In sewing there are hundred's of different types of stitches, from those used to simply sew a seam together to those used in elaborate embroidery. One of the most important, yet basic, stitches in sewing is the simple running stitch. One of the first stitches we usually learn as a child, gently pushing the needle up and down through our fabric, trying not to prick our small fingers on the pointy needle. The simplicity of the stitch gives it a very useful property, that in modern sewing is often mistakenly overlooked, the fact that the stitch can be easily removed. This simple property opens up two basic classifications of stitches - temporary stitches and permanent stitches. Both have very different roles in sewing, dressmaking in particular, and understanding how to use them will give you more professional results and better results in fit and finish every time.
The permanent stitch is the one most are familiar with, we sew a seam and expect it to stay there and be permanent. Pretty straightforward. However, if we also use the temporary properties of stitching in our sewing projects, we can ensure more accurate sewing and less use of the seam ripper.
Temporary stitches are a fundamental part of couture and tailoring, used in a variety of different and helpful ways, which we can learn from and use at home. In it's simplest form, a temporary stitch is simply a running stitch, usually sewn by hand, for more accurate control, and not fastened at either end of the sewing, for ease of removal later on. When sewing by hand there are a number of different types of temporary stitch, usually a variation on stitch length, space between each stitch and stitch direction, but for now we will consider a general, horizontal stitch of around 1cm in length with a similar space between each stitch. This is known as a tacking stitch (basting stitch in the US). It is usually sewn in a softer cotton thread, easy to break and remove, and in a contrasting colour, so it is easy to see. So what can these simple temporary stitches help us with in our sewing projects.
Temporary stitches are great as a marking tool, easy to control and leaving little to no marking on your fabric when removed. Using a running stitch in this way is traditionally known as thread tracing or thread marking, simply using a fine needle and your stitches to outline and mark as you would a pen or chalk.
A row of stitches can mark the outline of pattern piece onto fabric for cutting. This becomes even more helpful when working with pattern pieces which have no seam allowance added as you are in effect thread tracing your sewing line. You then cut your seam allowances accordingly outside of the stitch marks. If your pattern has seam allowances included, thread tracing can still be used to mark the seam allowances at the start and end of each seam, rather than notching, so helping you with accurate sewing and ensuring you stay on track.
Key points on your pattern can also be marked, such as your centre front and centre back lines so can you clearly see if these are hanging straight when you come to fit your garment. Crucial in fitting to ensure you are not twisting or pulling your fabric off grain and out of shape. Marking the grainline in this way can assist in lots of sewing projects, making curtains for example, or anywhere you want to ensure your fabric is hanging straight.
Pattern marks, such as dart legs, lines where a pocket may sit, the roll of a collar, can also all be marked in thread, to be removed when the garment is completed. The top of a sleeve, fold lines, hem lines, all benefit from thread tracing and improve the accuracy of sewing.
The point of a dart may be marked temporarily with a tailor's tack, a loose loop of thread, allowing you to clearly see where your dart ends. Easier to spot than a dot of chalk.
When it comes to fitting a garment, temporarily tacking the pieces together gives you the opportunity to try on the piece and adjust as necessary before you permanently sew.
This can be considered best practice, traditionally you would - pin, tack, sew - as it allows you to easily adjust and move seam lines with minimal damage to fabric and minimal rework. Temporarily sewing seams, allows you to remove pins and gives you more control when you come to sew the line permanently. In our modern, 'fast' world, this middle step seems to have disappeared as a false, time saving exercise. In reality, going straight to permanent sewing and removing the middle step, only leads to more inaccurate sewing and time spent seam ripping. Use a temporary stitch to help you.
Where pattern pieces need to be shaped, such as the ease in a sleeve head, running rows of temporary stitches within the seam allowance, allows you to gently pull your fabric to shape and ease it into place. Similarly with pleats or ruffles, temporary stitches can both help to form them and help to hold in place until you wish to permanently sew. Long hems also benefit, particularly circle skirts, where a temporary row of gathering stitches will result in beautifully, smooth, eased hem, with no tucks or puckers. Why sew anything permanently if you are unsure it is correct? As mentioned, this is the road to errors and unpicking.
Temporary stitches are also great for holding an item in place before you sew it. Zips are a great example of this. Tacking a zip into place lets you see if you have it properly aligned, if it is covered correctly by the fabric, if it is stopping and starting in the correct position. This additional step only takes a minute or two but the advantages are great and help guarantee a perfect zip every time.
Similarly you may wish to check the placement of patch pockets, tacking these into position first lets you see if their position suits and is balanced. Sewing first could result in you having to rip out stitches and, at worst, damage your fabric and even stretch your pocket out of shape.
Absolutely adding a temporary stitch step adds time, but it results in increased accuracy and a right first time approach when you come to permanently sew, so saving any time you could later spend unpicking and resewing. Time spent using temporary stitches, is time well spent on your overall project and ensures the best possible outcome every time. Once you are happy with the overall fit and shape of your project and its various details, you can then move to permanent stitches. Hopefully these will only need to be sewn once! Your temporary stitches can then be removed, having served their purpose. Why not give it a go on your next project and see how it goes. We'd love to see it.