Anyone who has mastered their culinary game is familiar with the term baste. However, the baste we are talking about today has nothing to do with tingling your taste buds.
‘Baste’ is also a term used in sewing. If you just joined a sewing class or are slowly teaching yourself to sew by reading and following tutorials, then you will – if you haven’t already- come across the term a lot. You’ll most definitely have to baste many times throughout your course and even after when sewing professionally.
What does baste mean in sewing? In sewing, basting is holding layers of fabric in their precise final positions and using a series of long, loose running stitches to secure them in place before doing the final stitching. Pins, clips, double sided tapes, and spray adhesives are sometimes considered alternative ways to baste fabric.
Not all newbies know about basting or they avoid it, thinking it difficult, tedious or unnecessary, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Basting is a godsend technique for many newbie sewists who could otherwise fumble sewing zips and bias bindings, fixing sleeves to armholes, and aligning slippery fabrics. Basting is so efficient and helpful that pros make steady use of it as well.
Talk to a few experienced tailors, and you may be surprised at their best-kept secret to neat excellent results – basting. Read on to learn more about basting, different types of basting stitches, and how to baste your fabrics to successful sewing.
What is Basting Mean in Sewing?
As we said, basting is a way to keep your fabric firmly in place before you sew the actual or final seams or other stitches on your fabric.
When basting, you line up your fabric piece(s) where you will want them and then you sew loose and long running stitches to keep the fabric(s) firmly in place. You will go back and add in your more even, finer stitches after. Basting stitches are removed when the final stitching is done.
You could pin your pieces together, but this isn’t actually fool-proof. Even if you pin your pieces perfectly, they can still fall out or cause problems when you try to sew later. With your basting stitches in place, the fabrics just can’t slip and slide out of place under your hands, which is especially helpful when hand sewing.
Although some consider pinning or otherwise holding your fabrics in place with double-sided tape or clips or any other tool to also be basting, most only use the term when actual, temporary stitches are involved.
Pinning can make it harder to get accurate, precise stitches and fabric line-ups.
Using pins will also ruin your flow when sewing, causing you to constantly stop and adjust them if they’re falling out or remove them as you pass each pin. You can try leaving them in of course, but even experienced sewists prick themselves from time to time, so most will remove pins as they go.
Flow is important when sewing. You don’t have to speed through your sewing, but going at an even steady pace that isn’t too slow allows you to get a consistent flow – which means consistent, even stitchwork. Interrupt that flow every couple minutes, and your stitches will probably show it!
Is Basting a Permanent Stitch?
Basting is a non-permanent stitch, which is perhaps one of the reasons it remains lowly and doesn’t get as much attention as fancier permanent stitches. It is made long and loose to facilitate easy unpicking.
The purpose of basting is usually short-term during garment construction. It hold sections in place until the final machine stitch is sewn, after which the basting is removed.
Notwithstanding, machine basting may be left intact on certain instances especially if it doesn’t show on the right side of the final garment. A good example of basting that is not removed is a machine basting inside the seam allowance, or on gathered edges where a waistband will be attached.
Why Baste Fabric?
When you’re not used to basting, you might think it doesn’t make sense to pre-stitch fabric when you will still have to back and add the final stitching.
So why baste fabric?
Well, sewing isn’t always a smooth sailing process. Some techniques are quite tricky, and regardless of your skill level, you are bound to make mistakes. The good news is, such mistakes can be undone by unpicking. The bad news is, unpicking tight tiny machine stitches is such a pain, something you probably already know.
Unpicking your final stitches is avoidable if you first baste your pieces. Basting provides an overview of the construction, a clear guideline for the permanent stitching, and the stability needed to execute it.
We’ve already covered why “proper” basting with stitches is recommended by most experienced sewists (especially those who sew by hand), but here are more reasons to start basting every time you sew:
1. Testing and Fine-Tuning the Fit
Before sewing permanent seams on a garment, basting is a quick, low-stakes opportunity to fine-tune the precise fit of a garment. It provides a clear picture of the figuration on a model or dummy. You can then baste areas that need dart placement to adjust the fitting or recut the cloth if needed.
Plus, if you’re fitting on a live person, basting is a nice alternative to having the live model wiggle carefully out of a dress without scraping themselves up with pins!
2. Stabilizing Slippery Fabrics
Drapey fabrics like silk, rayon, satin, chiffon, charmeuse, velvet, and viscose are undoubtedly gorgeous. Nonetheless, they tend to be shifty, which makes cutting and sewing accurately such an uphill task. Basting takes the burden away by holding your layers of fabric firmly in place.
3. Install Zippers and Trims
Zippers, lace, bias binding, ribbons, and piping have a flexible structure. Consequently, sewing and keeping steady simultaneously can quickly get frustrating.
Basting ensures the zipper or trim stays put while you put in the final, heavy-duty stitches that will anchor it in place. It temporarily secures them in position, allowing you to concentrate on the sewing. It also enables you to stitch as close to the teeth (for zips) or edges as possible.
4. Gathering Fabric
Basting is the easiest way to bundle fabric. You can achieve even gathers on edges before attaching a waistband, bodice, or another part of a garment. Pleats, ruffles, frills, and other folds are often constructed with a row or two of basting stitches.
5. Maneuvering Curvy and Cornered Sections
Non-straight edges or seams can be difficult to sew all the way without deforming the shape. Think V necklines, curved necklines, complex pockets, collars with facing, and rounded sleeve caps.
Basting allows you to fine-tune a more complex shape and hold it firmly in place until you get to sew the entire part.
Basting is an integral part of the quilting process, although this is frequently done with pins. To hold down the top quit, the middle batting and the backing in perfect alignment together for the later part of the quilting process, basting or pinning is key.
The basting stitches cover the entire quilt and can be removed or even left in if decorative.
How Do You Baste Fabric?
Depending on who you ask, there are two popular ways of basting fabric when sewing: pin basting or using a basting stitch.
1. Pin basting is just pinning your fabric in place before sewing, and is probably something you’re used to already. If you’re new to sewing, however, it involves tacking sewing pins through the layers of fabric. It is a pretty quick, straightforward way to baste for beginners.
However, with pins, one is limited by the number. You might end up needing more than your stash of pins when doing multiple articles or huge patterns. On the contrary, some patterns are too small to utilize pins without them being obstructive.
You also have to stop sewing each time you get to the pins to remove them. This not only interrupts the flow – and therefore the evenness – of your work but also slows you down.
Another problem with pin basting with machine sewing is the risk of accidentally sewing over the pins, especially by newbies. Sewing over pins can damage your needle or, worse, your machine.
Lastly, while pin basting provides sufficient control for straight seams and edges, it is not ideal for curved and rounded garment sections.
2. A basting stitch does an excellent job in such situations. As we said, basting stitch is a long loose stitch, almost like a running stitch. It has no backstitching and therefore is easily removable.
Basting stitches generally serve as an alignment tool providing the needed structure before permanent machine stitching. They are hands-down better than pin basting for control and accuracy. This may be why some sewists will only use the term basting to refer to basting stitches.
You can make basting stitches by hand or by using a sewing machine. Let’s look at each method more closely.
If you haven’t spent a lot of time sewing by hand yet, you may be quick to dismiss it. However, a simple hand basting stitch might is sometimes the only way out of a really tricky spot.
Hand basting is the most efficient way to obtain precise control over layers of fabric, especially those with rounded or angular edges.
Basting by hand is as simple as threading a needle and pushing it through the fabric in an up and down fashion as you would a running stitch. The end is secured with a knot that is easy to unravel or left free as a long tail, to more easily remove it later.
There are a couple of variations of hand basting stitches, but the technique for creating them is basically the same. Let’s quickly go over them:
This is the most common hand basting stitch and is super quick and easy to make. The stitches are of irregular length and spacing, with longer stitches on the upper side and short ones on the fabric’s underside.
Uneven basting stitches are used in multiple applications including alignment, marking patterns and style lines, and temporarily holding underlining layers, zippers, pockets, trims and the like in place.
To sew an uneven hand basting stitch:
- Thread a hand needle and work a quick, uneven running stitch. Working in a line down the fabric, push up through the fabric and then back down a little further away (perhaps three-quarters of an inch to one inch away).
- Pull the thread to secure the stitch but not too tightly.
- Continue stitching. Don’t pay attention to the evenness of the stitches.
Here’s a straightforward video tutorial from Meowlory that shows you just how simple an uneven basting stitch can be:
Even basting stitches bear a close resemblance to true running stitches. Unlike the long uneven basting, these stitches are slightly shorter and show up evenly spaced and of equal length on both sides of the cloth.
The formation of an even basting gives it more strength than that of its uneven counterpart. Consequently, it is useful in sewing parts of a garment that require added support to maintain stability or structure.
Even basting is excellent for aligning seams when fitting garments before the final machine stitch. It is also ideal for gathering pleats and frills as well as sewing curved or cornered necklines.
To sew an even hand basting stitch:
- Thread a hand needle and push it up, then down through the layers of fabric.
- Pay attention to the stitch length and spacing, ensuring they are all of uniform size, usually about a quarter inch.
- Pull the thread just enough to make the stitches stable.
You can use the same video from above as a reference for even basting. Just use more care and making smaller stitches when basting evenly.
This is a variation of hand basting where the stitch formation takes a diagonal orientation instead of running in a straight line. The stitches are parallel to each other with equal spacing. They appear horizontal on the wrong side and diagonal on the face side.
Diagonal basting is ideal for stabilizing a larger surface area such as that of facings, linings, collars, and some types of pockets.
To sew a diagonal basting stitch:
- Thread a hand needle and push it down, then up through the fabric in a horizontal manner.
- Repeat the procedure such that the top stitches lie diagonally, and the bottom ones horizontally.
- Maintain equal length and spacing of the stitches.
Here’s a great tutorial for a diagonal basting stitch from Hannah Torres Designs:
Slipbasting joins a folded edge of the fabric to a flat under layer. It is just like the uneven basting stitch, except the stitches are not visible on the top side of the crease.
Slip basting is primarily used to cleverly match prints on fabric layers, particularly the plaid or striped ones. It ensures the pattern is in continuous harmony. Other applications include making adjustments on the right side of a garment to correct the fitting and on seams or folds that are curved.
To sew a slip basting stitch:
- Press the fold and place it on top of the flat layer of fabric. You may tack some pins to keep it down temporarily.
- Thread a hand needle and make a horizontal stitch along the edge of the folded layer of fabric.
- Make another hand stitch of equal length on the lower layer of fabric by inserting the needle down then up.
- Repeat the steps alternating between the crease and the fabric below it, removing the pins as you go if necessary.
If you’ve never done a slip stitch before, here’s a tutorial for using it as a basting stitch from Ranjna Thakur:
Sewing machines provide a faster alternative to hand basting, which is ideal for bulk apparel construction.
Also, machine basting is precise, neat, creates perfectly even stitches, and holds the shape of construction much better. Therefore, it is the preferred basting method for bundling fabric uniformly when making gathers, hemming, alignment, and forming a rounded form when attaching cap sleeves to armholes.
How to baste on a sewing machine:
- Start by selecting the inbuilt basting stitch for new pre-programmed models, or the regular straight stitch for other models. Set your machine at the longest length, usually 5 or 6 mm (depending on the model it could go up to 9 mm).
- It helps to lower the thread tension a bit to achieve loose stitches which eases the removal of the basting.
- Start sewing a straight stitch, and do not backstitch at the beginning nor the end.
- At the very end stop, push the up button, pull, and cut the thread to leave an extended loose tail. You can use it to slowly, but steadily, pull out the basting eventually or create even gathers.
In case you are wondering whether your machine has a basting stitch, it does. All sewing machines with a needle at the center do.
Other Tips For Successful Basting
Most experienced sewists swear by basting and will even tell you that it’s actually easier in the long run!
Still, like any new skill, that doesn’t mean there won’t be kinks to work out. So here are more tips to ensure a smoother basting process:
- Choose the basting stitch size by the project and need. Longer stitches and larger spaces make for quick basting but they also provide less close control. Closer spacing and shorter stitches offer precise and extra control but will take up a bit more time. Simple projects like sewing straight seams on a pillowcase can probably be served fine by long, uneven basting stitches. But take the time to create shorter stitches when fixing a capped sleeve in place for a client.
- Keep your stitches secure, but not too secure. Pull tightly to strengthen the hold, but not so much as to crease your fabric. Your basting stitches need to hold the fabric in place, but they should still be easy to remove later, too.
- Opt for a basting thread in a contrasting color to your fabric and final stitching thread(s). It makes the basting easily identifiable when you need to remove it.
- Baste close enough to the seam line but never where the final seam should be. The basting stitch should be just above the seam line. Basting too close to the seam line increases your chances of sewing over it which causes problems when removing the basting. Plus, that would loosen the final stitch.
- When basting seams, you do not have to baste the entire seam line. If you are confident in your abilities and the project is not important (e.g. a garment you were commissioned to make for someone else), you can save yourself time and baste only the problematic sections, such as at the intersections, interfacing, curved edges etc.
- Use thinner needles and light thread. Large needles and heavy thread tend to leave marks on delicate fabrics after basting removal. To prevent this, go for a thin, sharp needle and a lightweight or bobbin thread. If you working with thicker fabrics, use the thinnest needles and threads that will still get the job done.
- Use silk or waxed thread if you can. Silk threads will rarely leave marks, even on the sheerest of fabrics making it the best for baste. It is so sleek, which makes removing the basting such a breeze. It literally slides out. Don’t have a silk thread; waxing your preferred thread also does the trick.
- Avoid pressing your finished seams before removing the basting. The heat from ironing usually sets stitches. Therefore, unpicking the basting after ironing becomes a real pain, and would also leave an undesirable trail where the stitches used to be.
- Hand basting whenever possible. Hand basting is easier to remove and only takes a gentle but firm tagging of the tail. You’ll need the help of a seam ripper to undo machine basting. The easiest way is to carefully slit every few stitches, then pull out the threads.
- Know when to take it easy. For extremely thick layers of fabrics on projects that are more for fun – and don’t require professional results – it may be worth saving yourself the headache of basting or even pinning. Opt for alternative basting techniques such as clips, double-sided tape, or spray adhesives. These not-so-popular basting methods are also ideal for sewing fabrics that leave behind pronounced punctures, for example leather.