Understanding Stitch Length

I learned something today about stitch length and sewing machine settings.

sewingmachine Understanding Stitch Length

I’ve had machines with “stitches per inch” and I understood that. I’ve had machines with metric settings like 1.5, 2.0, 2.5 and so on, and I thought I understood that—I knew what the setting needed to be for various types of stitching.

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But until today, I really didn’t understand how the two types of settings related to one another. I guess I had never really thought much about it. I had an “aha!” moment.

It’s easy to understand what “stitches per inch” means. The setting tells you how many stitches there are in one inch. If the setting is 15, it means there are 15 stitches in one inch.

 Understanding Stitch Length

It’s a little less evident what the metric settings like 2.5 mean. They refer to the length of each stitch. If the setting is 2.5, it means that every stitch is 2.5 millimeters long.

So you see, when you compare the different types of settings, you aren’t comparing apples to apples, so to speak.

How do you make sense of it? Turns out there’s an easy formula!

math symbols Understanding Stitch Length

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.

Here’s an example. To figure out how many stitches per inch a 2.5 metric setting will give you:

25.4  divided by  2.5 = 10.16 stitches per inch.

To figure it the other way, in case you need to sew 10 stitches per inch and want to know the metric setting, do this:

25.4 divided by 10 = 2.5.

If you needed to sew 15 stitches per inch, 25.4 divided by 15 = 1.69, round up to 1.7 for the metric setting. Easy Peasy!

0808 0710 3112 5321 Understanding Stitch Length

While doing this research, I had another light bulb moment. When you adjust the stitch length, you aren’t telling the needle to do something different, you’re telling the feed dogs to do something different. The various settings tell the feed dogs how much fabric to feed before another stitch is made. I found this helpful explanation at sewing.about.com:

  • Shortening the stitch length reduces the amount of fabric that is fed under the presser foot before the needle comes down.
  • Lengthening the stitch length increases the amount of fabric that is fed under the presser foot before the needle comes down.

It all makes perfect sense now!

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TH14 FB 506 300x300 Understanding Stitch Length

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About Diane Harris

I'm Interactive Editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I've been writing pattern instructions and product reviews, and doing a host of other tasks necessary to help produce a national pattern magazine. Now I work remotely from rural Nebraska to generate some of our online content. I manage the QM Scrap Squad, our blog tours and our Quilt-Alongs. I have one of the best jobs in the world.
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48 Responses to Understanding Stitch Length

  1. Pingback: A Quick Quilt Label Method | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  2. Tina Sheppard says:

    Thank you! That helps a lot!

    • Jamie T. says:

      Thanks for a quick and easy way to convert between stitches per inch and mm settings. You post is exactly what I was looking for, easy to understand, and well written.

  3. Pingback: Understanding Scale: A Little Trick | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  4. Betty Grove says:

    Wow, what an article. Thank you so much. The comment about using smaller stitches when piecing and using the 1/4 inch makes so much sense. I’ve been sewing for over 30 years and I did not know that the feed dogs are affected by the stitch length, that explains so many things. Just goes to prove, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Quiltmaker rocks and it is located in Colorado, you can’t do much better than that!

  5. Pingback: Interesting Info . . . | Pieces to Patch

  6. Cheryl Mahon says:

    Thank goodness I found this site. I haven’t sewed in many years but finally broke down and bought a singer 160 special edition. The machine is nice but the instructions are horrible. I am trying to make a baby quilt and was having trouble with the stitch length as they are in metric and I went to school “back in the day.” This site helped me figure out how to measure the stitch length. God bless you for
    your help.

  7. clairequilty says:

    For Courtney – heavy duty thread, jean needle, and a teflon foot are helpful when sewing leather.

  8. clairequilty says:

    For Courtney – a teflon foot and heavy duty thread is helpful for sewing leather.

  9. Susan paxton says:

    Thanks so much for this post…the lightbulb just went on for me!!

  10. Serg says:

    You always can use this online ruler (from the image), if there is no real ruler near at hand

  11. Darcy says:

    I wonder how a walking foot is affected by changing stitch length. Since the feeds on that foot seem to move based on needle movement, I assume it wouldn’t change. Maybe that’s why I’m having so many issues sewing on my ruffles with my walking foot!?

  12. Courtney says:

    I’ve a very green sewer (is that right?), and I’m trying to replace a zipper in a great leather jacket I found at Goodwill. I knew I would need a longer stitch length, but I was hoping to sew into the original holes if possible. This formula is exactly what I need and I think I’ll get close. Wish me luck, and thanks so much!

  13. Pingback: Sewing Machine Stitch Length v. Stitches Per Inch | craftingismybliss

  14. Pingback: How to Quilt Tips | DailyCraft - Your Daily Dose of Arts & Crafts Tips, Projects, & Inspiration. Quilting, Sewing, Knitting, Scrapbooking, Card Making and more!

  15. polo women says:

    I am therefore happy this particular internet factor performs as well as your publish really solved the problem. Might take a person on which home assistance you

  16. KT. in MI says:

    Interesting article, thanks! Now if you can tell me how the heck I can “un-sew” these smaller stitches easily, I’ll be all set !!! Today’s seam rippers are just too fat for the small stitches.

  17. Diane Harris says:

    Hi Bonnie, thanks for your questions. For piecing with cotton, I set my stitch length to 2.0. If the pieces are very tiny, sometimes I go even shorter. I’m surprised at how much more stable the seams are. For width of a scant quarter-inch, I would go with 6 mm. Good luck with all your piecing!

  18. Bonnie says:

    11 stitches per inch is 2.3 mm (25.4 / 11 – 2.3)
    Great info – thank you for sharing.
    When sewing pieces together for a block (cotton) what stitch length is used?
    When sewing a “scant” 1/4″ seam how much is a scant – 6.0 or 6.5?

    Thank you

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  21. Diana says:

    Thank you, thank you. I am working on curved piecing and REALLY needed this information…stitches per inch, of course, but the feed dog information was even more relevant.

  22. BARBARA CZARNECKI says:

    I always thought that stitch length was how long or short a stitch you wanted to have. Never realized it was the feed dog. Interesting.

  23. Pingback: Stitch Length « My Heritage Fabrics's Blog

  24. RitaM says:

    Thank you, thank you!!!!!! I know I have read this a thousand times but never before took the time to learn. Now, with quilting, I will remember. I have put a note up on my bulletin board. (I feel so smart now.)

  25. Donna says:

    Hi. Great info. But, why can’t someone make a chart showing 11 stitches per inch = ?.? metric setting. That would make it so much easier. I have looked on many sites and no one not even Janome has a chart to help us inchers out.

  26. Darlene says:

    Good information. I’ve been sewing for years and did not know the info you provided. Thanks for sharing it!

  27. Sandy says:

    Thanks for the info! This will help me! I hate math…but I like this math problem for sure!

  28. Julie says:

    This is great, especially for beginners. Thank you!

  29. J says:

    Thanks! What a simple explanation. I too like formulas so I can figure out a logical way to do things. Now it will be simple to find the right setting for the right stitch per inch.

  30. Alice says:

    Maybe now I can set the stitch on any machine! Who would know? Thanks for the info.

  31. LC KELLY says:

    Nice to know that the ALGEBRA and Math word problems we took as kids comes in handy!
    Never would have thought back then it could have been used for fun!

  32. judy lynch says:

    I hate math, I’m an eyeballer! I judge length of stitch in reference to the type of material that I’m using. I’m short, so most of my sewing is hemming things, even things that are suppose to be petite. I’m going to be regular height in heaven.

  33. Glenda says:

    Sorry, it should say paid instead of pay.

  34. Glenda says:

    Thanks, this does make sense. I never pay attention to it before, now it explains lots.

  35. Greeta says:

    Helpful info. Thanks

  36. Kathy says:

    What a wonderful article. Thank you very much for taking the time to educate us on the difference between english and metric measurements, as well as how (for me) to make better stitch selections in my projects. Especially for the decorative stitches!!

  37. Lynn Howell says:

    Lightbulb moment,never thought about the feed dogs having anything to do with stitch length.It so makes sense.I guess I just take things for granted and keep on sewing.Thanks for the info.

  38. Karee says:

    It is all about the feed dogs, baby. All about the feed dogs. I am sure there is a metaphor in there…!

  39. Very intuitive. When it comes to metrics I am lost. I guess I’m just old school.

  40. Mary Ann Z. says:

    give me good ole stitches per inch! This mm stuff didn’t make it in our schools so none of us had to learn it.

  41. Elli (ellimc) says:

    This really is helpful. I have a Bernina machine in which I do have latitude in how I vary or set an awful lot of things and this info will really help!

  42. thanks ; I guess I really didn’t understand it all the way either ; after all I’ve only been sewing for more than 40 years !! ha ha … good info and I’m bookmarking and filing it !!

  43. Marcia says:

    Good information! It would also be helpful to know when to use a longer stitch vs a shorter stitch (besides how it looks).

    Thanks!

  44. Great info! I like knowing the formula’s. :-) Thanks!

  45. Kathi says:

    Wow, good information! I too thought I understood what was happening when I adjusted the stitch length. Now it makes much more sense. Wonder if we Americans will ever get a handle on metrics….

    I plan to share this with students in my quilting classes.

    Your posts always contain very useful information. Thanks!

  46. Vivian says:

    Informative post! I always did relate the (metric) stitch length setting to what the stitch looked like, so glad to know I was on track about that. But it’s good to know how that transates into stitches per inch. This one goes in the reference binder. Thanks!

  47. Amy (NW WI) says:

    A post after my own heart :0) Great use of formulas :0)

    – ((A quilter who is also a Middle School Math teacher)).

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