Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Tips for Accurate Top-stitching

I am a great fan of top-stitching, there’s no denying it! It is just one of those techniques that just adds a certain pizazz to the garment I’m sewing and elevates a boring make into something more interesting.

For my top-stitching I usually use “top-stitch” thread like this Gutermanns thread. The thread is extra thick and is available in many different colours; great for selecting a contrasting or matching thread for your garment.


The only drawback is that it is harder to thread the machine needle with this thicker thread. I usually use a jeans needle or another heavy-duty needle when top-stitching. Apparently, there are specialist top-stitching needles that have bigger eyes. Has anyone else tried these?

I increase my stitch length usually to “6” or “7”, which is the maximum stitch length on my machine . Sometimes I wish my machine could do longer stitches – lots of RTW jeans have quite long stitches.

The biggest problem with top-stitching is that it is very visible. Every single wobble you make is there for all the world to see. I thought I’d share a few tips that I’ve found useful on keeping the top-stitching looking good.

Unfortunately, my sewing machine, an old Singer 348 didn’t reach me with any feet other than its standard foot. I have spent a long time trying to locate new feet for it, but with limited success. I now have an adjustable zipper foot and also this “overlocking edging foot” foot. I find this foot very handy for doing my top-stitching on straight lines. I can line up the guide with the edge of the seam and it is so much easier to sew a straight line when you have an edge guide.


For my denim Viale skirt, I topstitched semi-circles on the front and back of the skirt. To get this effect I used freezer paper as a guide line.

1. Create a freezer paper template from the semi-circle on the front pattern piece


2. Place the freezer paper onto the Skirt Front. Press the freezer paper onto the skirt with a hot setting. The freezer paper adheres to the fabric.


3. Thread your machine with top-stitch thread and use the standard foot.

4. Stitch around the freezer paper template using the paper as a guide.


Many of the horror stories I’ve read online about top-stitching detail problems with skipped stitches and machines that can’t cope with bulky seams. I will thoroughly admit that I’m no expert in this respect, my old Singer makes light work of sewing through multiple layers and doesn’t tend get stuck on bulky seams. I feel rather blessed with my machine – are old machines are more adept at this sort of work?

1 Comment

Tips on Piping

Piping is a technique that I have definitely grown to love after making my Viale Skirt in black cotton twill with white piping.

Of course, using the piping to pick out the pocket entrance and yoke, does mean that a fair deal of accuracy is needed for this to look good, so I thought I’d share some tips I found helpful on piping here.

I found this useful book in the library – Home Sewing Couture Techniques by Kenneth D. King – and there is a whole section on piping.

1. Materials to use

I tried to find some ready-made piping in shops and also on-line, but the choice was rather limited. There is lots of piping cord available but it is quite rigid and my guess is that it is used for furniture. So, not wishing to look like the latest offering from DFS, I decided to give this a miss.

The recommendation in Kenneth D King’s book is to use rat’s tail and bias binding to create your own piping. Rat’s tail is very flexible and this makes it a good choice for piping on clothes. And with using bias-binding to cover the rat’s tail, you can choose whatever you can like. I chose a white satin bias-binding.


Rat’s tail is approx 2.5 mm in diameter

RatsTail and Bias Binding

Selection of rat’s tail and bias binding

2. Adjustable zipper foot

There are piping feet that can be used, but my poor old Singer has a very limited array of accessories, so I used an adjustable zipper foot and placed the piping close against the side of the foot as I stitched. Worked like a dream….

3. Piping using two different sewing positions

Kenneth D. King suggests using two different positions with the adjustable zipper foot when sewing the piping into the garment; one position is very near to the rat’s tail piping and the other a bit further away. When you sew the piping to your first fabric piece the farther piping position is used. When stitching the fabric piece to the other side of the piping, the nearer position is used. This will mean that the piping is tight against the fabric of the skirt and that all your previous stitching isn’t visible.


Add the piping to the first fabric piece using the farther positioning.

Viale_Piping inside

Piping has been sewn onto both fabric pieces and it is possible to see the stitching line at the first (farther away position) and the stitching for the second fabric piece which is nearer the rat’s tail.

4. Accurate joins at seams

I found trying to get my piping to join together at the side seams especially tricky. The first helpful suggestion I can make here, is to make sure that the piping is tight against the fabric of the skirt on the front and back skirts, before you start. This will prevent the piping shifting so much as you sew those side seams. I also found it helpful to hand tack the front and back skirts together and add several stitches at the point where the piping on the front joins the piping at the back. The side seams can be stitched with a walking foot to ensure the piping continues to line up.

5. Trimming seams

The piping and the pockets can make the skirt all a bit bulky at the side seams so I trimmed away a lot of fabric. Because there are three lines of stitching on the piping, it is possible to trim really close to the piping.

The Home Sewing Couture Techniques book is really handy if you wish to take your sewing to a whole new level. It’s not often that I praise a sewing book (in fact have I ever praised a sewing book?) I seem to have made some poor choices in sewing literature over the years. My only reservation is that there are a few rather lurid garment designs in this book, but this is haute couture! Once you get past that, the techniques are spot on, and very well explained.

There is a lot about piping, of course, in the book. This also includes double piping and piping around corners and curves for the more adventurous.There are other fantastic techniques too including a section on making tiny hems and seams on sheer fabrics and how to make a fool-proof lapped zip.  I haven’t tried these techniques, but I think they will be helpful. All in all, a worthwhile book which is easy to follow and there aren’t many books out there that make you feel like a pro!


Finished Piping


Skirt Experiments

You may recall the True Blue Skirt from earlier in the year which is quite a simple self-drafted skirt I made. After I made that skirt, I experimented with a couple more variations.

I introduced some in-seam pockets and lots of top-stitching for the blue denim version. I think this version has a seventies vibe about it. I love the little tricolore buttons I found too.

Denim Viale 2

Denim Viale 1

The black and white version has some piped details and the pockets too. To my mind, this is definitely a sixties mini skirt.

Black-White Viale 3

Black-White Viale 4


Black-White Viale 2

Of the three skirts, the back and white version is my absolute favourite. I wore this quite a few times during Me-Made-May and it makes a perfect work skirt worn with tights as it isn’t too tight getting on and off trains! I’m not so sure about the denim version. For some reason the yoke doesn’t sit as flat as on the other versions – it bubbles a bit. In fact, now I’m looking at the photos even the hem doesn’t sit flat. Perhaps the fabric was too stiff. It is, what I would call, a medium-weight denim so I thought it would work. Perhaps I should put this down as a bad fabric choice on my part. On top of this, I’m not that smitten with the colour of denim. It really is very similar in colour to the first blue skirt I made and I was really after a darker indigo type of denim. Still perhaps it will grow on me as a skirt. I’m debating whether some applique or embroidery on it might give it a lift.

So much for my skirt experiments! I also thought I’d share something with you that I’ve been working on for the last few months. I’ve been dabbling with pattern drafting….well, all the cool kids are doing it! I’ve drafted a digital pattern for this skirt. It’s called The Viale Skirt.

I hadn’t realised quite how much work this was until I started and I’m really in awe of those who manage to produce more than about one pattern a year. But, I’ve had to do a lot of learning and I’ve been using a rather badly installed version of the freeware program Inkscape, which might explain my woes. So, because this is an experiment and I’m unsure of my abilities in this area, I’m offering the pattern for free!

Click here to download the Viale Skirt PDF pattern.

Click here for the Viale Skirt Instruction booklet.

Any feedback is very welcome. However, there are some things that I know I will definitely include or spend more time on. I’ve only tested this pattern on myself, for instance and there isn’t a cutting layout in my instructions. I simply ran out of time and I really wanted to post this during the monthly stitch’s indie pattern month. Enjoy and tell me what you think!