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Standard stitch length for machine quilting

by Linda McLaughlin
(Jacksonville, FL)

Is there a "norm" for machine quilting?


In every quilting class I've ever taken and every quilting book I've ever read the recommendation is a stitch length for machine quilting of 2.5 to 3.0 (or 8 to 12 stitches per inch).

The really great thing about quilting is that YOU are in charge of the look that you want for YOUR quilt. If you are just starting out, you'll have good results with the above quoted stitch length and regular quilting thread like a 50wt, 100% quality cotton thread.

However, as you do more quilting, you'll find that you develop your own style—a style that is a combination of quilting patterns or motifs that you like and are comfortable stitching and the threads that you enjoy using.

Particularly as you begin to experiment with thread, the 'general rule' for quilting stitches kind of gets tossed out the window.

The thickness of your thread matters...

For instance, if you use a very fine thread—like a 100wt, 100% silk thread—you'll want to use much smaller stitches. Such a fine thread will just plain 'look weird' if you use the standard stitch length. Due to the 'fineness' of the thread the stitches will look more like basting.

Now use one of the luscious thicker threads, say a hand dyed pearl cotton, and you'll need to increase your stitch length. If you use one that's too short, the thread will look as though it's been stuffed into the needle holes. Lengthen the stitch a bit and everything looks as though it were meant to be.

The size of your quilting design matters...

The final determination of how long they should be depends on the elements of your quilting design.

As you gain quilting experience, it's a good bet that you'll delve into free motion quilting. Your feed dogs are down and YOU are now in control of the stitch length.

With more freedom, you'll most likely add more involved and detailed quilting designs to your repertoire. And this is where stitch length is effected.

If you are quilting around a 1/4" circle, your stitches will need to be smaller so that you end up with a circle instead of an octagon. If you are quilting around a 4" circle they can be much longer and the quilting line will still be smooth. So, in part, the length of your stitches is determined by the smallest element in the quilting design. The smallest element because the hallmark of a good quilter, hand or machine, is even stitches.

I hope this helps as you develop and grow in your own quilting style. Thank you for your question.


Julie Baird

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