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What Is Basting in Sewing?

If you like to sew, you have almost certainly spent several unpleasant hours painstakingly picking stitches out of fabric because something went wrong. If you do a trial run of your sewing project using an extra-long basting stitch, you can save yourself all this trouble! Basting has many wonderful uses in the world of sewing, but what exactly is a basting stitch?

Basting uses long stitches measuring between ¼” and ½” to temporarily hold two or more pieces of fabric in place. Basting has many uses, including gathering fabric, creating temporary seams to determine the fit of a garment, and sewing a curved hem. Both hand sewing and sewing machines can make a basting stitch.

In this article, you will learn what a basting stitch is and when to use it. You will discover five handy ways to baste fabric. Finally, you will find tips on how to remove the basting stitch after using it.

What Is Basting in Sewing

What is Basting in Sewing?

Basting uses long stitches with the ends of the thread left loose to temporarily hold layers of fabric in place. You will also see this type of stitching referred to as a running or tacking stitch.

You can hand-stitch basting easily by using a loose running stitch. You can also set your sewing machine to its longest stitch length option to create machine-made basting. Sometimes, you may even want to use a special type of thread called tack thread that will snap easily to make removing the basting even easier.

Most of the time, you will want to remove the basting stitches once you have sewn the permanent stitching into place. But of course, you will find exceptions to this rule, as you can use basting stitches for all kinds of sewing purposes, and a few of them you do typically leave in place.

Basting has many uses in the sewing world, ranging from quilting to couture stitching techniques!

Probably the most widely known purpose for basting is to help fit a garment. Whether you work as a fashion designer creating clothing to fit onto sewing models or just want to make a dress for your granddaughter, you will find that using temporary seams saves you lots of time.

In couture sewing, the designers often use basting stitches to temporarily place pattern markings onto fabric. For example, a designer will stitch the lines of a dart onto the fabric rather than marking the expensive material with chalk like most of us do at home!

If you like to sew clothes, you will find many opportunities to use a basting stitch. This loose stitch is invaluable if you need to sew a sleeve into a shirt, dress, or jacket. It can help you create a perfect curved edge at the bottom of a skirt or the outline of a collar. It can even help you put gathers into a garment!

Basting does wonders to hold slippery fabrics together before you put in the real stitching. It also works much better than sewing pins to hold the fabric together as you serge it if you like to sew using a serger.

Quilters use basting tools to hold layers of fabric in place while getting a quilt assembled. Generally, this method is used once all the layers are put together and ready to get made into a quilt sandwich, with the batting in the middle.

Embroiderers often use a basting stitch around a design to hold everything in place before removing a project from the frame or hoop. You can also use a basic running stitch to form many permanent, decorative parts of an embroidery design!

In commercial clothing, you can often find a basting or tacking stitch holding temporary tags to garments with loose stitches meant to tear away.

With so many uses to choose from, you should take a moment to learn how to make a basting stitch!

How to Sew Basting Stitch: 5 Methods

How to Sew Basting Stitch

The most popular method for sewing a basting stitch is to use a sewing machine, though basting by hand may work better in certain circumstances.

If you are in a hurry, you can also learn how to baste with sewing pins or clips. Quilters and upholstery sewers sometimes baste with special adhesives inside of with stitching.

1. By Hand

Gutermann Tacking & Basting Weak Sewing Thread 200m 2538 - eachThe easiest way to understand the mechanics of a basting stitch is to try sewing it by hand first. It is worth noting that many professional sewers, such as fashion designers and tailors, will use hand basting a lot of the time because it allows for greater precision and more delicate handling of expensive materials.

How do you do a basting stitch? Follow these simple steps!

  1. Thread a hand-held needle with thread. If you have it on hand, tacking thread like this will work perfectly. Whatever thread you planned to use for the project will work fine, too, so don’t stress about it!
  2. When basting by hand, you can leave a long thread tail at your start point or knot the thread off at its end.
  3. Insert the needle at your start point, coming up from the reverse side of the fabric.
  4. On the top side of the fabric, move the needle about ¼” to ½” to the right of the start point. Push the needle back through the material and tug the thread all the way through, forming your first stitch.
  5. Repeat this up-down pattern to continue creating stitches either ¼” or ½” apart until you reach the end point of your basting!

2. On Sewing Machine

The quickest and most popular way to make a basting stitch is to use a sewing machine. Regular sewing, quilting, and embroidery machines have various settings you can use to create this stitch. This means that all sewing machines can make a basting stitch.

On a regular domestic sewing machine, basting is just using your longest stitch length setting for a straight stitch. On most machines, this stitch will measure around ¼” in length. This forms a line of loose stitching that you can quickly remove after putting in permanent stitching.

The exact button, sliders, or screen prompts you will use on your machine may vary, but you can follow these general instructions to make a basting stitch using your sewing machine. You should also reference your sewing machine manual to find out the specifics of your particular model.

  1. Set up your machine with a high-contrast color of thread for the upper thread. This way, you can easily spot the stitches later to remove them.
  2. Turn on your machine and set the stitching pattern to a straight stitch. On most machines, this is the default setting.
  3. Next, locate the stitch length setting. Set the stitch length to the longest possible option. Some machines can make stitches as long as 7mm or even 9mm. (To give you some perspective, the “regular” stitch length for most garments is about 2 or 2.5mm!).
  4. Set the tension a tad looser than you usually would for the type of fabric you plan to sew on. This will make the stitching a little less taunt and easier to remove later.
  5. Make sure you have a long thread tail coming off both the upper and lower thread before you begin.
  6. Do not back tack as you begin sewing.
  7. Sew a straight stitch through the area you want to baste.
  8. When you reach the end, do not back tack to finish the basting. Simply tug the fabric free and cut a generous thread tail.

You can find some variations on sewing machine basting techniques later in this article, where you can learn how to gather material or sew a curved edge.

3. With Basting Glue

SpraynBond Quilt Basting Adhesive Spray - 7.2 ozIf you think using basting or fabric glue sounds like cheating, think again! Basting glue has many useful applications for projects like quilting and upholstery. While not technically a “basting stitch,” this method is a popular sewing technique!

That said, spray-on basting glue like this works best when used on large-scale projects such as quilts. It could get quite messy and leave a sticky residue if you try to use it instead of a basting stitch on small sewing projects, such as putting in zippers or sleeves.

Like this option, you can also get fabric glue in a squeeze bottle or tube. To use this type of glue for basting, you will want to apply tiny glue dots between two pieces of fabric. Then use your iron to lightly set the glue, drying it in place.

4. With Pins

You can “baste” with pins using several different techniques. This is one of the quickest and least permanent methods for temporarily holding layers of fabric together in a particular shape.

You can use pin basting to hold the layers of a quilt together, to mock up the shape of a garment on a model, or even to see how seams will look in a garment before you try it on.

  • For quilting, special quilting clips often work even better than pins. You can find these “magic clips” for sale all over the place – these are a good set! Clips work well to hold binding, piping, or bias tape down around an edge as you can quickly remove them as you sew in the real stitching.
  • Another option for professional-grade basting pins is these special curved safety pins. They will easily go through many layers of quilting or upholstery material to hold the fabric in place as you sew.
  • Finally, you can always use basic straight pins as well. These work best if you want to mock up a seam in a garment to see what it will look like when finished. You simply set pins in a straight line as if the metal length of the pin was the thread in the stitches.

5. With Iron

In some cases, you can use an iron and a layer of fusible material or fusible thread to temporarily hold the fabric together.

Iron-on or fusible interfacing goes on inside a garment or gets sandwiched between the outer fabric and a lining. It provides body and definition and helps the fabric maintain the correct shape. You can often temporarily attach interfacing sections by using your iron to heat the adhesive and stick the interfacing to the reverse side of the fabric.

In rare cases, you can also make a basting stitch using fusible thread. On a machine, you will typically place this on the bobbin. Or you can sew the basting stitch by hand, then use the iron to seal the fusible thread seam together.

When to Use Basting Stitch

When to Use Basting Stitch

Now that you know how to make a basting stitch, you can start using this invaluable method for many sewing purposes, such as gathering fabric, putting in a sleeve or zipper, or prepping material for your serger!

Gathering

To gather fabric, you set in two rows of loose stitches and then pull on the ends of the thread, causing the material to bunch up or “gather.” You can use this technique to create a full skirt, make a ruffle, or set certain types of sleeves.

While you can create a gathering stitch by hand, it is much easier and more efficient to do this on a sewing machine, using the longest straight-stitch length option.

  1. Set up your machine with two different thread colors for the upper and lower thread. You can use a high-contrast color here if you want, as this stitching will fall within the seam allowance and will not show on the outside of the garment.
  2. Loosen the tension on your sewing machine and make sure you have selected the longest straight stitch option.
  3. Transfer any pattern markings to your fabric using chalk or hand-stitching. You will need to see the start and stop points for the gathering stitch.
  4. Leave long tails, about 6” of thread, hanging from the upper and lower threads. Do not back tack as you begin sewing.
  5. Next, sew a straight line between your start and stop points, keeping your stitching ¼” from the raw edge.
  6. Now go back to the start point and sew a second line of stitching about ⅜” from the raw edge, parallel to the first line of basting stitches.
  7. Now you can remove your fabric from the sewing machine, making sure you cut a generous thread tail at the end of the stitching.
  8. Locate the bobbin thread, or lower thread, from both lines of stitching. (This is why using contrasting upper and lower thread colors helps with this process).
  9. At the gather start point, hold both of the bobbin thread tails tightly in your hand. You may want to loop them around your fingers to get a better grip.
  10. Now, gently slide the fabric down the taunt bobbin threads pushing it together so that it begins to form small ridges. Continue this gentle sliding until the fabric has gathered up down the entire length of the basting stitches.
  11. Once you have finished the gathering, you can even out the ruffles by sliding them back and forth along the bobbin threads. You can also make the gathers tighter or looser to fit the desired length for your project.

Embroidery

You can use a basting stitch to form a loose circle or square around a finished design, especially if you use an embroidery machine. Most embroidery machines have a special basting stitch setting you can select using the touch screen or buttons.

This helps hold a design like an applique in place when you take it out of the frame. You can then use a seam ripper on every fourth stitch to easily tug free the basting after you have attached the applique to its permanent home.

Of course, you can also use a basic running stitch sewn by hand for all kinds of embroidery designs, but in this case, you aren’t basting–you want the stitches to remain a permanent part of the pattern.

Ease Stitch in Hem

One of the essential but lesser-known uses for a basting stitch is to create perfect curved hems. You can use this technique for a rounded collar, the hem of a circle skirt, or any curved, finished edge! Plus, any time you see “ease stitch” called for in a sewing pattern, you will know what to do after you try this method.

When you try to fold over a curving edge, you end up with many crumples and puckers along the curve. This happens because any curved edge is wider at the bottom than the top, and the extra width has nowhere to go when you fold the wider section into the more narrow section!

Fortunately, you can solve that problem by using an easy stitch.

  1. Before you put in the basting stitch, you will want to finish the raw edge of the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to use a serger to sew around the curved edge and encase it with threads.
  2. Next, set up your sewing machine for basting. Loosen the tension slightly and set the straight stitch length to the longest possible option. In this case, you do not want to use a contrasting thread color.
  3. Sew along the curved edge. Your seam allowance should place the basting stitches just inside the fold of your hem (so that the stitches will lie on the inside of the garment, not the outside). In most cases, this means you will want to place your basting line about ¼” from the finished edge.
  4. This next step takes a little time, but it is the magic key that gives you perfect curved edges. Use a needle or the flat side of a seam ripper to gently pry up every fourth stitch of the basting. You do not want to break the thread here! Just lightly lever up the stitches, creating little raised mountains of thread. This will minimally gather the edge of the hem, but not so much that you see the fabric bunching up.
  5. After completing this step, use an iron or your fingers to press the finished edge on the inside of the fabric.
  6. Finally, use a slip stitch or blind stitch to hand-sew the hem into place.

Setting Sleeve

Pretty much anytime you sew a sleeve into a garment, you need to use a basting stitch to create an ease or gathering stitch along the curved shoulder section of the sleeve.

Most sleeve patterns will come with markings telling you where to stop and start your ease or gather stitch.

For many fitted sleeves, using a simple ease stitch will help the concave and convex curves fit together. This method uses the ease stitch technique described in the previous section, lifting every fourth basting stitch to minimally gather the sleeve before attaching it to the armhole.

In some cases, puffed or full-bodied sleeves will have a much longer edge than the armhole they fit into. In this case, you want to use the gathering technique of applying two lines of basting and gathering up the fabric into ruffles before sewing it into the armhole.

Either way, the basic concept remains the same: you use your stitching to shorten the circumference of the circle of the sleeve to make it match the shape of the armhole.

Attaching Interfacing

You can temporarily attach interfacing to fabric using two methods.

First, you can apply fusible or iron-on interfacing by using your iron to melt the shiny side of the interfacing onto the reverse side of the fabric.

Second, a basting stitch can hold non-fusible interfacing onto delicate fabrics. This method takes a little extra time, but you will need to use it for delicate or heat-sensitive fabric.

Holding the interfacing in place before you try to sew all the layers of a garment together is crucial. Otherwise, the interfacing “filling” or the fabric sandwich will wrinkle up, slide free, or end up in the wrong place!

Adding Zipper

One of the most popular ways to attach a zipper requires a basting stitch that you can easily remove.

  1. Start by using a basting stitch to close the seam where the zipper will go. Press the seam allowance open with an iron.
  2. Next, use pins to attach one side of the zipper to the seam allowance, not the garment fabric. Use a zipper foot and regular-length stitches to sew the zipper tape onto the seam allowance where you pinned.
  3. Repeat this process on the other side of the zipper tape.
  4. Use a seam ripper to remove the basting, and unzip the zipper to open it up.
  5. Finally, stitch by hand from the outside of the garment, going through the seam allowance and the zipper tape to hold it in place. Use a whip stitch around the bottom edge of the zipper.

This method gives you a perfectly set-in zipper without ugly stitching showing on the outside of the garment!

Determining Garment Fit

Perhaps the most important reason to use basting stitches is to help you determine the garment fit. Like ready-wear clothing, sewing patterns come in generic sizes that never perfectly fit any individual body. This means you will need to make slight alterations as you sew.

If you use regular-length stitches, you will have to spend hours carefully picking out each stitch to make these alterations. Experienced sewers know that you should always piece together a garment using basting stitches first. This way, you can try on the garment and see its flaws, easily take it apart, and make your alterations!

For example, suppose you try on a top and realize that the armholes feel too tight. You can take out the shoulder seams and re-sew them using a smaller seam allowance to give you more space in the armhole!

Serger

Basting stitches give you a fool-proof way to hold pieces of fabric together as you serge them.

You do not want to use pins or clips to hold layers of fabric together while using a serger. Sergers sew very quickly, often around 1000 stitches per minute, which makes it difficult to get pins out of the way of the needle quickly enough. Instead, sew a basting line inside the seam allowance of every place you want to use your serger.

You will not need to remove the basting thread for this method. It will get encased in the serger threads as you sew.

Quilting

You can use basting tools to hold binding onto the edge of a quilt and to hold the layers together before you stitch them in place.

The best way to hold quilt edging or binding in place is to use sewing clips before you sew.

The best way to hold the layers of a quilt together is to apply spray-basting adhesive, starting from the center of the quilt and smoothing the batting onto it, then spraying again to attach the top layer of fabric. Work in sections of about two square feet at a time, going from the center of the quilt to the edges as you seal the layers together.

How to Remove Basting Stitch

The best way to remove a basting stitch is to use a seam ripper to break every fourth or fifth stitch and tug the bottom thread out of that section of stitching.

The extra-long stitch length of these stitches makes it easy to take apart the stitching and remove the threads once you no longer need them.

Basting Stitch Sewing Machine Settings

Most sewing machines use the stitch length setting to create a basting stitch.

Brother and Singer models often have a wheel you twist to set the machine to a straight stitch and another knob you can use to set the machine to its longest possible stitch length. Some models may have a light-up LED screen and buttons you use to enable these settings. Or, if you have a computerized model, you may even have a touchscreen you can tap to select the straight stitch and the longest stitch length!

On a sewing pattern, the basting symbol often looks like two large black circles that tell you where to start and stop stitching. For gathers, you sometimes see a square missing the top line, indicating where to stop and start the gathering.

What is the Difference Between Basting and Running Stitch?

This is a trick question because there is no difference between a basting stitch and a running stitch! Both terms mean a long straight stitch.

You often see the term “running stitch” used when you sew a basting stitch by hand. When you use a sewing machine, you often see the term “basting stitch” used.

Is Basting in Sewing Necessary?

Basting in sewing is necessary for many techniques like gathering and setting sleeves.

Many people ask this question because the basting stitches do not show up in your final product. This may leave you wondering if you couldn’t just skip the prep work and get right to the “real sewing.”

But this is like saying that you don’t need to stretch before running a race because you don’t see the athlete performing stretches while running! Without the stretching, the athlete will not run fast or win the race and may even get injured.

Basting sets up your sewing for success, just like stretching preps an athlete to run well!

Conclusion

Basting uses loose stitches to hold layers of fabric together temporarily. Common basting methods include:

  • Making a running stitch by hand with a needle and thread.
  • Using the longest straight-stitch length on a sewing machine.
  • Using tools such as basting glue or clips to hold fabric securely in place while sewing.

Basting is an essential method that can help you set in sleeves or zippers, create a perfect curved edge, put together the layers of a quilt, or hold the fabric in place while using a serger. Using double basting lines inside a seam allowance also allows you to create neat gathers in fabric.