Staystitching Basics | Video
One of the most important steps in preparing to sew a garment is staystitching. These lines of stitching, placed at key garment edges, prevent the pattern pieces from becoming distorted during the construction process. This is an essential technique for any sewer who wants great results. Even if your pattern’s instructions don’t mention staystitching, it’s well worth the time to add this step.
Sewing and weaving expert Daryl Lancaster gives an in-depth explanation of staystitching and talks about how it relates to the fabric’s grain. She describes how fabric is woven and why it can stretch out of shape when it’s cut on any angle other than the true lengthwise or crosswise grain. As she shows, any garment edge that curves or is on even a slight diagonal lacks stability. That’s where staystitching comes in.
Where to staystitch
On most garments made of woven fabric, it’s essential to staystitch along the neckline and shoulder seams. You may also want to staystitch angled or curved side seams, and armhole seams. On pants and skirts, staystitch along the curved hip area.
Apply staystitching immediately after cutting the pattern and transferring any notches, darts, or other marks. Daryl recommends using a regular stitch length—about 2.5 mm—and placing the staystitching line within the seam allowance, about 1/8 inch from the seamline. On a pattern with a standard 5/8-inch-wide seam allowance, staystitch at 1/2 inch.
It’s important to staystitch directionally, that is, in the direction that causes the least distortion as the machine applies the stitching. The general rule is to sew from the wider area to the narrower area, or from the higher to the lower portion. For example, for a neckline, stitch from the shoulder end—the wider part—to the center front or back, the narrower part. On a shoulder seam, stitch from the neckline end, where this seam is higher, toward the armhole, where it is lower. Daryl shows what happens if you staystitch in the wrong direction—you’ll be surprised how great a difference there is.
When you construct the garment, sew the seams in the same direction as the staystitching. This prevent distortion and ensures that both sides of the garment are symmetrical.
To find out about staystitching knits, see Daryl’s tip: How to Decide Whether to Staystitch Knits.