Stay stitching is a stabilizing technique for curved areas and ravel-prone fabrics. It’s an invaluable technique for sewing necklines, armholes, and other important parts of a garment, as well as for stabilizing edges.
If you know how to stay stitch, you can help your pattern pieces to retain their form and avoid distortion.
What is Stay Stitching?
Stay stitches are a line of straight stitch sewn along a curved or bias edge. The stitches keep woven fabric from stretching, and help to prevent distortion of your fabric pieces. Knit fabric doesn’t need to be stay stitched, as it has no bias.
Stay stitching isn’t visible in the final product; rather it’s sewn into the sewing line. Stay stitching is only necessary on a single layer of fabric.
You can do your stay stitching by hand or with a sewing machine.
Where is Stay Stitching Most Often Used?
Use a stay stitch anywhere you want to keep fabric from gaping or stretching, or to ensure that the pattern piece you’ve cut out remains the same size and shape.
Here are some common places you can use this technique.
A curved neckline, slash neck, or v neck can easily stretch without your even noticing. By stay stitching along the raw edge of the neckline, you’ll ensure that it retains its shape.
Curved areas like armholes are another place where the seam line can stretch and warp. Stay stitching within the seam allowance can keep that from happening.
Whether you’re making a slash pocket or a curved one, stay stitching within the seam allowance can help that pocket keep its shape.
If the shoulder seams of your garment cross the bias grain line, then stay stitching them can help to keep the shape stable, so that both shoulders turn out the same size and shape.
Style lines are seams made for visual, rather than structural effect. In some cases, you may want to stay stitch your stylelines before sewing them. For example, if:
- Your style lines aren’t ongrain with the straight grain of the fabric (more on this in a bit)
- The style lines are diagonal seams that cross the bias grain of your fabric
- You’re making a princess seam
- The fabric is a loose weave
Stay stitched style lines will hold their shape better.
Stay stitching facings and linings that cross the bias grain will help to keep these stable as well.
The raw edges of some fabrics are prone to fraying and ravelling. Stay stitching along the edge of this type of fabric can help to prevent this.
A Few Definitions
Before we begin, we should clarify a few terms.
Fabric Grain refers to the way threads are arranged in a woven fabric. In woven fabrics, warp (lengthwise) threads are arranged perpendicular to weft (up and down) threads.
On Grain means that the warp threads and weft threads are perpendicular in your piece of fabric.
Bias or on the bias means diagonally, at a 45 degree angle across the grain. Bias cut fabric gives a garment a lovely drape, but is prone to stretching and distortion. Crossing the bias grain means cutting or stitching across warp and weft threads on the diagonal.
Directional Stitching means your stay stitching line goes in a specific direction. Often this direction is specified in the pattern instructions.
It’s important to follow the direction indicated in the pattern instructions if you want your pattern pieces to remain the same shape as they were when you cut them out.
You can learn more about grain lines and stay stitching in this video.
How to Sew a Stay Stitch
Stay stitching is pretty easy. You can do it by hand or with your sewing machine.
First, look at the instructions for your pattern. If they specify that sewing needs to follow a specific direction, make sure that you stitch in that direction throughout the sewing process.
Mark your stay stitching line on the outer edge of the seam allowance, 1.58 millimeters (one eighth inch) from the raw edge. You’ll only be sewing on one layer of fabric.
Keep your stitch length short: about two millimeters (.07 inches). This is stitch length 2 on most sewing machines (consult your manual’s instructions if you’re unsure). Use a straight stitch.
Now sew your stay stitching.
- Staystitch immediately after cutting your fabric pieces. This will give them the best chance of retaining their form.
- Use a straight stitch, as a line of straight stitch sewn can be easily shortened if needed, unlike a zigzag stitch.
- If you’re stay stitching by hand, take care not to stretch the fabric while sewing.
- When staystitching a neckline, sew from one shoulder down to the center front (or center back) then stop. Snip the fabric in the center front then repeat from the second shoulder. Sewing from one shoulder to the other shoulder can stretch and distort, especially along curved cuts.
- Deep v neck necklines may require additional stabilization, such as stay tape. You can also use stay stitching to reinforce the point of the v.
- When stay stitching armholes, start at the front shoulder and stitch down to the underarm point. Repeat on the back, sewing from the shoulder down to the other underarm point.
Stay Stitching FAQs
Want to know more?
Do You Remove Stay Stitches?
No. The stitches will be hidden inside the seam, so there’s no need to remove stay stitching.
How Long Should a Stay Stitch Be?
Stay stitches are very short. They should be about two millimeters (0.7 inches) long.
Which Direction Should I Sew In?
Check your garment pattern carefully for instructions regarding stitch direction. Some patterns will indicate a specific stitch direction, and some will not. If your pattern specifies a direction, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully.
Do You Need to Backstitch to Stay Stitch Well?
Backstitching means stitching back and forth a few times over the same few stitches. It’s a way to secure rows of stitching at each end, as well as to strengthen areas of a garment that take a lot of stress.
You do not need to backstitch your stay stitching rows.
Can You Stay Stitch Without a Sewing Machine?
Absolutely! Just make sure to keep your stitches short.
How does Stay Stitching Differ From Basting
A basting stitch is long and loose. Stay stitching uses tighter, smaller stitches.
Also, the purpose of basting is to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together. One only does stay stitching on a single layer of fabric, to prevent gaping, distortion, or fraying.
Finally, basting stitches are eventually removed. But you don’t need to remove stay stitching, as the stitches will be hidden inside the seam line after sewing the garment together.
How Far From the Edge Do I Sew a Stay Stitch?
Sew your stay stitch line one eighth inch (1.58 millimeters) from the fabric’s edge.
Stay Stitching Explored and Explained!
We have to admit, we have a slight “bias” when it comes to stay stitching. It’s a small extra step that can make a huge difference when it comes to curve cuts and ravel prone fabrics. And it’s one of the most powerful tools you can have in your sewing arsenal.
Did you enjoy our tutorial? Or do you have any advice that might help our readers? Tell us all about it in the comments!