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What Stitch Length Should I Use for Machine Quilting?

When I started out as a rookie quilter, I wasn’t quite sure what the right stitch length was for machine quilting. Like every novince with access to the internet, I did research and garnered valuable information that I’ll be sharing with you shortly. In case you don’t already know, getting the right stitch length is important in making a professional quilt. This is why knowing the right stitch length before quilting is so crucial.

What Stitch Length Should I Use For Machine Quilting?

The recommended stitch length for machine quilting is 2.5 to 3.0 which is basically 8 – 12 stitches per inch. If you’re new to quilting, it’s best you always use the recommended stitch length. When you do become more experienced and confident in your quilting skills, you can afford to mix things up a bit, develop your unique style and pattern in the longterm.

With more experience, you’ll realize that your stitch length for machine quilting may vary depending on the project you’re working on. As each project presents unique features and challenges, you’ll be required to change things up a bit

Factors that Affect Your Standard Stitch Length

The following factors should be considered when setting a stitch length.

  • The Thickness of the Thread: If you use a fine 100% silk thread like the 100wt, you’ll have to use smaller stitches. A fine thread like a 100wt would look totally out of place when used with the standard stitch length. This is because the fineness of the thread would make the stitches look a lot like basting.

In sharp contrast, if you use a thicker thread like dyed pearl cotton, you’ll need to increase the stitch length. If the stitch length is too short, you’re going to end up with a thread that appears as if it’s been stuffed in the hole of the needle. A little lengthening will work like magic.

  • Quilting Design Size: Before making your final decision on how long your stitch length should be, you would want to consider certain elements of your quilt design. As you gain more quilting experience and confidence, there’s a good chance you might delve into free motion quilting at some point.

The feed dogs are down this time and you’re in complete control of the stitch length. Your new lease of freedom will give you the impetus to add more detailed designs to your portfolio. It is at this point that stitch length is mostly effected. When quilting round a 1/4″ circle, you’ll need smaller stitches to avoid ending up with a result that looks like a circle instead of an octagon.

When quilting around a 4-inch circle, you can afford to make them longer without affecting the smoothness of your quilting line. Therefore, the length of the stitches is in part determined by the smallest element in your design.

Recommended Stitch Length for Walking Machines

A Walking Foot helps to pull the quilt sandwich layer through the machine in an even manner. This prevents tucks and puckering from forming on your machine’s backing side. The best kind of stitch to use is the ones with forward movement just like the straight stitch. Some fancy stitches like the serpentine stitch also feature forward movement and add a touch of creativity to the quilting stitch.

Here is the best stitch length for straight and mock hand quilting while using a Walking foot:

Straight Quilting

The ideal stitch length for straight stitching is about 2.5 to 3.0 or around 8 to 12 stitches per inch. This range is true for a wide range of machine quilt. As is with almost any rule, there’s an exception to this. You may want to extend the stitch length if you’re working with a thread that has a shine or sparkle. The longer the stitches are, the larger the surface area provided for light to hit your thread and create luster and sparkle.

When using a thicker thread, be sure to use a longer stitch length. For example, if you’re working with a 30 weight rayon, using a short stitch will appear like the stitches have been forced into the quilt. If you’re working with a monofilament thread, a short stitch length will work better to hide the thread.

When I’m working with a 50wt and 100% cotton thread, I always have my length at 2.5 in the beginning. I usually do a quick test run to see if it is ideal for my project. When I use a thread that’s finer, I set my stitch length a little lower than 2.5. This is because combining a fine thread with a normal or long stitch length appears like basting. Basically, it all depends on what you want. You should be able to trust your eye enough to admit if the result you’re getting with your stitch length is ideal for your project.

Mock Hand Quilting

When using your sewing machine with a walking foot, there’s a technique that allows you to create a mock hand quilting stitch. This technique requires three straight stitches which unfortunately is not available in all sewing machine types. It also requires an increase in the normal needle tension to perfect the look. To get this technique right, thread your sewing machine with a clear thread or a microfilament in the needle then proceed to apply a 100% cotton thread in the machine’s bobbin.

Ensure that your stitch length gets a little extension. The excessive tension on the microfilament will pull your cotton bobbin thread towards the top of the three stitch portion. The mechanism of this technique is quite simple, the walking foot moves back and forth a number of times to create a stitch. To avoid major damage to your walking foot, this technique is ideal for smaller projects. Even when you do stick with small projects, consistent mock hand quilting will wear out your walking foot much faster.

The Theory of Stitch Length

Basically, the theory of stitch length states that the shorter a stitch is, the more is packed into every inch of stitching and this creates an extra tight seam. When the stitch is longer, there is less packed into each inch of stitching which means the seam is extra loose. The summary of it is long is equal to loose while short is equal to tight. Another way to imagine it is that long is equal to weak and temporary while short is equal to strong and permanent.

It is worthy of note that this is simply a rule of thumb. In reality, a long stitch can be just as permanent as a shorter one. When the stitch length is adjusted, the needle doesn’t change. Instead, it is the feed dogs that changes. Before it makes the next stitch, your sewing machine changes the amount of fabric the feed dog moves. If you shorten the stitch, it reduces how much fabric is fed below the presser foot prior to when the needle comes down.

When you increase the stitch, the feed dog increases how much fabric it moves below the presser foot prior to when the needle goes in again. Tighter stitch lengths are optimum for delicate or fine fabrics. It also helps to keep the corners sharp and curves smooth. If you’re doing topstitching, you may want to settle for a longer stitch since it helps make the decorative effect visible.

You can always check your sewing machine manual for a stitch chart that has an available stitch length for your model. There’s most likely to be a default setting that features recommended lengths for certain situations. Ultimately, you have control over your machine’s stitch length when quilting. With more experience, you should be able to determine which length is ideal for the kind of situation you have in your hands.

Most sewing machines come with a default stitch length that can be used for basic quilting. Obviously, you may want to adjust this length depending on your project. In that case, the stitch length chart that comes with a sewing machine’s usual manual should give you some suggestions. Ultimately, you should be able to choose your own stitching length once you have mastered your quilting with lots of practice.

Related Questions

What Is The Optimum Speed When Quilting With A Walking Foot?

There is no particular speed that is perfect for quilting with a walking foot. The ideal speed should be any speed that allows you to be in complete control of the project. To ensure this, test your speed, thread, and tension on a test quilt sandwich that is the same as your quilt material. It is also necessary to note that different projects will require different speeds.

Are There Sewing Machines You Can’t Use For A Quilt?

Most sewing machines should be able to handle quilting especially if you throw in sophisticated accessories like a Walking Foot. Generally, it’s best to buy sturdy machines or you won’t be able to make a proper quilt regardless of which accessory you buy.

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