Topstitching 101 ~ The What And How Of A Topstitch

by Destri on March 1, 2012

How To Topstitch
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Hey friends!  I am working on a complete sizing guide and various options for the Fat Quarter Pillowcase Dress (just you wait – so cute!) and I remembered something I have been wanting to post about – Topstitching.  “What is a topstitch?” is a frequent question that either pops up in comments or in my inbox, and as the pillowcase dress has an abundance of topstiching, I thought I could have a post to refer people to.  Not just a how-to, but a complete guide on when to add a topstitch, and how to make it look great too.  So here it is :).  Catch me after the jump!

Topstitching 101

What Is A Topstitch?

First, let’s talk about what a topstitch is.  A topstitch is a stitch that is sewn parallel to a seam or along a hem on the right side of the fabric.  It is usually decorative, but in many cases the stitch is functional as well. Without a doubt, topstitching (when done well) will take a garment from a “homemade” look to a high quality handmade look – I hesitate to use the word store bought as I think when done right handmade looks much better than anything you can buy.

I should note that sometimes a tutorial or pattern will refer to a topstitch as an edgestitch.  They are pretty much the same, but here is a little guide:

-Generally an edgestitch is when you literally sew an 1/8th to 1/16th of an inch (right on the edge), from an edge. Usually sewn on the edge of a garment hem, interfacing on a neckline, or around the perimeter of a sleeve or waistline.  This gives a garment a nice crisp edge with a tailored look. When a pattern calls for an edgestitch, they want you to sew right on the egde.

A topstitch is any stitch that you sew on top of the fabric.  This can be right along the edge too – and in most cases is.  The distance varies between 1/4 of an inch to 1/16th of an inch from the edge, or wherever the pattern calls for a topstitch.  A lot of patterns and tutorials will use the term topstitch over edgestitch.

How To Sew A Perfect Topstitch

You can just use the standard foot that came with your machine that is suitable for a straight or zigzag stitch- it is the foot I always use.  However there are foots that can make it easier to get a perfect stitch.  For instance, a 1/4 inch seam foot (sometimes referred to as a patchwork foot) will keep the edge of a seam against a guide making a perfectly straight stitch.  But don’t feel like you have to have a special foot, you just want some kind of visual guide to watch.

The trick is to not watch the needle.  In this case I used the bend of the inside of the foot as my guide.  So as I sew, I keep my eye on that spot, making sure the edge of the fabric stays along there. For a 1/4 inch I just use the outer edge of my foot as the guide.

Keaton Coat Patten by Luvin The Mommyhood

If you are sewing an edgestitch around the perimeter of a lined garment, like you would on Shannon’s fabulous Keaton Coat Pattern (it’s free!), you can make a guide with a piece of masking tape.  Just line up the edge where you would need it under the foot and then put the needle down.  Pull the edge of the garment down on the machine and place some masking tape right along that edge. As you sew, you just make sure you stay lined up with that edge.

Another way to get a perfect stitch is to adjust the placement of the needle, rather than the fabric.  I cannot do this on my machine as that is the setting for a button hole, but if your machine has the capability it works great.  It makes it so that the fabric edge is still led by the feed dog as well, making it easier to get a straighter stitch. Just move your needle all the way to the right and then sew with a visual guide.

Here are a few more tips to getting a great looking topstitch:

  • Use a slightly longer stitch length
  • Use a topstitch thread if you want the stitch to really pop- it is slightly thicker. Use regular weight thread in the bobbin
  • Use thread that matches the fabric until you are comfortable with getting a straight stitch
  • Make sure to press seams, and fabric edges before topstitching – if you wait until after it ain’t pretty :)
  • Press the topstitch with steam when finished to set and remove any puckering

Some Examples Of Topstitching

Any time you are adding ruffles to something like a Ruffle Pillowcase, or on the bottom of a skirt – make sure to press the seam away from the ruffles and then topstitch in place to the fabric.  This will not only secure the seam, but give the ruffles a nice look.

Anytime you are sewing panels it’s a good idea to add a topstitch. Just press the seams to one side and then…

and then sew along the edge to hold that seam in place. If you are using a heavier fabric, you may want to sew at 1/4 to 1/8th of an inch from the seam. Another time to do this is on the seams of pants, especially for kids to reinforce the seams and make them stronger.

In some cases you may want to add a second row of topstitching. Just make sure that when you sew the second row, you sew in the opposite direction you did in the first. This will prevent any wavy or stretched fabric.

So there you have it!  I will add this to the Sewing Directory so it is there for future reference.

Now, any tips for topstitching you have to add?

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