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Londa's 2 Cents Worth
Tips For Great Topstitching

Londa's Sewing 

 

EQUIPMENT

1. Use a clean machine - top and bottom.
2. Select new and appropriate needle for thread and fabric - use NeedleTrak to keep track of what size and type of needle you have in your machine. Use old needles to hang pictures, not to sew!
3. Be sure you have enough thread - top and bottom.
4. With Polyester thread - make sure bobbin is wound slowly to prevent stretching that will make puckers.
5. Experiment top determine stitch length, stitch, threads, best foot to give you control and a guide to follow along.
6. Needle Lubricant (Sewer's Aid or Needle Lube) should be kept handy to apply with several vertical rows to the spool before winding the bobbin. (Don't, however, use lubricant on tinsel threads - they won't absorb it anyway.) For difficult fabrics, apply some to the needle and rub the fabric with a bar of Ivory Soap, pounding the thick seams with a cloth covered hammer to flatten fibers. 
7. Use a gauge - use a gauge- use a gauge!!! The presser foot, the side of it, a marker on the bed of your machine, the quilting guide, something to watch --NOT 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 move the needle rather than moving the fabric. 
12. Try making use of an edgestitching foot - usually a foot with some kind of a blade that can ride along an edge - then moving your needle with needle position to set 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.

PLANNING

14. Topstitching 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 thread gives a sportier look. Generally for monochromatic schemes, select thread a bit darker for the richest look. 
15. Think through the timing of when you should apply the topstitching. Read through the directions and determine where you should topstitch, writing this in so you won't forget to do it at the appropriate time.
16. Firm fabrics are easier to topstitch than soft, slinky, slippery, or stretchy ones.
17. Hems need to be stabilized and given some body. Try strips of fusible interfacing - Japanese fusible straight and bias tape work great. 
18. Fabric to be topstitched 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 five minutes before pressing and sewing. By all means, test this on a scrap of fabric first!
19. Topstitching adds body and crispness with shorter stitches adding more body than longer stitches. 
20. Edgestitching is topstitching that's sewn closer than 1/8" to a finished edge. Traditional topstitching is a row of straight stitching, sewn 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 topstitching can be combined to create very distinctive effects. Consider pickstitches sewn by hand at center to play off the precision of the surrounding machine-topstitched rows. See Oct/Nov. 1998 Threads, page 31, 35. 

TECHNIQUE

22. Use shorter stitches especially on curves. In general, shorter stitches are less likely to look crooked when not absolutely perfect. 
23. Topstitch 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 backstitch 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. 
27. Press 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 needle. 
29. For finer fabrics, use a smaller stitch. 
30. All seams should be pressed open, even before they are pressed to one direction whether for a seam or envelope in the edge of a collar, cuff, etc. 
31. Hold thread tails when you begin stitching to keep threads from balling up or jamming on the underside. 
32. Determine the exact pivot points at corners before you get to them and be careful not to overshoot of fall sort of it. Try making a thread "tail" of silk thread (won't mar the fabric) 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 foot to level it. 
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 featherstitch with the stitch width set to zero to produce the look of heavy topstitching 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! 

Hints are a compilation of Londa's knowledge and Designer Details by Claire B. Shaeffer and Fine Embellishment Techniques by Jane Conlon 

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