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What is Topstitching?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Topstitching is a method of sewing. It is often used in decorative, precise garment edges, such as hemlines and necklines. Giving the final product a neat border, topstitching helps provide an orderly outward appearance, with fixed stitching.

Normally, a topstitch is used in making tailored garments or accessories, such as shoes and belts. Straight stitches are used to create topstitching. These are usually made using a shade of thread that either matches or is slightly darker than the fabric of the project. To use topstitching in a decorative manner, a fancier thread or specialized stitch may be used.

Plain garments are often topstitched to create a unique style. Topstitch embroidery may be added to provide dimension and decoration. Topstitching two rows can be done to create the appearance of a flat-felled seam. Another use of topstitching is to strengthen seams and keep them flat.

When learning how to topstitch, it is recommended to be mindful of every stitch. As a decorative stitch, it is completely visible on the final product, and errors typically cannot be hidden. Each stitch should be equidistant from the seam as well as from each other to create a crisp look.

Topstitch needles should be new in order to ensure a clean stitch. Larger needles, used in thicker fabrics, may be lubricated to help create cleaner stitches. Thinner fabrics typically call for thinner needles. Topstitching thread can vary from silk, to cotton, to metallic, to embroidery thread.

Topstitch sewing may be preformed on seams pressed to one side, or on pressed-open seams. Each seam should be pressed and flat prior to topstitching. Be sure to have enough thread for the entire project prior to sewing.

In order to make the stitches even and straight, it is possible to use the pressure foot as a guide. Fabric should remain next to the edge while sewing. It can also be aligned with a mark on the feed dog plate. Disappearing markers may also be used to note seam choices in the fabric.

Fragile garments call for smaller stitches. Pieces of interfacing may also be used beneath fragile fabrics to prevent mistakes. Larger stitches may be used durable fabrics. Testing a stitch on a small scrap of the fabric being used can help the seamstress determine if the stitch is the right size. Once sewing is complete, interfacing is usually trimmed as closely as possible to the stitches made to complete the project.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Oct 15, 2011

Does anyone know of some good sewing magazines that would go over the different kinds of topstitching available?

I am interesting in some great sewing how-to guides because I want to be able to make my own summer dresses. I find that the ones in store aren't very good quality, and that they generally don't fit me very well.

I think that if I can start making my own dresses I will be a lot more willing to dress up because I am sure the fit will be better. Plus, I like the idea of choosing original fabrics and adding my own touches to classic patterns.

By Sara007 — On Oct 14, 2011

One of the first things my mom taught me about sewing, after the basics were done, was how to do topstiching. She told me that nothing looked more professional than topstiching and that with a good sewing machine and steady hand it was really easy to do.

I ended up investing in a bunch of sewing materials which included a sewing Singer which I got on sale. My Singer has loads of programmed topstiches that I can choose from.

I like to make clothes for my kids, and I find it saves me money in the long run. I find that I use a very simple topstich for their clothes, but it still makes them look neat and professionally made.

By vogueknit17 — On Oct 13, 2011

Topstitching is the one thing I had trouble with when I first started trying to mend my own clothes. I never got the contrast right on things which had damaged or worn top stitches that needed to be fixed. If you get the color wrong or the length of the stitches doesn't look even, the whole piece can look shoddy and ruined.

By Misscoco — On Oct 13, 2011

I like to buy purses and shoes, especially boots that are topstitched. They look a lot classier than the regular seams. But, of course, they are more expensive. They do seem to last longer. A straight seam on shoes, purses, and clothing items seem to fall apart fairly easily. But the topstitched seams are really strong.

I don't sew clothing much anymore, but when I buy clothing, I look for topstitching. Even when buying t-shirts, I like topstitching on the hems of the sleeves, and around the neck. They hold their shape well and look a bit better than a regular t-shirt.

By BoniJ — On Oct 12, 2011

Using top stitching helps to make necklines, the bottom of sleeves and hems stay flat and neat looking. It also gives a somewhat tailored look to a garment.

But you have to be "oh so careful." All the suggestions given in the article are worth following, or the seam will look sloppy. Believe me, I know. I have messed up many attempts. Once I learned to slow down, I did a lot better.

Topstitching looks really good on little girls dresses and tops. I love the look.

By JaneAir — On Oct 12, 2011

@Monika - Well, you could always pay a tailor to hem your pants if you wanted. I would probably do it myself for free if I were you though.

I tell you though, until I read this article I never realized how often topstitching is used in clothing. The pants I'm wearing right now have topstitching and so does my shirt.

I do have a few pairs of pants that have invisible hems, but topstitching seems to be much, much more popular.

By Monika — On Oct 12, 2011

I'm petite, so I often have to hem my pants. Some brands to offer pants in petite sizing, but unfortunately, one of my favorites brands does not. I just love their jeans though, so I put up with the need to seam.

I always use topstitching when I hem jeans. I want to make the jeans look the same, just shorter. Normally I use a larger needle and thread that matches the other seams. I then do a double or single line of topstitching, depending on how the jeans were originally.

It is a bit tedious doing it by hand, but I just don't sew enough to justify buying a sewing machine. I try to do a good job though, because I don't want to have to sew the same seam twice!

By bagley79 — On Oct 11, 2011

My grandma loved to sew and I remember her doing a lot of topstitching on many things she made. I am not sure if it was topstitching or embroidery but she liked to decorate everyday items.

The two things I remember most are her tea towels and pillow cases. These were always extra special because of the extra topstitching she did.

She also made most of her own clothes and some of her dresses had topstitching on them. I remember how this added a special touch to her clothes.

I didn't pick up her knack of sewing and probably wouldn't be able to make something from a pattern to save my life. If she were alive today, I could see her writing sewing tutorials for people to learn and follow.

This is something she loved to do and enjoyed teaching others who were also interested in learning.

By andee — On Oct 10, 2011

One of my friends is a very good seamstress. She even makes items to sell in her daughters store. All of her work is professional and very well done.

For her, it is the most relaxing thing to sit down at her sewing machine and work on something. This is hard for me to understand, because I hardly even know how to thread a sewing machine.

She makes some neat aprons that have creative topstitching on them. It is easy to change the look of the whole garment, just by the color and pattern of topstitching she uses.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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