What is Basting in Sewing? | Madam Sew

Everything you Need to Know About Basting in Sewing

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced sewer, you may have come across the term "basting" in sewing.

Don't confuse basting with Turkey’s thanksgiving technique. Basting in sewing is a technique to temporarily hold layers of fabric together. We will go over the different methods to do so in this article.

basting a turkey
hand basting with needle and thread

“Don't you agree basting is one of the most underrated stitching techniques?
Learning basting can definitely help you achieve better finishes in sewing”

Some of you might have ended up scratching your heads. If that is a yes, then you must stick to this blog, where you will learn everything about what basting in sewing means. Keep reading to know more.

What is Basting in Sewing?

In sewing, basting is a technique of temporarily holding layers of fabrics together. Basting is sometimes also called tacking.

Basting stitches hold layers of fabrics together and prevent them from moving while you sew the final stitches. When people talk about basting as a technique they mostly refer to thread basting. In this case basting is a loose stitching which means you can remove it easily once you have sewn the final stitches. Know that basting stitches are always going to come out or get covered, so your stitches can be a bit messy.

And that is why you baste, to avoid ripping out very dense and tiny final stitches when things don’t go as planned. Typically, basting is done when sewers need to construct a more complex garment or do the quilting on a patchwork.

What is basting used for?

Basting is used for a variety of reasons:

    • To hold a seam in place until it is sewn properly
    • To transfer pattern markings onto a garment
    • To fit garments to a model when made by a tailor
    • To ensure that fabrics align accurately before receiving a final stitch (zippers, neckline, armhole facings, pattern matching of fabrics)
    • To make your backing, batting and top of a quilt into a quilt sandwich, the basting is done before you actually quilt your quilt.
    • To attach labels and tags
    • To secure lining
    • To gather fabric

Methods of Basting

Basting is done in different ways, the most common known version being thread basting. This can be done in two ways: hand basting or machine basting. The fastest way is machine basting.

The first image shows hand basting, and the second image shows machine basting.

hand baste 2 fabrics together with needle and thread
Baste stitch with a sewing machine using contrasting thread

Let’s delve deeper into these two main methods of basting.

Hand Basting

You can't beat hand-basting if you want to create a perfect piece. It gives you accurate control over your project. Hand basting is ideal when you need to stitch curved pieces or work with very slippery fabrics. The secret of most experienced sewers is hand basting.

For hand basting, you should have an all-purpose needle and a cotton thread in your kit. You use cotton because it stays in place better and pulls out easily. You can also find basting or tacking thread in stores. Some people don’t like it because it breaks too easily and the little pieces are more difficult to remove.

Read more about How to do hand basting further down in this article

Machine Basting

Machine Basting can be done with any regular home sewing machine that can do straight stitches. The idea is the same…holding pieces with loose stitches until you do the final sewing. To do machine basting, you need to adapt some settings on your sewing machine. I’ll explain this further on.

Read more about How to do machine basting further down in this article

However, there are other ways to baste a seam than machine and hand basting, although thread basting in general is the most popular basting technique. Here are 4 other ways to baste:

    • Pin basting: Where the fabrics are held together with pins before being sewn or quilted. Using regular sewing pins this method is less secure than thread basting. For basting a quilt people usually use safety pins, regular or curved ones.
pin baste 2 fabrics together with a row of sewing pins
pin baste quilt layers together with curved safety pins
    • Spray basting: Where a temporary adhesive spray is used to hold the fabric together before sewing. This is the fastest way to baste a large surface.
baste quilt layers together using basting spray
    • Gun Basting tacks: This is mainly used in quilting. You are basically holding the layers of your quilt sandwich together with tiny plastic tags that are inserted using a tagging gun or a basting gun.
basting quilt layers together using a pink tack gun and little red plastic tacks
    • Glue basting: Glue basting is a temporary method of holding fabric in place before sewing them together permanently. Glue basting typically involves applying a thin layer of temporary fabric glue to the wrong side of the fabric, then pressing the two pieces of fabric together, allowing the glue to dry. This temporary bond allows for easy manipulation of the fabric pieces without having to pin or hand baste them.
baste layers of fabric together using temporary fabric glue

A Glimpse Into the Importance of Basting in Sewing

While sewing, you won't always work with easy fabrics. Sometimes, you may get slippery or very stretchy ones, or sometimes you have to sew zippers or pleats on skirts. In such cases, basting stitching skills help to keep the fabric in place while constructing the garment. Here is why basting is essential.

1. Basting in sewing helps when you are working on a delicate fabric or need precise alignments with pleats, gathers or complex fabric patterns like stripes for example. It is a good idea to baste when working with delicate or slippery fabrics or when you try to ensure that a specific pattern or design is aligned correctly before sewing it permanently.

nicely align stripes across seams when sewing

2. The importance of basting can also be seen while appliqueing. Applique is a decorative technique in which pieces of fabric are cut out and sewn onto a larger piece of fabric to create a design or pattern. The pieces of fabric used for applique are usually different colors or patterns than the background fabric. By basting your applique pieces first, you will make sure you have the correct placement before doing your final sewing. This allows you to experiment in the placement of your appliques if you’re doing many at once!

3. Quilt basting is a process of temporarily holding quilt layers together so they are easier to quilt. It usually involves pinning the layers together, but can also be done with thread, glue and spray basting. Basting helps to keep the layers from shifting while the quilter is sewing and quilting. This helps to ensure that the quilt is wrinkle free when finished.

4. Basting stitching makes it easier to sew zippers (as mentioned before). This loose stitching ensures the zipper is correctly positioned before the final stitches are sewn.

Instructions for Hand Basting

Hand basting gives you the freedom to make your stitches as loose or as tight as you would like, depending on your project. It is an easy skill perfect for beginner sewists!

Here are the steps to hand baste:

1. Thread a hand-sewing needle with a long piece of cotton thread in a contrasting color.

2. Make sure the fabrics are nicely aligned together. Use pins or sewing clips if necessary.

3. You don’t have to start with a knot. Begin basting by taking a couple of small, evenly spaced stitches through all layers of fabric. Put your basting in the seam allowance if you can. That way, you won't have to dig the basting thread out of future seams.

4. Make the following stitches bigger. Keep them about a quarter inch apart and don't pull them too tightly. Basting stitches can be a bit messy, don't worry about that. You will take them out or they get covered or hidden in the seam. You can use running stitches but basically, if it gets the job done, it is ok. Up and down and up and down, through all layers, that’s it. Just keep in mind to make them loose enough so they are easy to remove. This is what is usually referred to as uneven basting which is a quick (and effective) form of basting.

sewing basting stitches with needle and contrasting yellow thread
sewing basting stitches with a hand needle and sewing thread

There are 3 other types of hand basting stitches that you might need to know for basting your project.

      • Even basting: used on areas that require close control and stability like curved seams and round hems, the stitches are equally sized and there are equally sized spaces between the stitches
      • Diagonal basting: used to keep a larger surface area flat, these are diagonal stitches are placed parallel to each other forming parallel spaces in between
      • Slip basting: used to temporarily connect a folded edge to a flat surface, done with an uneven, not permanent slip stitch
      • Tailor’s tack: are basting stitches used instead of marks with a marker where you sew loosely looped stitches with a double thread that can be snipped to mark the fabric layer underneath

5. Once you've basted the entire area, remove any pins you might have used and check that the fabric is still aligned correctly.

6. Now sew the fabrics together on your sewing machine with the permanent stitches.

sewing the final stitches with a sewing machine next to the basting stitches
the final stitches sewn with a sewing machine next to the temporary basting stitches

7. Once you have sewn the fabrics permanently, pull out the basting stitches. This should be fairly easy if you didn’t sew over them.

The yellow hand sewn basting stitches are removed with a seam ripper

Instructions: How to do machine basting

Machine basting can be done using a long stitch length on a regular sewing machine. First, set the stitch length to the longest setting on your sewing machine, this is 5 on most sewing machines.

This will create long stitches that can be easily removed later. Don’t backstitch at the start and end of a row of basting stitches. Backstitching locks the tread which is not necessary for temporary stitches.

Next, sew along the edge of the fabric where you want to hold it in place, making sure to keep the stitching lines straight and even. Once you have finished sewing, the basting stitches can be removed by carefully snipping the threads.

First check whether your sewing machine can baste. Well, actually, all sewing machines can do baste stitching. You just need to be able to do a straight stitch and adapt the stitch length.

Steps for machine basting

1. Place the layers of fabric to be basted together, with the right sides facing up.

2. Use pins or clips to hold the layers in place, if necessary.

3. Adjust the stitch length to 4 or 5 on your sewing machine.

4. Begin sewing along the edge of the fabric if you are sewing a seam. Use a seam allowance of about ¼ inch if you don’t want to remove the temporary basting stitches. When you sew your final stitches use a ⅜ inch seam allowance, the temporary stitches will be hidden. When you reach the end of your fabric, leave long thread tails. If you want you can tie these thread ends together to secure the basting in place. Don’t backstitch to lock the stitches. Backstitches are harder to remove.

baste with a machine using long stitches that can be easily removed
baste stitch with a sewing machine using contrasting thread

5. Repeat this process for any other areas that need to be basted.

6. Sew the final stitches to construct your project.

final stitches to construct

7. When you are ready to remove the basting, snip the thread and gently pull it out of the fabric or use a seam ripper or small scissors.

remove basting stitches with a comfort handle seam ripper
remove stitches with a seam ripper

Here are a few tips for machine basting:

    • Use a contrasting thread color if you plan to take the stitches out. It is easier to take these out afterwards. If you don’t want to take them out, than use a neutral color, or the same color as the final thread.
    • Keep in mind that machine basting stitches are harder to remove than hand basting stitches but not as secure as smaller final stitches.
    • Adjust your machine's tension to ensure that the stitches are loose and easy to remove.
    • Use a walking foot attachment for machine basting to help feed multiple layers of fabric or difficult fabrics through the machine evenly. Check out the advantages of a walking foot for sewing and quilting in this blog post: Why and When to Use a Sewing Machine Walking Foot.
    • Take your time and be careful not to stretch or distort the fabric while basting.
    • Use machine basting to hold the fabric in place before the final stitching of collars, cuffs, pleats, gathers, and other details that require precise alignment.

Wrap up

This was all about basting in sewing, and we hope we helped you understand baste stitches better. Basting allows easy adjustments ensuring a better fit and a more professional-looking finished product. Ripping out the final stitches takes a lot more time and effort than the loose basting stitches. Better be safe than sorry, right?

I personally prefer hand basting over machine basting because you are more in control and you can take out the stitches more easily. What basting technique do you prefer? Do you have a preferred basting technique or some tips we didn’t cover in this article?

Here are some links to interesting how-to-do tutorials for beginners and more advanced sewers and quilters:

Lots of information and inspiration !

Also, we would love to hear your thoughts on how our blog posts, guides and user manuals are helping you in your sewing and quilting life.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message!

Happy Sewing!

Sheikha & An ,

Blogging for MadamSew.com

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