Staystitching: why, when and how

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When you’re working with woven fabrics (as opposed to stretchy fabrics like jersey) you’ll sometimes find cut curved edges are prone to stretching out if you handle them a lot.

Sometimes that’s OK – if those edges will later be gathered up, like a sleeve cap; or if those edges will need to be stretched to attach them to something larger. But for some pattern pieces, such as a neckline, you don’t want any stretching. Staystitching is a simple way to prevent this so that you don’t end up with a gaping neckline.

And if you’re making something that’s cut on the bias, like the Fifi pyjamas I made recently, you might want to staystitch bias cut edges to prevent them stretching as you sew the seams. Check your pattern instructions so you know which edges might need staystitching – Tilly and the Buttons has a great guide to sewing on the bias for Fifi.

I’ve just cut out the pieces for a man’s shirt in cotton chambray, and the shirt fronts and back yoke pieces that form the neckline all have curved edges where they’ll be attached to the collar. There are lots of things to do on these pieces (sew the yoke seam, put on a pocket, attach the sleeves and sew the side seams) before I finally join them to the collar, so I’m going to staystitch these pieces to stop them stretching out while I do those steps. On this pattern, you stretch the collar to fit, so I’m only going to staystitch the shirt fronts and back yokes, and not the collar.

So how and when do we staystitch?

The pattern I’m using (the Thread Theory Fairfield Shirt) doesn’t mention staystitching until it’s time to apply the collar, but having had problems with a stretched neckline on the initial toile, I know I should do this step earlier. My current sewing manual of choice says:

Curved areas that require extra handling should be staystitched. This acts as a guideline for clipping and joining a curved edge to the other edges, as well as prevents stretching. Staystitch in the direction of the grain 1/8″ (3mm) away from the seamline in the seam allowance, using the regular machine-stitch length suited to your fabric.

Vogue Sewing revised and updated (2006 edition)

And the instructions for staystitching the collar of the New Look 6000 dress, which has a 5/8″ (1.5cm) seam allowance, recommend:

Stitch 1/2″ (1.3cm) from cut edge, in direction of arrows.

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So I’ve already cut out the pieces, transferred the pattern markings and applied my interfacing. This is the best point at which to do the staystitching – before I handle the pieces any further and they begin to stretch.

I’m going to use a 2.6mm straight stitch and stitch just within the 1/4″ seam allowance. It doesn’t matter whether you staystitch from the right side or the wrong side. I’m stitching from the shoulder towards the centre back and then from both shoulders towards the centre back, meeting in the middle.

Guide the fabric very, very gently through the machine so that you don’t accidentally stretch it as you go. To stop the very corner of the fabric from getting trapped in the feed dogs, you might prefer to start 1cm or so from the edge and then come back and staystitch that initial centimetre from the other side if needed.

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And that’s it. We’re done. Begone, gaping necklines and ill-fitting collars.

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