This week’s How-to is all about topstitching! Yay!

Topstitching-title

Recently, with the Jacqueline Hoodie and my future pair of Jamie Jeans, I’ve been topstitching a lot. And I mean a lot!

But even if there’s not one seam I’ve sewn without topstitching it, I can’t help but love the touch of professional finish this technique gives to a garment.

While I’ve been sewing since childhood, I’m always afraid of doing visible topstitching. There’s something about an inaccurate visible seam line that’s really makes your beautiful make a poorly done, cheap looking one. And with all the time and energy we spend sewing clothes, that’s just not the result I’m looking for.

However, determined to make progress, I was happy to recently sew garments that would help me learn how to tame this nerve wracking technique. And in doing so, after lots of trial and error, I’ve learned along the way. First, I’ve found ways to more easily managed a bulky seam and now my topstitching is getting better.

So today I’m sharing my experience learning how to topstitch and what methods I’ve found helped me get better results.

The first thing on the list is to find yourself the right material. While you can totally topstitching with your regular sewing thread (see my Jacqueline Hoodie for an exemple), if you’re using heavier fabric and you want it to show more (like when sewing jeans or a coat), using topstitching thread would be perfect. In any case, the tips and tricks in this How-to will apply to any style you choose.

If you plan on using the bigger thread, you’ll also want to get your hands on some heavy duty needles. Because when you think about it, the clothes that requires a lot of visible topstitching are made of quite heavy fabric, so a needle that can pierce through several layers of fabric will make the job a lot easier. Plus usually, these needles have a bigger hole for the thread, just what we need! 🙂

Topstitching-Material

The topstitching thread is heavier than the standard one, you can find it called “topstitching” or “cordonnet”. (I don’t know if it’s the same name elsewhere in the world, but it’s what I’ve found in the shops around here).

What you want to do if you choose the topstitching thread, is to use it only on the top part of your machine. For the bobin, I’ve found I get better result with using the standard thread. And sadly it was a lesson learned the hard way!

Topstitching-Threads

One of the big secret of topstitching, the thing that will make all the difference, is to do trial runs. Like pretty much any technique, it’s always a good idea to check if your settings are right. If you plan on sewing with a heavier thread, chances are you’ll have to adjust the tension of your machine. Typically, on my Elna, the normal tension setting is 4, but in order not to have the topstitching thread show under the seam, I have to go up a couple of numbers to a 6.

Doing some tests beforehand is also a great way to test the stitch length and the distance between the seam and the topstitching. To give you an idea, for the stitch length, I like to use a 3 or 3.5 mm.

Topstitching-Trials

Now let’s talk about accuracy.

That’s the big scary thing about this technique. Because the topstitching line is visible (and more so if you use a contrasting colour!), it’s perfectly normal to be afraid of not stitching straight. That’s when an adjustable sewing foot comes in handy!

An adjustable blind hem foot, or an edge foot is your best friend in this case. It’ll allow you to follow accurately the seam edge creating a perfectly straight line. Just adjust the width of the foot (or adjust the needle’s position) and you’ll be amazed at how close you can now easily stitch next to the seam line.

Topstitching-Blind-Hem-Foot

But there’s always a time when such a miracle attachement isn’t an option. When it happens, it’s perfectly okay to get all the help you can to be accurate. That means either drawing the stitch line with chalk on the fabric or adding a guideline with a indelible pen directly on the sewing feet.

See the dark mark on the zipper foot below, that’s a guide to help me follow either the edge, or in this case, the previous row of stitching. I love this trick, it’s easy and soooo helpful in a lot of situations. And when you’re done, simply whip away your mark with a bit of pure alcohol.

Topstitching-Trick

One of the things that frustrated me at first was that my fabric didn’t seem to feed correctly at the start of a line. Even more so when I’ve tried attaching the pockets to the back of my jeans. The needle kept being stuck right away and made a huge mess.

After a lot of head scratching and thread wasted, a solution was found! Hurray! 🙂

The cause of my problem was simple. When sewing through multiple layers of fabric, your machine may have a bit of difficulty starting because its foot isn’t leveled. Another way to see this would be to think it has to climb a hill before even starting to sew, not easy.

Topstitching-Bulky-seam

To help it in its labour, the solution is to simply add some fabric behind your project to make the sewing feet level with your seam. Your machine won’t refuse to sew anymore, you’ve just outsmart it! 🙂

Topstitching-Bulk-Management

And finally, after solving all these problems, remember to take notes! When you do these kind of experiments with new or less used technique, take the habit to record every settings and things you did to achieve the result you wanted. That way, all that trial and error part will be learned and ready for your next project!

Topstitching-Taking-Notes

That’s it! Hope you could benefit a little from all the problems I kept having with topstitching.

Now all of our makes will look like designer pieces! 😉

  • Thanks for a great post!

    I only love topstitching on jackets, coats, bags and jeans, but in my sewing adventures I’ve avoided them.

    You’re right-I let the pressure of sewing straight get to me.

    But I have a denim jacket I’m going to make, I’ll use your technique and you’re spot on with the need for notes!

    Have a great weekend.
    J

    • Coralie

      Thanks Miss J! So glad you liked the How-To! Can’t wait to see your denim jacket, I’m sure it’ll be amazing! 🙂