How to do a basting stitch by hand

Hemming a pair of pants, shorts, or just about anything requires a few basic steps to ensure that it is handled neatly and correctly. One of the most important steps is to first baste the hem before shortening it permanently. Here is an outline of the basic procedure, which many people these days are not always familiar with.

  1. Start by trying on the garment and determining the length you want it to be. Slip into the shoes you are most likely going to wear with it to see that the final length goes well with the shoe heel. Fold under the current hem of the garment until it falls to the desired length. Do the same for both legs if working on trousers or shorts. Check that the hem is even all the way around and lock into place with straight pins or safety pins, taking care not to bunch the fabric.
  1. After the hem is pinned into place, check to be sure it is straight and have the person take off the garment and lay it on a flat surface. Check the hems once more to be sure they lay evenly and that both legs (if working on trousers or shorts) match. The pins should be placed perpendicular to the hem and should be spaced evenly around the border of the desired hem. You may have to remove some pins and re-stick them for a smooth finish to this step.
  2. Match a color of thread that blends with the fabric of the garment. Choose a lightweight thread and the correct size of the needle that will not leave large puncture openings in the fabric. Thread the needle one length rather than using a double-length, and knot it at the end. Begin basting at the seam where you can take the first stitch and catch the knot in a seam where it will not be noticed. Make each stitch very small, perhaps one-fourth to one-half inch, and space them evenly around the edge of the hem’s border.
  3. Loosely hem, or baste, the new border all the way around the edge of the garment. Keep the stitches small and parallel, running perpendicular to the actual hem. Don’t make them so tight that removing them will leave slight impressions in the fabric. They will serve as a guideline for the actual hemming of the garment that will follow.
  4. After completing the new hem with another set of double thread, remove the basted stitches. Depending on the type of material used in the garment, you may wish to wash or press the new hem, or both, before hanging the garment in your closet. Be sure to return all pins to your sewing box or pincushion so they won’t find their way into family members’ feet or hands on the carpet or furniture.

Basting a hem helps to ensure that the final, permanent stitching will create a straight, even hem. Neglecting this step can lead to uneven lengths or bunched material that may mean you will have to re-hem the garment.

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