Topstitching is a final flourish on your project. It is stitching that appears on the top or right-hand side of your project. It differs from construction sewing in that it's used to pick out and highlight certain features of your sewing, such as pockets and seam edges (think of it as a way to underline things). Whilst some may feel it isn't obligatory, I personally do as it looks the business. Yes, it is largely decorative, but in some instances it's great for adding strength and it's also great for stitching down bulky seams.
I always top stitch my bags or purses. I love how topstitching looks and (I'll be honest) I love extra-challenging topstitching, the trickier the topstitching, the bigger the thrills!
Here are my top topstitching tips.
First things first. What foot are you using?
I am hardened true-blue lover of the walking foot. Read why I love walking feet so much. The only time I don't use that foot is when I have to stitch very close to an object such as bag fastener or button. I even stitch zippers with my walking foot. My feeling is, if you are going to sew bags, or stitch with heavy fabrics and do any layer-tastic sewing, you need to invest in a walking foot. With my walking foot I can stitch all fabrics from fine tana lawn through to sticky vinyl and leather and, AND it makes sewing through horrible chunky layers so much easier. This obviously helps when you have to topstitch though a ba-jillion layers and a bag strap! Smooth and even topstitching is more likely to happen for you when your project can sail though your machine - and for me the best sailing boat is a walking foot!
Topstitch length should be longer than construction stitch length. The longer the topstitch length the more visible it will be. Topstitch length is a personal preference kind of thing, but as a guide: when sewing with quilt weight, my topstitch length tends to be 3, (vs construction length of 2.4). If sewing with heavy weight or pleather my pref topstitch length is 4 (vs construction 3.5).
Seeing where to sew. Marking out tools
Whether you are stitching a single, double or (if you are hardcore) a triple(!!) row of topstitches you need to ensure that your machine does not waver off course. As mentioned above I only use walking feet (so the edge stitch foot is not an option for me - unless Janome do an edge stitch walking foot - I dunno) this means that I have to trust my eyes and hands which luckily, I do). Let's say I didn't trust my eyes, and I was jittery from a few too many coffees, I'd mark out where I have to sew. I'd use a disappearing marker or a hera marker or a chaco liner and for insurance I pop a piece of washi tape on the stitch plate (see image above). Of course if you prefer, you can swap your foot for an edge stitch foot. These feet really do keep you on course (as can be seen in Dianna's sublime topstitching), but for me, the trade off from loosing the walking foot means that I could be in for a bumpy ride when stitching over bulky parts (that my walking foot could have cushioned me from). That said, I do have an edge stitch foot because it is so handy for when you are stitching around curves. They are fab for topstitching curved bag flaps (be sure to place any fasteners high up into the flap - to allow access for your machine foot).
Left to right: Hera Marker - makes ink-free indents, great for marking out lines; disappearing marker - never be out of these!; Chaco liner - perfect for marking out leather; washi tape- the prettier, the nicer to use.
Right (said) thread and needle.
Ideally, you'd use a thread that matches your exterior fabric weight - when using thinner thread topstitching can look a bit lost on thicker fabric. If you don't have thicker thread to hand at least try to use a high quality all-purpose thread in both your construction and topstitching. I like to use Auriful 40wt because it's a great construction thread and as it's a tad thicker it still works great as a topstitching thread. But if you want plump, voluptuous topstitches, you need a plump voluptuous thread. Enter Auriful 12wt - mmm voluptuous! Whatever weight thread you use, be sure to use all-purpose thread in your bobbin. An option to using thicker thread is to use a thicker stitch. You can use a fatter-looking triple straight stitch. See how Dianna demonstrates this to beautiful effect. I personally prefer to use thicker thread because it looks more subtle and straight stitch is faster to sew, but that's just me - I'm an impatient sewer.
I'll be honest, I just use purpose heavyweight needles for all bag making steps. I find that using a fresh heavyweight needle (for every 2 bag projects) in conjunction with my walking foot means that I don't need to use special topstitching or leather needles for example. But if you don't have a walking foot or your girl is just behaves differently, try Topstitching needles (they really are worth having in your tool kit). Topstitch needles are extra sharp for layer piercing and they have larger eyes for accommodating fatter threads.
Here are the threads in action stitch length is 3 and heavier 12wt thread is on the left. For the blue Kona quilt weight I have interfaced with woven fusible interfacing and interlined with gorgeous thick fusible fleece; I also stitched a woven interfaced sample of denim just to ring any changes. It's plain to see that the thicker thread topstitching has extra oomph!
With my walking foot, a new universal sz 80 needle and Auriful 40wt, I was able to topstitch this faux leather fabric detail with top band - stop reading a minute and calculate how many layers are involved in the 'pleat combined with top band areas'. Yes you guessed right; a mother-load!. Yet, I think it looks none to shabby :)
Beating bulk and reaching those hard to reach areas.
Bag making is layer-tastic and topstitching over umpteen layers is great for feeding the swear jar! Here are some tips to try to help make life less sweary.
- Before we get to the topstitching stage, try to trim/and or grade seam allowances wherever possible.
- Also consider trimming off seam allowances (plus 1/8") from heavy interfacing and interlining pattern pieces.
- Use a walking foot (this has saved my bacon many a time).
- At the beginning of sewing you layer-tastic bag wedge a scrap of fabric underneath the back of your foot. This will prop up your foot keeping on the level so it doesn't need to stitch uphill (and you won't to huff and puff to push things forward).
- If your topstitching involves stitching near metal fasteners before sewing be sure to check your foot and needle position will allow you access. If not, use a zipper foot to get up close. I try to avoid these situations all together by placing the metal fasteners up and away from my stitch lines.
Starting and finishing
Topstitching is stitched to be seen, this means that your start and end stitches will be be very much on show too. When topstitching it's best not to anchor our stitches by stitching in forward and reverse because it's nigh on impossible to stitch perfectly on the existing stitch line (so you'll be left with a bit of a unsightly zigzaggy line). Instead, for the beginning of your stitch line, pick a more inconspicuous bag area to begin and decrease your stitch length to a tiny one. Stitch in forward and reverse for one or two stitches, max, then increase and topstitch. At the end of your stitches stop sewing, leave long thread tails and then pull the stitch thread from right to the wrong side. Then double-knot the tails.