All About: Stitch Length

Your machine should have a dial that adjusts the length of your stitches, which may lead you to wonder to yourself, “my goodness, self, there are so many stitch length options, how do I know which one to use?” Stitch length is going to depend on a few factors: weight of fabric, texture of fabric, and the kind of sewing you’re doing. In general, though, you’ll want to use shorter stitches for thinner, finer fabrics and longer stitches for thicker, heavier fabrics and for basting. However, should you wish to know more about stitch length, do read on.

You’ll find that shorter stitches give seams greater elasticity and strength. In fact, if you look closely at store-bought garments, the better the quality, the shorter the stitching. Figuring out the shortest stitch length appropriate for your fabric will pay off with durability and long life in your seams.

  • Top stitching is shorter than inside stitching.
  • Curved seams should be sewn with a shorter stitch than used for the straight seams. This will make is easier to maneuver around the curve while giving the curved seam more elasticity and strength.
  • Bias-cut seams need a short stitch for greater elasticity.
  • Buttonholes and pockets need short stitches for greater durability as they will see a lot of action when worn.
  • Zig-zag sewing when used for decorative satin stitches need shorter stitches.

Use the guidelines above in conjunction with fabric weight to determine your stitch length. For example, if I was sewing a curve in a heavy fabric like denim, I would use a medium-length stitch knowing that curves need shorter stitches while heavy fabric needs longer stitches. In this case, a medium-length stitch would be the best of both worlds.

As for setting the stitch length on your machine, I should advise you to check your user’s manual. However, I’ve only seen two ways that machines label their stitch length. Older machines, like my Singer Featherweight, start at 6 and go up to 30, meaning that those are the numbers of stitches per inch. So on my Featherweight, a 6 would be the longest stitch and a 30 the shortest. On other models, stitches length will be labeled from 0 to 6, with 0 being no length (it will just continue stitching in the same spot) and 6 being the longest.

It’s usually a good idea to test out your stitches on a scrap piece of the fabric you’re using anytime you start a new project or turn on your machine. Making this a habit also ensures that you don’t accidentally start off with the wrong stitch. You may have used a zig zag on the last project, but you want a straight stitch now. Testing your stitches on scraps may save you some seam ripping.

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