What is a Basting Stitch and How to Sew One

Of all the fancy stitches that sewing machines come with nowadays, there’s one that sets the stage for all the rest and that’s the lowly basting stitch. 

Basting is absolutely one of the most essential steps for many of your sewing projects. You’ll never see the baste stitch in the limelight of a finished project so it’s often taken for granted. Let’s explore what a baste stitch is and how to sew one.

What is a basting stitch?

A baste stitch is simply the longest stitch on your machine without any backstitching. It does the important work of temporarily holding your fabric in place until a more permanent stitch can come in and finish the job. Since it’s a longer stitch than your typical straight stitch, it’s much easier to take out. Simply take your seam ripper to it in a few places and pull one of the threads to effortlessly slide it out.

How to sew a basting stitch on your machine

If you’re a video person, check out the video tutorial for a quick how-to on sewing a basting stitch

Whether your machine comes with all the bells and whistles or you just have an old hand-me-down from your grandmother, your machine has a baste stitch. Finding it will be different depending on what machine you have. On newer machines you’ll select your straight stitch and then change the length to about a 5. Some machines have a preprogrammed baste stitch built-in for you. And on older machines you’ll simply rotate your stitch length dial to the longest length. 

Most machines’ default straight stitch is set to around 2.5mm and their baste stitch is about 5.0mm.  

When to use a basting stitch

Any time you want to hold layers together temporarily, a baste stitch will be your best friend. You’ll either sew your basting stitch at your exact seam allowance or just inside. You never back stitch when starting or stopping a basting stitch since that would make it difficult to remove. And since you’ll want to remove it after sewing your permanent stitch you may want to use a contrasting thread to easily locate it.

Fitting a garment

If you’re unsure of how a certain garment will fit you, it’s a good idea to first make a muslin. A muslin is a prototype of your final garment. It’s usually sewn in cheap fabric so as to not waste your nice fabric and is constructed using a baste stitch. Basting allows you to quickly sew the garment, as baste stitches don’t take as long to sew. You will also be able to easily adjust your seams to achieve the perfect fit.

Here’s a regular straight stitch next to a basting stitch so you can see the difference.

Easing a sleeve

When sewing a set-in sleeve you’ll need to start by basting the curve. Sleeves from woven fabric have to have extra ease, basically extra fabric, to allow it to move with your arm. Otherwise your sleeve would be tight and restricting. This extra ease makes your sleeve bigger than the size of your arm hole. Basting the cap of your sleeve gathers it just enough for it to seamlessly fit your arm hole.

Notice in the picture that basting this sleeve gives the cap a rounded effect rather than being flat. Now it’s ready to comfortably fit the roundness of your shoulder.

Zippers

Installing zippers can be difficult and basting makes it painless. Baste stitches prevent your zipper from slipping around, making your final stitch more accurate. It’s also a lot easier sewing a zipper without bothering with pins. Basting ensures that your zipper turns out looking like it was professionally put in. Basting tape is another great option for mastering your zipper installation. (Pssst! We have a great video tutorial for how to use that here.)

Making ruffles

Can you imagine a world without ruffles? Well, without our friendly baste stitch we’d never be able to achieve any of those cute and flattering ruffles! Sew two or three rows of basting stitches close together. Then separate your top threads from your bottom threads. While holding only your top threads, simply slide your fabric down to gather it. Your baste stitching will hold your gathers in place while you sew your seam. 

Sewing trim

Trims such as pom-pom, rick rack, or piping are narrow and difficult to pin. Trim is commonly sandwiched between two layers making it nearly impossible to catch in just the right spot unless it’s already tacked down with a baste stitch. First, baste your trim to one layer of the fabric. Then lay your other fabric over it and use your baste stitch as a guide of where to sew your permanent stitch. Baste stitching makes this process easy peasy. 

There are many more basting stitch applications from quilting to making designer clothing. And although all its work is done “behind the seams” you definitely won’t want to skip your basting. 

If you’re curious about other interesting stitches your machine has to offer, check out our article on the best stretch stitches to use for sewing knit apparel.

Originally Authored by Jessamin Jensen. Archived by Kathryn Graham.

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