On pattern instructions it may look as if staystitching doesn’t actually do anything. But it’s a hidden extra that’s important for quality.
Stay-stitching is support stitching. This support is needed for a couple of reasons :
– Prevent distortion : Support a bias edge so it won’t pull out of shape while you’re doing other sewing.
– Prevent tearing : When you clip or notch into a seam allowance so the fabric can lay flat, staystitching prevents the end of the cut from tearing further into the fabric.
Some staystitching does both functions, such as staystitching round a neckline.
Here’s a written tutorial on curved necklines from Tilly and the Buttons.
Key topics :
– position of stitching,
– direction of stitching,
– matching curves.
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Where to staystitch
Most patterns tell you to staystitch the neckline.
Stitch just inside the stitching line (say up to 1/8″ – 3mm closer to the cut edge). You want the stitching to be in the seam allowance, but it needs to be quite close to the final stitching line. (Some people say do it on the final stitching line, but if you do that you’ll have problems unpicking it later.)
Some experts staystitch any edge that is on the bias so might distort when the fabric is handled.
That includes princess seams, armholes, waistlines, hip curves.
If your fabric is slippy or floppy, pin it to some tissue with a pattern tracing on it, to keep the fabric in shape while doing this staystitching. Pull away the tissue gently when you’ve finished the staystitching.
If you’re using a stretch or loosely woven fabric, a bias edge/seam may need more support – unless you want the stretchy seam drape for the style. That’s a different topic, but some options are to add stay tape or elastic into the seam.
Many patterns tell you to staystitch round an inwards corner. But you can often strengthen inwards corners enough by changing to a shorter stitch length (1.2 – 1.5 mm) about 1″/ 2.5 cm either side of the corner, as you’re sewing it.
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Method of sewing
Some people say shorten your stitch length for staystitching, some people say lengthen it ! so use a regular length, say 2.5.
Though if you’re staystitching to prevent tearing – do use a shorter stitch, say 1.5-2.
No need to backstitch at the beginning and end of staystitching.
Sew ‘with the grain’
This reduces the amount you may distort the fabric with the stitching.
There are good diagrams showing directions of sewing in this pdf from the Sewing and Craft Alliance.
Notice scoop and deep V necklines are staystitched in different directions.
These directions are correct.
For some reason many patterns get this wrong.
The rule that works in most situations is ’sew from wide to narrow’.
‘With the grain’ means following the direction of the longer threads at the edge of the fabric.
Here’s a diagram of what ‘with the grain’ means – the lines represent the threads in a weave:
Against the grain:
This is like stroking a cat or dog – stroke it the right way and everyone’s happy – but the wrong way can cause ruptions.
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Pivot round the curve
How you do the stitching is also important.
Do make sure the fabric is lying flat as you sew – that makes it unlikely you’ll sew in some distortion. You’re sewing along a bias edge, and it’s easy to pull the fabric out of shape if you don’t take care.
Don’t pull the fabric straight while sewing round the curve, or you sew in a distortion – which is what you’re staystitching to prevent !
Here’s a note on pivoting round a curve.
Sew slowly and you may find you have time to move the fabric so it’s always flat and undistorted around the stitching area, without having to stop and lift the presser foot.
Or it’s a great help to have a knee operated presser foot lifter for doing this ! Enough practice and you may develop foot-knee co-ordination skills so you can sew round curves quite quickly 😀
Matching curves in staystitching
If you’re sewing an edge that curves back on itself, such as a neckline, sew it in 2 steps.
Turn over the fabric for the second stitching, so you sew both sides of the curve in the same way.
If you don’t do this, you may find the two curves are 2 different shapes.
No need for the two lines of stitching to overlap if they meet on a straight section.
Matching curves that show
It’s a good idea to do this ‘sew from the other side to get both curves the same’ 2-part directional stitching whenever you have 2 curves that need to match, such as :
– both ends of a curved collar or collar band,
– both sides of a curved jacket corner, or cuffs.
To get these corners to match, I also find it helpful to draw the stitching lines.
Perhaps make a card template for the stitching line, so it’s easy to draw matching curves.
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Staystitching may look like a trivial sewing step, but for best results it needs to be done in quite a specific way.
Or, if you want to avoid this stitching process, you can follow some experts (e.g. Burda patterns) and use fusible bias stay tape (check it’s bias, regular fusible stay tape won’t bend easily round corners).
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Originally written November 2014, links available February 2021
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