Today on the Stafford Sew Along we want to discuss tips for topstitching success. The Stafford Jacket features decorative topstitching along most of the seams. It is important to spend time before you start on your project testing your fabric and perfecting your topstitching. Not only does this make your garment look more professional, but it will also save you the time of seam ripping. Let's get started.
To begin, cut several swatches from the fabric that you are going to use for the Stafford. I am using a lightweight chambray that gives the look of denim without the weight. To mimic the conditions of the topstitching, I stitched two swatches together, and pressed the seam allowance to one side. I then tested my topstitching along the seam allowance. This will be especially helpful when you are using a heavy fabric, as you won't get the same topstitching results on two layers of fabric as you will when you eventually stitch through four or more. You want to test your stitching on several different combinations of layers of fabric to make sure you get a consistent stitch, no matter how many layers you are using.
Needles: I tested both a 90/14mm topstitching needle, as well as a Universal. Again, what we are looking for is a good, consistent stitch on both sides of the fabric. On my machine, the Universal needle made the stitches loose and loopy, so I will be using the 90/14mm topstitching needle. Another option is to use a 90/14 embroidery needle. Having choices on hand will save you a trip to the notions store.
Stitch length: Normally when topstitching on garments, you use the same short stitch length that you use to construct the garment. In the Stafford, the topstitching serves as a decorative element, and here you will want to bring attention to it by lengthening the stitch. Below, on my test samples I tried stitch lengths from my regular 2.5mm up to 4mm.
From left to right below, I tested different lengths of stitching using a 90/14 needle. Then, on the last piece, I tried using a Universal needle, which left the stitching loose and loopy (I know it may be hard to see it). From this test I learned that I want to use a 90/14 needle, with a thread length of 3.0mm. This is what works on my machine, with this particular combination of fabric and thread. While I will mark and keep these samples for future reference, I will need to re-test when using a different fabric or thread weight.
For topstitching, we use a Coats 30wt. Dual Duty XP polyester thread. You might find that your machine has trouble feeding the thread through the bobbin. If so, you can try adjusting the tension of the bobbin by loosening the small screw on the bobbin case. However, if you adjust the tension on your bobbin case, you may not be able to adjust back for regular sewing. We recommend having two bobbin cases and marking your adjusted case, so you know which case goes with which thread. Or, you might investigate whether your machine has an optional heavyweight bobbin thread case. For instance, Bernina offers a bobbin case (in red) that accommodates the heavier thread.
If you are having trouble using the same heavy weight thread in both the top and bobbin, change to a regular 50wt. thread in the bobbin and test that.
Presser feet can help you keep your stitch a consistent ¼" from your seam line. For Bernina owners, the #37 foot is made for stitching a ¼"-wide seam allowance, and you can use one half of the presser foot as a guide. Or, the #57 foot has the same width, but also features a guide bar, which you can use to follow your outer edge or seam line exactly.
If you are using a really thick, heavy fabric, you might switch to a single hole presser foot, which really grabs the fabric and allows it to guide the fabric through the machine. It gives you a very stable feel to sewing. The Bernina #8 foot is made especially for straight stitching through heavy fabric like denim, linen or canvas.
Another accessory that will help your fabric move consistently through the machine is a single hole throat plate.
When topstitching, you want to stitch on the right side of the garment, from top to bottom. You don't backstitch on the seam line, instead, bring your top thread through to the wrong side and tie it off. If you are hemming and come to a thick section, you might want to use a Jean-A-Ma-Jig. To use this notion, place it under the presser foot, to make the foot even and level with the thick seam line. This way, the fabric moves evenly through the machine and keeps a consistent stitch. If you don't have a Jean-A-Ma-Jig, you can fold up a thick piece of paper, or manila folder, for similar results.
Join us next week for the Stafford Sew Along Part Three: Sewing the Front! If you are just starting with us, be sure to check out the Stafford Sew Along Part One: Cutting and Marking. For more tips on working with outdoor or activewear fabrics, check out Linda's Craftsy class You Can Sew It: Taming Tricky Fabric.