Learning how to sew is a long and enjoyable road of new discoveries that can last a lifetime. There are 101 ways to achieve the same effect and very few of them are wrong. For students learning to sew professionally this can sometimes be a frustrating thing, as they prefer a straight answer to the question “How do I do this?” For home sewers there can be an additional hurdle of learning from instructions but not from a person. You often learn all the right skills, but you are not necessarily sure why and when you need to apply them.
So today let’s break down the hows and whys of stay stitching. Enjoy!
What is it?
Stay stitching is a stitch line done as preparation before you start constructing your garment. Its purpose is to prevent a certain area from stretching once you start putting the garment or item together. Stay stitching is done when your pattern piece is still flat and it’s often one of the first things you do.
What does it look like?
Stay stitching looks like a regular stitch line. You can keep a regular stitch length (anything around 3 will do) and you can backstitch if you wish, but often the stitch line will end up caught in a seam anyways. Stay stitching is done within your seam allowance, so that it doesn’t show in your finished garment or item. If you have followed sewing instructions at home for a pattern that has a 1.5 cm seam allowance, you will typically notice that you are asked to stay stitch 1 cm in from the raw edge of your fabric. This means your stay stitch lies 0.5 cm inside of your final stitch line: close enough to have its desired effect but far enough to not interfere or be visible. In the image below the white is the stay stitching and the orange is the pattern line.
When do I use it?
You use stay stitching on curved pattern lines or bias cut pattern pieces. The curve will indicate that it may stretch when you handle it a lot, for example through pinning and sewing. You can test if an area is prone to stretching by gently pulling it in opposite directions. If you feel the stretch, it’s a good idea to stay stitch! If you don’t stay stitch and you do end up stretching the line when you sew it, you will end up with a fluted effect which is hard, if not impossible to get rid off.
Where do I use it?
Curved pattern lines are particularly found on necklines, curved bust seams, collars, and bias cut pattern lines (such as our London pattern raglan sleeve). Armholes are also curved but less prone to stretching due to the direction of the curve, but if you have a particularly unruly fabric or your are unsure, you can stay stitch there too. The main culprit is curved necks.
Top Tip for Collars and Necklines: stitch into the centre front from both sides. Start on the side, stitch to the centre front, and stop. Repeat from the other side. This way you are treating both sides of your neckline or collar equally and prevent any dragging or stretching from using your machine in one direction only.
To make your curved lines sit nice and flat, you may have to snip into your seam allowance. Snip until you meet your stay stitch, like in the image below.
What other techniques are there to prevent stretching?
When pinning up curved lines, we like to pin vertically, like in the picture below. This way of pinning let’s you access the curviest parts without distorting the line with your pins. It’s impossible to make a straight metal pin follow a curved line! This way you are less likely to stretch it, too. Always match your notches first, which is a very important first step to prevent stretching when sewing curved lines. If you pin from one end to the other, you will guaranteed end up with a stretched edge on one side.
Another method of preventing stretching, which you will be familiar with if you have sewn skirts with waistbands, is interfacing. The material in interfacing can’t stretch, so when it’s applied to your fabric it prevents the top fabric from stretching too. This is especially good on waistbands, as they tend to stretch as you wear them, but it can also be used to strengthen facings for curved necklines (like our London blouse/dress).
We hope you have learnt something new!