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Tools & Supplies

Use a Stitch Regulator for Free-Motion Stitching on Garments

This specialty attachment helps ensure even stitching.

Mar 08, 2018
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A stitch regulator is a tiny computer attached to a sewing machine that constantly adjusts the machine’s stitch speed to accommodate the speed of the fabric during free-motion stitching. This ensures balanced, equal-length stitches. Computerized stitch regulators have been an exclusive feature of longarm quilting machines for many years.

Happily, some manufacturers have started offering stitch regulators for their short-arm sewing machines, expanding the embellishment options available to garment sewers and others who don’t typically work on large-format quilts.

In free-motion stitching, the machine’s feed dogs are dropped and the presser foot is replaced with a floating foot, similar to a darning foot. This enables sewing in any direction. You control the direction with your hands and the speed with the foot pedal. A stitch regulator takes this process one step further: It allows you to stitch at your preferred speed in any direction without the foot pedal. The stitch regulator’s computer sensor reads the speed of the fabric’s movement as it powers the machine, and adjusts the stitching speed to match, ensuring even stitches. You can move the fabric in any direction without pivoting and raising and lowering the presser foot, so appliqué and embellishment go faster.


Bernina BSR stitch reulator featured in Threads MagazineBernina’s patented BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) fits on many of its newer machines. One speed setting offers a set number of stitches per minute as you move the fabric. The second setting produces regulated stitches at the variable speed of your hands.


Working with a stitch regulator foot on your sewing machine can improve your free-motion stitching on collaged and quilted garments. Sewers who are inexperienced with quilting but who want to use quilting techniques to embellish their garments will find this sewing machine foot handy.
A stitch regulator foot enables you to imagine fabric and garment surface designs in new ways. The following examples show free-motion quilting techniques that are enhanced and improved by using a stitch regulator attachment.

Outline and echo stitching
You can create patterns by tracing a printed motif’s shape in stitches. You can also “echo” the shape with concentric stitching lines that radiate from the printed motif. This technique can be used to draw attention to a bold print or woven design. It is perfect for whole-cloth quilting to showcase a beautiful fabric; the fabric, batting, underlining and/or lining layers are joined by stitching that echoes the print.

Fabric creation
A stitch regulator foot gives you greater control while free-motion stitching enables you to make unique fabric or trim from fabric strips, scraps, or yarns. Layer your chosen strips, scraps, yarns, or threads onto water-soluble stabilizer and then free-motion-stitch or thread-paint as desired through all the layers. When you’ve finished stitching, wash away the stabilizer.

Raw-edge appliqué and collage
Create a fabric collage with appliqués, and leave the edges unfinished. This method enables you to design simple patterns or complex scenes on a background fabric. Place the appliqués as desired, and use free-motion stitching to secure them. Add detail stitching as desired.

Challenges and solutions
Regulated free-motion stitching may take some getting used to, but practice is the key to success. Here are some tips for adapting to regulated free-motion sewing:
• Change your sewing space or your posture. Try placing your machine on a higher table and standing to sew.
• Work on flat pieces, not assembled garments. Decorate each garment section before you add seams and darts. You can go back after construction to add stitches or appliqués that cross seamlines.
• Plan for your stitching to start and stop in a circular pattern to allow a little back tack to secure threads. Then clip the thread tails before continuing, and plan for only a few starts and stops.
• Consider adding beads or other embellishments to cover awkward stops and starts.
• Test your ideas on fabric scraps using your chosen thread and techniques. This practice gives you a chance to evaluate your choices and skill level.
• Draw your stitching plans on paper, and then trace the designs with your fingers to familiarize yourself with the motions needed.
• Purchase a pair of sticky-fingered quilting gloves to help you control the fabric while stitching.
• Sew with the stitch regulator a little every day as you prepare for a new project.

Trim application
Free-motion stitching and a stitch regulator make it easier to apply lace appliqués or scalloped lace trim. You guide the fabric and lace under the needle as necessary to anchor each curve, leaf, or flower. You can even apply beaded lace trim this way; be sure to navigate slowly and carefully around beads.

This article, written by Rae Cumbie, was excerpted from Threads #189 (Feb./March 2017).

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