How To Set Stitch Length On Sewing Machine

Sewing machines have come a long way since their beginnings. Today’s machines are more advanced and easier to use than ever. However, it can still be daunting for beginners to learn how to use all the features of a modern sewing machine. One crucial element is setting the machine’s stitch length. Getting the stitch length right is essential for sewing neat seams, hems, buttonholes, and more.

Stitch length determines the size of the stitches you sew. Too short, and the stitches may be weak and easily pull apart; too long and the fabric may bunch up with lots of extra thread. The settings are usually measured in millimeters, and can be adjusted to create many different stitch sizes.

Firstly, the user must identify where the stitch length adjustment control is, which is usually indicated by an up-and-down arrow. On many machines, this is located on the side of the machine near the stitch selector, while more modern machines may have a computerized control pad.

Once located, the user typically sets the desired stitch length by rotating the dial to the indicated number of millimeters. Some machines also have the ability to adjust the stitch length by pushing the up and down arrows to determine the desired length. Some of the most common settings for garment sewing are 2.5-3.5mm and 4-5mm. For decorative or topstitching, the range can be anywhere from 1mm up to 6mm. The user should also ensure that the stitch width is compatible with the stitch length for the desired effect.

When selecting the correct stitch length, it is important to consider the fabric you are working with. Heavier fabrics generally require a longer stitch length while lightweight fabrics require a shorter stitch length. Different stitch patterns may also require different settings; for example, a zigzag stitch needs a shorter length than a straight stitch. It is also important to select the correct size and type of needle for the fabric, as this can affect the stitch length.

Sewing machines have a built-in needle thread tension adjustment. This allows the user to fine-tune the tension of the threads for the best possible results. The needle thread should be tensioned such that the upper thread is slightly looser than the lower thread, and the tension should be adjusted if necessary. An even tension and stitch length are essential for neat, even stitches.

Adjusting Feed Dog Height

The feed dog is the mechanism that moves the fabric through the machine and helps keep the stitch even. It is important that the height of the feed dog is set correctly to match the fabric thickness, as this affects how the fabric is fed through the machine. Taller feed dogs are better for heavier fabric, while shorter feed dogs are better for lighter fabrics. Many machines have adjustable feed dogs, although some may have to be manually adjusted.

Adjusting Presser Foot Pressure

The presser foot is another important element of sewing and affects the quality of the stitches. It is important that the proper pressure is applied to the fabric for best results. Too much pressure will jam the fabric and reduce stitch quality, while too little pressure will cause skipped stitches. Most machines have an adjustable presser foot pressure setting that can easily be adjusted to the proper tension.

Using the Right Accessories

The right accessories can make all the difference when sewing. Choosing the correct presser foot, needle, thread, and even specialty feet such as a walking foot, can help make your sewing experience more convenient, enjoyable, and successful. The correct auxiliary tools can also help achieve the right stitch length, such as the use of seam guides and special feet that can help stabilize fabric and affect the stitch size.

Testing and Troubleshooting

Once the stitch length is set, it is best to test the settings on a scrap of the same fabrics and make adjustments as necessary. If there are skipped stitches or tension problems, it may be necessary to adjust the settings or the needle and thread tension. If this does not solve the problem, the machine may need professional servicing.

Adjusting Tension

In many cases, adjusting the thread tension is necessary to achieve the right stitch length and quality. This is done by rotating the tension dial until the upper thread is slightly looser than the lower thread. It is best to start with a medium setting and adjust from there, testing the stitch on a scrap of fabric. It is important to remember that the tension settings will vary depending on the fabric type, thread type, and pattern.


Sewing machines need to be properly serviced and maintained for the best results. Regular cleaning, oiling, and lubrication are necessary to keep a sewing machine in working condition and prevent damage. This includes cleaning the hook area, checking the bobbin area, and oiling the moving parts. It is also important to inspect the machine for any loose screws, worn parts, and frayed threads.

Geoffrey Kirby is an experienced author and sewist who has been creating sewn projects for over 20 years. He has a passion for teaching beginners and inspiring more advanced sewists both online and through his writings. Outside of writing about sewing, Geoffrey loves to explore new techniques and styles of sewing that incorporate upcycling fabric remnants into sweet items with personality.

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