Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching

The Thayer Jacket requires a lot of topstitching so today we'll be discussing some of our favorite topstitching tips before we dive into tomorrow's topstitching heavy post. You'll be glad you read this, we promise!

Needle Selection

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Using the proper needle size | Grainline Studio

When topstitching you're going to want to make sure you've got a topstitching needle in your machine. A lot of people think a jeans or denim needle is a fine substitution but as you can see in the image above, the eye of the jeans needle is much smaller than the eye of the topstitching needle! If you want your thicker topstitching thread to be able to pass through easily, maintaining even tension without fraying or breaking, you'll need that larger eye.

Thread Selection

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Choosing Topstitching Thread | Grainline Studio

There are a lot of firm opinions on which thread you should be topstitching with, and if you're one of those people, you do you. If you're on the fence though, here's what we've found works best for us over the years on our home sewing machines.

The threads above are:

        1. Gutermann Mara 30 
        2. Gutermann Extra Strong Thread
        3. Gutermann All Purpose Poly Thread

Our favorite for topstitching is the Gutermann Extra Strong Thread. This is essentially the consumer version of the Gutermann Mara 70 that's popular among sewers. The main difference is the put-up. It's on a traditional spool meant to be pulled horizontally by your machine, instead of the cone shape of the Mara 30 above.

We find that the Gutermann Extra Strong thread pulls better through the machine and is thick enough to look great in a topstitching application. The Mara 30 is very thick and often knots, jams or bird's nests. We've used the Gutermann Extra Strong for all our Thayer Jackets, samples and sew-alongs.

You can also in the image above see how much thicker the Mara 30 and Extra Strong are than All Purpose thread. Another illustration for why you'll want that topstitching needle we mentioned above.

Bobbin Thread

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Bobbin Thread | Grainline Studio

Adjusting the bobbin tension is a tricky game as it's done by tightening or loosening a screw, with no default position to get back to. With that in mind we prefer to adjust it as little as possible . This means we use regular all purpose thread in the bobbin when we topstitch. You can adjust the upper thread tension easily so that you get a perfect stitch!  

Special Feet

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Sewing Machine Feet | Grainline Studio

Another thing we find super helpful when topstitching is switching out our sewing machine feet. We use our machine's Patchwork or 1/4" Foot and the Edge Stitch Foot as they both provide a guide for evenly spaced stitching lines.

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Aligning your Stitching | Grainline Studio

The first foot we use is the Edgestitch Foot. In order to use this foot you'll need to move your machine's needle over. We prefer on our machines (BERNINA) to move the needle 4 positions to the left. You'll want to experiment with this as this sets the distance the stitching falls from the edge of the fabric. Then as you stitch, butt the edge of what you're stitching against the guide bar and you'll have an even first line every time.

For our second line of topstitching we switch to our Patchwork 1/4" Foot. Make sure you move your needle back to the center position or you'll be out a needle when it breaks on your foot! Then align the previous line of stitching with the right hand side of the foot. The distance between the needle and the first stitching line will be exactly 1/4".

Straight Stitch

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Perfecting your Straight Stitch | Grainline Studio

Stitch length is another thing that really makes topstitching stand out. If you study your RTW garments you'll notice that the topstitching is done at a longer stitch length. Be sure to experiment with your fabric and thread to figure out what you prefer. For our jackets we like a stitch length of 3.8 but again, this is really personal preference and also may vary based on what you're making! You'll also want to test out your thread tension here and adjust as necessary.


Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Bartacks | Grainline Studio

Bartacks are something that scare a lot of people, the potential for a jammed mess of thread is very high! The most important thing we've found to remove the possibility of this happening is to set the stitch length slightly longer than you would want and to go over it twice. We set our machine to a width of 0.6 and a length of 2.8. The center line above is one pass at this width and length and you can see how it's not ideal coverage for a bartack. The top line is two passes of that same stitch and it looks identical to setting your machine at a lower stitch length and doing one pass but without the potential for jamming. The other bonus with this method is that all of your thread tails end up in the same spot so you can tie them off together and bury them all at once!

Experiment with your machine settings and see what looks good to you. Our numbers might not be a perfect match with your particular machine, fabric, or thread, but with a bit of testing they're a great jumping off point.

Handling Your Thread

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Thread Handling | Grainline Studio

When you begin to sew you'll want to hold onto your threads, as shown above. We find that this reduces the tendency for the thread to knot in the back. This way it's much easier to pull your threads to the back to tie off.

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching: Tying Off Your Threads | Grainline Studio

Rather than backstitching as you might do with regular thread, we recommend tying off your topstitching threads. You'll avoid a bulky extra bold section of stitching at the beginning and end of your topstitching this way. To tie off your threads:

        1. Pull your top thread to the back of the fabric. Pulling on the bobbin thread will help get this process started.
        2. Here you can see both threads pulled to the back.
        3. Tie a knot in the threads using a simple overhand knot. We tie 2 – 3 so the threads are secure.
        4. Here you can see the threads tied. Just trim your tails and you're all set!

That's it for our tips, if you have any questions or tips of your own to share, let us know in the comments below!

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline StudioOur Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline Studio

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline Studio

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline Studio

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline Studio

Our Top Tips for Professional Topstitching | Grainline Studio

Mentioned Products

  • Reed Skirt 0 – 18
    Reed Skirt 0 – 18
  • Reed Skirt 14 – 30/32
    Reed Skirt 14 – 30/32
  • Thayer Jacket 0 – 18
    Thayer Jacket 0 – 18
  • Thayer Jacket 14 – 30
    Thayer Jacket 14 – 30