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How-to

Sew Better with Staystitching Fundamentals

May 19, 2014
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Be careful not to stretch or straighten a curve while staystitching.

Although one of my favorite parts of sewing is creating interesting surface design, I’m well aware that it’s the underpinning steps in the process that make a garment truly successful and wearable.

One of those essential steps is staystitching-a row of stitches on a single fabric layer that prevents a curved or angled edge, because they are cut across the bias, from stretching during the construction process. These stitches never show on the front side, but they will affect the overall appearance of the garment if they’re overlooked.

Staystitches are regular-length stitches (2 mm) that are not removed like basting or ease stitches. A row of staystitching should be sewn about 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch outside the seamline or about 1/2 inch from the cut edge if seam allowances are 5/8 inch. Be careful not to stitch across the seamline because the stitches will show on the garment’s right side. 

Sew directionally, with the grain, to prevent distortion. Usually this means sewing from the top to the bottom of a neckline or sleeve.

at the sewing machine

Be careful not to stretch or straighten a curve while staystitching

Staystitches are also used to reinforce inside corners and points (e.g. on a square or V neckline; the opening for a continuous sleeve placket; a godet that is not set in a seam) as well as curved edges such as an armhole– all of which may require clipping to insure smooth seams. When an area is reinforced, it’s not always necessary to sew along the entire edge. At a corner, for example, you can start stitching about 1 inch away from the point and stop about the same distance on the other side.

v neck

V-necklines should be staystitched because of their angular lines and reinforced because they need to be clipped at the V. The angle can be sewn in one operation, pivoting at the point.

More staystitching fundamentals continued on next page.

square

Pivot around corners, starting and ending about 1 inch from the point. Clip to the point.

princess seam

Staystitching reinforces curved edges, like those on the front panel of a princess-seam garment. The seam allowances may need to be clipped so they can be stitched smoothly to the corresponding side-front panels.

It’s best to staystitch right after you remove the pattern from the fabric. You definitely need to do it before sewing any seams. It’s essential to staystitch curved and angled edges, and if you’re sewing with a very loosely woven fabric, it might be a good idea to carefully staystitch all of the edges to be seamed. This may not be the most exciting part of making a garment, but it’s details like this that take your projects to another level.

If you have any staystitching tips please share them in comments section.

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  1. User avater MonetViera December 7th

    It's really useful

  2. User avater dennisbray September 16th

    When you're living alone you need all the sewing tips you can get. Thanks for posting this article, it definitely came in handy.

  3. User avater MaryRay June 26th

    Hi Trudy,

    Sorry to take so long to address your question. You're doing the right thing by clipping between the scallops, but here are a couple of additional tips.
    Whenever you sew curves, it's a good idea to shorten your stitch length. That does a lot from smoother the curves. Then, instead of clipping along the curve edge you need to notch -- actually make some wedge-shaped cuts along the curve so there's room for the seam allowance when the scallops are turned right side out. Another way to accomplish this is to trim the seam allowance using a pinking shears.
    Hope this helps!

  4. user-1032754 June 11th

    I am hopping to get some tips on sewing scallops that are easy to turn with a nice rounded curve. I have been having problems in this area. I made a dress with a scalloped bodice top and they scallops want to look almost more pointed then scalloped. Between each scallop are there any pointers that help that area. I clip to the seam but feel this doesn't look very neat. Is there a special way to clip this area or press it for better results?

    Thank you
    Trudy Medeiros

  5. User avater MaryRay May 28th

    Thanks for all of your comments. Regarding the question about stay stitching at an armhole edge -- it depends on the fabric and shape of the armhole. As you know, that area needs to be somewhat flexible. However, if a fabric is very loose and the armhole is cut high, I might stay stitch the armhole. But, most of the time I don't.
    And those of you who stay stitch to the point of a V are correct because that is the proper way to sew with the grain. But to reinforce the point before clipping, you really need to sew continuous stitches around the V. Using stay tape in some instances is also a good idea.

  6. User avater luv2sew2day May 27th

    I was also taught to stay stitch halfway down each end of the neckline meeting at the bottom where you ended the last stitch. I have also used a strip of hem tape (not the sticky type) as you staystitch to give the neckline more stability. I had stitched a onsie's neckline and figured since it's a short neckline I didn't stitch half way down each end and I had puckers.

  7. User avater sewandgolf May 25th

    I always was taught to sew down one side of the neckline to the middle and stop to begin again at the neckline come down the other side. This helps to eliminate the pull/tension that might result as you make the curve. The same would hold true for any rounded area that needs stay stitching.

  8. User avater NinaLBoston May 22nd

    I have seen photos of couture garments (I think the one I have in mind was a DIOR dress) where the clipped seam was hand overcast. The stitches finished every inch of the seam edges, including the clipped portion. It looked beautiful -- and this was a garment that was lined in addition. Maybe chiffon unravels easily? I think I would tend to do the same, especially on an unlined garment where the seam edges would get a lot of wear.

  9. user-1146426 May 22nd

    Thank you MaryKay.
    I noticed you did not clip through the stay stitching. I assume it would defeat the purpose of the stitching. On tight curves I've noticed my stay stitching seems to cause wrinkles on the front side, after pressing. Is this a tension issue with my stitches or something else? I ended up going in and making clips through the stitching up to the seam stitching to get rid of the wrinkles.
    Thanks for any insight.
    Janet

  10. User avater ElsaK May 21st

    Do you advise stay stitches around the armhole as well? The arm hole is mentioned at the beginning of the piece, but not again.

  11. user-2497424 May 20th

    For the picture starting with "Pivot around the corners...", there is a piece of thread that is sort-of at a diagonal coming from the clipped point. Is that a stay-stitch as well? I couldn't find mention of it in the text.

  12. User avater MaryRay May 20th

    Yes, catch stitching to an underlining is a good way to finish the seams.
    The edges can be serged, zigzagged, or bound as well. Be sure that you allow the clips to open before finishing the edges. So you need to clip first, then finish. The point of clipping is to extend that curved edge so it fits the adjoining seam. I realize the seams don't look as pretty on the inside when they're clipped, but the results on the right side of the garment will be smoother.

  13. User avater kneedlez May 20th

    My comment should state the "lining" not the "linen" is pure rayon. Sorry about that!

  14. User avater kneedlez May 20th

    I am constructing a dress using couture techniques. The fashion fabric is embroidered linen; the underlining is a light cotton/linen; the linen is pure rayon. I've staystitched throughout and, as importantly, pressed as I go. The staystitched fabric unit, all seams, are catchstitched to the underlining. This is a great way to handle those clipped curve areas. Once the lining is in, all is unseen. But, I know it's there :-)

  15. rubicat May 20th

    Great question! I look forward to seeing an answer as this is something I've wondered about for a very long time.

  16. rubicat May 20th

  17. JoFray May 19th

    How does one "finish" a clipped seam. Turn under the seam allowance of each little section? sew on bias binding? serge the edges? overcast?

    Or does one serge or tape the edges of each seam allowance BEFORE clipping?

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