“Do I need a
You absolutely can use a regular sewing machine for sewing knits! I’ll address constructing knit garments with a sewing machine in a future post. For now, let’s look at topstitching knit fabrics.
What is topstitching?
Topstitching is a sewing technique where the line of stitching is designed to be seen from the outside of the garment, either decorative or functional. Topstitching is used most often on garment edges such as necklines and hems, where it helps facings to stay in place and gives a crisp edge. Wikipedia
There are two machines commonly used for topstitching. The most praised is the
The other machine commonly used for topstitching is just a regular, zigzag sewing machine. More than likely, you already own and use one!
The Importance of the Walking Foot
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the different stitches you can use for topstitching, let’s start this off on the right foot. The walking foot, to be precise.
A walking foot helps move
Topstitching with a Twin Needle
A twin needle creates two very neat rows of stitching on top and a zigzag effect on the back. It has some give to it, which is perfect for knits.
The twin needle gives a very nice looking finish that mimics the look of the
I also ran into trouble because my machine’s manual said nothing about twin needle. Nada. Zilch. I kind of got it working, but never to my satisfaction. The bobbin thread is supposed to zigzag between the two needle threads. No matter how I adjusted mine, it stayed straight with very little stretch. I ended up compromising by using woolly or bulky nylon thread in the bobbin which allowed my stitches to stretch a little. I also didn’t like how much work it took to go from being set up for the twin needle to regular sewing. It made switching from regular sewing to topstitching very difficult and
That being said, some machines handle a twin needle with no trouble! Check your manual to see.
The Stretch Stitch
Almost any stitch that is classed as a stretch stitch will work for topstitching. It really depends on the look you’re going for. The circled stitches below are an example.
Most machines have a zigzag stitch and variations of the zigzag. On my machine, those are numbered 06-08. When I use a zigzag, I like making it smaller than my machine’s default settings.
Stitches 04 and 14 are very similar and are known as the Lightning Bolt stitch.
Stitch 03 is a triple straight stitch and is made for stretchy fabrics. It’s often used for hemming and gives a nice clean look.
Some of the others that are circled on the chart are also stretch stitches that you could play with. I recommend trying different stitches out on your machine and seeing what you like. It can be fun to play with the different combinations.
Here, you can see that I used a simple, small zigzag stitch to topstitch the neckband, armbands, and waistband of this Amber + Elton Sweater Vest.
I can just imagine the puzzled look on your face. I know. I did just say straight stitch for topstitching knits. The straight stretch doesn’t really have any give, so it’s typically not good to use in knit garment construction. However, there are occasions where you can use a plain straight stitch for topstitching.
For instance: Skirt hems, large necklines that won’t have tension put on them, flowy sleeve hems, basically any place that won’t be stretched during wear.
The Adventure of Sewing with Knits
Every project, every type of knit fabric, every stitch has it’s own unique look and behavior. The more you sew, the more you will understand how each of these things work together. Sewing is such an adventure! Don’t be afraid to try new things.
I’d love to hear your favorite topstitching or sewing tips! Feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂
Loving & Sewing Knits Series
General Tips for Sewing with Knits
Constructing Knit Garments with a Sewing Machine (Coming Soon)
Constructing Knit Garments with a Serger (Coming Soon)
Topstitching Knits on a Sewing Machine
Handling Tricky Problems with Knit Fabrics