What is a Top Stitch?
A Top stitch refers to the stitching that you see on top of a garment/accessory, some 1/4 inch or more away from the seam line. Basically, any visible stitching done a short distance from the edge of a fabric fold or seam line made from the top of the fabric is topstitching. The most famous example of a top stitch is the one you see on jeans.
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Why Top Stitch?
Top Stitching is very decorative – if you look at anything that has been top stitched you will see that it looks well tailored – There is no question about that. A topstitched garment or accessory looks good. But that is not all.
There are other functional uses to a top stitch as well
- It reinforces the seam stitching to make the seam strong
- It can keep the edges flat
- It can keep the facing from rolling to the outside
- It gives structure to a flimsy fabric
- It holds fabric layers together where they do not.
- You can use the top stitching to attach decorations or embellishments or design elements.
Where to use the Top stitch when sewing clothes?
On either side of the seam line in the case of waistlines, princess seams
Pant side seams (Usually inseam)
On collar edges
On edges of waistbands of skirts and pants, straps and pockets
On necklines and plackets
On top of elastic waistbands keeping the elastic and band together.
What thread to use for Top stitching?
A top stitch is made so that it is visible from the face of a garment – so you want a thread that will stand out, not blend in. A contrast color thread like the white or orange thread used in jean stitching is an example.
You can buy special ‘top stitching thread‘ for top stitching – it will be heavier than the normal seam sewing thread. You may need to use a special needle with a bigger eye for the top stitching thread – especially if you are using it regularly.
You can use two spools of thread on your sewing machine as an alternative. Use the extra spool holder for this purpose. You will be threading your needle with two threads and making a heavier two thread stitch.
Whatever thread you use on the needle use regular sewing thread on the bobbin.
Another method is to use the bobbin stitching method. Take two or three thread spools, and hold the threads from them together. Wind your bobbin with them. Now insert this bobbin in your machine. Take your garment/fabric and hold it wrong side up. Now start sewing. The bobbin thread will show up on the back which is your right side. It will be a thick stitching line. You can learn more about this method in this post on bobbin work.
How to Top stitch perfectly with your ordinary sewing machine
Topstitch is made from the top of the fabric and you get to see how you are stitching all along – but that does not make a Top stitch great – you need some tips and tricks for a perfect topstitch.
Always remember that a top stitch is visible from the face of the garment. You need to keep this in mind every time you sew this – so no wavy lines, no back stitches to anchor thread at the start and ending of stitching, no imbalance in the stitching with visible knots or bobbin thread showing up – everything should be hunky dory. Topstitching should start and end in the correct spot.
Top stitch at the end
Start top stitching after the full garment is made and the fitting is complete.
Prepare the fabric
If your fabric is very thin you may have difficulty topstitching. You may need to interface or use spray starch to stiffen the fabric. If the top stitching is to be done on a curved seam, you should ensure that the seam allowance is trimmed and/or clipped ( You would have done that anyway for the curve to remain unpuckered). Press the area so that there are no wrinkles
A top stitch is always made slightly longer in length than the seam stitching – so increase the stitch length for top stitching. If you use a 2.5 stitch length increase to 3 for top stitching.
See where you are going
Use a clear straight stitch foot for top stitching – you need to see what you are doing.
No back stitching
At the start of stitching, instead of back stitching to anchor thread ( which looks ugly) decrease the stitch length to zero and stitch in place one or two stitches to anchor the thread – do the same when you end as well. Or leave thread tails at the start and end and take them to the back and tie them. Tie a square knot to secure tightly at the back and then cut off the tails.
Make stitching perfect
Adjust your sewing machine tension to perfect – this is important to ensure that the bobbin thread does not show up on top – especially if the bobbin thread is of a different colour – that is disastrous top stitching. Adjust your sewing machine tension following the guidelines here
Sew straight and precise
If you cannot sew a straight line do not Top stitch. If you think I am harsh, you should anyway go ahead and do it – but do not blame me if your creation gets tagged as sloppy. You need good straight stitching lines for a perfect top stitch.
How to sew straight, 1/4 inch correctly from the edge
Always keep an eye on the edge as you sew so that you do not deviate from your straight stitching.
The simplest way to keep a straight line is to use your straight presser foot and keep your presser foot edge along the fabric edge consistently and sew – with my straight presser foot I get a consistent 1/4 inch edge this way.
If you want more than 1/4 inch you can make a seam guide – most machines have markings that guide you. Or else Keep masking tape along your needle plate on the mark you want and sew. or buy a seam guide.
Do not be in any hurry when you topstitch – Stitch slowly and patiently maintaining an even pace – not too slow, not too fast.
In case of turns and curves in the garment edge where you need to top stitch, you will have to plan in advance and make markings so that the top stitch does not look odd.
Double-needle Top stitching – the best hack ever
If you are reinforcing a seam and you want two topstitching lines on either side of the seam line ( like for eg a princess seam) you can use the double needle (twin needle) to do the topstitching in one go. A twin needle makes two straight stitching lines in one go and reinforces the seam line as well. Check out this post on the best way to use the twin needles.
Knit fabrics are almost always top stitched with a twin needle stitching.This reinforces the edge and avoids the wavy look.
How to Top stitch by hand sewing?
Top stitching is not relegated to sewing machine alone. In bespoke tailoring tailored jackets are top stitched along the lapels with a hand sewed pick stitch. A pick stitch is a back stitch with the top stitches smaller than the back stitches. You can learn more about a pick stitch here.
Leather and Vinyl is sewn with a Top stitching method using a stitch called saddle stitch.
Are Top Stitching and Edge Stitching the same ?
They are not the same. Edge stitching is made along the edge, some 1/8 inch from the edge, not 1/4 inch distant from the edge. Know more about edge stitching here.
If you would like to do edge stitching and top stitch together along an edge you can use a twin needle – both done at the same time in one go. I like shortcuts!