Top stitching is a great way to add detail without too much fuss. I love it for highlighting particular features of a garment and it can really elevate the finish of your sewing projects.
Topstitching is basically one or more rows of straight or decorative sewing that are visible from the right side. It is not only decorative but practical too. It can hold layers of fabric in place together like seam allowances and you can also use it to hold facings in place as well as attach pockets.
Edge stitching is similar and used to define collars, cuffs and pockets. It is sewn a few millimetres away from a seam or the edge of a garment.
However, a lot of people are put off because it is so visible. But with a bit of practice and a few tips it’s easy to master.
Here are our Top 10 Tips for Mastering Topstitching:
- Make sure your machine is in good working order.
Clear out any lint or fluff gathering under the needle plate. If any fluffballs are lurking they will easily find their way up to the right side of your sewing and become a nuisance just when you don’t want them to. So make sure to have your machine professionally serviced and maintain it regularly at home when you can.
- Stable fabrics are easier to topstitch
You can cheat slightly if working with finer fabrics and use a bit of spray starch to give a bit of stability to your fabric. You can also try using Wash-away Wonder Tape to stick pockets or layers of fabric together in place before you sew.
- Choose the right thread for your fabric
If you are using a medium to light weight fabric a universal thread will probably be fine. If you want a bit of extra definition you can alway use a double thread. Just wind a bobbin with the same thread as is on your spool and add it to the extra spool holder. Pass both threads together through the machine as one.
Specific top stitching thread can look very effective on medium to heavier weight fabrics like denim or cotton drill. This thread is much thicker and stronger than a normal univerals thread and will give better definition to your sewing.
- Use a normal sewing thread on the bobbin
If you are using top stitching thread you don’t need to have that on the bobbin as well. Because this thread is much thicker it can cause problems passing through the tension mechanism for the bobbin. So just use a normal sewing thread instead. You can choose a colour that matches your fabric or one close in colour to that of your topstitching thread.
- You may need to adjust your tension
Using a thicker top stitching thread and a normal bobbin thread can throw out the tension slightly with the imbalance between the thread weights. Adjust your tension incrementally until you find the optimal tension for your fabric.
- Choose the right needle for your thread
Topstitching generally passes through more layers of fabrics so you will need to make sure you have a needle up to the task. This is one instance where I would use a brand new needle for each project.
- Universal needles, these are the most commonly used, are perfectly adequate for most projects
- Sharp pointed needles, such as Microtex needles make the most precise stitches but should only be used on woven fabrics. They are liable to snag or make holes in knit fabrics
- Topstitching needles are ideal as they have a stronger thicker shaft and a longer eye to accommodate thicker threads.
- Embroidery needles have a wider eye to accommodate decorative threads and may be used on woven fabrics and most knits.
- Denim/jeans needles are designed to penetrate multiple layers of thick woven fabrics. They are larger in size – 90/
- Twin/double needles create two parallel stitching rows on the fabric’s right side and a zigzag-like stitch on the wrong side. This needle is especially great for hemming knits. But remember you cannot pivot around corners with this type of needle!
- Increase your stitch length
To enable the topstitching to be more visible and noticeable increase your stitch length. This means that the longer stitch will float further over the surface of the fabric and catch the light more. With thicker top stitching threads it gives the thread a bit more space as it can look very crunched up if sewn with a normal stitch length.
- You don’t need to reverse
Topstitching is purely decorative and not spnctructional, meaning it isn’t used to construct a project together. So don’t worry about sewing with a back stitch to start your row of sewing. This can just make a bit of a ‘nest’ of threads on the reverse. Just hold the tails of thread out at the back of the presser foot as you start to sew. You can then pull the tails through to the reverse when you have finished and fasten them off by knotting. Alternatively you can thread them back onto an ordinary hand sewing needle and thread them back through a few centimeters of the bobbin stitches.
- To help you sew in a straight line
You can use a stitch-in-the-ditch foot or a blind hem foot to help you get close to the edge of a seam. Position the fin, or blade, of the foot against the edge of the seam and then move the needle into the correct position to sew to help you sew in a neat line along the edge.
- Use a Hump-jumper or Jean-a-ma-jig
These are gadgets that will help raise the level of the presser foot when sewing over thick layers of fabrics. Sewing machines do not like sewing on an uneven surface. So when trying to topstitch a pocket you can use a gadget or just a wad of fabric behind the presser foot to raise the level of the presser foot so it sits evenly over the start of your topstitching.
As with most things, practice will make you perfect. But with these tips to help you, I hope you give it a go.