Londa's Tips for Great Top Stitching

Tips for Great Top Stitching as You Sew

The following are tips collected from my own years of sewing, teaching, and reading and also from Claire Schaeffer in her Designer Details book and Jane Conlon in her Fine Embellishment Techniques book. 

1.  Use a clean machine - top and bottom (bobbin area).
2.  Select new and appropriate needle for thread and fabric - use a system to keep track of what size and type of needle you have in your machine.  Use old needles to hang pictures, not to sew! For thicker threads, or 2 threads int he same eye, consider Topstitching Needles.  The new Double Eye Needles are offer lots of creative options for 2 different threads in the same row of stitching!
3.  Be sure you have enough thread - top and bobbin.
4.  When using polyester thread - make sure you wind the bobbin slowly to prevent the stretching of the thread that will make puckers once the stretched thread relaxes once sewn into the fabric.
5.  Experiment to determine stitch length, stitch, threads, and presser foot best to give you control and a guide to follow as you stitch. 
6.  Needle lubricant (Sewer's Aid) should be keep handy to apply with several vertical rows to the spool before winding the bobbin.  (Don't, however, use lubricant on tinsel threads - as they don't absorb it anyway!)  For difficult fabrics, apply some to the needle and rub the fabric with a bar of Ivory Soap, pounding any extra thick seams with a cloth covered hammer to flatten the fibers.  
7.  Use a gauge - use a gauge - use a gauge!!! The presser foot,the side of it, a marker on the bed or your machine, the quilting guide hiding in your accessory box... a post note, a rubber band put around the free arm...just give yourself something to guide and watch,do NOT watch the Needle!
8.  Create a shim to level the presser foot at thick seams and corners.  Use layers of fabric or cardboard to create the needed level.
9.  For two threads through the same needle, if two spindles are not available, wind a bobbin and place a felt pad between the thread spool and the bobbin to prevent the bobbin thread from feeding too quickly. 
10.  Use the presser foot that will most securely hold the fabric to the feed dogs.  For the straightest stitching, use a straight stitch foot that allows only for straight stitching.
11.  Make use of needle position!  Remember to keep as much contact between the feed dogs and the presser foot as possible, and to move the needle rather than moving the fabric for different placement from the edge of the fabric. 
12. Try making use of an edge stitching foot - usually a foot with some kind of a blade that can ride along an edge - then moving your needle with needle position set to your stitching line appropriately away from where the foot is guiding everything. 
13.  Try curved and geometric motifs.  To transfer a design to fabric, trace it on water soluble stabilizer, pin the stabilizer to the garment's right side, then stitch along the design lines on the stabilizer, sewing slowly and shortening the stitch length around the curves.

14.  Top stitching is part of the design element of a garment - it can create the 'rhythm' that pulls the garment together and relates it to other pieces of an ensemble.  High contrast threads gives a sporty look.  Generally,for monochromatic
schemes, select a thread darker in color for the richest look.
15.  Think through the timing of when you should apply the top stitching.  read through the directions and determine where you should top stitch, writing this in so you won't forget to do it at the appropriate time!
16.  Firm fabrics are easier to top stitch than soft, slinky, slippery, or stretchy ones.
17.  Hes need to be stabilized and given some body.  Try strips of fusible interfacing - fusible stay tapes work great!
18.  Fabric to be top stitched must be stabilized.  This often comes from the interfacing.  If not, use spray starch where needed.  To stiffen with spray starch, let the starched fabric rest, rolled up, for at least 5 minutes before pressing and sewing.  By all means,test this ona scrap of fabric first!
19.  Top stitching adds body and crispness with shorter stitches adding more body than longer stitches.
20.  Edge stitching is top stitching that's sewn closer than 1/8'' to 3/8'' to one or both sides of a seam, or the same distance from an edge of the garment.
21.  Machine and hand top stitching can be combined to crate very distinctive effects.  Consider pick stitches sewn by hand at the center to play off the precision of the surrounding machine-top stitched rows.  See Oct/Nov. 1998 THREADS, page 31,35.

22.  Use shorter stitches especially on curves.  In general, shorter stitches are less likely to look crooked when not absolutely perfect.  :)
23.  Top stitch with right side up,and on pile fabrics, WITH the nap.
24.  Stitch SLOWLY!  Stitch with an EVEN SPEED.  Stitch rows in the same direction. 
25.  Don't back stitch or knot and cut threads, instead thread onto a needle, insert and bury the threads, then cut off. 
26.  Heavily textured fabrics and dense, heavy twills skew stitches and don't look attractive top stitched.
27.  Pres over stitching before evaluating because it can make a BIG difference!
28.  For heavy threads, you will generally need to tighten the top tension,lengthen the stitch,and lubricate the proper needle.
29.  For finer fabrics, use a smaller length titch.
30.  All seams should be pressed open,even before they are pressed to one direction whether for a seam or 'enveloped' in the edge of a collar, cuff,etc.
31.  Hold thread tails when beginning stitching to keep threads from balling up or jamming on the underside of the garment.
32.  Determine the exact pivot points at corners before you get to them and be careful not to overshoot or fall short of it.  Try making a thread 'tail' of silk thread (won't mar the fabric if silk) to provide a 'handle' to tug on once you turn the corner.  This prevents the corner from getting hung up.  Again, also try the shim idea under the back of the presser foot to level it before proceeding once you pivot. 
33.  If you reach the pivot point midway through a stitch, you can still pivot exactly on the established point by dropping the feed dogs, sinking the needle into place to keep the fabric from advancing beyond the pivot point.  When you've positioned the needle above the precise pivot point, sink it into place to keep the fabric from advancing beyond it.  Now, raise the presser foot and pivot the fabric.  Lower the presser foot, raise the feed dogs, and continue stitching along the new edge.
34.  Try a feather stitch with the stitch width set to zero to produce the look of heavy top stitching with lighter weight thread.
35.  For a totally different look, upset the balance on purpose:  Use a contrasting thread in the bobbin, and increase the thread tension slightly to draw the bobbin thread to the surface between the stitches.
36.  When using triple straight stretch stitch:  pivot, needle down,then hit the pattern start button to be sure the stitch pattern can't then go backwards, messing up your precise pivot!

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