5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt

A stay stitch can help secure a quilt top before quilting. Learn why to stay stitch a quilt with advice from experienced quilters! suzyquilts.com

Earlier this year, someone posted a question about stay stitching a quilt in the Suzy Quilts Patterns Facebook group, and our team realized that a lot of new quilters don't know what a stay stitch is! If you're one of those people, we're here with instructions for how (and when) to stay stitch a quilt, plus advice from experienced quilters and professional longarm quilters.

So what does it mean to stay stitch a quilt? It means adding a seam to the perimeter of a quilt top. Even though that's simple enough, there are a lot of nuances to stay stitching a quilt, and we want to make sure you're armed with all of the best information so you can decide when to sew one.

Keep reading to learn the five reasons you should stay stitch your next quilt!

Stay stitching a quilt using a sewing machine. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

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Stay stitching a quilt using a sewing machine. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

How (and When) To Stay Stitch a Quilt

As a common technique in garment sewing, when you stay stitch a quilt, the goal is generally to prevent stretching or fraying. For quilters, it serves an additional purpose — to secure pieced seams at the edges of a quilt. While some quilters prefer to backstitch at each block around the perimeter of a quilt, that can quickly become tricky to keep track of. That also does not help when piecing quilt tops with bias edges, like our popular Maypole quilt pattern.

Speaking of bias edges, it is important to handle the quilt top carefully during this final stage. If you accidentally stretch the top before or while sewing your stay stitch, this may cause the top to not lay flat and create puckers when quilting. 

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: A purple and orange Maypole quilt showing bias edges. #quilt #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com
  1. Flip your quilt top upside down. How to stay stitch a quilt is pretty straightforward. Start by flipping the quilt top upside down so that the wrong side is facing up. This will help to be sure that no seams get twisted when sewing. 
  2. Sew a narrow straight seam. Then, sew a straight line across all four sides of the quilt top using a 1/8" seam allowance. By using a 1/8" seam allowance, the stay stitch will be hidden by quilt binding when you finish the quilt. 

Tip! Before you stay stitch a quilt top, be sure that you don't have any tension issues by testing on a piece of scrap fabric. This is an important step to make sure the top still lays flat after sewing around it.

A stay stitch can help secure a quilt top before quilting. Learn why to stay stitch a quilt with advice from experienced quilters! suzyquilts.com
Fronds quilt pattern made by Sarah Holst of Sarah Made

Fronds quilt made by Sarah Holst of Sarah Made. Get the Fronds quilt pattern here!

Does Your Quilt Need a Stay Stitch?

As you'll learn later in this post, not every quilt needs a stay stitch.

Yes, Needs a Stay Stitch

Let's look at examples of a quilts that would benefit from a stay stitch. See how many seams extend to all four edges of the Voyage quilt? This is a great example of a quilt that would benefit from a stay stitch.

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: A warm colored Voyage quilt showing many seams along the edges of a quilt. #quilt #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

And here's a Garland quilt, which is a pattern that combines seams on the perimeter of a quilt plus bias edges. A stay stitch is a must for this quilt!

Garland quilt pattern in earthy colors. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

No, Does NOT Need a Stay Stitch

And here's an example of a quilt that does not need a stay stitch. Luminous has a lot of small piecing like the Voyage quilt above, but there are thin borders along all sides. That means that only the four border seams extend to the edges. So you can skip the stay stitch! (It's not a bad idea, though, to backstitch those four seams.)

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: A black and white Luminous quilt showing a quilt with borders. #quilt #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

5 Reasons You Should Stay Stitch Your Next Quilt

Do you need a little more motivation to add that extra seam around your quilt top? Here are five reasons you should add this step into your quilting process.

1. Your longarmer will love you — if you stay stitch a quilt correctly.

Lilo Whitener-Fey of Trace Creek Quilting, one of our go-to longarmers at Suzy Quilts, says that not every quilt needs a stay stitch. A stay stitch done incorrectly or too tightly can cause puckers or prevent a quilt from laying flat during the quilting process. 

"Stay stitches are not required for successful longarming, but there are three situations in which I've found that extra stabilization around the perimeter of your quilt top can be a very helpful tool in reaching the best possible version of your finished quilt," Lilo says. 

  1. "They prevent unwanted stretching and distortion on quilts that contain a lot of bias edges, particularly around the perimeter of the quilt.
  2. Delicate fabrics [like vintage fabrics] and fabrics that fray easily such as yarn-dyed wovens, linen, and flannel benefit greatly from the protection and stabilization of a stay stitch.
  3. They provide extra security to ensure seams that come out to the edge of the quilt top won't unravel or split. This prevents potential holes or weak spots in the finished top, and ensures loose fabric from unraveling seams does not get folded, puckered, or caught under the foot of a longarm during the quilting process," she says.

So if your quilt has solid cotton borders, that's a great example of when to skip a stay stitch. But if you've used linen, have bias edges around the perimeter, or have seams that go to the edge of a quilt, try out a stay stitch!

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: A colorful Starling quilt with longarm quilting. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

Lilo of Trace Creek Quilting made and longarmed the Starling quilt shown above. Get the pattern here

2. A stay stitch is a must for hand quilting.

Heather Kinion, former President of the Modern Quilt Guild, is a very dedicated hand quilter. Frequent hand quilting also makes her a dedicated stay stitcher. She suggests adding a stay stitch to every quilt top that you plan to hand quilt.

"I like to stay stitch my hand quilted quilt tops for a few reasons, but the biggest reason is that it can take over a year for me to finish the hand quilting, and I usually bring the quilt lots of places over that time (upstairs, downstairs, to my quilt guild, to the park, and out on the back deck, etc.)," she says. "That much handling and motion (I quilt on my lap, not in a hoop) can make a mess of your top whether or not there are any seams involved." 

But time and movement aren't the only reasons Heather likes to stay stitch a quilt. "I also like to use a variety of textures and kinds of fabrics, sometimes reclaimed from sheets or clothes, that might have a looser weave than quilting cotton, and this can help preserve edges of any fabrics that might fray or unravel — even true if I am machine quilting or sending it to a longarm quilter," she says. "As a result, I tend to stay stitch every quilt top just in case, but I suppose small pieces like mini quilts or something I knew I would not move until it was finished would be instances where I would skip it."

Heather adds that after hand quilting and trimming the quilt, sewing the binding acts as another stay stitch to keep the hand quilting in place.

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: Hand quilting a pastel Adventureland quilt. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

3. A stay stitch prevents fraying.

Here at Suzy Quilts, our whole team loves using a variety of fabrics, just like Heather mentions above. While playing with fabric and texture creates stunning quilts, it also leads to more fraying. When you don't use the same type of fabric throughout a quilt, it means you may have fraying in one area and not another. 

This can feel frustrating, but if you add a stay stitch to a quilt, it stops the fraying at the stitch line! This is actually how I prepare all fabrics for pre-washing. Because I like to sew with different fabric substrates, like the Shining Star quilt made entirely out of shot cotton shown below, my fabric needs a good spin in my washing machine before I start cutting.

Before pre-washing, I add a 1/8" seam to any unfinished side of the fabric. Fraying that happens in the washing machine stops at that line and I just trim it away! 

Note: As a rule of thumb, do not prewash fat quarters or fabric that is cut smaller than 1/2 yd. You may lose too much of it to fraying and not have enough for your quilt pattern. Also, never wash an unfinished quilt top. Only wash your quilt after it is completed with binding. For more prewashing info, check out Should You Prewash Fabric Before Quilting?

The same principal holds true for quilt tops. Adding a stay stitch to a quilt that uses a variety of fabrics, or fabrics prone to fraying will prevent any loss on that top in between piecing and quilting. 

5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt: A black and white Shining Star quilt made using shot cotton fabric. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

4. It's great for machine quilting.

If you quilt on a domestic sewing machine, you know this struggle — rolling, folding, and smushing a quilt until it's just the right size to fit through the machine throat space. We may not like to admit it, but we've all been there at one point or another, especially those of us with small sewing spaces or small machines. 

When that poor basted quilt moves through the machine it rubs against so many things, from the machine to your clothes. When you stay stitch a quilt it means that any friction a quilt top encounters when being quilted won't travel into your piecing and cause damage.

But follow the advice at the beginning of this blog post — don't use a stay stitch unless the quilt calls for it to avoid any unwanted puckering.

This simple curves quilt pattern is the best way to learn how to sew curved quilt blocks! The Fronds quilt pattern includes video tutorials too! suzyquilts.com

5. Stay stitches prevent distortion.

Dear reader, here's where I teach you about when I personally learned a lesson about using a stay stitch on my quilt tops.

Back in January, 2021, I was hired to work at Suzy Quilts and I couldn't have been more excited! But there was one thing I was nervous about — leading the Voyage quilt sew along. I had never led a sew along before, and the Suzy Quilts following is very big. Suzy put a lot of trust in me and I had to rise to the occasion. Ack!

I decided to participate in the Gather quilt sew along to prepare for leading Voyage. And it was great! I learned how Suzy likes to do sew alongs from behind the scenes while also participating as a quilter to observe what a sew along is like. I chose gorgeous woven fabrics for my quilt, some of the softest fabrics around.

And then that poor quilt top sat in my WIP pile for...TWO YEARS! During that time, I moved it countless times. Remember those soft woven fabrics? They are also stretchy. Like, majorly stretchy.

By the time I decided to rescue my Gather quilt from my WIP pile and send it to my local longarm quilter, it still needed to be trimmed. The top had become so distorted that in order to square up my quilt, I lost the point at the top of pattern. Ooops! I still enjoy using it, but now I know I could have prevented it.

Every time I do use my Gather quilt, I think about how much that long-suffering quilt would have benefitted from a stay stitch. And I also take comfort in the knowledge that this won't happen again because I know I can stay stitch a quilt top! 

Gather quilt pattern in pink and blue. #quilting #sewingdiy suzyquilts.com

Will you stay stitch a quilt now?

Tell us about if you stay stitch your quilt tops or if you have a special tip! Is this a new technique for you? Will you stay stitch a quilt in the future? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to tag @suzyquilts on Instagram and use the hashtag #SuzyQuiltsBlog any time you post something you learned here!

A stay stitch can help secure a quilt top before quilting. Learn why to stay stitch a quilt with advice from experienced quilters! suzyquilts.com
This simple curves quilt pattern is the best way to learn how to sew curved quilt blocks! The Fronds quilt pattern includes video tutorials too! suzyquilts.com
A stay stitch can help secure a quilt top before quilting. Learn why to stay stitch a quilt with advice from experienced quilters! suzyquilts.com

3 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Stay Stitch a Quilt

  1. Shahar Frenkel says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article!
    Would you stay stitch your backing too? Especially if it is pieced?

    • Laura Hopper says:

      A stay stitch is primarily helpful for quilts that have many seams on the sides or use material that frays. If your backing falls into those categories, you could try it! But be warned that some longarmers I spoke with for this article said that sometimes they have to rip out stay stitches if they’re done on quilts that do not need them because it can cause unwanted distortion or puckering, so carefully consider the advice about when to do a stay stitch that’s included in the article 🙂 If you use a longarm quilter, you can also ask them about their preference!

      • Shahar Frenkel says:

        Many thanks for the answer! I will quilt mine at home. Since the pieced backing as 3 long stripes, I guess I won’t be stay stitching it.

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