing Machine Go in Reverse?

Cars do it all the time. Going in reverse can be a strategic move when you need to get to your destination. The same principle applies to sewing. Going in reverse makes sure your sewing destination is secured and ready for action. It is a great function to have at your disposal.

How do I make my sewing machine go in reverse? This is not a universal function. Those machines that have this feature either come with a lever you push down or a button you have to push in to change your sewing direction. These levers are simple and easy to operate but can be fragile at times.

To learn more about how to make your sewing machine go in reverse just continue to read our article. It explores the subject so novices know what to do when they want to sew in the opposite direction.

The History of the Reverse Function

In our research for this article, we decided to see when the first reverse function was placed on a sewing machine. To our disappointment, it seems that this addition to the many features on a sewing machine is not noteworthy or important enough to mention anywhere.

It just seems that the feature just appeared on the scene with no fanfare. Regardless of its historical value, the reverse function is an important feature that helps many sewers get their projects completed the right way and helps those projects last a long time.

What is a Reverse Stitch?


In very basic terms, reverse stitching is a technique used to secure your original forward stitches. This technique is used at the beginning and the end of a seam to make sure those original stitches are held in place.

Plus, the reverse stitch is a reinforcement of those original forward stitches. The end of the seams take a lot of stress and often need help in staying where they were placed. The reverse stitch does all of that and keeps your clothing intact for along time to come.

It is not hard to reverse stitch as you are merely going over what you have already done and adding another layer of stitches to hold that fabric seam in place. Also, you may have heard of reverse stitching through its other name, backstitching.

You can do backstitching by hand if that is your preferred method of sewing but sewing machines have made that technique easier to do if the lever or button does not malfunction.

That is one of the major problems you will encounter when you have a sewing machine with a reverse switch or button. They are not always made from the most sturdy of material and tend to break at the wrong time.

Reverse Stitch Sewing

The device that engages the reverse stitch function may be different than the one on your friend’s machine. There are two main ways to engage the reverse stitch function and the first is by pushing a simple lever.

The second is by pushing a button in. One would think that the simplicity would keep problems away but it doesn’t. You have to be careful when pushing those levers and buttons.

The location of the lever or button may not always be in the same place on different brands of sewing machines. If you are not sure where it is on yours, check the owner’s manual. There should be a diagram on one of the pages that points out the different parts and their location.

These buttons and levers may be a bit difficult to find as many sewing machine brands use symbols not words to communicate all the functions each button has. It is possible that those models with touch screens may have the reverse function operated through the touch screen.

It is hard to say as brands do get innovative when it comes to technological advances.

How do You do a Reverse Stitch On a Sewing Machine?


There may be different instructions for each of the different brands of sewing machines, the following comes from Brother and one of its help pages:

First, you have to make sure the needle is already in the fabric. Not just touching it but down into the fabric. Second, depending on whether you use the start/stop button or the foot pedal, press either one to start sewing in the forward direction.

After you have sewn 4 to 5 stitches, you press the reverse button but do not stop sewing. Keep the reverse button pressed and the foot pedal pressed while you wait for the machine to change directions.

Finally, when you have reached the first stitch you release the reverse button and take your foot off the foot pedal. That is all there is to it. To go forward again, press the start/stop button or press down on the foot pedal and the machine should automatically start sewing forward again.

When you get to the other end of the seam, repeat the process to reverse stitch on that end. Don’t forget to keep that reverse button pushed in after the last 4 to 5 stitches have been sewn forward.

What is a Reverse Stitch Lever?

The reverse stitch lever is an easier reverse function operational tool. It should be a lot easier to handle as in many cases you do not have to hold the lever down while the machine sews in reverse.

The one drawback to this lever is that it may be different on different sewing machine models. For an older Bernina, the lever is actually built into the stitch-length dial. You had to move it up or down in order to stitch in reverse.

Other models had a simple rectangle plastic piece near the back of the machine which you pushed down to enable the reverse function. Which style your machine has may be one of those or something altogether different.

If you do not know where your reverse lever is located, check your owner’s manual to find its location. There is one unbadged, unnamed sewing machine that was used on one website to show all the parts on the sewing machine.

They listed the reverse stitch lever in the numerical list but the number was not found in the image. That is how hard it can be to find this lever.

When Reverse Stitching You Need to Hold the Reverse Button In?


If you read the section talking about how to reverse stitch, you will know that one of some Brother models is the case. You have to continually hold the reverse button in until you have finished reverse stitching.

That feature makes it very inconvenient and ties up a hand for no real reason. This design may be on multiple models as generic directions to operate the reverse stitch feature mention you have to hold the button in all the time.

One set of instructions for Singer do not say that you have to hold the button in while you reverse stitch. they just say that you need to press the U-shaped arrow and start stitching. If you press the wrong button on a Singer, just turn the machine off and then on again to reset it.

When it turns on, just make sure to press the right button. The best thing to do with the model of sewing machine you have is to turn to the page talking about the reverse stitch button or lever and see the instructions the maker gave.

Each machine should be different and you may not have to hold the button in on some models.

How to Reverse Stitch On a Bernina

Different Bernina sewing machines have different ways of engaging the reverse stitch feature. One model, the 1230, has a little lever with a spring and a cap on it. Once you push the little lever, the spring engages the reverse function and you can start sewing in the opposite direction.

The 1008 model, is like the one we described earlier. Its reverse lever is built into the stitch length dial, which is the third from the top in a line of 4 dials on the back face of the machine. You have to lift that dial-up in order to get the machine to sew in reverse.

For other models, the Bernina sewing machine company places a lot of tutorial videos online to help you with your individual sewing machine and its many features. The manual for the 200 model says there is a quick reverse button on the front of the machine that needs to be pressed.

The machine will not stop until the button is released. There are several specialty stitches you can select to make a temporary reverse stitch before the machine moves forward again. Those stitches are #3, #5, #324 & #332. Check your owner’s manual to see what those stitch selections do when selected.

How to Reverse Stitch On a Singer


The first thing you need to know is that different Singer models have different reverse buttons and levers. On the machines that have the button, you have to be careful to hit the one with the U-shaped arrow. If you see a U-shaped arrow with a number above it, that is not the button you need to push.

Like Bernina sewing machines, you may have to attach the right presser foot before you begin sewing in reverse. Before you press that button though, you need to sew forward 2 to 3 stitches, then press the button and then sew about 3 stitches back.

Once that is done, press the button again to release it or simply take your finger off of it and the machine will sew forward again. When you get to the end of the seam or the part you need reinforced stitching, repeat the procedure once again.

Singer suggests you start about 1/2 inch from the raw edge before sewing in reverse and then go almost to the raw edge before reverting back to the forward direction. Then repeat that procedure on the other end of your sewing line.

Check your manuals if these instructions do not work for your sewing machine model. The manufacturers are not married to just one way of doing the reverse stitch.

When to Use Reverse Stitch

There are times when you need to use the reverse stitch feature and there are times when you shouldn’t. Generally, the main time you need to use this function is when you are working on a seam and the front and back ends of your stitch pattern need reinforcing.

While you can do a reverse stitch or what is called a backstitch in the middle of the seem, this is not necessary. The ends of the seam get the most stress and those are the parts that need the reinforcement the most.

When a stitch doesn’t work properly in the middle, you can use your seam ripper to cut those stitches then sew over them in forward and reverse to reinforce that weakened area.

Also, if a pucker occurs in the middle of your seam, you can take a small section of stitches out and fix the pucker. Once it is fixed, you can sew over that area in both forward and reverse directions.

So there are times you can reverse stitch that don't include either end of the seam. In most cases outside of the ends of the seam, it is up to your judgment whether to reverse stitch in those areas or not. The purpose of the sewing project will help you determine if you need reinforcement in other spots on the clothing item.

Can You Reverse Stitch With a Walking Foot?


There are differing opinions on this topic. One Bernina owner claims that her walking foot has been designed for both forward and reverse. One Babylock model may also be able to sew a few stitches in reverse without messing up the walking foot.

Those that disagree and follow the rule of thumb that states no reverse when using a walking foot, may have been using a cheaper option. those cheaper walking foot models may not allow for reverse and they get screwed up when you try to do it.

An older Janome model does not work well in reverse when you are using your walking foot. The newer models may have taken this issue into account and made some changes as some owners claim they can reverse with their walking foot on their Janome machines.

Basically, it will depend on the model of walking foot whether you can use it to sew in reverse or not. Not all walking foot models are made in the same manner and it may be a guessing game as to which can and which cannot sew in reverse.

Juki is another major brand where you may be able to sew in reverse using your walking foot. There just may be individual models that don’t and the reason for that may simply be a business decision. Those that can’t may be cheaper and easier to sell.

Lock Stitches and Back Stitches are Not the Same

Some sewers may think the two are interchangeable and the same type of stitch. they are not and the backstitch may actually add bulk to those sheer fabrics you like to wear. Also, the backstitch can interfere with the natural structure of the fabric.

The lock stitch does not add bulk and it is used on sheer fabrics to enhance the natural flow and drape of the material. It also works on those fabrics that come with a large sweeping drape.

The lock stitch is just a smaller stitch sewn over another one to hold that original stitch in place. It needs two threads to work right, the upper and the bobbin thread. The reverse stitch is usually done with the looper and the upper thread.

Then the lock stitch uses less thread than the reverse or backstitch. Then the former stitch uses an interlocking system to work while the latter uses both the interlocking and the interloping styles.

The good news in all of this is that many sewing machine models come with both features so you do not have to lock or backstitch by hand. But you can hand lock stitch if you want.

Some Final Words

Making a sewing machine go in reverse is a matter of hitting the right button or pushing the right lever. The complicated part of that simple act is that the buttons and levers are not always in the same spot, they do not always look the same and they do not always work in the same way.

Check your owner's manual to find the location of the lever or button and then see what it says about how to operate it. Different models will work differently.

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