How to Sew a Basting Stitch

Dart marked out with basting stitch, on pink fabric, close up
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Overview
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Basting is sewing long, easily removable stitches by machine or by hand. It's also called tacking. Basting stitches are intended to temporarily join fabric for several reasons. For instance, basting garment seams allows you to test the fit or a specific placement (such as for darts) before sewing more permanent stitches. Basting also can hold slippery fabrics together while you sew the regular stitches. Plus, basting can replace pins and make it easier to machine sew bulky items, such as when you're adding a zipper or hemming jeans. And basting allows two or more layers of fabric to be held together and worked as one layer, such as when you're basting together the layers of a quilt. Once you understand the uses and process, basting stitches either by hand or machine are fairly quick and easy for beginner sewers.

Tip

Using a thread color that contrasts with your fabric will make the basting thread more visible for easy removal.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Hand-sewing needle
  • Sewing machine
  • Seam ripper

Materials

  • Fabric
  • Thread

Instructions

How to Hand Baste

Hand basting is faster and easier to remove than machine basting. And it's easier to maintain control of an area when you hand baste. Hand basting is sewn with a running stitch.

High-angle view of a person stitching fabric
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  1. Pin the Fabric

    Pin the fabric area together that you plan to sew.

  2. Thread the Needle

    Thread a hand-sewing needle with a single thread, and knot the end.

  3. Insert the Needle

    Insert the needle in the edge of the fabric near the seam but where it won't be sewn over by machine stitching. If you do accidentally sew over the basting stitches, they will be difficult to remove and could weaken your final stitching.

  4. Start the Stitch

    Begin your running stitch just inside the seam allowance you will be using. For example, if you are basting a 5/8-inch seam, baste just inside the 5/8-inch marking on the seam allowance.

  5. Sew Running Stitches

    Sew a line of running stitches by inserting the needle and thread through both layers of fabric a short distance from your starting point. Bring the needle and thread up to the top of the layers the same distance as the first stitch.

  6. Finish the Area

    Repeat running stitches on the entire area you need basted. The size of the stitches can be long or short, but you do want to make sure they are removable. Test by tugging the thread to see whether it moves easily through the fabric. Just be sure to straighten the stitching and fabric after you test removing the basting.

  7. End the Line of Stitching

    Instead of knotting the thread at the end of the seam, just sew one or two stitches in place and leave a thread tail.

How to Machine Baste

Machine basting is a fast way to test the fit of an area or temporarily hold an area together, such as when installing a zipper. Machine basting should be sewn inside the seam allowance close to (but not directly on) the final seam line.

sewing machine stitches
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  1. Pin the Fabric

    Pin the layers of fabric together as you plan to sew them.

  2. Set the Stitch Length

    Set the stitch length on your sewing machine to a long stitch. That's the 4 or 5 setting on most modern sewing machines or about 6 stitches per inch.

  3. Select Your Thread

    Bobbin thread or another lightweight thread can be used in both the bobbin and upper thread if a thicker thread is apt to leave marks on the fabric.

  4. Sew the Seam

    Sew the seam, but don't backstitch at either the start or the end, as this would make the basting stitches difficult to remove.

How to Remove Basting Stitches

Always use care when removing basting stitches. Gently loosen the stitches with a seam ripper, working from one side of the fabric to the other. Don't poke the seam ripper between the layers of fabric, as that increases the likelihood of ripping through the fabric. When possible, remove the basting stitches before you press the fabric. Pressing can set the stitches and make them harder to remove.

unpicking stitches with a seam ripper
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