Top-stitching is a single or set of machine stitches that are applied to the face side of the garment both for decorative and functional purposes. Top-stitching is extremely common on more casual items like sportswear, denim and active wear. If you are just getting started on sewing, top-stitching is a great way to add some uniqueness to the outside of the garment as well as practice straight stitching.
Top-stitching is usually done with a longer stitch length so that it doesn't bulk up the fabric and create a smooth finish on the outside. When applied for decorative purposes, contrast thread creates the best effects. You can also experiment by top-stitching with zigzag and the embroidery stitches you have available on your sewing machine. The functional aspect of top-stitching really comes in handy if you are trying to keep certain pleats or excess seam allowance from flopping around on the inside of the garment. Top-stitching is a great tool to use along some seams not only for durability but also to keep seam allowance flat and pointing to a certain direction. Doing so maintains the garment's structure and requires less ironing of the seams after washing.
So now that you know a bit about the magic of top-stitching, lets do some practice exercises! We encourage you to practice both decorative and functional top-stitching on scrap fabric before applying it to your final project. Top-stitching requires a certain comfort level and stability in order to achieve smooth, even stitching. Don't get discouraged if your first stitches are uneven. Keep practicing and you'll be a pro in no time!
Decorative and Functional Top-stitching Along The Seam
Top-stitching along seams is actually quite simple because you can use the seam line as a guide. It's really up to you and your design specifications how far from the seam you want to top-stitch: 1/4"-1/2" away from the seam is used most commonly. You can also top-stitch on just one side or on both sides of the seam line. In addition, it is your choice whether you'd like to add a single stitch or cluster of stitches.
Top-stitching on Both Sides of the Seam
1. When top-stitching on both sides of the seam line, make sure you finish the raw edges of the seam allowance individually by serging or applying a zigzag stitch.
2. After clean finishing the raw edges, pin and machine stitch the seams together at the desired seam allowance.
3. Iron the seam allowance open so as shown bellow.
4. Working on the face side of the fabric, align your presser foot with the seam line and begin stitching making sure that you are stitching through the seam allowance on the back side of the fabric. Everything should remain smooth and flat. Repeat this step on the other side of the seam line in order to achieve a single row of even top-stitching on both sides.
Topsticthing on one Side of the Seam Line
1. Pin and sew the seam together at the desired seam allowance.
2. Clean finish the raw edges together using a serging or zigzag stitch.
3. Iron all the excess seam allowance towards one side, depending on which side you want the top-stitching to be on.
4. Working on the face side of the garment again, apply a machine stitch at the desired distance from seam line. Make sure you top-stitch on the side that has the seam allowance at the back. The best practice for top-stitching is to align the seam line with the presser foot's edge and keeping it aligned as you top-stitch.
If you want to add multiple rows of topsticthing, simply use the first topstitch as a guide to add additional stitching. The presser foot trick described above works wonders for creating evenly spaced rows of topsticthing.
Other Uses For Topsticthing
Here are a few examples of other common topstitching that is used for both decorative and functional purposes:
Top-stitched Tucks: Keeps the excess of the tuck in place and adds a durable and decorative look.
Top-stitching on top of box pleats, inverted pleats and side pleats: Keeps the pleat excess flat and maintains structure.
Top-stitching around zippers: This type of top-stitching is mainly done for decorative purposes but it also keeps the edges of the seam allowance and zipper edges flat for more durability and comfort.
Top-stitching on waistbands: This not only helps the waistband to lay flat and be durable, but it also adds a more casual look.
If you are ready to take it to the next level in your sewing journey, then you are most likely ready to make your own sewing patterns! Using store-bought patterns is great in the learning process but being able to build and manipulate your own sewing patterns gives you unlimited design opportunities and can be so gratifying.
Professional marked pattern paper is the best to use but lets face it, sewing is an expensive hobby. Good quality fabrics, practice muslin, trims and findings, and all the necessary tools can add up to a pretty penny. If you're just learning how to sew it can start to put a dent in your bank account. Pattern paper, just like fabric, is one of the items that needs constant replenishing, which is why cutting some corners and getting a bit creative can help you find replacements that work just well but cost much less.
We've discussed some sewing hacks in our previous blog and now it's time to talk about pattern paper hacks- An equally important part of the sewing process!
The pattern paper used in the fashion/clothing manufacturing industry is numbered-dotted white paper. It facilitates pattern making by offering pre-marked points and numbers at 1" increments. Although the markings will save you some effort and make the patterning process much faster, if you have an 18" marked plastic ruler you can easily create patterns without the need of these pattern markings. In addition, marked pattern paper is not easy to find in local sewing/craft stores so you have to turn to online shopping to get your hands on it.
Note: If you are starting to make your own patterns, these three tools are a must have: an 18" marked clear ruler, a mechanical pencil, and a simple unmarked french curve.
As mentioned above, you don't have to use professional pre-marked pattern paper if you can't find it or afford it. However, pattern paper should have the following necessary characteristics to function best:
-Be Flexible: Easy to handle, be folded without forming deep creases, and bend without ripping when pinned.
-Be durable: It shouldn't rip easily when handled or pinned.
-Not too thick (unless you are using it on slopers)
-Easy to pin: The pins should go through easily without too much damage to the paper.
If you are looking for a cheaper, easier-to-find replacement for professional pattern paper, all the characteristics listed above should be taken in consideration.
Here are the three substitutes for professional pattern paper that you can easily find at your local crafts/arts/shipping stores. The best part is, they wont break the bank!
Parchment Tracing Paper (Roll)
One of the best substitutes for dotted pattern paper, parchment tracing paper is very similar to the paper used on store-bought sewing patterns. It has a transparent characteristic that makes it easy to trace and transfer pattern markings. It is thin and flexible but strong enough to withstand pinning and handling. It can be folded easily without creating deep, harsh creases and once folded, it takes up very little space. Parchment paper is also easy to mark on with a pencil or any writing utensil of your choice. Of course, the best one to get is in a larger roll. The most commonly available are 24"-36" rolls at your local art/craft stores, office and home improvement stores- chances are, you'll love working with it!
Although it doesn't have a transparent quality and is not as thin as parchment paper, shipping/wrapping paper has the flexibility and durability necessary to work well as pattern paper. The most common is the ivory/brown colored version you've definitely come across when buying glass-wear or receiving delicate shipments. It is so commonly used for wrapping and shipping that there is a probability you have some hiding in your house as we speak. Although you could reuse the pieces you already have, we recommended you buy a fresh roll so that you're working on a clean, wrinkle-free surface. This thicker wrapping paper is easy to mark on, pin and fold without creating too much damage to the paper. You should be able to purchase it at any local home improvement store, shipping and even some craft stores.
All Purpose White Paper Roll
All purpose white paper, used often for making lightweight banners or photo backdrops is thicker and a bit heavier than the options described above. It is best used on sewing patterns for thicker, heavier-weight fabrics, although you could make it work on lighter fabrics with a little bit of effort. It has very slight transparency (for transferring and tracing pattern markings), good durability and it is fairly easy to pin. It has good flexibility although it works best if stored by being rolled as opposed to folded- it creases a bit more than regular pattern paper. That being said, it makes for a stable, easy to work with pattern paper and it is commonly found at any art and crafts store.
Back-stitching… what is it and why do we need it? In the process of learning how to sew, back-stitching is probably one of the first terms you’ve heard. Back-stitching is the act of stitching backwards on a sewing machine or by hand in order to lock the stitch in place so that it doesn’t unravel or come apart with use. It is perhaps one of the most important habits you should develop as a dressmaker/seamstress. The devil is in the details and this is certainly a detail that matters in the sewing process. The good news is that once you get into the habit of back-stitching at the beginning and/or end of a stitch you will start doing it automatically, without thinking.
So why is back-stitching important anyways? Back-stitching contributes to the durability of a clothing item. It is not a secret that our clothing goes through a lot of push and pull throughout its lifetime. From stretching, to constant washing and drying and exposure to all the daily elements that contribute to a garment’s age, we can all agree that clothing has a pretty stressful life. By blocking stitches from coming apart with use, back-stitching is able to lengthen a garment’s life span. A simple locking of a stitch can make the difference between good and bad quality when it comes to apparel.
Back-stitching also facilitates the sewing process. When you’re sewing and putting all the pieces of fabric together, you often find yourself matching up seams and pulling on them in the stitching process. You need to iron every seam as you sew it which requires you to put some strain on the seam by ironing the excess down the middle or to a particular side. When your seams are back-stitched, you can pull and adjust them easily without having to worry about anything coming undone in the process. Having stitch stability in your seams is very important in sewing comfortably and efficiently. You’ll have to do a lot less damage control later on if all the seams are securely held in place during the sewing process.
How to Backstitch Using a Sewing Machine
Back-stitching On An Industrial Sewing Machine: If you own an industrial sewing machine, your sewing is most likely advanced enough to know how to do a back-stitch on it. However, even as a beginner you should be able to recognize the back-stitching "button" on any sewing machine. It is for this reason we'll show you this simple process on both an industrial and home sewing machine. The first thing you'll notice is that even though these two types of machines come from two different families, the back-stitching button looks and works almost identically.
To back-stitch on an industrial machine, press and hold down on the back-stitching button and press on the foot control. You will notice your machine will start sewing backwards. Maintain the fabric straight so that the backwards stitch goes right on top of the forward stitch you sewed previously. Let go of the foot control and back-stitch button once the backwards stitch reaches anywhere from 1/2-3/4" in average length. For added security you may sew another regular straight stitch on top of the back-stitching.
Back-Stitching On a Home Sewing Machine: You'll be pleasantly surprised to find out that back-stitching on a home sewing machine is an identical process to that of an industrial sewing machine. This means that you'll be able to recognize the back-stitching button as well as know how to use it on any type of sewing machine you might end up working with in the future- With back-stitching, you wont need to re-learn anything so you can focus on perfecting it!
Just like in the steps described above, you will need to hold down the reverse stitch button while pressing the foot control. This will get the machine to start sewing backwards. As described above, hold the fabric still so that the back stitch goes on top of the existing forward stitch- this will lock the sew line in place and create that durable finish you want.
Back-Stitching By Hand:
You might be asking yourself- why would I need to back-stitch by hand if I can do it on the machine? Well, there are a few instances when back-stitching by hand will certainly come in handy. When you're working with very delicate, thin fabrics like silks and chiffon, back-stitching on the sewing machine can be too rough and disruptive to these fine weaves. Back-stitching on delicate fabrics can cause them to bunch-up or even tear (if your machine needle isn't sharp enough). In this case, it is best to use the loose ends of your machine stitch threads to back-stitch by hand with a hand sewing needle. In addition, if you simply forget to back-stitch at the end of a straight stitch and you've already cut the threads, you can always back-stitch by hand to fix the problem!
Step 1: Once you've completed your regular straight stitch on the sewing machine, leave yourself some extra thread length to work with for back-stitching. You will use one of the two extra threads with a hand-sewing needle to lock the stitch in place by hand.
Step 2: Thread a hand sewing needle with one of the two loose threads.
Step 3: Apply a small stitch, about 1/8" in length to the area where the machine stitch ends and the thread connects.
Use the images bellow as a guide
Step 4: Repeat Step 3 but this time, sew directly on top of the hand-sewn stitch you just applied.
Sew in place by continuing this step for an additional 5 or 6 stitches until the machine straight stitch is locked in place. See the Image bellow for what the final hand-sewn back-stitch should look like.
Step 5: Use a sharp pair of scissors to trim the excess threads close to the back-stitch as displayed bellow.
Sewing zippers can be one of the most intimidating and terrifying experiences for a sewing beginner! Here's the thing- If you really want to learn how to sew you have to be willing to make some (lots of..) mistakes, eliminate your fears of making these mistakes, and let go of perfectionism. Sewing is a craft that is learned best though the practice of making errors as opposed sewing classes and theory only.
You'll breathe a sigh of relief when we tell you that a lapped zippers are actually quite simple to install. If done correctly, it only takes a few steps and the result of seeing a fully-functional lapped zipper will feel so gratifying! So let's get started.
What is a lapped zipper?
A lapped zipper application uses a regular zipper to create "the look" of a side placket overlapping the zipper. The reason why we refer to it as "a look" is that it does not require the construction of an actual placket but rather uses a stitch on one side of the seam-line to create the allusion of a flap over the zipper. Lapped zippers are the most common and simple to sew and most commonly used on medium to heavy weight tops, dresses and bottoms along center back, center front and sometimes side seam. A lapped zipper works best with more medium weight fabrics because it requires a bit more structure.
The Easiest (and Correct) Way to Sew a Lapped Zipper
There are a multitude of ways to apply certain sewing techniques and finishes, and you should always pick the one that works best for you! However, when it comes to zippers, we really recommend that you begin with learning the correct application steps before adopting sewing hacks that work best for you. Why? Well, as you dive deeper into learning zipper application techniques, the true-and-tried methods are the ones that will be the most time efficient and minimize mistakes and complications in the process.
Three Most Common Misconceptions About Lapped Zippers
1. That the placket extends over the seam-line to cover the zipper: As a sewing beginner, it is common to look at a lapped zipper and get the impression that the placket extends over the seam-line to cover the zipper. In reality, that is simply an illusion. The seam-line always remains aligned properly, while the seam allowance underneath, on the opposite end of the placket side, extends slightly inward to hide the zipper teeth.
2. That you always clip the seam allowance of the fabric at the area where the zipper ends: It is common to think that you always need to clip the seam allowance at the bottom of a lapped zipper application but the good news is, that is rarely necessary. On a regular seam, you're seam allowance should lay nice and flat without needing to be clipped for movement and tension release. We always try to encourage that you try not to clip the fabric unnecessarily but only when required by specific finishes- this can result in weakening durability, especially over time. In the case of a vent or a specialized hem finish at the bottom of the same seam that houses a lapped zipper, clipping the seam allowance may be necessary.
3. That the zipper should be kept open when it is sewn in: Although you might find it easier and more comfortable to work with an open zipper, the correct way to apply a lapped zipper is keeping the zipper closed. That might come as a surprise, especially if you've already dabbled in zipper construction a bit. The benefits of keeping the zipper's teeth closed during application ensures that both sides of the zipper will be aligned accurately on both sides of the seam-line. If you work with a zipper that is open, you will have to first baste both zipper sides in and baste it's alignment before adding the final stitches- that adds a few unnecessary steps, so we'll show you how to get rid of them in the tutorial below by working with a closed zipper during the entire process!
Sewing Steps For a Lapped Zipper Using A Regular Foot
In this simple tutorial, we'll show you how to apply a lapped zipper to a center back seam with a 1" seam allowance. As a beginner, we recommend that you work with a 1" seam allowance for lapped zippers because it gives you enough excess to form the placket-like structure and comfortably attach the zipper during sewing.
1. Mark the placement of the zipper on seam allowance.
If your pattern has notches that mark the bottom of the zipper placement, make sure you transfer them to your pattern. If not, you can use the length of your zipper to mark where it's placement will end. Simply hold the zipper along the seam allowance and mark with a fabric marking pencil then a clipped notch, the location where the zipper's bottom hits.
2. Pin the Center back seam together getting it ready for stitching.
In the image bellow, you can see the notch along the seam allowance's edge noting where the zipper ends.
3. Switch to a basting stitch on your sewing machine and starting at the top (neckline in this case), begin stitching using a basting stitch until you get to the notch. Once you've arrived at the notch with your presser foot, apply a back-stitch and switch back to a regular machine stitch you would normally use to sew your fabric. Finish sewing the seam together all the way to the bottom.
The reason why you need to use a basting stitch along the portion where the zipper will be applied is that you will actually remove this stitch with a seam ripper once the zipper is sewn in.
4. To make it easier for the basting stitch to be removed later, use your seam ripper and slit every 2-3 stitches without fully removing the thread as shown below. This will ensure that when your zipper is finished the temporary machine basting stitch comes out with one easy pull.
5. Gently iron the seam allowance open to make it easier to handle it's individual ends.
6. Move the fabric to the left side allowing only the right seam allowance to remain on the right as show bellow. Take your closed zipper and place it face down against the seam making sure the zipper teeth correspond to the actual seam. Pin the zipper's tape to the seam allowance as shown in the image bellow.
7. Starting at the top, machine stitch along the middle of the pinned zipper tape remembering to back-stitch when reaching the bottom (where the notch is). Your end result should be a zipper connected to just the right seam allowance.
8. Turn the zipper facing up by moving the right seam allowance towards the left, facing the same way as the rest of garment. Pin this fold in place along the zipper tape as shown bellow.
9. On your sewing machine, stitch along about 1/8" away from the fold using it as a guide. Back-stitch at the end of your stitch to secure.
10. Turn your garment on its face side and using the notch on the back mark with a water soluble pencil or tailor's chalk where the zipper stops on the outside (face side of garment). Mark a little above the bottom metal stop of the zipper so that you don't accidentally sew on top of it and break your needle when adding the final top stitch.
11. Using contrast thread and a hand-sewing needle, hand baste about 1/2"-3/4" away from the seam starting at the bottom up making sure you sew through every layer underneath- This includes the seam allowance and zipper tape.
12. Using the basting stitch as a guide, stitch on your sewing machine starting at the bottom horizontally, then at a straight angle up to the top as shown below. Once your final stitch is completed, use a seam ripper to remove the temporary hand basting.
Note: Make sure you machine-stitch right next to the basting but not directly on top of it as this can make it more difficult to remove.
13. It's time to see your lapped zipper in action! Because your initial machine basting must be very loose and easy to remove due to the slit stitches we started with, you can gently pull on the seam to open it while also using your seam ripper to remove extra stitches.
As a final step, remove the excess threads to clean up the opening and your lapped zipper is complete! Practice a few times and you'll be able to consistently apply a lapped zipper in a just a few minutes by using this easy method.
Although the fashion design degree certainly came in handy, most of the sewing techniques and secrets I know today are self-taught from years of trial and error and experimentation. I have probably worked with every type of fabric imaginable and designed just about everything from tailored trousers to summer dresses and beyond.
My first collections were all done by hand from start to finish. I would design every piece, draft the sewing patterns, size them and sew everything from blouses, to dresses and jackets all on my own- believe me, that is certainly not a job for a single person. I was working in a small space, to be more precise, it was my tiny, overheated bedroom. When I look back on that now, I ask myself how I was able to do it? How come those working conditions were not able to stop me? The answer is actually quite simple. I don’t have to overanalyze my past to know that when you really love and want something wholeheartedly, your brain makes no excuses. As cliche as it sounds, there really is no such thing as “I can’t”, there’s only “ I don’t want it bad enough”.
The Difficulty of Getting Started In The Sewing Process
There are many things I’ve learned along the way, but one of the most resounding is that there really wasn’t a single tool out on the market that could offer a simple, non-intimidating option for those who want to teach themselves how to sew. People find sewing complicated and overwhelming because it seems to have too many steps required to get started and most people don’t even know where to begin. Taking sewing classes are an option but they often clash with most family and work schedules and take some financial investment on the beginner’s part. For those that prefer self-teaching sewing options in the comfort of their home where they can control the time and focus put into it, books are sometimes too general or complicated and there isn’t a simple start-to-finish comprehensive online guide to help them in the process. Even some of the manuals I was using throughout college when I was starting out where packed with detailed information so overwhelming, that I can’t imagine the average sewing beginner being able to get past the first stages of learning how to sew. I, of course, stuck to it because I was studying for a degree but for someone who wants to learn the basics of sewing as a hobby, the self-teaching process is most likely to fall apart on week one. It is the combination of all of these experiences and constantly hearing from friends and acquaintances “I wish I knew how to sew!” that has inspired me to come up with a solution. One that is for those that want to teach themselves how to sew in the privacy of their own homes on their own time frame. The result? The Learn to Sew Box: A simple box that includes everything you need to get started along with a simple step-by-step visual guide walking you through how to sew an A-line dress from start to finish.
About the Learn To Sew Box
In order to keep the learning process as simple and as personalized as possible, the Learn to Sew Box gives you the ability to choose from four fabrics: 3 print options and one solid. Once you make your fabric choice, all you have to do is choose your size! We opted for a Small-Medium-Large method, as to not confuse the sewing beginner with number sizes. The box comes equipped with full Front and Back dress sewing patterns (in your choice of size) which are in the simple, industrial form on easy-to-handle tracing paper. The pattern elements are clearly marked with their corresponding terms (armhole, neckline, darts etc) and they are also reusable! So if you like how the dress fits, sew it in a few different fabrics.
Along with the fabric and sewing patterns, we’ve included the basic supplies you’ll need, which are also reusable. The idea was to save you the unnecessary and confusing trips to the fabric store by providing you with all the basic supplies you need. Starting with the basics in a simple way is the best way to truly understand the sewing process. The supplies include: Sewing pins, a water soluble marking pencil, a seam ripper and matching thread. To tie it all together, a 5-page step-by-step visual guide will walk you through the process of aligning the sewing pattern on fabric, cutting the pattern out, marking the fabric and sewing the dress in the most simple yet detailed way. This guide will introduce you to seam allowance, grain line, notches, and the types of fabric best used with this A-line dress. It will also include some tips and secrets I’ve adopted from trial-and-error along the way.
Learning Important, Basic Sewing Techniques: The Simple Way
So why should a dress be the first item you make? Well, learning how to sew a dress is actually the best way to understand some of the most common techniques and elements you’ll come across in sewing. The simple A-line dress style included in the box has bust darts, it requires a binding method for clean-finishing the armholes and the neckline, and the hem is finished with a double folded machine stitch. These are the most common, basic techniques you can apply to most of your future sewing projects. It is imperative that you understand how to sew a simple dart and how to mark it on fabric- Chances are, you will come across darts about 90% of the time you are working with woven fabrics. As far as learning how to clean finish with binding, this has become the most common way casual necklines and armholes are finished both for woven and knit fabrics. If you take a peek into your closet right now, you will most likely find most of your casual styles to have a binding around neck and sleeveless edges. Same thing goes for a double folded, machine stitched hem- It is the most commonly used to clean finish hems and a method you’ll be able to use on most fabrics and styles in the future. As you become more advanced, you can actually use this dress pattern to create tops and dresses in other styles.
The Learn To Sew Box is sort of like the teacher I never had but always wanted- you know the one that breaks everything down in simple terms and spills some trade tips and secrets in the process?
A journey into our design process, sewing tutorials, fashion tips, and all the inspiring people and things we love.
Today, allow yourself a few moments to explore and feel inspired because everyday is an opportunity to learn something new. Never stop searching for what makes you truly happy.