Topstitching can be kinda tricky to perfect, especially since the stitching is so visible. So this is definitely an area where it is easy to become a bit obsessive. But there are actually quite a few tricks to master this technique and once you apply these, there is really no reason why your topstitching won’t look beautiful (unless your machine is kinda lousy or needs service, more about that below). So let’s get to it!
8 steps to successful topstitching
1. Have a good sewing machine
Boring, but true! I have only ever owned vintage sewing machines, and both my current Bernina 1230 and my former Viking/Husqvarna 2000 do beautiful stitching. So if you can’t afford a good new model, look into getting a quality vintage machine. Also, if your stitching looks off, it might be that you need to clean the machine or take it for a service. I’m a big believer in having a pro taking care of my machine every few years or so, and every time I get my machine back I’m blown away how much better the stitching looks!
2. Use heavier or double thread in the needle
The point of topstitching is usually to also create a decorative effect. Hence why should use a thicker thread in the spool. My favourite threads are jeans and buttonhole thread. But you can also use two threads if your machine has an extra pin. See the photo below for a comparison.
My favourite denim thread is Gûtermann’s Extra Strong (M782) colour 968. It’s also available as a 30 metre buttonhole thread (affiliate links) but I think the 100 meters one is more value for the money. The 412 colour is nice too, it’s a little bit more bright and rich.
3. Use the right presser foot
Often you will topstitch close to a seam or an edge. This is where a presser foot with a center/edge guide comes in handy. I think most brands have a version of this presser foot. Bernina has two actually, the one I have also work as a blind hem stitch foot.
Some machines also have a dedicated topstitching foot for sewing in heavier fabrics. On my Bernina 1230 it’s number 8. I think it does a nice job, but I’m not sure it is better than a regular presser foot.
4. Use regular thread in the bobbin
Most topstitching problems are caused by folks trying to use heavy thread in the bobbin of domestic machines. But that is not what your sewing machine is optimized for. Instead, use regular sewing machine thread and take comfort in the fact that usually, the inside will not be visible. If you are hellbent on having a thicker thread in the bobbin, get a second bobbin for that purpose.
Why? Well, you need to loosen the tension on the bobbin, and getting it back to the original setting afterwards can be tricky. If you don’t want to buy a second bobbin, mark the original tension setting on the bobbin before you start messing with this stuff.
You can get the same colours as the heavy topstitching thread from Gûtermans Sew-All thread (regular sewing machine thread) which makes matching even easier (affiliate links).
5. Increase the stitch length
Every machine will have its own sweet spot I think, plus different fabrics call for different settings. but I like to use around 3.5 to 4 on my machine. The rule of thumb is that the stitching should be longer than the default setting for a straight stitch on your machine.
6. Use needles with a larger eye
My favourite needles are the Schmetz Topstitching needles, that comes in several sizes. They have an extra-large eye and goes through thick seams so nicely. The Jeans/Denim needle from the same brand is really good too for topstitching on thick fabrics and layers (Amazon affiliate links) .
7. Experiment with the needle tension
On my Bernina, increasing the needle tension creates a more balanced stitch. But I’m sure the result might vary, but since the thread is much thicker, on many machines you will need to alter the tension at least slightly.
8. Start with scraps to prevent the needle thread from getting jammed
Noticed that sometimes the machine pulls the needle thread to the reverse side in the beginning, creating a knotted mess? If this is a problem, start the seam on some fabric scraps, then insert your fabric and continue. You can of course backstitch, in the beginning, to keep the thread from unravelling. I’ve found this method to be very effective. Also make sure that the needle thread is pulled back when you start to sew, as this will also prevent it from getting caught in the bobbin thread.
Bonus tip: Watch this video where I share even more tips on how to master topstitching
So those are my best tips on achieving great topstitching. What are your favourite tricks and methods?