Sewing School: Top Stitching

Learning how to sew is a long and enjoyable road of new discoveries that can last a lifetime. There are 101 ways to achieve the same effect and very few of them are wrong. For students learning to sew professionally this can sometimes be a frustrating thing, as they prefer a straight answer to the question “How do I do this?” For home sewers there can be an additional hurdle of learning from instructions but not from a person. You often learn all the right skills, but you are not necessarily sure why and when you need to apply them.

So today we give you the hows and whys of top stitching. Enjoy!

Tips & Tricks

Topstitching is stitching that is visible on the outside of your garment, which is the opposite of pretty much all construction seams that are all hiding on the inside of your garment. Topstitching can be both decorative and functional and is a great way to strengthen a particular area, or highlight a design feature. Topstitching is applied in the later stages of construction and it’s important your garment is really well pressed as your machine will go through more layers than usual. Use a sharp machine needle! You can do your topstitching with regular thread, just lengthen your stitch length to between 3 and 3.5 mm. A smaller length will be too tight for going through all those layers. You can also buy topstitching thread, which is a much thicker thread and it’s the kind you often see on denim. The thicker thread means you will need a machine needle with a larger eye. You can use regular thread in the bobbin and thread only your needle with the special topstitching thread. Avoid backstitching with this as it often gets tangled up. You can pull both threads to the back of your garment when you have finished and knot them off by hand.

In short:

  • Sharp machine needle, or needle with a bigger eye if using topstitching thread
  • Use regular thread or topstitching thread (on the needle thread only)
  • Stitch length 3 to 3.5
  • Don’t backstitch!

Decorative Topstitching

Topstitching can be a great way to highlight certain seams of your garment, such as pockets or edges. It requires neat stitching, but when done well, it looks so good! Topstitching as part of the construction is very common in denim, but there is no reason you can’t sew those rows of topstitching in a contrasting colour for example.

TOP TIP: Use the edge of your foot as a guide: position the edge of your presser feet against the seam line and and move your needle closer to that edge to get a really neat, consistent line. Keep your eye on the foot lining up with the seam at all times; don’t be tempted to look at the needle!

Orange top stitching on a blue denim London skirt waistband


Functional Topstitching

Topstitching can also have a functional purpose. You are effectively adding another stitch line after doing your seam (your seam is purely constructional) which strengthens that area. Topstitching can be added to areas that are under a lot of “stress”: pockets, zip flies, slits. This line of topstitching takes the stress off the seam line to prevent ripping. When adding topstitching to a pocket with a pocket bag inside, it also helps encourage the pocket lining to stay inside the pocket, and not poke out in an annoying way.

Of course functional top stitching can also be decorative! (skirt: Arket)

We hope you will brave some eye catching topstitching on your next garment!


Team Selkie

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