*This is not to imply that the queen of FMQ encourages poor workmanship, but it's important to note that she quilts on a longarm and teaches both home/domestic machine and longarm. As you'll see below, quilting on a longarm can be very different from a domestic.
Free motion quilting typically involves setting your machine's stitch length to 0, which allows you full control. If you free motion quilt with a domestic machine, you likely do not have a stitch regulator. The stitch regulator guarantees even stitches, no matter how hard you press the pedal. This is one of the advantages to having a long arm quilting machine - many, if not all of them, have stitch regulators. Bernina also manufactures the BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) for their domestic machines.
I do not have a stitch regulator on my machine (a Janome Memory Craft 6300), and only this year have I focused on keeping my stitches consistent for all projects (for commissions and Quilt Market quilts, I quilt slower, thus my stitch length is more consistent if not perfect). My quilting is well-practiced and looks great from far away, but perhaps the "quilt police" might look at some of my work and proclaim it "poor workmanship." I've greatly improved with my stitch length over the last 4 years of quilting almost every day (and usually, my intention wasn't to improve stitch length but to improve quilting a certain motif). The question remains: as long as there's adequate tension (stitch tightness), does it actually matter if your stitches are consistent?
Yes, if you are entering a quilt show and hope to win something. One of the four constructive comments I received on my QuiltCon quilt, Home, was something to the effect of "work on consistent stitch length."
But... what if it's intentional? I have a good reason for keeping the organic lines on my latest project (pictured throughout this post) inconsistent, even within each line (larger stitches becomes smaller and larger again). Does that artistic purpose mean I'm creating more of an art quilt?
A commenter recently complimented the fact that my Saturated Rainbow Mini, above, featured so many different stitch lengths. I didn't intend that - I was just having fun with free motion. :)
Personally, the categorization doesn't matter much to me, but I am entering it into QuiltCon this year. It's all interesting food for thought. There's a grand story behind this purposeful mish-mash of stitch lengths and I'll be telling it next week. See you then.
So, what do you think? Does stitch length matter in domestic machine quilting? Does it only matter on professional and show quilts? Does it depend on the quilter? Have you ever purposefully varied up your stitch length for a project? Inquiring minds would love to know.