Sewing Machine Stitch Length Problems | 10 Common Issues

Stitch length is something that you don’t think about when you first start sewing. Most people who start sewing just use the default stitch length that is set on the sewing machine.

As a beginner, most projects that you complete will be easier projects that the default stitch length will be just fine for.

When you become more familiar with sewing, you will want to start using different stitch lengths that will be better for your chosen fabrics as well as your project.

Finally, as you start to become more familiar with how stitch length works, you can start to diagnose potential problems with your stitch and stitch length.

What Do I Need to Know About Stitch Length?

A simple explanation of stitch length is how long each stitch is. By changing the stitch length, the feed dogs get adjusted, so they pull more or less fabric through for each stitch.

When adjusting your stitch length, on most modern machines, the number used to indicate the stitch length is the measurement in millimeters. The range for modern machines is normally 0-5 or can be up to 0-7.

This means the larger the number, the longer the stitch.

If you are working on an older machine, you could have a range of 4-60. If your machine features a high number like this, your machine is likely not indicating millimeters. Older machines measure how many stitches in an inch.

This means the larger the number, the shorter the stitch.

Why Should I Change My Stitch Length?

There are a few reasons that you should change your stitch length that can really help the project you are working on.

Some reasons to use a longer stitch include:

  • A larger stitch is quicker to sew and easier to take out if needed.
    • This is good for temporary stitches or for gathering.
  • A larger stitch is also good when working with fabric like leather or vinyl.
    • This is because a longer stitch will punch fewer holes in the fabric and would protect the integrity of the material.
  • When you are top-stitching is also a good time to use a longer stitch.
    • This looks more professional because mass-made clothing uses longer stitches for their clothing.
  • When sewing with a thicker thread, you will want to use a longer stitch.
  • When sewing with a heavier fabric, you will also want to use a longer stitch.
  • Stretchy and knit fabrics can also benefit from a longer stitch length because they need more ability to stretch.

Some reasons to use a shorter stitch include:

  • When you are sewing with a lightweight or sheer fabric, a shorter stitch is better.
    • Using a shorter stitch will prevent pulling and gathering of the fabric.
  • When using a finer thread, you will need a shorter stitch.
  • When trying to sew curves, a shorter stitch will make a smoother curve.
    • A longer stitch might make your curve look weird or angular.

The longer the stitch, the easier it is to pull out if needed, and a shorter stitch is generally stronger. If you intend to remove the stitch, it will be harder to do with a shorter stitch length.

This also means that when you are using a shorter stitch, you will want to be very careful to get it right.

It will be much harder to use a seam ripper on this stitch.

How Do I Change My Stitch Length:

How to change your stitch length depends on your specific machine, but they are all similar. Mechanical machines normally have a dial on the front of the machine.

Either it will be indicated with the word “length” or with a dashed line next to it with different sized dashes. The dial is usually located near the dial that indicates the stitch type.

If you have a computerized sewing machine, you will likely just have to press a button to increase or decrease the stitch length.

Some standard stitch lengths are:

Stitch: Length (mm) Length (stitches per inch)
Standard 2.5-3.0 8-10
Basting 5.0-7.0 4-5
Top Stitching: Light/Medium 3.0-3.5 7-8
Top Stitching: Heavy 3.5-4.0 6-7
Quilt Piecing 1.5 16-18
Machine Quilting 2.5-3.0 8-10
Free Motion 0 MAX

These numbers are rough and standard estimates. Your machine owner’s manual will also have a basic stitch chart to help make suggestions on stitch lengths that you should use.

The more you sew and work with different stitch lengths, the more you will get used to what stitch works best for your project and your needs.

Sometimes, the stitch length that you need to use will be indicated on your pattern. If your pattern indicates a certain stitch length, it is best to use that length or a length close to that.

You can make adjustments if necessary, depending on fabric, thread, and your specific needs.

The Stitch Length is Not Working on My Machine:

Once you start paying attention to your stitch length, you can run into problems when your stitch length is not working properly.

1. Machine Settings:

One potential issue for your machine not sewing the correct stitch length could be the settings on your machine.

If you have set your stitch length to a longer stitch and it is still sewing shorter stitches or not changing the stitch length as you change the dial, you could have an issue with your machine.

One thing that you will want to do before you take it in to get looked at is to make sure that you check your user manual and make sure that all your settings are correct.

If your machine settings are not set properly, then you could have a problem adjusting your stitch length properly.

2. Worn Down Machine Parts:

Depending on the age of your machine, you could be having an issue with your machine’s parts being old and worn out.

Continued use and wear on your machine parts can cause them to run down and not work as well as they did before.

Some parts can wear down quicker than others, depending on what they are made of. Rubber, silicone, plastic, and even metal can wear down over time.

This is not something that you would be able to deal with yourself.

If you suspect that your machine needs to be looked at due to aging, the best thing that you can do is to take your machine to be looked at by a professional.

3. Stitch Length too Short:

When your stitch length is too short, your seam is going to be really strong and can be difficult to rip out and redo it.

This means that you will not want a seam with a really short stitch length if you didn’t mean to put it there.

Too short stitch lengths can also ruin fabrics like leather and other thick, heavy, and specialty fabrics.

If your stitch length is too short for a lightweight or fine fabric, it can cause your fabric or thread to bunch up and can ruin your project.

4. Stitch Length too Long:

If your stitch length is too long, your seam will be less strong and can be more easily pulled out.

If you have your stitch set to be too long, you can have an issue with your stitches pulling out when you put stress on your fabrics.

A long stitch length is not ideal when you are working with fine and light fabric or a light thread.

If you are using one of the longest stitch choices, your fabric will be easy to gather. If this is not what you are going for, you should not use a stitch that long.

You can also have an issue with tight corner maneuvers or turns when you are using a longer stitch length.

What Can I Do When the Stitch Length is Too SHORT/LONG?

When the stitch length is too short, you will want to change your settings to make your stitch length longer.

Even if your machine is working properly, you will need to make sure that you are careful when changing the length of your stitch.

When you are changing your stitch length, you will want to do the following:

  1. Raise the needle all the way using your handwheel.
  2. Turn your dials to select stitch type and stitch length.
  3. Move your needle through a full rotation so that your machine has a chance to reset.
  4. Check your stitch type and length on a test sheet of fabric so that you can be sure that the stitch changed and that it will work properly for your fabric and thread.

If your machine is not working properly, you will know because the above steps will not affect your stitch length.

If you are having an issue with changing your stitch length and the above process did not work, then you might have a deeper problem with your machine and will want to get it looked at.

My Machine is Making Uneven Stitches:

There is nothing more frustrating than uneven stitches.

This is an especially irritating issue when you are working on a top-stitch because everyone would be able to see where your stitches were uneven.

This can be an issue that you have for multiple reasons:

5. Worn Down Feed Dog:

One reason that you might be experiencing uneven stitches while sewing could be a feed dog issue.

When you are dealing with stitch length, it is the feed dogs that determine what your stitch lengths are by pushing the fabric through at different speeds.

If you have an older machine, it is possible that your feed dogs are worn down and are not grabbing your fabric evenly. If this is the case, your feed dogs should be replaced.

6. Dirty Feed Dog:

If you do not have an older machine or your feed dogs are like new, this is likely not your problem.

However, that doesn’t mean that the issue doesn’t come from your feed dogs. If you have newer feed dogs, you could be having an issue with lint, dust, or another build up around your feed dogs.

This can be especially bad if your feed dogs have a “drop-feed” function.

The lint can affect how your feed dogs are working and how they are gripping your fabric.

7. User Error:

Another potential cause of uneven stitches is user error. This is especially an issue with novice sewers.

The feed dogs are made to consistently pull fabric forward while sewing, and sometimes people will accidentally force the fabric through quicker than the feed dogs do.

This can cause uneven stitching in your seam. This is really easy to fix once you know that you are doing it.

When you are sewing, you want to make sure that you are not pulling on your fabric and only guiding it through the machine side to side, not forward.

8. The Stitches Are Too Loose:

When your stitches are too loose, your project can quickly fall apart, and it can be frustrating.

The biggest problem that can be causing loose stitching is a tension issue. Tension can affect multiple things with your machine and your stitches.

If your stitches are loose, it is likely that your tension is too loose. One important thing to remember in terms of tension is that your tension needs to be even. If your tension is not even, then you could have your thread showing up on the wrong side of your fabric.

If your thread is even, but both the top thread and bobbin thread are too loose, your stitches will not be tight,

A clear sign that your stitches are too loose is that the seam will show gaps when you pressed open. You will then be able to see exposed threads between the sections.

9. My Machine is Skipping Stitches:

Not only can you have an issue with stitch length or loose stitches, but you can also have an issue with your machine skipping stitches.

The cause for this could be a needle issue. If your needle is broken, bent, or even installed incorrectly, you could have an issue with your machine stitching.

To fix this issue, you need to either change your damaged needle, or if your needle is not damaged, you will want to re-install your needle to make sure that it is in your machine properly.

Another potential cause of a skipped stitch can be the top thread not correctly reaching the bobbin and locking properly with the bobbin thread.

To fix this, you will want to re-thread both the top and the bottom threads of your machine.

You will also want to make sure that you don’t have any timing issues with your needle and bobbin as well, as that can also cause skipped stitches.

10. The Stitches Are Not Catching:

Another problem that you could be having with your stitches is that they do not catch. A stitch is created on the sewing machine by looping both the top thread and the bobbin thread together. When this doesn’t happen, your stitch will not be created.

There are a lot of reasons that you could be having this issue.

Similar to skipped stitches, one issue that could be affecting this is a bad needle. If the needle is bent or dull, it could be having an issue picking up the stitch.

If you have problems with the tension on the top thread, then you can have an issue with your bobbin fabric looping underneath the fabric and not creating a real stitch.

To fix this issue, you will want to make sure that you re-thread the top thread. You will also want to make sure that both the top thread and bobbin thread have even tension with each other, or you could have other issues.

You could also have a problem if you do not pull both the top thread and bobbin thread under your presser foot.

You could also have a timing issue with your machine that is causing the needle and bobbin to be out of sync with each other so that they do not properly create a stitch.

So Where Do I Go From Here?

Sewing machines are a great investment that can last you a long time if you take care of them properly.

If you are noticing an issue, you should stop sewing and take care of it right away:

Get it Looked at by a Professional:

You need to make sure that you get your machine looked at if you have issues that are more complicated than you can handle yourself.

It is not good to try to fix your machine yourself, especially if your machine is under warranty.

If you were to open it up to work on it, your manufacturer would not always honor your warranty if they know you pulled it apart.

You also want to be careful if you are pulling your machine apart because you could accidentally create an issue with a part that you didn’t intend to.

Proper Machine Care:

In addition to getting problems with your machine serviced by a professional, you will also want to make sure that you take proper care of your machine.

Regularly cleaning and oiling your machine can help to keep it in great working order. If you get lint or dust build-up, you can get all kinds of knotting or other stitch issues. Oil is also great to keep your machine running well and reducing wear on your machine and its parts.

It is also a good idea to get your machine looked at once a year by a professional. They will be able to take your machine apart and better clean it as well as check for any potential issues that might be arising.

Getting your machine serviced yearly can save you money in the long run from expensive potential issues.

Taking the proper steps to keep your machine clean and oiled can extend the life of your machine and your investment.