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Top stitching

Michelle | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I’ve always wondered how manufactures manage to get their topstitching to look the way it does – does anyone have any idea they do it?  I often avoid doing topstitching in order to prevent the garment from looking ‘home made’



  1. Jean | | #1

    Shelly, don't worry about it...just go look at the Brook DeLorme stuff and you'll feel better about all your sewing!

    1. knitpik1 | | #3

      Makes me feel like a pro LOL.

    2. kai230 | | #4

      Good one, Jean! Odd, though, her work does conjur up Threads!

      1. Jean | | #5

        Yeah, threads hanging out all over the place. :)

        1. kai230 | | #6


  2. knitpik1 | | #2

    Simple...they have one (or more) industrial machine for each process

    and a slave sitting on each machine doing just that all day long.

  3. Jmars0727 | | #7

    If this post shows up more than once, please forgive me.  I've been trying to add a picture from the Bernina web page (using copy and paste),.  The post looks right, but when I hit the button to post, I get sent to the long in page.  I long in, and then this post shows up blank, and it tells me it cannot post because it is empty.

    Anyway, here is the link to the web page that shows a picture of a machine foot that is designed for top stitching and edge stitching.  I think most machine manufacturers make something similar.


    Julie M.

    View Image

    1. JulieP25 | | #8

      Hi! I have this foot and it's great. If you can not get a similar for for your brand of machine. Use your regular  zizag foot and move your needle position over to get the width you want using the edge of the foot as a guide. I used this great technique for years before I got the foot. If I remember I think that I got that tip from Threads. I also do not backstitch and take the threads to the inside and tie a knot. Make sure you lengthen the stitching to 4 or more.  Anyway try out topstitching it's a great look. Jules

      1. dregan | | #9

        I just read in a Sew News magazine an indepth article on topstitching and it mentioned a special topstitching thread-can you just get this anywhere?  I was looking at the threads at Hancock Fabrics, and didn't notice any. I also couldn't find wooly nylon for regular sewing machines and have read in different articles, like by Sandra Betzina, to use that either in the bobbin or in top thread when sewing with knits. I think I read that you need to wind your bobbin by hand so it doesn't stretch?  Do you know anything about either the topstitching thread or the wooly nylong in the bobbin for knits?  It also said you can just use two strands of regular thread in machine for topstitching.  What do you use? What stitch length? Thank you for any info.

        1. JulieP25 | | #10

          Hi Deb,

          I think you use regular wooly nylon but would have to wind it on the bobbin by hand. I use regular sewing machine thread for topstitching, with a stitch length set at 4. If I really want my topstitching to stand out then I use the triple straight stitch that's built into my machine , using the length set to 4. For topsitiching with a double needle (denim, 4mm), I still use the length set to 4 but only using the straight stitch. Please let me know where would you use the wooly nylon? Thanks


          1. marijke | | #11

            Whether you set the stitch length to 4 for topstitching should depend on the fabric and the thread you are using.

            When I topstitch/edgestitch about 1/8 or less from seam (for instance to strengthen center fron/back seams on children's pants), I use regular sewing thread and regular stitch length on summer cottons or longer (3) on heavier fabric. With topstitching thread (sometimes also buttonhole thread, a little heavier than regular sewing thread) I use a 3 or 4, depending on the fabric. I also sometimes use a metallica needle, which has a larger eye. Always test on a small scrap to see what it looks like. Heavier topstitching thread can lead to skipped stitches when the stitch is too small or when you use a regular needle.

            When you can (wider widths) use the presser foot as a guide, or use one of those screw in or magnetic seam guides for even topstitching. I have also use painter's tape across the machine bed for a guide to do 1/4 inch on edges, but I think that putting down a stack of post-it's might give a better edge to work against (haven't tried that, but it would resemble the seam guides more than just one layer of tape.

            Also, do topstitching when you can concentrate on the job (i.e. not when the kids are hanging on your arms) and when you are alert (not tired). Focus on keeping the fabric aligned with the guide, not on the needle. It takes a little practice. If you look very closely at store-bought clothes, you'll notice small imperfections. I try to get topstitching to look as good as possible, but don't sweat small imperfections. As long as the overall impression is one of a straight line (equidistant from the seam along which it is sewn).

          2. carolfresia | | #12

            Marijke, those are great tips. I'd also add that it's important to have good lighting. I avoid topstitching at night, when the illumination in my sewing room isn't that great. There are a surprising number of odd shadows cast by machine parts that can interfere with guiding the fabric evenly.

            Or is it just that I'm getting old? Probably...


          3. marijke | | #13

            You're right. I always try to do the whole job in one sitting (or at least mirroring seams where it wold show the most if it wasn't done the same way) so they would all be affected in the same way by odd lighting or funny shadows (or by a slight difference in how I sit in front of the machine, which could affect this as well). OK, maybe that's getting too persnickety (sp?) :-)

            The lighting in the dining room (which doubles as my sewing room) in our house is never great, so I use artificial lighting any time of day...

          4. JulieP25 | | #14

            I agree and thanks  for the great tips. I do sew during the day. My sewing room faces south , so I get great light all of the time but it can get too warm in the room during the summer months. I just like to use my foot to guide the edge of the fabric just to help aid my aging eyesight. I too have the same fun all of you do. I also noticed topstitching on RTW is never perfect. It also seems the more you pay the sloppier it can be. I like to take pride in my workmanship and try to do better than what I can afford to buy.  Jules

          5. dregan | | #24

            The longest stitch I have is a 4 which I use for basting.  I also use it for a running stitch, or ease stitch for sleeve ease, etc.  I was surprised when you said you use 4 for topstitching-I would think it would be loose, like a basting stitch? Doesn't it pull, or gather together with time, etc?  I just want to make sure I have it right- the length of stitch at 4? For knits, cottons with or without lycra, etc?  I'm fairly new at all this again after a very long time without sewing at all.  Thank you for any info.


          6. JulieP25 | | #25

            Hi Deb!

            My machine goes to a 5.5 length. I usually start at 4, I make a test sometimes it ends up looking better at 3 other times it can be more. Make a small test sample with the fabric you plan to use. For Knits I like to use a double needle made for knits and my regular zizag foot with a straight stitch. I sometimes loosen the needle tension a bit. This results in a look similar to a coverstitch. It is slightly stretchy.  If you  use this you will need to make your hem 1/4 inch more and stitch so there is 1/4 inch more than your foot.  i.e. 1 1/4 inch hem basted up and stitching at the 1 inch mark. Yes the basting is necessary, it really helps to keep things in  place. Enjoy topstitching. I also like to use a shiny rayon thread sometimes. Jules

          7. dregan | | #26

            Thanks so much for all your help.


          8. dregan | | #37

            I keep forgetting looking up some things in Power Sewing by Sandra Betzina-think that's where I saw it. I think using it in bobbin, hand-wound for necklines or hems?  Sorry I'm not more specific.


          9. JulieP25 | | #38

            Thanks Deb. I'll have to check, I have that book. Sounds interesting. Good luck with your topstitching.


  4. stitchmd | | #15

    The type of foot Julie M posted is available for other machines. I have one from a mail order (probably Nancy or Clotilde) and it has solved this problem beautifully. The only drawback is it is set for one width. You slide the garment edge along the protruding flat piece.

    1. JeanetteR | | #16

      As with everything else in life, it's all practise, the more you do it the better the result.  I do it all 'by eye'.  You can get a nice effect on a hem using a narrow twice turned hem top-stitched twice about 1/4" apart (Vogue 2747, pre-1985).

      I just finished teaching some Temari classes today, and foundation threads done by eye were more accurate when re-measured than those done with a custom-measured tape, as I taught the sudents how to do!

      1. jscraphappy | | #17

        hello everyone.just flicking though the messages & agree about topstitching takes practice.but"Temari"caught my eye.have not seen that for a few years.I went mad on embroidering the balls,for a long time.& still have some of them. just went to have a look at my bookshelves & found the copy of "The Craft of Temari" by Mary Wood.Why I stopped I have no idea.such an interesting craft.Thank you for reminding me of something I had once enjoyed very much.Glorious sunshine from the UK.

      2. rjf | | #18

        Okay.  What is Temari? Is it a kind of Japanese quilting?  I remember something from Threads years ago......white thread on blue on the cover of that issue.     rjf

        1. jscraphappy | | #19

          quick summary: Temari is desribed as "embroiderying the surface of a ball"..Te means hand and mari means ball.The word for stitching is kagari.The basic ball is called a dodai-mari of foundation mari,Its a fascinating craft dating back to the eigth century when a ball game was imported into Japan from China. basically it is now a hollow polystrene ball that is embroidered in the most interesting designs. using embroidery threads/knitting wool/beads/sequins/bells/tasslels/beads/etc.,When I 1st saw 1 it was just so beautiful. mostly they are used for decorations,a few in a bowl. I have 1 made (basic)in a wickerbasket for a ragdoll.which suits the doll.The history of it is also so interesting.June

          1. JeanetteR | | #20

            June has answered beautifully as to what Temari are! 

            June - Is this the same June as on the Country Bumpkin chatroom?, if so welcome, glad you found your way through the log-on process, there's always a lot more discussions going on on this chatroom!  If not, just skip the last bit!

          2. Marion6422 | | #21

            Check out


            for examples.

          3. rjf | | #23

            That was a good site but just a taste-whetter!  I'll check out the library for more.   rjf

          4. JeanetteR | | #27

            http://www.temarikai.com is one of the best temari sites I've come across, biut I get lost in it for well over an hour each time I visit.  The links to Japanese sites are amazing!

          5. jscraphappy | | #28

            I agree about the http://www.site they are wonderful.I think I will go & throw my balls at the birdsJune

          6. JeanetteR | | #29


            We've got far away from top-stitching, but this is how real conversations go, meandering their own way!

            Yes I have that Mary Wood The Craft of Temari book, and taught myself from it in about 1994, it's excellent.  I had not made any for quite a while, and then the chance to teach came up...so I had to make quite a few to get out of my comfort zone with colour choices, and to have quite a few in different stage to show the 'pupils'.

            They really appeal to people who like quilting beacuse of the pattern repetition and colour choices.  They also make the most marvellous tree decorations, and relative to knitting, embroidery or patchwork, are finished relatively quickly!

          7. jscraphappy | | #32

            totally agree Jeanette that the it appeals to quilters/knitters etc.,Its nice to read that you are teaching the craft.I found it so absorbing,it certainly captured my interest,especially the colours.It reminded me of when I 1st became interested in patchwork.During the '60's I was in "Oxford Street London" and there was an antique fair being held in 1 of the hotels. & the 1st thing I spotted was "cathedral window" coverlet hanging over a rail. I had no idea what it was called or anything about patchwork.The stall holder saw me looking & asked if I knew anything about it.my reply was not a thing.but the colours.were wonderful she told me a bit about the history etc., & I went to my library to see if I could find out how to make 1.That started my love affair with fabric & colours.It always interests me how all these different crafts cross over.June

          8. jscraphappy | | #22

            no I am afraid not that June from country bumpkim chat room.so pleased that a www site has been posted to see what I had hoped to convey via words.June(uk)

          9. Michelle | | #30

            Harping back to our original topic,  I noticed that in her book 'Couture Sewing Techniques,' Claire B. Shaeffer says that in couture sewing, topstitching is not used for construction purposes, and is often done before the item eg. a pocket is sewn to the garment (in the case of a pocket, after having been topstitched, it is hand sewn to the garment.   (for what it's worth )


          10. rjf | | #31

            ..."in couture sewing, topstitching is not used for construction purposes, and is often done before the item eg. a pocket is sewn to the garment (in the case of a pocket, after having been topstitched, it is hand sewn to the garment"...

            A technique right down my alley!  Making the easy way obsolete and at the same time, creating a harder way to accomplish what was the original goal. I admire people who are willing to do things the hard way because they think the results will be worth it.  They're often right.        rjf

          11. JeanetteR | | #33

            June, it's really great how these crafts do cross over.  My love of fabrics started at the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum in London), with the tableaux, and also I loved the jewellry.  I used to haunt the museums as a teenager on the weekends, as we were just one long bus trip away, or faster by Tube to South Ken.  Harrods was a great haunt too, learnt shopping with Nana, always buy quality reduced!

          12. jscraphappy | | #34

            goodafternoon Jeanette.I also loved the VA.I did a textile course,a few years ago.was lucky to apply to go behind the scenes to the vast drawers that held alsorts costumes/underwear.had to wear white gloves.these massive stepladders were moved along on wheels & the drawers were opened to gently show me items of clothing.I used to go to "John Lewis" bought my wedding fabric in there(:I assume that you are no longer living in the UK.weather & bit coldish & overcast to-day.have to get the ironing done):June

          13. JeanetteR | | #35


            What a wonderful opportunity to see behind the scenes at the V&A, it must have been a wonderful time for you!  Your details about the ladders and white gloves are fascinating, there must be umpteen more things in the collections than are on display, more fragile or for reasons of space.

            Yes, I emigrated to Australia on my own when I was 18.  Later I came to Sydney and have lived here for the last 17 years, and love it here.  On my two trips back it was lovely to re-visit the old haunts, but by the end of a month itching to get back home.  It was less interesting because of not having a like-minded friend to visit with, less fun on your own, and travelling money never seems to go very far somehow.

          14. jscraphappy | | #36

            That was a real adventure for you Jeanette.wonderful.I can understand the meaning of re-visiting old haunts. never quite the same as once you remembered it.Its been a glorious sunny day,the longest day,bet we get rain tomrrow.!June

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