Basting – Not just for Turkeys!

Posted on Posted in Sewing, Technique, Tutorial

I was chatting today in a Facebook sewing group and discussing hand sewing and this led me to talk about basting. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression but do you do it? Do you take the time to baste your pieces together before sewing them up? Go on be honest….

If you are new to sewing and are wondering “what the hell is he talking about”, well basting is holding pieces of fabric together (temporarily) before sewing them.

For me, basting is as important as every other task, when dressmaking or tailoring. In fact probably 99% of all my makes have had some form of basting done during construction.

“BASTE (verb) – From Old French Bastir, to Build” 

Quite apt really as we are building clothes and basting is building with thread a bit like cement helps build a house. Traditional tailors will have whats called a ‘Baste’ fitting with their client. The garment will be put together but basted together. The baste fitting will allow for any changes to be made. The garment is  pulled apart, changes made and then properly sewn together.

I know we are not all tailors but should basting be part of your sewing arsenal? I think it should. The good thing is it’s easy to do, you don’t need expensive equipment and I promise it will definitely improve your finished garment and often save you time! You’ll often see in my posts lots of basting like here.

So what do I need?

Firstly you need the right equipment: Some basting thread (sometimes called tacking thread) and a suitable needle (or two).

The thread I always use is from Gutermann and called ‘tacking’ thread. It is a soft cotton thread and comes in 3 colours. Other manufacturers make similar so the choice is yours.

Basting

“But why can’t I use any thread?”, I hear you cry. Well basting/tacking thread is soft, fluffy and breaks easily. It also will not leave an impression on fabric when pressing: It is easy to remove (even when you sew over it) and being ‘fluffy’ means it stays in place while you work.

You’ll need a needle or two as well but which one? Well I use either a size 5 ‘Sharp’ or size 7 ‘Long Darner’ from John James. The Sharp is shorter and good for very accurate (small stitch) basting and the Long Darner is good for general longer ‘holding together’ stitches. Here you can see the difference in length with size 7 Long darner on left and size 5 sharp on right.

Basting

Whats wrong with using pins?

Pins have their place, of course but the real benefit of basting, is fabric control and shaping. When you baste fabric together you can ‘feel’ the cloth and get the right shape in the pieces before sewing them permanently. Your finished garment should conform to shape when completed so it is better to get the shape right at the beginning. It is no good trying to press things into shape later when you could have got it right first time!

Pins can also distort the shape of fabric, causing puckers or fabric slip (when one piece of fabric slides on top of the other) and there is the risk of hitting a pin when sewing!

As I said, pins have their place and can be used to secure fabric before BASTING, then remove the pins completely.

How to Baste.

Basting is the easiest of hand sewing techniques as you don’t have to be mega accurate, worried about the appearance or scared of making a mistake. Take a length of basting/tacking thread and thread the needle you choose.

IMPORTANT! If the piece you are basting is designed to lie flat, keep the cloth FLAT. DO NOT Pick up the fabric!

Before you start: DO NOT wax the thread! (Yes I have heard of people who do this). Basting thread is prone to tangling (as is most thread) and being ‘fluffy’ it can tangle more.

TOP TIP! To avoid tangled thread, twist the needle clockwise as you pull the thread through. This will stop the thread from twisting and becoming tangled. You only need twist a small amount but always clockwise.

Begin by making a backstitch (sew twice in the same spot). Don’t tie a knot in the end! Sometimes the basting will become trapped between layers of fabric and its easier to remove without a knot in the end.

Now continue along with a simple running stitch. In-out, in-out. Note using a long darner allows you to take a couple of stitches at a time.

At the end finish with a backstitch.

For ‘even’ basting the stitches should be about 1-2cm in length (same for gap) depending on how much control you need. Keep the tension firm enough to hold but not too tight as you will pucker the fabric. Another method is ‘uneven’ basting where the stitch and gap differ.

See I said it was easy!

There is another method sometimes called ‘speed’ basting. It is performed by taking a stitch at 90 degrees to the edge and then move along.

Start with a backstitch, move along and stitch again.

The thread will make a diagonal pattern. Finish with a backstitch.

This technique is good in places where you know you will end up sewing over the basting. A dart for example. Pin to line up…

Now speed baste to keep dart in place.

Sew the dart (going over the basting thread)

The basting is still easy to remove.

Control

I said earlier that you should keep everything flat, this is true, unless you need to control the fabric and shape. This is when you would pick the cloth up, shape with your hands as you baste. Take a princess seam: You have two pieces of fabric with curves going in opposite directions.

Go ahead and pin it together!

Of course you are trying to shape the fabric by easing the fabric to make a curve. The blue fabric is trying conform to the grey fabric so a 3D curve forms.

Pick the work up! Hold it so the fabric sits in the shape its being forced to conform to.

Baste carefully and ‘feel’ the cloth. Shape it, smooth the wrinkles and ease as you go. Remove the pins…

Now go ahead and sew the seam (not masses of pins in the way!)

See perfect! No puckers, wrinkles or misshapen layers.

Other uses.

Once you start basting you’ll not stop. The amount of things basting can help with, is only limited by your imagination. Putting in zips, patch pockets, facings, neckbands, setting sleeves, welt pockets, jet pockets, setting shoulder pads, sleeve heads…….and the list goes on! Basting is good for securing pockets and buttonholes shut while you work on the rest of the garment.

You might end up sewing a combination of even, uneven and speed basting and that is fine. Use the stitch for control!

I know there will be many who think “I can’t be bothered” or “it takes too much time” but do you want to improve your sewing? Yes it might take a few mins more but it will save you time unpicking when it went wrong! Have you ever set in a sleeve, sewn it and then been disappointed to find puckers? Unpick and try again…….Well next time BASTE it!

If you are new to sewing, its really hard to appreciate how this, slow, old fashioned technique will help you, especially when you have the most amazing sewing machine sat in front of you but trust me, taking a little more time will take your sewing to the next level.

 

Until next time……Happy Sewing (or basting)

 

8 thoughts on “Basting – Not just for Turkeys!

  1. Absolutely brilliant explanation and advice, I’m going to start basting. Looks much easier than trying to manipulate and move pins while sewing on the machine. Thank you

  2. Excellent advice. This makes far more sense now than the simple instruction ‘baste’ in most commercial patterns. This is going to make my sleeve inserts much much cleaner and easier, I’ve used a lot of pins in the past but will baste in future. Thanks Jamie.

  3. Love the speed basting for darts. Hate it when you have to spend ages trying to pick out the bits of thread that have been sewn over. Thanks

  4. Good explaination, I like reading about your technique. I baste or use pins, depending on the project. Sleeves I always baste, straight seams I tend to pin.

  5. I always baste in zips and collars and sometimes hems with tricky fabric but am usually in too much of a rush for much else. I do draw chalk lines for sewing darts though, I like the technique you show for basting them. You’re so beautifully precise!

  6. Hello, I have been sewing for decades and now in my 50s taking sewing class. I now know that before I was seing my eyes closed!
    I have learn to baste and am doing it 95% of the time. I love doing it and the results are nicer than before. I hate when I forget to sew just next to my basting line and spend hours picking the cotton tread. C est la vie!

  7. Bravo! for stressing the benefits and techniques of basting. Pins do indeed distort the shape that one is trying to build into a garment. They are a first step, to be followed up by more steps. For anyone who hasn’t the time or cannot be bothered, doing something over one or more times also takes time and effort. Do it right — it is worth it all!

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