As with so many aspects of quilting, the way we measure our stitches can sometimes vary. Some quilters count the stitches visible on the top side of the quilt. Other quilters count the stitches from both the top and bottom.
As a general rule, quilters are referring to the number of stitches per inch on the quilt top. So, when discussing stitch size with other quilters, be sure they clarify the process they use to avoid confusion.
Quilters measure their stitches by the inch. So, you will often hear quilters talk about how many stitches per inch they strive for in their quilting projects.
Here’s the kicker – they may vary the stitches per inch they strive for based on each individual project. So, a quilt top that is going to be more heavily quilted may end up with more stitches per inch than one that is rather lightly quilted.
As a general rule, hand quilters tend to lean toward 6 to 8 stitches per inch (counted on the top side of the quilt, not both sides).
Machine quilters typically strive for 10 to 12 stitches per inch. Why the difference? With hand quilting you have to accommodate for the fact that you are human.
While any experienced quilter could create 10 to 12 stitches by hand, think how tiny those would be…and how much strain it would put on the quilter’s fingers and wrists. It’s just not quite as practical as 6 to 8 stitches.
Now, there may be hand quilters out there who get 10 to 12 per inch, but let’s face it. It’s easier to program a machine to do it.
If you are a beginner, make a few quilt sandwiches on which to practice your stitches per inch. These don’t have to be anything fancy.
A couple of layers of scrap fabric and some batting are all it takes. If possible, use at least one solid piece of fabric for your practice piece.
This will allow you to more closely examine your stitches. Prints might hide them. You want to be able to see any and all imperfection when you practice.
With your hand sewing supplies or your machine, run some test stitches on your practice quilt sandwich. Lay your ruler beside the stitches to see how many per inch you have done.
Another way to do this is to mark your fabric in one inch increments. This is especially helpful when practicing hand stitching. Stitch between the lines until you get the hang of it.
What happens if your stitch count doesn’t quite make it? That depends a great deal on the loft (thickness) of the batting.
Some batting, like polyester, doesn’t separate much. So, fewer stitches won’t matter. Your batting will stay together inside your quilt for a long time. Natural fibers like cotton or wool, however, require heavier quilting to keep them in place as they are sandwich in the middle of your quilt.
Without enough stitches, the natural fibers of cotton or wool batting can eventually separate inside your quilt and become very lumpy. Even so, bonded batting or batting with a scrim will prevent that separation, although it is more difficult to hand quilt.
In addition to the number of stitches you sew into an inch of fabric, you really also need to work on the consistency of the length of your stitches.
Work to make them straight – which sounds easier than it is sometimes. Make them evenly spaced and make them each the same length.
This isn’t so much of an issue for machine quilters because you set your stitch length and width between on your machine.
Hand quilters, however, really need to work to get a grasp of the technique. The good news is that once you get the hang of it, it’s with you forever!