Adjusting the stitch length isn't necessary for every project, but as you learn to work with different types of fabrics and understand the special needs of some, this guide will come in handy. A little length goes a long way.
The stitch length on your sewing machine indicates how many stitches will be made per inch. Depending on your project, you may need to adjust the stitch length. You want a longer stitch length if working with knits, to give them some stretch. A shorter stitch length will produce a tighter seam. Your sewing machine's manual is likely to have a handy stitch chart of suggested uses for the available stitches.
Our goal here is to show you how to SET the stitch length on the machine. Remember, the seam ripper takes no prisoners! The more stitches per inch, the more stitches to remove. Not that you'd ever need to rip out a seam, but say you had a friend who made a mistake ...
Stitch Length the Computerized Way
First, you'll need to figure out where the stitch length adjustment indicator is on your machine. If you have a computerized machine, odds are an LED display will show the stitch length. The Janome DC2010, shown below, is a good example.
Notice that the LED has an indicator light on the left side of the screen. When this light is next to the stitch symbol (at the bottom) you use the plus and minus buttons to increase or decrease the stitch length.
What Does this Knob Do?
If you have a mechanical model, your stitch length will be controlled by turning a knob, as seen on the Janome Magnolia 7318 below.
Number 1 is the shortest stitch length, and number 4 is the highest. A basic stitch length is 2.
Fancy Pants Adjustments
Though the features described above will vary slightly by sewing machine brand and model, these basic rules apply to setting your stitch length. That said, some very high-end machines, like those that offer embroidery or feature more advanced computer and memory options, will have more in depth methods for adjusting the stitch length. For these, your best bet is to hunker down with the manual.