Staystitching is Important

staystitching

Attention, everyone, this is a sewing PSA. Staystitching is a garment-sewing technique that is really important. I am sharing this with you because when I started sewing, many years ago, I did not know what staystitching was, but even if I had, I probably would have skipped it. Now that I am older and wiser, I want to share this nugget of wisdom with you.

If you’ve ever sewn one of my women’s patterns (specifically for woven fabrics, such as Ruby, Beatrix, or Gemma), you may have noticed a step that instructs you to staystitch, followed by the words “IMPORTANT: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.” I’m guessing most people ignore this, mostly because if I didn’t know better, I probably would.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom taught me how to sew, but knowing how stubborn and headstrong I was as a child,* I doubt once she communicated the fundamentals to me that I spent much time listening to any further details. Details like: be careful about skipping steps that might initially seem unnecessary, because you may regret it.

In addition, my younger sister Elli took a 4-H sewing class from a very strict and anal retentive seamstress, and her experience left a strong impression on me. I remember the jumper she was working on taking her the better part of a year to complete, which seemed like utter torture to me. It made sewing seem so un-fun. As a result, I took an alternate approach with a more carefree sewing attitude: skip all but the most essential steps, and see what happens. In some cases, I discovered it didn’t really matter that much (three rows of gathering stitches vs. two or even in some cases — GASP — ONE.), but in other cases, I’ve discovered that taking a little extra time to add a seam finish or in this case, staystitch, can make a big difference.

*I can picture my mom thinking, “Just as a child…?” as she reads this.

So…what IS staystitching?
Staystitching is a line of stitching added to the edge of a piece of fabric (often along a curved edge such as a neckline or an armhole, but not always) that stabilizes the fabric so that it won’t stretch out while it’s being sewn. Additionally, if you’re making a piece of clothing, staystitching prevents the edges from stretching out if you try it on to check fit. The staystitching lines in the photo below are around the armholes and neckline of my chambray Gemma tank.

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How and when do you staystitch?
To staystitch an edge, sew along the edge of the fabric, about 1/8″ away from the edge, using a normal straight stitch. Earlier patterns of mine said “using a regular length or slightly shorter than normal length stitch,” but I’ve since decided that a shorter stitch actually stretches out the fabric too much, so I now recommend a regular length stitch such as 2.5-3 mm.

As for when to staystitch, I think there are two schools of thought. The stricter approach is to staystitch edges after you cut out your fabric pieces, but before you do any sewing. I feel this is only necessary when sewing with a really unstable or slippery fabric. The other approach, which I prefer, is to staystitch any curved edges such as necklines or armholes after shoulder or side seams are sewn, but before facings or bindings or sleeves are attached. I take this more moderate/less strict approach because in most cases, woven fabrics are stable enough to sew some of the seams before staystitching without stretching out the garment significantly. Additionally, staystitching goes much faster when you can do a whole armhole in one go, instead of, say, having to staystitch the front armhole separately from the back armhole due to the shoulder seams having not yet been sewn.

That said, I can appreciate that some sewists would disagree and say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I almost always favor the quick and easy sew, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice good construction technique.

I’ve probably utterly confused some of you, and if that’s the case, my recommendation would be just to try staystitching the next time you sew a piece of clothing. It definitely make more sense if you’ve got the garment in front of you, to be sure.

So, what say ye? Are you a Die-hard Staystitch-er? Or do you play it fast and loose and skip it? Have I convinced anyone to change your short-cutting ways?

12 thoughts on “Staystitching is Important

  1. Hi Rae.
    I do staystitch woven fabric when a pattern calls for it, although I’m usually pretty grumpy about it (I just want to start assembling!!).
    What are your thoughts on staystitching knits? I’ve had a few knit patterns with instructions that say to do that. But it never goes well, and actually seems to cause stretching, instead of preventing it.

    • I’m conflicted about whether to staystitch knits. I have the same issue. Usually I try staystitching on a sample and see how it works first, and if it’s doing the woobly/stretched out thang, I skip staystitching and just use my serger.

  2. I staystitch if (and only if) the pattern calls for it. Otherwise, I’m like you! I’m a one-row-of-gathering-stitches, no-pinning, quick and easy sew kind of a girl. 🙂

    • ya know, i shudda said i don’t stay-stitch knits, they stretch … i stay-stitch cotton/woven, especially rayons b/c they are a loose weave, i understitch, too, when doing collars … however, a risk-taker, only one row of stitches on gathers … living dangerously, i guess … sorry for the *reply* . wish there were an edit … d

  3. As a habit, I hand-baste a facing on a neckline right after cutting it. Especially with slippery garment fabric, and especially with wider necklines. Sometimes I don’t cut the necklines out until the very last possible minute, just to prevent stretching. My sewing mother and aunt made me do this. Their explanation: all necklines have some edges that are along the bias and sometimes, particularly with loose-weave fabrics, even running this under a presser foot stretches them. If I am bias-binding a neckline without a facing, I’d hand-baste a line of staystitching about a half-inch away from the actual edge. If I am facing that neckline, I’d cut the facing out with the rest of the pattern and either machine-stitch the facing on right away (if no fitting is required) or else baste the facing along the neckline (if fitting is required and the neckline has to go over heads and such) so that it’s easier to remove for adjustments.
    I was taught to do multiple rows of gathering stitches, too, but I’ve done one row countless times because I felt rebellious.

  4. In the beginning I ALWAYS staystitched – then I got lazy about it and left UNTIL I went to sew a facing on a neckline and neckline had gone wildly and wickedly out of CONTROL. There is no way they were going to go together unless I gathered the facing (not an option) I chucked the whole mess and started again and NEVER again do I skip the staystitching. I even follow the strictest advice to begin your staystitching at the shoulder seam – finish in the centre and then the other side. 🙂 I always use fusible knit tape on all my necklines and armholes (if it’s sleeveless) and if it’s bamboo I actually tape ALL my seams to give them body and shape 🙂 I actually don’t mind these prep steps at all. Staystitching is like a ‘warm up’ to me 🙂

  5. Like you, I skip any step I feel I can get away with skipping! A few wonky garments convinced me of the value of stay stitching. So now I suck it up and just do it. 🙂

  6. Thank you!!!! Im definitely trying this asap!!!!
    Im a long time, cut out my own pattern winger… and rarely am i very satisfied w my end piece 😳 But ive since realized that if im going to keep at this passion hobby of mine i have to learn more of the “tricks of the trade” lol! Im the worst seemstress known to lady kind … end product my main goal literally as fast as i can turn it out… beings i have 9 children my sewing time is … needless to say… very nil and thats IF i get out to my sewing room😂

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