Saturday, April 21, 2012

Topstitiching: Tips, and Tricks

Top-stitching is a single or multiple set of lines of stitching showcased on the garment right side, either for decorative or functional purposes. It's found on many types of garments, from sporty to formal, tailored to casual. Good top-stitching (even, straight top-stitching) can improve a garment whereas even a slight meandering in top-stitching can make it look homemade.
The collar and lapel on this purchased jacket is top-stitched in a matching thread.
  1. Always start with a new needle, or set of needles, when top stitching. (You could try a top-stitching needle but I use a universal). 
  2. Go slow. 
  3. Top-stitch with the right side of the garment facing up. 
  4. Since top-stitching is highly visible, it's important that the stitching lines are perfectly straight. Most machines have a presser foot where the distance from the needle to the foot edge is 1/4", which can be used as a guide. Align the presser foot edge with the garment edge, and stitch slowly to maintain an even distance. 
  5. Most top-stitching is sewn with a straight stitch, using a slightly longer length than is used for garment construction. 
  6. Edge-stitching is top-stitching that's sewn closer than 1/8" to a finished edge. Traditional top-stitching is a row of straight stitching, sewn 1/8" to 3/8" to one or both sides of a seam, or the same distance from an edge of the garment. 
  7. Use a gauge to decide how far the set of stitches should be from one another.It is important to use some sort of gauge -event the stitch guide on your machine instead of eyeballing this. You should even use a fabric marker (be sure it disappears). 
  8. Choose the proper foot. If you have a double-needle setup, that's perfect. If not, you'll have to stitch once, then stitch again, beside the original stitching. 
  9. For a classic look, it's best choose a color of thread that is slightly darker than the color of the garment. 
  10. Or use a contrasting colour if you want top-stitching to stand out (example -jeans). 
  11. Use any thread you like: the same thread you used to make the garment; special top-stitching thread (although this is expensive and comes in smaller amounts than regular threads; or embroidery threads. Remember that you can use a regular thread in the bobbin because the top-stitching thread is for the top of the garment. 
  12.  A thread lubricant often will help the thread slide through the needle eye and reduce fraying and breaking. 
  13.  Don't back-stitch or knot and cut threads, instead thread onto a needle, insert and bury the threads then cut off. 

Tricks for Top-stitching:

 All seams should be pressed open, even before they are pressed to one direction whether for a seam or envelope in the edge of a collar, cuff, etc.

 If the area you are top stitching has a lot of curves it's best to use a smaller stitch. Smaller stitches won't look as crooked as a longer stitch, if you make minor errors.

 Determine the exact pivot points at corners before you get to them and be careful not to overshoot of fall sort of it. Try making a thread "tail" of silk thread (won't mar the fabric) to provide a "handle" to tug on once you turn the corner. This prevents the corner from getting help up.

Make sure to press seams, and fabric edges before top-stitching.

Press the top-stitch with steam when finished to set and remove any puckering.

When you top-stitch the second line, do it in the opposite direction of the first line of stitching. This helps eliminate the wavy look sometimes seen on lower-end garments.

It takes a bit of experimentation to find the best combination of thread, needle, and foot for each top-stitching project. But it's definitely worth it when you see your fantastic results!
I used white thread for the top-stitching on this jean skirt.
How to Top-stitch:

 Here's the steps:
1. After the seam has been sewn and pressed to one side, put the garment under the presser foot with the smaller edge of the foot lined up with the edge of the pressed seam on your garment.
2. Using a slightly longer stitch than what you used to construct the garment, stitch a line right next to the edge of the seam.
3. You can add a second line of stitching next to the first and use the wider section of your presser foot as a guide to keep the line of stitching straight and even.

(I'll say it again) Using a longer stitch length in the top-stitching makes it look more professional and makes the stitching stand out more.

Is Top-stitching right for your fabric?
Heavily textured fabrics and dense, heavy twill can skew stitches and don't look attractive, practise on a scrap before determining if top-stitching is right for your garment.
Garments of any fabric can be top-stitched.

Why Top-stitch?
Top-stitching adds body and crispness with shorter stitches adding more body than longer stitches.

Top-stitching is used as a decorative stitch on the outside of the garment and also strengthens the seam. If you look at a pair of jeans,embellishment seams have this embellishment on the outside (like the outside seam of the leg).


  1. I have always just followed the pattern instructions for topstitching and it has always worked well.

  2. If you want to keep the top-stitching on a pair of jeans that you are hemming. Make a seam parallel to the finished edge by pinching the fabric to the desired amount you need to shorten the jeans. Viola! Hemmed jeans with the original hem. I read it in threads magazine eons ago.

    1. FYI, this does not work with flared, bootcut, etc jeans, only with straight legs. And it doesn't work if you need to shorten more than an inch or so. My daughter is 4' 10" (age 12) and I always have to shorten her pants by at least 4". There is no other way to do that than to just cut and re-hem. I use jean topstitching thread by Guttermann, shift the hem slightly off straight, and then brush a tiny bit of bleach mixed with water on the edge just before throwing in the wash after hemming. This really does simulate the original hem pretty well. Be sure to wash and dry the jeans a couple of times first before hemming - they do continue to shrink after the first wash.

    2. I've used the tuck above the jeans hem in the past too. It appeals to people who don't sew more than it does to those of us who sew, I find. I secure the tuck with a stitch at the leg seam so that it doesn't curl up. I have also just trimmed the tuck as well. It makes a lot of extra work for little pay off in my books. Honestly, I prefer hemming my jeans and creating a new hem.

  3. Never had any problems with topstitching. But I like the tip about sewing in one direction and then turing and sewing from the other direction for parallel topstitiching. It makes sense. Great post Nothy!

  4. Gigi Sews has great information on presser feet for topstitching.

    Thanks for the info! Sewing has become so much easier with all these sewing blogs!



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