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What is a Basting Stitch?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A basting stitch is a type of extra long sewing stitch which is quick and easy to place in a variety of fabrics. Sewers use this stitch to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together or to gather fabric into ruffles or gathers, and it can be set by hand or by machine. The stitch is among the most basic of sewing stitches, and is usually taught to people who are just learning to sew along with stitches like the straight, running and blind stitch.

A basting stitch works essentially like a straight stitch; the needle is threaded and run in and out to join two pieces of fabric. However, the stitches used are particularly long, which means that they are not designed for longevity or attractiveness. In some cases, two lines of basting stitches will be used, especially in the case of setting ruffles, to ensure that the stitches do not come undone at a crucial moment.

Most sewing machines have a basting stitch setting, which has a long stitch length and loose tension. After you are done setting a basting stitch with your sewing machine, make certain that the stitch length is changed and the tension is fixed before you embark on another project. To hand stitch, make a running stitch through the fabric, spacing the stitches around ¼ inch (½ centimeter) apart. In both instances, remove the basting stitch when the permanent stitching is done, using a needle or seam ripper to carefully remove the basted stitches while leaving the good ones.

Many sewers will quickly handset a garment with a basting stitch to make sure that it will fit and that the pattern is being used correctly, and professional tailors will use this stitch to quickly hem up a garment to the correct length with the intention of sewing it properly later. When this stitch is used to gather or ruffle fabric, a straight stitch will be used later to secure it. In the case of hems, a basting stitch may be used to secure an even hem while the sewer hems the garment with a blind stitch, so that the stitches cannot be seen when the garment is being worn. This type of stitch is also used when working with slippery fabric that might pull apart as you sew, ruining the pattern.

In some cases, a technique called pin basting will be used instead of a basting stitch. Pin basting is usually employed when a garment is going to be sewn immediately, and involves setting small sewing pins into a garment to hold the fabric together while it is being sewn. When pin basting, craftspeople need to take care that all of the pins are removed, so that they do not poke the wearer and cause discomfort.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By FirstViolin — On Jul 24, 2010

There are also even basting stitches and uneven basting stitches.

Even basting stitches, as the name implies, are all the same length and generally the same space apart from each other. Many people sew them in 1/4 inch increments.

Uneven basting is done by making the stitch that shows on the top of the cloth much shorter than the one on the back, or bottom of the cloth.

This can be really useful for transferring pattern marks, etc., so that you don't have to mark your fabric with a pencil or marker.

By closerfan12 — On Jul 24, 2010

Basting stitches are often used for quilting too.

Since it would be impossible to hold all those little pieces together in the pattern while sewing it together, quilters will baste the pieces together, then follow up with a permanent stitch.

This is really useful while you're sewing it together, but taking all the basting stitches out afterward is such a pain!

By Catapult — On Jul 19, 2010

The basting stitch is useful for temporary fixes, like hemming a skirt or pants, or for shortening sleeves, either as a costume or for another use when the clothing will need to be returned to its previous state. This can save time, rather than using more permanent stitching, and is less potentially messy than using pins, tape, or any other temporary fix.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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