Vintage Machines, Stitch Length, and Stitch Width

by Lara Neel

Sewing machine stitch length can be given in Imperial units (stitches per inch), or in metric (mm). Some machines have both scales, which is great, but not every machine does.

I was sewing a bra with my Singer 626. My instructions were in metric. My machine is in Imperial. I was driving myself nuts trying to divide by st/in and multiply by 25.4 in my head. I’m pretty sure I went down in stitch length when I should have gone up at least once.

So, I made a little scale. It’s upside down, because how the stitch selector on my machine looks. I told Lisa about it and she asked me to have it printed on business cards. Thanks to that, it is now available in our Etsy shop as a downloadable image and as a printed card. The photo at the top of this post is a preview of it. Imperial is on the left and metric is on the right.

Until we run out, we will also tuck a printed card into each order we ship. We hope you find them useful!

Stitch width is a little different. Of course, it only matters in zigzag machines. On my Singer 626, I noticed that the scale for stitch width started at 1 instead of at 0. So, I did a little stitch test on a scrap. To make it easier to see when stitch widths changed, I turned the fabric whenever I changed the settings. This sample goes: 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5.


You can see a few things on this sample. First of all, I should probably drop my top tension a little (this is easiest to see in samples for settings 3, 4, and 5). The manual for this machine says, “All zig-zag stitching requires less tension than straight stitching…Furthermore, the wider the stitch, the lighter the tension on the thread must be…Notice the stitching on your sample. If the stitching looks too taught, or if the fabric is puckering, lower the needle-thread tension.” As an aside, shorter stitch lengths can also make this problem worse. Thankfully, lowering the top tension is a very easy adjustment!

It’s entirely possible that my top tension is fine for settings 1, 1.5, and 2, but just a little too tight for the wider settings. You can even see the fabric puckering slightly on the widest sample. Reason #27698 to stitch a little test sample before you start in on a project!

Also, why test 1.5? You can hardly see that it zigzags at all – which is the point! This is sometimes called “wobble stitch” and is used when you want a little more give in your seam but you don’t want it to look like a zigzag.

Just in case someone else has a Singer 626 and cares, in this sample, the stitches measure this wide, in mm:

setting 1: 0 mm

setting 1.5: .5 mm (but, let’s be fair, the thread here practically measures .5 mm)

setting 2: 1 mm

setting 3: 2 mm

setting 4: 3 mm

setting 5: 4mm