Topstitching is one of those sewing tasks that can seem daunting. Your stitches on full display, whether they are straight or wonky, along a straight tangent or veering off track. For me, they tend to be a hit or miss enigma. So, I decided to do a little research into how to get perfect topstitching and I will share that here with you.
To start, we need to know that a topstitch is a stitch that is both functional and decorative. It can elevate the look of a garment from ordinary to WOW! Not only are they beautiful to look at, top stitching helps hold your facings in place, strengthen seams, and allows seams to sit flat.
If you are joining us for the Laura Dress sewalong, topstitching is essential to the look of your garment. It helps to pronounce the beauty of the center back and armhole seam and anchors down the neckline facing. Also check out other Rebecca Page patterns which would benefit from amazing top stitching like the Kingston, Jo, Joe, and Joey… etc…etc
Let’s Get Topstitching
Your choice of thread is going to be a focal point of your stitch. Use the best quality you can get your hands on. Where possible, use a topstitching thread. Seen below as the thicker thread, this allows your amazing topstitching to stand out even more. If you are using all purpose poly/cotton thread, be sure to use the best one you can because the sheen of a good quality thread will lift your work up to new heights.
Another consideration to your choice of threads is the type of fabric you are sewing. A heavier weight fabric like denim or corduroy will benefit from topstitching in a topstitch weight thread, whereas lighter, drapier fabrics like lawn and rayon would not. They would look better with an all-purpose thread.
Also on threads, you have a choice between a thread colour that matches your fabric and one that is complementary. A contrasting shade is eye-catching and added incentive to attempt neat topstitching. I sometimes tend to topstitch in a shade that’s close to the colour of my garment when I am uncertain of its outcome. This is perfectly alright. Making an attempt is what matters most.
Depending on the thread you have chosen in option 1, you would want to select the appropriate needle. Most brands of needles carry a topstitching needle option. As seen below, these come with a larger eye made specifically to accommodate the topstitching width thread which is thicker in diameter.
Alternately, a twin needle is an excellent tool for some amazing topstitches.
When your stitches don’t turn out looking good, tension is usually the culprit. And its difficult to pinpoint what your ideal tension should be because each machine is different. Play around with your settings to see which one suits your purpose best. Its essential to always test your topstitching with the exact thread, needle, and fabric that you will be using. I would emphasise here that the fabric needs to be the same (a scrap piece of course; those pattern offcuts work perfect here) to emulate the result that you will see on your garment. The reason this is so is because different fabrics respond to topstitching differently. Denim would need a different setting than would lawn.
- Stitch Length
Generally for topstitching, I prefer to use a stitch length of 4.0 This is larger than what I use to sew in seams because the intention of topstitching in most areas is to add detail and a larger stitch length displays this detail better than a shorter one.
When starting and stopping your topstitch, do not backstitch to lock the seam in. Choose instead to knot the loose threads on the wrong side of the fabric to ensure a cleaner finish.
Here are some additional tips that will help you achieve your desired result.
- Always base your sewing line on a visual marker. Mine tends to be the seamline that binds the two pieces together, or the edge of the fabric. If the area you are planning to topstitch does not have a visual marker, you could use a presser foot that has a length indication or you could draw your topstitch seam line in with a washable fabric pen or tailoring chalk prior to sewing.
- When you press topstitched areas, be sure to gently lift and press your iron rather than dragging it across the surface of the fabric. I tend to prefer to lift my iron away from the surface of the topstitching, especially in small areas of work, with the steam function turned on at full effect and steam iron the topstitching instead. Alternatively, you could use a pressing cloth to make sure you don’t accidently damage your hard work.
- Practice, practice practice. Whenever you can, make it a point to practice your stitches and you will find that you will get better in time.