Sewing Blog

Make Your Topstitching Perfectly Straight — Every Time!

Topstitching perfectly straight lines can make or break the final look of a garment. While you may feel confident sewing a straight line, knowing that those stitches will be visible can trip up even the most experienced sewers.

Topstitched Pocket

What is topstitching?

Topstitching refers to or any stitching that appears on the right side of a garment is usually sewn along a seam, neckline or edge.

Sometimes topstitching is purely decorative and other times it is part of the construction process, such as stitching that secures a patch pocket or bias binding in place. Either way, neat and even topstitching helps improve the appearance of your handmade clothing and is certainly worth practicing.

cutting fabric with rotary cutter

Do You Know All These Sewing Techniques?

Learn to read between the lines of any sewing pattern as instructor Gail Yellen teaches you 40 essential techniques that every sewer should know!Watch in Bluprint
FREE for 7 Days

Here are a few helpful hacks for achieving perfectly straight, sharp topstitching.

1. Use the proper needle and thread.

Use a machine needle and thread specifically labeled for topstitching.

Topstitching thread

On jeans, for example, you’ll typically use thick gold thread to topstitch along seams. Thick thread stands out and creates definition and texture on the garment. You can see the difference in thickness of the topstitching thread (on the left) and regular all-purpose thread.

topstitch needle

A topstitch needle has a larger eye so it is easier to weave the thick thread through.

2. Use a longer stitch length

Stitch Length topstitching

With decorative thread, each stitch is more defined, so it looks better with a longer stitch length. Compare the result of my machine’s default 2.5 mm stitch length versus a 3.5 mm stitch length in the picture above.

3. Avoid backstitching.

Backstitching on Topstitching

If the beginning and end of your line of topstitching won’t be enclosed in another seam, you’ll need to secure your stitches, which is usually done with backstitching. However, in contrast thread especially, backstitching can look obvious and unsightly. Instead, try to shorten your stitch length as much as possible and tack the stitches in place at the beginning and end of the seam. See the difference:

4. Pull thread tails to the wrong side.

Whether at the beginning or end of the line of topstitching or in the middle of a seam where fixing an error, the stitches will be best blended if you pull the thread tails to the wrong side of the garment. If you snip them on the right side, it can be difficult to cut them perfectly level with the surface of the fabric and there still may be evidence of “hairy” stitches.

Bobbin thread loop

To pull the threads to the wrong side, tug on the bobbin thread tail until a loop from the top thread pulls through. Use a seam ripper or pin to pull the rest of the length of the thread through.

Threads pulled to wrong side

In the photo above, the wrong side of the garment is up. The green thread is the bobbin thread and the dark purple is the top thread that shows on the right side of the garment.

unpick topstitchingTopstitch fix

When fixing topstitching errors, unpick the area and pull the tails to the wrong side. Blend the new stitches by overlapping just one or two stitches before and beyond the unpicked area when you sew. Then pull those new thread tails to the wrong side and tie them in a knot with the old thread tails. Snip off the excess.

Fixed topstitching

The new topstitching shouldn’t be that noticeable on the right side.

Choosing the right presser foot for topstitching

You certainly don’t need a special presser foot for topstitching, but on particularly tricky sections, switching your presser foot can help.

Standard presser foot

opstitch Foot Angle

A regular presser foot is a great choice for topstitching. However, sometimes the presser foot can have trouble sewing over a bulky seam or stitching after a pivot point. It’s likely because the foot is stuck trying to move uphill.

Topstitch Leveled

If you place some scrap fabric under the foot behind the piece you’re sewing, the presser foot will no longer be tilted up and it will sew forward much more smoothly. This helps avoid uneven stitch length.

Edgestitch foot

Edgestitching, which is topstitching at 1/16″ to 1/8″ from the edge, is typically sewn along collar stands, yokes, plackets, pockets and waistbands.

Edgestitch Foot

An edgestitch foot, also called a stitch-in-the-ditch foot, has a centered guide that you can align with the edge in order to sew straighter stitches. This only works if your machine is able to move the needle position left or right of center.

Blind hemming foot

Blind Hem foot and Project

A blind hemming foot has a small metal divider designed to keep your hem in place as it is being sewn. This little divider is the key to a perfect topstitch! 

Blind Hem foot top-stitching project

Position your fabric under the foot, to the left of the divider. Move your needle to the left, so it is in position to sew about 1/8″ to the left of the metal divider. Stitch your topstitch, keeping the fabric edge up against the divider.

straight top-stitched project with Blind Hem foot

Zipper foot

We’re showing a zipper foot here, but this will actually work with any presser foot where the right edge of the foot lines up with the edge of the fabric and where there’s a needle placement option that fits your desired topstitch width.

Zipper Foot and Top-Stitching project

This zipper foot allows the needle to stitch close to the edge of the fabric. Its right side also lines up with the edge of the fabric, so your eye has something to follow as you stitch your seam.

Zipper Foot Needle Right ready to Top-Stitch

Place your fabric under the foot so the right edge of your chosen machine foot is even with the right edge of the fabric. Position the needle to the right at your desired topstitch width. Sew your seam, keeping your eye on the right side of the foot so it stays even with the edge of the fabric.

Straight Top-stitching with Zipper foot

Marked zigzag foot

Zigzag foot ready to top-stitch

Some zigzag feet have markings or lines that you can use as a guide when topstitching. This zigzag foot has a clear area in the center, and you can use the right edge of this area to line up a topstitch.

Zigzag foot with washi tape ready to Top-Stitch

If this is not the case for your foot, you can easily hack your machine foot to provide the same result by marking the seam you are topstitching with a small piece of washi tape or painter’s tape. 

Straight Top-stitching with Zigzag Foot

Stitch your seam, keeping your eye on the left edge of the tape and using it to keep the topstitch straight.

Blind hem and ¼” seam foot

Double Straight Top-stitching with Blind Hem & Quarter Inch Foot

Using a blind hem foot and a ¼” seam foot together produces an amazingly straight double topstitch.

Straight Top-stitched stitches with Blind Hem Foot

You can use the ¼” seam foot on its own if you need a wide topstitch. However, though one topstitched seam is professional, two seams add more detail and value to the finished project. 

Quarter Inch Foot ready to Top-Stitch

Stitch a topstitch close to the edge with a blind hem foot as shown below. Place the ¼” seam foot with the topstitching under the left side of the divider. Move your needle to the right, so it is in position to sew your desired topstitch width. Stitch your topstitch, keeping the fabric edge up against the divider. 

cutting fabric with rotary cutter

Do You Know All These Sewing Techniques?

Learn to read between the lines of any sewing pattern as instructor Gail Yellen teaches you 40 essential techniques that every sewer should know!Watch in Bluprint
FREE for 7 Days

13 Comments

Carol Trail

Great tips.

Reply
Carol Trail

Great tips.

Reply
Carol Trail

Great tips.

Reply
Ang

Thank you so much!

Reply
KgosiLesedi

Why didn’t I see his when I started sewing!!! No more wasting time ripping stitches!!!

Reply
Jan Turner

Queston, do you use the topstich thread also in the bobbin?

Reply
Eulane Young

I read on a couple other blogs that they used all purpose thread in the bobbin.

Reply
Rose

I am not getting the pictures to show me what it should look like?.

Reply
Laura Harris

Thank you!!!!!! I was tearing my hair out (as a newbie) when trying to start topstitching from a seamed corner and it wouldn’t blimmin’ move. Now I know why 🙂

Reply
Cheryl

This tutorial makes me want to go find something, anything to topstitch. lol Great tutorial. Thank you. Cheryl

Reply
Marla

I’ve been sewing for years…….never thought of using presser feet for use other than what it was intended for! LOVE this info! Thanks so much!

Reply
Hummingbird1st

Thank you very much for these great tips. Such a help.

Reply
bunny rogers

I’ve always avoided double topstitching because I thought I would have to use a twin needle which means 2 spools of thread. So happy to know I can now do it without fear. Thank you, Craftsy for these free lessons.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply