Perfect topstitching – How to get it

A few of you have asked how I get my topstitching to look so perfect. First, it’s not always perfect (in RTW either!) but thank you for thinking so!

Almost always, I use a straight-stitch foot for topstitching. I like the sort of foot that has a slot where I can see straight up to the needle. I guide my fabric right along the inner edge of the right toe so that I’m stitching about 1/16″ away from the edge (if I want to stitch about 1/4″ away from the edge, I use the outer edge of the toe as my guide). Yes, this does take practice but having the proper foot really helps – you cannot do this with a zigzag foot!



There are also specialty feet available for my commercial machines that work very well if I am in a hurry or tired. This first set is unique to the commercial world. These are compensating feet in various widths. These are available with the spring toe on the right or on the left (mine are all right except for the first one).


Here you can see the right toe rides lower than the stationary left toe so the edge of the fabric butts up against it.




You can see here that the stitches on the left are a little longer (around 2.5) than the ones on the right. The thread I am using is heavier than what I’d normally choose for a silk crepe de chine so it looks better at a slightly longer length. Always run a couple of samples before you get started.


Next is a raising foot which is more similar to what is available for domestic machines. Raising feet also come in various widths, this particular one is a right 1/16 (these also come in left). A comparable domestic foot would be an edge foot or edge guide foot which typically comes in one width only but you can move the needle to topstitch further away.




Whichever type of foot you feel the most comfortable with, the key is to just do it and practice, practice, practice (a smooth, precision sewing machine is a huge help as well). Also notice that I like a shorter stitch length. To my eye, a long stitch length on a fine fabric looks cheap so I use a length of 2 to 2.5, depending on the fabric and the thickness of thread I am using. A longer length would be used on heavier fabrics.


Filed under Tutorials

34 responses to “Perfect topstitching – How to get it

  1. Perfect. Just what I wanted. My top stitching looks more like country roads now. Thanks a lot for the info.

  2. Sally

    Thank you so much for enlightening us about your top stitching techniques and getting a glimpse of your vast collection of sewing machine feet. Sally

  3. This is exactly what I do. I never use special feet for topstitching, just a straight stitch machine. It gives you so much control with excellent results. (Some practice needed of course….)

  4. Laury Shepherd

    I just read that it is rude to read a blog and not make a comment…sorry ’bout that. I have been enjoying your MAD sewing skills for several weeks now. Also the goings on in FL since I live in Michigan…thanks for taking the time to blog. I really look forward to your posts. Laury Shepherd

    • Gosh, I don’t consider it rude at all – no worries! Everything I write isn’t so earth-shattering as to require a comment. πŸ™‚

    • vernonfashionstudio

      I read that it is rude, too. Frankly, I am just happy that my blog gets read and I have stats that tell me it is read. Comments are nice though.

      Linda T

  5. vernonfashionstudio

    Thanks Gigi!

    Linda T

  6. Kate

    Thanks for the tips and photos. I was wondering if you would post about your sewing background– when, where, how did you learn to sew? Have you always used commercial rather than domestic machines? I am curious about sewing education, because I am 37, mostly self-taught, and wish I had been schooled in sewing since childhood!

    If it strikes your fancy to share, I’d love to hear!

  7. Thanks. I am on my way to shop for sew feet now. I am wondering if you can talk about some of your industrial equipment. I am starting a new focus for my sewing. I did draperies, now I am doing costumes. So I am in the market for new sewing machines. I will likely get a high end home machine with lots of options but maybe I should think about some less expensive industrial machines?

    • Personally, Jeni, I’d buy an inexpensive home machine to do buttonholes and such and buy yourself an industrial single-needle machine and overlock (if you can). A home machine cannot come close to handling fabric (especially those difficult costume fabrics) the way an industrial can. Not only will you save yourself a ton of money but your sewing will be faster and more effortless. Additionally, a home machine is just not made to withstand the rigors of production sewing while an industrial is made to last several lifetimes. The bonus is that industrial attachments are cheap and will make your sewing even easier!

      • Colleen P.

        Jeni, I second what Gigi says about the industrial machine-I worked in a costume/mascot shop and learned to use industrial machines, and I’ve been yearning for one of my own since then. For your good balanced strong straight stitch, which is really what you will sew the majority of the time, there is nothing better than a hefty industrial machine. A pedal that you can use with your knee to raise and lower the presser foot is also surprisingly convenient once you get used to it.

  8. BeckyW

    I was inspired to buy a Rocketeer from your blog. I had been looking around for a heavy duty vintage machine for a little while and your Rocketeer looked to be just what I was looking for. Mine arrived a couple of days ago, runs so smoothly and makes such a beautiful stitch. I am in love. I would love to use it particularly to do topstitching and make some jeans with it. Your blog entry today on perfect topstitching is interesting. My main sewing machine is a Janome 4800QC. I have almost every foot they make for it. I love the “ditch quilting” foot and shifting the needle position for topstitching. I am wondering what kind of feet might be available to help with topstitching on my Rocketeer. Any advice?

  9. Bev

    Gigi-Still really enjoyng and learning from your posts. Thanks for educating me about these feet, as I never knew there were such things. I use my zigzag foot for everything, pretty much, as my machine is rather basic. I do have trouble there, though, when doing double rows. They aren’t always even. But, I have learned alot of shortcuts from you,too, about many things and that it’s really okay to customize-frequently! Lots of fun.

  10. Thanks Gigi – I had forgotten about the existence of compensating feet!
    Something I tend to do is butt my right forefingernail against the R toe (or whatever distance is preferred) to encourage even feed and I can topstitch faster. This has a similar effect to a compensating foot I suppose – I’ll call it the lazy, cheap method!

  11. Gail

    Love your blog, great sewing tips and your work looks very, very good. I see you use a dress form; are you pleased with it? If so, what is the name? If not, is there a form you would recommend. Unfortunately I can’t pay more than $250.00 for one.

    • Thanks, Gail! I think my dressform is a My Double by Dritz. It’s pretty useless for fitting purposes. Even if I dial in my measurements, her shape is much different than mine. I put one of my bras on her so that my garments don’t look sad and droopy through the bust. πŸ™‚ I use it to hold works in progress, take photos and drape. Until I get a custom-made form, I will continue to fit on myself.

  12. Karen

    Perhaps I should look into getting a straight stitch foot for my machine. To topstitch/edgestitch, I’ve been using the blind hem foot and using the edge on that to guide my fabric. It works and helps me sew straight lines where I want them by moving the needle width. And more money for fabric. πŸ™‚

  13. I think I need a new machine to achieve perfect top stitching – it misses stitches at times!

  14. Karen Roth

    Eek! I’d never heard the protocol about being rude not to leave a remark, I read blogs often without doing so, sorry!

    Gigi, thanks for the tutorial, no room for an industrial but it’s time to bring out the Brother pq1500S, that machine has the most perfect straight stitching of any I’ve ever used…maybe even better than the classic vintage Singer! But what I’m wondering isn’t just what feet you used to topstitch beautifully, but on those ruffles on the HP silk top… what method to turn the ruffle? Did you manually roll hem, or stitch, fold stitch again, trim, fold and stitch (the three rows of thread method)?

    • Yes, Karen, that’s the method I used here because I wanted a really narrow rolled hem. For a wider hem I usually use a roll-hem foot or plate.

  15. Susannah

    Yet another great tutorial… Wish you would write and produce sewing books and instructional dvds! Thanks so much…

  16. LauraBell

    Thanks for that tutorial.You answered a lot of my questions. I agree with Susannah in that you are a natural teacher. Your tutorials are always clear, concise and informative. I always learn something that improves my work. Keep it coming!

  17. Thanks so much for all of your great tips and tutorials. I saw something on the Janome site about using an adjustable zipper foot for edge stitching. Never thought about it but it makes sense!

  18. I just wanted to let you know I have linked to this project and thumbnail on our site: I think it’s a great project that our readers will love to make! We are always looking for more tutorials and sewing patterns, so if you have any similar projects please feel free to send them my way or let me know if you prefer we not link to you. Thanks!

  19. Janet-Upstate NY

    Thank you for all your wonderful pictures they help so very much, I work best when I see what the written word is stating. Keep up the great work and thank you for helping all of us, you are a God Send in my opinion. My Mom and I used to sew when I was young, I have just gotten back into sewing after 40 years of being away from this hobby, need all the refresher help I can get..Thank you … Thank you keep more of your talent coming!

  20. Great information! I’ve been sewing a long time but was not aware of that foot! I’m going to dig through my collection.

  21. sue k

    So many projects that I’ve done just look so much better with top stitching. Hopefully I will be able to get that stitching looking nice and neat now . Appreciate your little lesson !

  22. Tricia

    YIKES, also didn’t know about it being rude to read and not post to a blog! GREAT tip, thanks so very much. Can’t wait to try it out (I use my zig zag foot for nearly everyyything, who’d a thunk?).

  23. Marlie

    Thanks so much! Just found your blog and I love it!

  24. Marj

    I have been sewing for over 60 years. I find you tips on top stitching helpful and will use them today.

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