Basting stitch – Hand & machine baste stitches for perfect sewing

What is Baste Stitching ?

Baste stitching refers to temporarily making loose straight hand stitches / machine stitches on different layers of fabric as an alternative to pinning them together. They are used to temporarily hold one or more layers of fabric together. In hand basting Long running stitches ( 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long) are used to do basting before they are replaced by permanent stitches.

Basting stitches are also called tacking stitches.

basting stitch

In sewing, pins are used extensively to keep fabric layers together. This is referred as pin basting. At times even binder clips and spray adhesives are used. Baste stitches are used when you find that pinning is difficult or would not be enough for the area you are sewing.

Basting stitches are usually used on the seam allowance or the seam line. But they are also used across the fabric where there is to be no seam like in diagonal basting ( Just make sure that the holes you make inevitably wouldnot be prominent on the fabric used)

Main uses of Baste Stitching.

Most frequent use of basting is in quilting ( you need to keep the quilt sandwich together before quilting them together- gives a tighter fit of the top fabric, batting, and backing fabric and gives you a smoother quilt. ) but it is not at all uncommon to see it used in couture sewing. In smocking, appliqué, gathering, pleats, cuffs, pockets, lace and binding basting is used extensively. It keeps trims in place before you sew them finally.

For me the most important use of baste stitches is in gathering fabric. When gathering fabric you make basting stitches along the cut edge inside the seam allowance – two rows of basting stitches are best. Gather the fabric by pulling the bobbin thread in the basting stitches. 

Basting is also used to mark patterns like dart placements . When sewing fabric cut on the bias baste stitches are unavoidable. It is  especially useful for slippery or sheer fabrics – they keep their places.

Sewing zippers without basting them first would make it look unfinished as the zipper can shift and result in  zipper getting stitched wonky

sewing invisible zippers

Another use of basting is in attaching sew-in interfacing. It is hand basted along the seam allowance before permanently stitching it up. Basting is also used to gather the set in sleeve to fit the armsyce. 

Designers and tailors use basting stitches in fitting. They are used on seams to make the clothes before trying on the dress form or the client before the final fitting is done. Designers also use basting in draping folds on garments

When creating fabric texture with decorative stitching in textile art basting comes handy. Sew two pieces of fabric together for a temporary hold and once the decorative stitching is complete the basting stitches are removed.

What thread is used for making Basting stitches

For  basting you need a thread that can easily be removed later.

You get tacking thread (for hand sewing) at the stores especially used only for making tacking stitches /basting stitches – the advantage of this soft, lightweight and quite inexpensive thread is that it snaps easily enough. You will not have trouble taking it off fabric after use. The water soluble basting threads are another alternative for making baste stitches. Simply wash or soak the item after the stitching is done with and the water soluble basting thread will dissolve in cold water/ hot water

Usually they are availabe in two colours – black and white, other colours are also seen though not common. 

You get cotton, polyester and silk basting threads. If basting thread is not available you can use cotton thread

How to do basting by hand?

Start by threading the needle with a thread which is different colour than your main fabric. This is so that you can remove the thread easily after the sewing is done.Use a thick needle ( not so thick to make holes in the fabric) that will sew through the layers

It is better if you donot knot the thread; you may yank too fiercely and damage your cloth. You can use one or two back stitching to anchor the thread instead of knotting.

In basting you use long running stitches catching all the layers of fabric.

You can do even basting or uneven basting.

EVEN BASTING STITCHES:– Even basting is the most often used baste stitching – it refers to same length basting (running) stitches made across the fabric. They are mostly 1/4 inches long made approximately 4-6 stitches per inch. You make these baste stitches when binding or hemming. Uneven basting uses long and short running stitches to baste

Diagonal basting is used mostly when cutting fabrics . This refers to long running stitches used diagonally across the fabric. When you cut and stitch fabric cut on the bias or dealing with slippery or sheer fabrics you need to keep the fabrics balanced and together, not shifting at the turn of your head or hand. This is when basting diagonally works.You make those long running stitches across the fabric securing the fabric layers together.

You can also make small horizontal stitches made in several rows to hold the fabric together – this is also referred to as diagonal basting

How are basting done for quilting

When Quilting blankets and even dress making fabric we use basting stitches to keep the layers of fabric together without shifting. 

To do this the three layers are kept on a flat surface one above the other, backing first, then padding, then surface. Starting from the centre, lines are tacked outwards vertically. The basting stitches pass through all three layers and the fabrics are constantly smoothed out between stitches.

Two horizontal basting stitch lines are done along the center. Then other basting stitch lines are added 1 inch or so apart parallele to the first lines you have made

When basting quilt sandwiches it is better to do vertical and horizontal basting lines rather than diagonal basting lines from the center  – because this may stretch the fabric pieces ever so slightly and you may end up having small puckers in your final work. duh .

basting stitches

Slip Basting

Slip basting refers to loose stitches made to attach a folded fabric edge to a flat piece of fabric.It is usually used when you are fitting and you need to temporarily attach two fabric pattern pieces together – like a sleeve. This stitch is especially useful when you have to attach and match patterns. The slip basting stitch will ensure that the patterns do not shift and get distorted when you finally stitch.

How to do slip basting

Turn under and Press the seam allowance of the fabric . Keep it on top of the other flat fabric piece. Pin it where you want it.

Come up with the needle and thread and slip the needle through the fold . Go forward 1/4 inch and take up 1/4 inch from the fabric underneath. Repeat the stitches again by going through the fold . The stitching is same as the one done using the slip stitch – Check out the tutorial for the slip stitch here.

split invisible stitch

After you have got it right where you want it you can reinforce the stitching with machine sewing stitches

Machine Basting

Hand basting is tedious especially when there is a lot of area to cover. You can use machine stitching to replace hand basting stitches. There are high end sewing machines with this function which you can work with the movement of a dial. But for those with ordinary home sewing machines it is still possible – Use the longest stitch length in your machine settings.This is your basting stitch. You can loosen the tension as well. 

I set the stitch length dial at 5 for baste stitching.

Do not start with back stitching as you normally would for regular stitching.

Machine baste stitching is not as easy to remove from the fabric as hand basting stitches but your seam ripper can come handy. You can also use basting thread which is weaker than regular thread

After basting is done and everything is as you planned change your stitch length to normal ( 2 to 2.5) and sew the seam permanently

Check out the post on Tailor tack stitches which is a type of tacking stitches used to mark fabrics.

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