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What stitch length you should use varies by project. Here are the most common stitch lengths so you can use the right one.
Sewing machines indicate stitch length in millimeters. A 2.8 stitch length means each stitch will be 2.8 mm long.
When you adjust the stitch length, it’s not the needle that is changing; it’s the feed dogs (the little fabric grippers in the center of the needle plate below the presser foot). The machine alters how much fabric the feed dogs will move before making the next stitch. Your needle will always do its thing and work steadily.
Your sewing machine’s manual is likely to have a handy stitch chart of suggested settings and uses for your model.
My Janome 3160QDC display is as follows:
Janome 3160QDC-B Quilters Decor Computer Sewing Machine
The smaller the stitch length number, the smaller the stitch. (It is worth noting that small stitches are a pain to rip out and can tear your fabric.)
A longer stitch length is typically used for basting (temporary stitches), sewing with heavyweight fabric, or for defining a topstitch.
Some patterns may require you to have a certain number of stitches per inch instead of a set length. If your pattern specifically states a stitch length, always follow instructions… otherwise, here are the most common measures to use as a guideline.
Quilting Stages & Stitch Length
Heres a little math for those that are really into unlocking the secrets behind what those numbers on your machine are.
There are 25.4 millimeters in one inch. The formula is this:
25.4 divided by the metric length of the stitch such as 2.5 equals the number of stitches per inch.
To go the opposite direction, if a pattern requests 10 stitches per inch, divide 25.4 by 10 to get the millimeter setting of 2.5.
The average machine quilting stitch length chosen is between 10 and 11 stitches per inch. That is equivalent to a stitch length of 2.5mm
To reinforce a seam or make it stronger
Use a tight (smaller number) stitch. This is also the case if you are sewing with silk or sheer fabrics. The exact length is not as important as making sure it looks well and gives your seams the strength it needs. Start with somewhere between a 2-2.5 on a test piece or scrap piece of fabric and decide from there. If your stitches still pull apart too much or seem to put pressure on the seams, go a little tighter
One of my favorite parts of the process! I used to think that the bigger the seams were, the more comfortable to rip out
if when I made a mistake. That is true, however… when you think about all the times your quilt is going to go through the wash and all the hours you spent making the quilt… you want those seams to hold up!
Use a stitch length of 1.8 when piecing fabrics for quilting. (I was using a 3 before someone finally told me I was doing it all wrong! yikes!) Tinier stitches are a pain to rip out when you have to correct a mistake, but working with the overall quilt piece is much easier with the smaller stitches. I feel like they have less give and stay in place better.
If you have wiggle room when you put in your seam ripper, you’re using too big of stitches. If it goes in but its rather snug, you’ve accomplished the perfect stitch!
This one is easy… whatever the longest stitch is on your machine… use that one! I like a 5 stitch length. These are stitches you will either remove later or are just used to reinforce your quilt sandwich until you can go back with better stitching. It just holds everything in place, so it doesn’t move around while you work.
Oh, how I love jersey! I don’t have anything to show you yet (The key word is YET), but I’ve been playing with some jersey and learning how to sew with it. There has been a learning curve for sure.
If you’re using a stretchy fabric, you’ll want to use a longer stitch. Shorter stitch lengths can pull and pucker your fabric. You’ll know it when you see it. The fabric almost ruffles up when you aren’t even touching it. If you find that your stitches are puckering on a particular fabric, try adjusting the stitch length to allow for longer stitches.
Your stitches should be nice and smooth without altering the fabric underneath.
Quilting or Decorative Stitches
Decorative stitches such as topstitching or quilting will be visible on the finished project, a long stitch length is usually more desired. Long stitches tend to be more attractive than short stitches.
It’s a personal preference here… When I quilt, I usually will go with a 2.8-3.5 depending on the look that I am wanting.
When quilting, the finished result is that your quilt sandwich (backing, batting, top quilt) stays together when you use it and wash it. Keep your stitches small enough that you don’t have to worry about them coming out, but large enough that it isn’t going to take you 90 million hours to quilt it. Those tiny stitches take a lot more time!
To summarize…. the stitch length is really going to be determined by how your fabric responds. It’s always a good idea to run a test piece and pull on the fabric a little bit to see how it reacts.
As a general guideline…
For durability, use short stitch lengths; for decor use long stitch lengths.
I hope you found this information useful. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to ask me in the comments. I try to answer every single one.
PS for more Quilting tips and helpful charts, check out this post on Quilting Cheat Sheets that will save you hours!
Disclosure: To maintain this website, some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that use personally and/or believe will add value to your quilting skills or life. <3