So, what is basting stitch? Basting in sewing creates professional results and helps beginners hold tricky seams in place. When basting a seam you temporarily hold a seam together before the final seam is stitched. By taking a little extra time either machine basting or hand basting, you will get great results with the minimum of unpicking.
What Is Basting Stitch?
A basting stitch is just a temporary stitch to hold several pieces in place. My mother calls it tacking and when she sews she will tack EVERYTHING. Needless to say, she makes very few major mistakes that need unpicking.
It might be a gathered skirt attaching to a waistband, a piece of bias tape on the edge of a quilt or a sleeve joining to an armhole. Zippers can benefit from a basting stitch as you will need to sew close to the teeth and don’t want it to move before you sew.
Basting stitch is also useful for difficult fabrics such as silk that will slip around under the sewing machine foot.
Before serging, it is important to do basting stitch as it is harder although not impossible to unpick the seam if you make a mistake. When I am sewing leotards, I always machine or hand baste the seams before using my serger. Serging also cuts some of the seam allowances so you need to be sure everything is working first.
Basting a Seam
There are several ways you can baste a seam. They include using a basting stitch or using tapes and clips to hold the fabric.
- Hand basting
- Pin basting
- Basting with wonder clips
- Double-sided or iron on tape
- Machine basting
- Improvised basting
- Spray basting glue
The most common one you will use in the majority of clothing sewing patterns is machine basting. This is closely followed by pin basting and hand basting.
Basting Stitch for Sewing
Basting stitch can be done by hand or machine and is best done in a contrasting color so it can easily be identified and removed at the end if necessary. Where possible, always baste just inside the seam allowance so it does not need to be removed.
Hand Basting Stitch
When you need accurate control of a project you can’t beat hand basting. This is especially useful when setting in sleeves to armholes or joining curved pieces. Even experienced sewers will hand baste to get the best results.
Use an all-purpose needle and thread it with a strong polyester thread. For most fabrics, it is best to thread double. Ultra-fine fabrics may just need a single thread so as not to make large holes in the fabric.
The best basting stitch is a simple up and down running stitch about 1/4 – 1/2 inch (6mm-12mm) apart. The smaller the stitches, the more control you will have. For rough hand basting stitch, you can do several up and down stitches at once. Precise basting stitch should be sewn with one stitch at a time on a marked line.
Secure the ends with a small knot or backstitch.
Machine Basting Stitch
Lots of my sewing patterns use machine basting to hold pieces in place before sewing the final seam. Machine basting is best done on straight pieces of fabric. You may want to place pins to lightly secure the edge first.
Machine Settings for Basting Stitch
Basting is done with a straight stitch and an all-purpose sewing machine foot with the needle in the center.
Just set your machine to the longest stitch length which should be at least 4.0. Some machines may go up to 6.0-9.0. Check your sewing machine tension. You may need to loosen it slightly especially if you will need to remove the stitches at the end.
Most of the time the basting will be hidden in the construction of the garment but if you need to remove it later, using a contrasting thread will enable you to unpick it easily. A long stitch length can often just be pulled out by steadily holding the loose tail.
Alternatives to Basting Stitch
While it is the best, basting stitch is not the only way to hold the fabric in place.
Using pins is one of the fastest and easiest basting methods. Pin fabric by placing pins vertically or horizontally to your seam.
Sewing over pins is definitely not recommended, so remove them to prevent breaking a needle or possibly your machine!
Double-sided and iron on tapes
Iron on double-sided tapes such as Wonder Tape is great for basting before sewing knit fabric hems.
Not only do they hold the hem in place before you start sewing, but they also eliminate puckered hems.
If sewing leather or vinyl, double-sided tape can hold hems without worrying about holes from pins.
Basting with Wonder Clips
These cute little clips are used by quilters and bag makers to hold bulky seams in place. I have found they tend to slip slightly on thinner fabrics so save them for bulky projects.
If you need to hold vinyl or other fabric in place that marks easily, consider heading to your cupboards for help. Try hair clips, paper clips or even pegs.
Basting Spray and Glue
Basting spray is a light glue that is often used by quilters to temporarily hold the layers together. The glue usually washes out after the item is finished. Basting spray is also common when sewing leotards with layers of applique.
The idea is that this glue is not permanent making it easy to reposition fabric until you get it in the correct position.
Most of these sprays should only be used in well-ventilated rooms so read the instructions carefully.
How to Unpick a Basting Stitch
Basting stitch is best unpicked using a seam ripper. Because it is such a loose and long stitch, you should be able to gently pull out the thread after you have made a couple of cuts in the stitching line.
Remove small bits of thread left behind with a lint roller.
Basting Stitch – What is Basting – In Conclusion
So next time your pattern calls for basting stitch or basting, think of all the methods you could use and choose the one that makes your life easier!
What is your most used method of basting? Share your thoughts below.