Top-Stitching Methods and Techniques

Top-stitching is a really handy technique, especially for sewing projects like a tote or any other sort of bag. But you might be wondering why it’s called “top-stitching” if you happen to be doing it on the bottom of the bag! I like to think of top-stitching as anything that is on the “top” or exterior of the bag that other people can see. General sewing or “stitching” happens inside the bag, usually on the wrong sides of the fabric, and no one ever sees those stitches.

Top-Stitching Tips for Sewing

Whew. Now we have that cleared up!

Top-Stitching Methods

Now that you know everyone in the world is going to see your top-stitching, I bet you are really feeling the pressure! Don’t worry—here are several methods for how to top stitch, and some hints to help it go well.

Use a long stitch length. When you top-stitch, change your stitch length from the general sewing length (usually 2.5) to 3 or 3.5. It is a bit easier to make a straight line if you have longer stitches. This is very similar to, let’s say, running! Let’s say we have painted the bottom of your shoes in paint, and had you walk 100 feet. As you are walking, you slowly drift from left to right just a bit as you walk. This makes a slightly wobbly line (if we connected the prints of your left shoe, let’s say). But, if we had you complete the same exercise while running, because you had a longer stride, the line would be straighter! Plus, a longer stitch length looks much more professional.

Use a little speed. Let’s take you out of your running shoes and into your car. When you are stuck in traffic on the highway, rolling along at 1 mile an hour (groan), you find yourself correcting right and left quite a bit. It’s hard to go straight at such a slow speed! If we had paint on your wheels, it would be all over the road! But, put paint on your tires and send you down the highway at 70 mph—your tire tracks would be much straighter. The same is true with sewing. Now, I don’t mean for you to floor it and go as fast as possible (you will learn that too much speed can affect your stitch length!), but definitely move past the snail pace.

Use a zipper foot. If you put a zipper foot on your machine, then you can very easily see the edge of the fabric. The thing I like most about top-stitching with the zipper foot is, unlike the regular foot, you can see the entire edge of what you are sewing next to. The downside is that you don’t really have a good spot to line up the edge of your fabric with—you need to eyeball it a bit as you are going along to make sure that the distance between your needle and the edge of the fabric remains the same.

How to Top Stitch

Move your needle. If you are using a regular foot, move your needle all the way to the right and line up the edge of your foot with the edge you are sewing along for a perfect distance the entire way.

How to Top Stitch

If you cannot move your needle to the right (which some machines, such as the ones I sew on, do not offer), then move it to the left and send your fabric right down the middle of your foot.

How to Top Stitch

Any way you do it, the top-stitching on a project is what gives it the detail that takes it from homemade to handmade. Happy sewing!

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21 Responses to “Top-Stitching Methods and Techniques”

  1. Martha Kehoe

    this is my first post. i have been sewing for 50 years. there is always something i can learn. it would have been nice to post some examples of top stitching, different designs or maybe spacing. i will keep checking in. great site.

  2. Nancy

    I use my edge-joining foot and butt the fabric up to the blade and move my needle to the left or right as needed.

  3. Beverly Girton

    if you have decorative stitches on your machine, topstitching is a great place to use them. Play with some on samples till you find one that suits your project. And you can make multiple rows of decorative stitches for more interest, depending on the project.

  4. Natalie

    Thank you for this hint I have some top stitching sitting waiting for me to do later this morning and I will be trying it out.

  5. Merri J King

    Love top stitching. Of late though, I had gone a step more. I switch to a zigzag the size of embroidery floss, similarly to applique. Then run the floss over the top stitch in a matching color. It really makes your project pop.

  6. Marlece White

    Very informative, especially on how the fabric will shift if not anchored properly; thanks for the tip

  7. Melanie

    This is great. My topstitching always meanders. You didn’t say anything about topstitching with a double needle. My stitching with a double needle always puckers. Anyways I hate threading the twin needles!
    But I’m going to try speeding up my topstitching. I think it might work.
    Thank you!

  8. Kitty

    interesting as a newbie I am always looking for these type films as I can rerun them as needed

  9. Janet

    I find using double thread in top and a denim or larger needle to accommodate the extra thread makes the stitching stand out more. Use an empty bobbin to wind off some more matching thread, you don’t need to buy extra unless you are doing a lot of top stitching, and just thread it up together…..on the same pin if necessary.

    • Melanie

      Wow, I never knew that you could use double thread! I’m goo going to try it. But I’m not sure because my machine is so sensitive to any little differences.

    • Lois

      Thanks Janet!
      Great idea double threading with one larger needle. Can’t wait to try this new technique.