What’s the right answer? It depends! Hand quilters and machine quilters use different measuring gauges (figuratively speaking) to determine the right stitch length for a project. However, they both have one characteristic in common–consistency.
For hand quilters, the number of stitches per inch is important, and is used to measure the quilter’s skill and ability. Well-known author and hand quilter Roxanne McElroy takes the concept of consistency a step further, and also indicates that stitches should be “even”. By this, Roxanne means that the stitches and spaces between the stitches on the front of the quilt should all be exactly the same length as those on the back! Roxanne provides this “rating scale” for hand quilters if you are inclined to count:
- Average – 6 stitches per inch
- Accomplished – 8 stitches per inch
- Expert – 10 stitches per inch
- Professional – 12 stitches per inch
- Microquilter – 14 stitches per inch
Roxanne admonishes hand quilters to remember that 8 to 10 very even stitches per inch is considered superior to 12 to 14 uneven stitches per inch.
When the Millennium stitch-regulated machine debuted and revolutionized machine quilting, consistent stitches became the standard by which a quality machine was measured. Sharp points at direction changes, no lag stitches at the beginning and ending of stitching lines, and consistent length throughout the machine’s movement have made the APQS line of machines a premier choice for machine quilters.
Even machine quilters must consider which stitch length is appropriate for different techniques. Stitches in the 6-8 per inch range convey a more primitive quilting style, suitable for heavy thread or utility quilts. Stitch length of 10-12 per inch is considered normal for most quilting styles, and yields the best stitch quality as well. Longer stitch lengths create needle flex and increase tension changes. Stitches in the “micro” range are best saved for detail quilting and heavy background work with very fine thread.