Ever wondered what a basting stitch is in sewing? That’s what you’re about to find out.
If you’ve ever searched in your sewing machine manual, you probably won’t find a “basting stitch” as one of your machine’s available stitches. Yet, basting is something that we do often in sewing, so how do you baste fabric together?
In this post, you’ll learn what a basting stitch is in sewing, when and why to use basting stitches. You’ll also learn how a basting stitch is different than a gathering stitch and why basting is better than pinning when you sew.
After I show you how to do a basting stitch by machine and how to create basting stitches by hand, you’ll learn when you can hand baste and when you can machine baste.
So thread up a needle, and let’s temporarily stitch some stuff.
Basting stitch definition
A basting stitch is a longer than normal stitch that holds layers of fabric together before you stitch them to other layers.
Basting stitches are usually straight stitches though and meant to be temporary. The long length of a basting stitch makes it easy to take out the stitch later.
You can baste layers of fabric together by machine or by hand. That’s machine basting and hand basting, respectively.
When to use a basting stitch
Basting stitches aren’t just for holding layers together when you sew them together forever.
Using basting when you make a muslin
They’re also excellent to use when you’re sewing a practice project (i.e. “making a muslin”). If you need to check the fit on a pair of pants before you sew it up for good, do you really want to pull out your seam ripper and rip out the side seams or inner leg seam? Baste it!
Those long stitches are just easier to remove.
Basting to check placement
Basting stitches are also great when you need to add elements to a project but you need to check the placement.
Not sure where to put that back pocket on your jeans? Baste the pocket in place, see if you like it, then sew it in for real. Got something like an epaulet or a bag closure that’s about to be stitched in place permanently? Basting it first can get that placement just right.
Basting with knit neckbands
It’s easy to be unsure of how long your knit neckbands need to be.
Some knits are just stretchier than others.
Use a knit that’s too stretchy for your body fabric, and you can easily end up with a neckband that sits out from the neck instead of sitting snug against the body.
Do you know how you can fix that? Baste the neckband to the neck first. That way, if the neckband is too long, you can see that quickly and it’ll be easy to take off, shorten and sew in perfectly the second time.
Using basting with hemming
When you’re hemming a project, pinning the hem can be a long, tedious process.
Pins fall out, the fabric shifts on you, and all the time you’re just hoping you’ll find all the pins with your eyes before your foot does.
A quick round of basting that hem will keep the hem in place and give you so much control as you stitch it in place.
Other times when you can use basting stitches:
- Working with lace
- Holding layers of bags together
- Any time you work with sew-in interfacings
- Holding together seams on faux fur before sewing
Why you should use basting stitches
So why are basting stitches useful when you sew anyway?
First, basting keeps your pinning to a minimum.
Also, basting keeps your layers FLAT which gives you more control as you stitch, and it also helps you stitch more accurately than when you use pins.
Basting also keeps multiple layers of fabric together. If you’ve ever tried to sew 3 layers of fabric together and found that the middle or bottom layer doesn’t meet the edge, try basting two of the layers first. You’ll end up with fewer holes in your seams.
Ever make a quilt? It’s sometimes nice to baste your quilt to the batting before you start quilting to make it easier to manage.
Also basting can help you sew fabrics I call cranky fabrics.
Some fabrics are just plain hard to hold together with pins.
Pins fall out of some fabrics, leave marks in others, or cause unintended folds in your seam.
It seems weird that basting can help you here, but just give it a try and see what you think. Hand basting can be just the thing to keep fabrics like velvet from shifting around on you when you’re working.
How a basting stitch is different than a gathering stitch
At first glance, basting stitches and gathering stitches are similar. They both use long straight stitches, and can be temporary. After that how the stitches are used is ultimately what makes them different.
When you gather fabric, you often sew multiple rows of long straight stitches. After that, you pull on the bobbin threads to gather the thread.
Gathering involves manipulating these stitches so that they take up a smaller space when you go to sew them into a seam with a shorter length. Those gathering stitches, once in place create volume and slight tucks in the fabric.
In contrast, a basting stitch is never gathered and only requires one row of stitching. A basting stitch also involves multiple layers of fabric, where in gathering, only one layer of fabric is typically gathered.
Why basting stitches are better than pinning when it comes to sewing
Once you have your basting stitches in place, you can stitch free of any pins. For a little bit of time upfront, you usually end up saving a lot of time while you’re sewing.
At the end of sewing, you can pull out your basting stitches in a few seconds for hand basting. And if you’ve machine basted your stitches, you can often just leave them in place without removing them.
When you use pins, you must stop sewing before every single pin to take it out of your fabric before continuing. Maybe it’s just a few seconds, but those seconds add up.
The other advantage basting has over pins is that it gives you a lot more control as you sew. Back to the example of a knit neckband. Pins like to move a lot on necklines if they stay in the fabric at all.
Yes, you can use Clover Wonder Clips on knit necklines, but a hand basting stitch is even better. You can gleefully stitch down your neckline without worrying about it moving on you. For a fabric that’s as mobile as knits, that extra control is worth the extra few seconds it takes to hand baste that knit neckband.
Basting by machine vs. basting stitches by hand
You can create basting stitches by hand or machine baste. Both of them are useful to know how to do. Here’s when it’s better to use a hand basting stitch and when it’s better to use machine basting stitches.
|Hand basting is best for:||Machine basting is best for:|
|Working with lace||Bagmaking|
|Hems||Checking the fit of a garment|
|Underlining fine fabrics like silk||Testing the fit on a knit neckband|
|Holding knit neckbands in place for topstitching||Zippers (How to sew an invisible zipper, easy fancy)|
|Matching seam intersections (learn how with this awesome tip)|
How to do a basting stitch by machine
To create a basting stitch by machine, first lengthen your regular straight stitch to the longest setting possible on your machine. On my machine that is 5.0mm, but it may be slightly longer or shorter depending on your particular machine.
Next, if you need to, pin the layers that you need to baste together.
From there, stitch the layers you need to baste together without backstitching. Try to stitch as close to the raw edge as you can. This way, you won’t have to remove the basting stitches later unless you want to.
How to do a basting stitch by hand
When you baste by hand, first pin the layers you need to baste.
Try to keep the pins close to the raw edge if you’re working with a nice fabric like silk.
Next, you’ll need a contrasting color at hand.
Thread up a hand needle with a length of thread without knotting it. Any sharp needle works well here, and if you’re working with a delicate fabric, use a beading needle. Beading needles are extra fine and unlikely to damage your fabric.
Move the needle in and out of the layers with big 1/2”-1” long stitches. After the first few stitches, pull the thread through the fabric, leaving a long tail of thread hanging. Do not knot the thread. Remove the pins as you go.
After you’ve done your hand basting stitches, sew up your piece as you need to in your project. When you’re finished sewing, pull the basting stitches out, teasing them out with your fingers or the tip of a pair of embroidery scissors.
To finish up, that’s all there is to creating a basting stitch. Now that you know what a basting stitch is in sewing, how, why, when, and where to use basting stitches, check out these projects that use basting:
- Lace applique tee
- How to sew a knit neckline
- How to sew an invisible zipper
- Sew seam intersections cleanly with this tip
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.