What is basting? This kind doesn’t involve turkeys. Essentially, basting is kind of like pre-stitching in a way—basting stitches are large stitches sewn in loosely to hold pieces of material together and to give you a guideline for your permanent stitches. When you’re sewing an item—an article of clothing, for example—you either have to pin the layers of fabric together (such as the front and back pieces of a shirt) or baste them to hold them together while you sew. While pinning is an effective technique, basting is beneficial for several reasons.

How to Baste

Basting can be done by hand or by machine, and the technique you use may depend on the project you’re working on or the type of material you’re using. If you baste by machine, you’ll want to set your stitch length to at least five—preferably to the longest size possible—to be sure the stitches are long enough to be removed easily. Hand basting is often easier for many projects, since you can easily control the length of the stitches. If you’re basting in order to gradually add extra fabric in a certain area, such as over a curve, machine basting is better.

When you baste, whether it’s by hand or machine, you’ll want to do it relatively quickly. You don’t need to have perfect stitching, because these stitches are not permanent. The idea is to get your guideline in there and get an idea of what it will look like after the permanent stitches are added. If you’re machine basting, add your long stitch on the edges of the material without backstitching at all. If you’re hand-stitching, do a quick in-and-out stitch while ensuring that the material stays in place.

Reasons to Baste

Sure, you can pin your fabrics together, and it may seem like it’s quicker than basting stitches. It may or may not save time in that step; however, it will definitely save you time in the sewing step. If you have several pins in your material, you’ll have to stop sewing and remove a pin each time you get to one. Not only does that slow down your process, it interrupts your sewing flow. With basted stitches, you can keep sewing along without having to stop very often.

Basting also helps when fitting a garment. Since you don’t know for certain whether a garment will fit until you try it, basting allows you to gauge whether it will fit right or you’ll have to redo it. And removing large basted stitches is much easier than removing small machine stitches! Skipping the basting step isn’t a shortcut; if you go straight to machine-sewing your garment and the fabric shifts, you make a mistake, or the garment doesn’t fit right, you will have to remove all the tiny stitches and start over. Talk about a time waster! Better to map out your guideline and do it right the first time.

Basting is especially useful with slippery or velvety fabrics that shift around easily. It is also beneficial when sewing items onto fabric, such as zippers, lace, or piping. Think of it as an anchor to give you an idea of what your project will look like when it’s completed. You can also use two or three rows of basting for areas where the fabric needs to be gathered.

Basting Tips

First and foremost, you’ll want to do your best to have a bit of patience in order to do the basting step. It is easy to get in a hurry and want to skip it; but if you take the time to do it, your results will be neater and you will have it done correctly the first time. Try not to place the basting stitches exactly where the machine stitches will be—it will make it harder to remove the basted stitches when you reach that step. You’ll also want to place your basting stitches toward the edge of the fabric outside your final stitching line; that way, if there are needle holes showing in the fabric when you remove the basting stitches, they won’t show on the outside of the garment.

When it comes to thread, you can easily use old thread that you may have had for a long time and thought you had no use for. Unless you’re just starting out sewing and gathering supplies, you don’t need to buy new or high-quality thread for basting that will just be removed and thrown away. It’s especially helpful if the thread is a drastically different color than the fabric so that you can see and remove it easily. If you are just getting started with supplies, perhaps you can find an obscure thread color on sale and use that for basting. And again, be sure to take large stitches. It will defeat the purpose of basting in the first place if you take the time to make small stitches that you will then have to take the time to remove.

So while it may seem time-consuming to take the time to baste before you sew, you will be glad in the end that you did. If you’re still not sure, think of the time you hung a picture without mapping it out or using a level first. (That doesn’t usually turn out so well.) Perhaps you’ve been on both sides of the baste/don’t baste mindset and have some experiences you’d like to share. Tell us about it in the comments below!

The Inspired Sewist offers sewing supplies, classes, machines, and repair. We can help you learn new techniques or inspire you to get started, guiding you through any project you’d like to complete. We also offer assistance for any sewing machine purchases or repairs. Contact us for all your quilting and sewing needs.

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