Learn how to sew a perfect topstitch on your next sewing project. Topstitch can be both functional and decorative and is used extensively on bags and clothing. Take a look in your cupboard at just how many items have topstitching.
With these 9 simple tips, you will be able to add beautiful, neat, and even topstitching to all your sewing patterns.
What is topstitch?
Topstitch (sometimes written as two words - top stitch) is simply decorative stitching on the outside of a garment or sewn item. Look at any pair of jeans in your wardrobe and you will see large amounts of topstitch.
In cases where it is used around neck edges, it can also hold facings in place and prevent them from lifting up. It can also close gaps and prevent the need to hand stitch which we all love.
The main purpose of sewing topstitching is:
- Holds facings
- Closes gaps from turning the right way out
- Looks decorative
- Strengthens seams
- Holds seams in place so they sit flatter
How to Topstitch - Tools
Topstitch is done with a straight stitch and can be done with your regular (all-purpose) sewing machine foot.
Where is topstitch done? Your pattern may specify otherwise, but it is generally done around ⅛-1/4 inch (3-6mm) from the edge of the article.
Best Thread for Topstitching
- Use a topstitching thread. Topstitching threads are usually thicker than regular thread giving a professional and eye-catching appearance. It can also be done with a regular all-purpose thread for a more subtle look that still adds strength.
- Choose an appropriate color thread. If you are a beginner you will be better off choosing a matching thread which will blend into the fabric. More experienced sewers may use a contrast thread.
- Further Reading: Types of Sewing Threads
Best Sewing Machine Foot for Topstitch
- Most topstitch is done using an all-purpose sewing foot but you can also use a specially designed foot.
- Most machines come with an edge stitch foot (also called a stitch in the ditch foot.) Depending on how close to the edge your topstitching needs to be, you could also use a ¼ inch patchwork foot.
- If you are sewing the edges of flaps on bags and clutches, see the section at the end of this article.
- Further Reading - 10 Best Sewing Machine Feet
Best Needle for Topstitching
- Use the correct needles when doing topstitch. Most brands have a topstitch needle.
- Generally, they have a larger eye so the thicker thread can pass through it without catching. This is especially important when you are using thicker threads as they may shred and split if you use a regular needle.
- If you are using a regular sewing thread then your regular needle will work fine.
- Further Reading: Sewing Needle Types
How to Topstitch - Machine Settings
Best Stitch Length for Topstitching
- Use a longer stitch length for best results.
- For topstitch, I generally use a length of 3.0-4.0. This gives a nice even look to your stitches. Here is a comparison of different length stitches. The difference between them is more pronounced when you use thicker threads.
Test the Tension
- Before you start topstitching your project, test a scrap of fabric and make sure it all looks great. Adjust the sewing machine tension if necessary.
- Incorrect tension is often the major reason your stitching doesn't look great. The upper and lower bobbin threads should be equally balanced and looking good on both sides of the item.
- Even if you normally have a set position on the dial that works for your machine, different threads may require you to make adjustments. The stitching is often done through several layers of fabric, and so the fabric thickness may also play a major part in any tension irregularities.
- Here is a chart showing you how to adjust the tension.
How to Topstitch Step by Step Instructions
Step 1 - Mark your Topstitching Lines
- If you need to sew freehand without a topstitch foot, use a removable or disappearing pen to mark where you need to sew. Please test first to make sure your pen really does disappear on your fabric!
- Alternatively, mark the guide plate on your sewing machine with tape or pen.
- Further Reading: Best Fabric Marking Tools
Step 2 - Start Stitching but Don't Backstitch
- Start your straight topstitching.
- On items where the beginning and ending stitching will show, pull the threads to the back and knot instead of backstitching.
- Further Reading: How to Stop and Start Stitching
Step 3 - Press After Top Stitching
- Press after you have sewn. This will meld your stitches into the fabric improving the topstitch look even further.
- Pressing is done in an up and down motion rather than sliding the iron across the fabric in the way you would when ironing a work shirt. Some steam or water spray may also help.
- Further Reading: Pressing Fabric
How to Topstitch Bag and Clutch Flaps
If you are stitching the edge of a clutch or bag flap, it can help to use a ¼ inch (6mm) foot to use as a guide.
Topstitch on bag and clutch flaps not only helps tame bulky edges but creates a perfect final touch. If your first attempts at bag making are looking a little wonky then try some of these extra tips.
Foot – Using a ¼ inch (6mm) foot with a guide can easily help you create perfectly even top-stitching on your flap. Practice first – It took me a few attempts to get used to hugging the curves but now this is my preferred method.