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5 tips for topstitching and its purpose in sewing

 

It’s already day four with the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 965Q and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface with what this fabulous sewing machine can do!

 

Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 965Q
Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 965Q

 

Today, I’m going to explore topstitching.

What’s the purpose of topstitching? I found this definition of topstitching on the internet – “make a row of continuous stitches on the top or right side of a garment or other article as a decorative feature”. However, I’d strongly consider that topstitching is more than a decorative feature. Topstitching provides a nice finished edge on whatever you happen to be sewing. Let’s check it out and you’ll see what I mean.

The little basket that I’m using in this post is a free download that you’ll find in the Resource Section on the Northcott website. Fabrics used are from Northcott’s Toscana collection. There’s also a surprise included with the pattern to put in the basket. Be sure to download the pattern below and follow along.

 

downloable pattern of a colorful little basket using Northcott Fabric collection
Northcott’s downloable pattern to make this amazing little basket!

 

Topstitching Handles

There are many ways to make handles for bags and baskets. I like to use a heavy interfacing for my handles rather than batting. I find the interfacing makes the handles sturdier and looks more professional than if softer batting is used. It’s a personal choice, you decide.

Because I use the heavy interfacing, I cut the interfacing ½” narrower than the fabric for the handle. The excess handle fabric is folded over the edge of the interfacing and the handle is folded in thirds, not fourths as is commonly found in patterns. This does present a challenge in how to close up that seam on the back and here’s where the top stitching plays not only decorative role, but it’s functional as well.

 

Basket handles are folded in thirds
Basket handles are folded in thirds

 

You can see that my opening on the back isn’t at the edge of the handle. My first line of topstitching is to close that opening. This opening is on the back of the handle and so I do the first line of topstitching from the back. You can get real scientific about it and measure so both of those openings are in the exact same spot, but if you’re using matching thread, it’s not a big issue.

Once the first line of stitching (used to close the seam) is complete, I flip the handles over and do the remainder of the topstitching from the front of the handle. The nice thing about the Sapphire 965Q is that you’re going to get a beautifully formed stitch on the back and the front so doing this flip technique for the topstitching shouldn’t be a problem.

I do a row of topstitching along the outer edge of the handle and then I do as many rows as I feel is appropriate for the width of the handle. I don’t mark, I don’t measure, although I do use the presser foot as a rough guide.

When I first started to sew and quilt, I would spend hours ensuring that everything was perfectly lined up. The rows of stitching had to be exactly spaced and perfectly straight. I’ve learned over the years that one must evaluate the purpose of the finished item and then determine whether the extra time required to have every stitch absolutely perfect is worth it. I do aim for accuracy and I do aim to make my finished items pretty, but I don’t aim for perfection. Nothing would get completed if that was the case. We have to learn to take it easy on ourselves, this is our hobby and we should be enjoying it, not ripping things out because of some small variances.

That is the best advice I’ve learned over the years. Now I can enjoy sewing and quilting and I don’t rip nearly as often. Having a good sewing knowledge base and an excellent sewing machine like the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 965Q help me succeed in making my finished items look amazing.

 

Topstitching the basket handles
Topstitching the basket handles

 

In the example below, you can see that the handles have four rows of topstitching. You can’t tell which ones were done from the back and which ones were done from the front. They’re not perfectly straight, the lines are not 100% perfect. I’m OK with that. Remember what I just said. If the item isn’t an heirloom, and not entered in a major quilt show, then think about the time involved to get those lines perfectly straight and perfectly even. I’d rather be stitching than ripping!

 

The front of the topstitched handles
The front of the topstitched handles

 

The back of the topstitched handles
The back of the topstitched handles

 

You’ll notice that when I was topstitching the handles that I used my regular presser foot. You can see that some of the stitches on the wrong side are not as nicely formed as the stitches used in the line to close the seam. I was going through a lot of layers and this was about the time that I needed a new needle. See how important those needles are. I could have made a new handle to make everything look 100% perfect, but I think it’s important to show you what happens when you don’t keep sharp needles in the sewing machine. I also used a regular Microtex needle and because of the layers, I probably should have moved to a Topstitch needle. Hey – we’re all learning together!

 

Topstitching the bag edges

The handles and the lining are now sewn in place and the bag turned right sides out. It looks terrible. All puffy and lumpy and not very attractive.

Let’s see how topstitching can turn this lumpy mess into a very cute little basket.

 

 

The basket is turned right sides out
The basket is turned right sides out

 

I’ll be stitching along the edges of the basket, so this time I’m using the Edge Stitching Foot.

 

Edge Stitching Foot
Edge Stitching Foot

 

I’ve removed the extension table from the Sapphire 965Q as the basket is small and it’ll be much easier to stitch using the free arm. Topstitching should also be done from the TOP or the front of the item. It’s not that you can’t topstitch from the wrong side, but the top (right side) of the stitch is usually slightly better than the wrong side and we want this stitching to look its best. In many instances, you need to stitch from the top side in order to get the stitches exactly where they need to be.

 

Sapphire 965Q set up as a free arm to facilitate the top stitching
Sapphire 965Q set up as a free arm to facilitate the top stitching

 

In addition to removing the extension table, I used the Sewing Advisor to change the weight of the project to Woven Heavy. Selecting this feature will change the tension to better suit my project. It also lengthened the stitch to 3.0. If there are many layers, you want a longer stitch and the Sewing Advisor takes care of all those details for you.

I also changed the needle. I’ll be going through many layers of fabric and the regular Microtex needle that I was using isn’t going to be happy going through all those layers. I choose a Topstitch needle, Size 14 because of all the thicknesses.

 

Sewing Advisor is now set to Woven Heavy- Husqvarna Sapphire 965Q
Sewing Advisor is now set to Woven Heavy

 

You can see in the photo below how the flange on the Edge Stitching Foot is going to keep me stitching at a consistent width all around the top of the basket.

The other thing that is very important is to bring up the bobbin thread through all layers of your project. This will prevent a nest of thread from happening on the underside which isn’t pretty and it’s hard to clean up.

In instances like this, I won’t use the scissors on the sewing machine to cut my threads. That way the thread tails are long enough that I can pull them through to the top. If you don’t know how to do this, it was covered in this QUILTsocial post. I can’t find the link this morning, but I’ll post the link tomorrow. Some parts of me are old school as I rarely use the scissors on the sewing machine.

 

Bobbin thread is brought up through all layers of the project to prevent nesting on the wrong side
Bobbin thread is brought up through all layers of the project to prevent nesting on the wrong side

 

Ideally, you don’t want any of the lining fabric to show on the front. So that requires either a good press with an iron if you can get inside the basket to make that happen or you have to constantly roll the edge of the basket while you’re sewing to keep the lining on the backside and not appear on the front.

In the photo below, I’m about to go through all the layers at the side seam of the basket. The topstitch needle made this stitching no big deal.

 

Getting ready to top stitch through all the layers at the side seam
Getting ready to top stitch through all the layers at the side seam

 

It’s advisable to go slow over these very thick spots. If you don’t, you may end up with a broken needle in the off chance that the needle flexes and hits something it shouldn’t. The quality of the stitching will be better as well.

The Exclusive Sensor System Technology that I talked about earlier this week helps enormously as you do this row of topstitching. In some parts, I’m going through many layers and in others, not as many. The Exclusive Sensor System Technology automatically and continuously senses and adjusts to provide even feeding along that entire seam. This ensures that the stitch length is consistent.

And now we have our basket with the topstitched edge. It looks much better than it did prior to the topstitching, but let’s see if we can give that basket a bit more shape.

 

Basket with a topstitched edge around the top
Basket with a topstitched edge around the top

 

This time, I’m going to topstitch the corners. Start by making sure that the lining is well tucked into the corners of the basket. Then fold along one corner so the side and the front (or the back) are on top of each other. Then top stitch down the side seam to give the basket more definition.

 

Getting ready to topstitch the corners of the basket
Getting ready to topstitch the corners of the basket

 

There’s a lot of thicknesses in the corners, particularly at the top, but if you go slow, you’ll end up with nice stitching. I use my FIX function to anchor the top and bottom of the line of stitching.

 

The corners of the basket have been topstitched
The corners of the basket have been topstitched

 

Tips for topstitching

To recap, here are some key tips for beautiful topstitching:

  • Use a longer stitch length
  • Go slow over the extra thick areas
  • Use a top stitch needle
  • When you get back to the beginning of the row of stitching, move the project slightly forwards or backwards so you’re stitching in the same holes as the topstitching at the beginning. Just for a few stitches to lock the ends of the seams.

 

Topstitching on the upper edge of the basket
Topstitching on the upper edge of the basket

 

Here’s the finished basket with the top and the four corners topstitched. It looks a whole lot nicer than the original basket when it was first turned inside out.

 

Completed basket
Completed basket

 

Storing partially used needles

We’ve talked about needles in the past and the fact that you should be changing needles on a regular basis. But if I’ve just used the topstitch needle to stitch the top and the four sides, there’s still a lot of life in that needle. What do I do with the needle? I wouldn’t put the needle back in the plastic needle case as then I’d have no idea which needles are partially used and which are new.

Here are a couple of options. Mark off sections on a piece of fabric and write the type and size of the needle in each section. Insert the needle and then when you want a topstitch needle, you can start by using the partially used needle.

 

Use a piece of fabric to store partially used needles
Use a piece of fabric to store partially used needles

 

I used to use a tomato pincushion, but I found that some of the needles were getting embedded deep into the pincushion and well, no way to get them out. So I must find something else.

 

Tomato pincushion used to store partially used needles
Tomato pincushion used to store partially used needles

 

I hope you enjoyed these tips for topstitching. Topstitching is such a useful technique and it can take anything from a lumpy, bumpy looking project/garment to something polished and professional looking. And there are many features on the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 965Q that help to perfect the topstitching techniques.

Make sure you come back tomorrow as I have the neatest little project to share with you. Could be something to do with storing those partially used needles.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

 

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3:  Key tips on sewing your binding by machine and thread choice

Go to part 5: Making a sewing machine needlecase using the Sapphire 965Q embroidery feature

Elaine Theriault is a teacher, writer and pattern designer who is completely obsessed with quilting. Elaine’s Tech Tips column (originally published in A Needle Pulling Thread magazine) is now available online in e-book format at QUILTsocial.com. When not quilting, she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Lexi and Murphy, or can be found cycling across the country. Her blog is crazyquilteronabike.blogspot.com.

3 Comments

  1. s powell

    Beautiful basket and helpful hints thanks

    • Shirley – you’re most welcome. And thanks! Elaine

  2. Tracee

    Those are interesting ideas about top stitching and the basket is beautiful.

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