Finishing Touches for Garment Sewing

on June 17 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 86 Comments

Sally, from Sew Sally and our editorial board, kicked our Make It, Wear It! Month off with her wonderful post about the right tools for garment sewing. Today she’s back to tell us how to make the clothes we sew look more professional, with tips for finishing touches such as topstitching, pressing and making it all look neat and tidy in the end!

Some might say that simply getting a garment finished is good enough and for those of us with sewing rooms full of unfinished projects, we might not disagree. Today we are talking about taking our garment sewing to the next level. By pulling out the stops on our finishing techniques we can make our garments look so professional that friends will doubt we made them ourselves.

Topstitching is usually done to add a professional and finished look to garments, but it can also be used to hold layers of fabric in place and prevent facings from shifting while being worn. Topstitching is always done on the right side (or “top” side of the garment) because tension differences will often cause the stitches on the top to be of better quality. The only difference between topstitching and edge stitching is that edge stitching is specifically near the edge of the garment.

The most important tools for good-looking topstitching are quality thread, a new needle, and an edgestitching foot. There are a lot of excellent thread choices available, and you want to be looking for thread that has long fibers and little to no lint or fuzz so that your stitches can be seen individually. Lengthening your stitches a little bit will also improve this. Special topstitching thread is extra thick and usually requires that you use special topstitching needles that sport a large eye. Regular thread and universal needles will also work well, especially on light weight fabrics that would be overpowered by the thick thread.

By changing your needle before you begin topstitching, you are ensuring that you won’t have skipped stitches or other problems with stitch quality. A dull needle is sometimes hard to detect by feel or sight and even the slightest damage can cause your stitches to look less than perfect. Lastly, using a presser foot with a guide will keep your stitches in the straight little row you want them in.

The easiest of all finishing techniques is pressing. Using as much heat as is appropriate for our fabric, press firmly downward, without sliding the iron back and forth. Using tools such as a pressing ham or sleeve board can help us get to tricky corners or three dimensional areas like darts. A press cloth is sometimes necessary to prevent shine and to prevent scorching the fabric. If you don’t have one of the fancy Teflon press sheets, you can always use a piece of muslin.

To steam or not to steam? I keep a spray bottle of water and a spray bottle of liquid starch at my ironing board and keep my iron bone dry. I have had more than one sad experience of a steamy iron spitting dirty water on my fabric and have also watched fabric shrink and distort with excess steam. That said, if you are working with all natural fibers that you have prewashed in hot water and heat dried, your fabric shouldn’t shrink at all. If you know your iron is very clean inside and you allow it to heat up before using it, steam away! The steam will penetrate through the fibers and make your pressing go faster.

If you are pressing a particularly stubborn fabric, consider using a clapper. This wooden tool comes in a variety of shapes and is used to hold a pressed area until it cools. If your fabric allows, steam the area and then press the clapper down. The wood holds the steam without adding any heat, so you don’t have to worry about scorching your fabric. Since heat forgets and cool remembers, your pressed and cooled seam will stay pressed.

Neat & Tidy
Lastly, be sure to trim all of your threads. I use a small pair of very sharp scissors so I can cut threads very close to the fabric. Or I leave long threads and then tug on the bobbin thread. This makes the top thread pop to the back of the garment where I can tie the two threads together and trim them. This ensures that the last stitches won’t come undone and work their tails to the right side of the garment.


We’re giving away fabulous prizes this month from SINGER, Ottobre Design and Sew,Mama,Sew!

1–Comment Here

Comment in any post this month to be entered into a weekly drawing for great prizes from SINGER and Sew,Mama,Sew!

2–Enter the Make It, Wear It! Challenge

Submit a photo of clothing you make this June in our Make It, Wear It! Challenge photo pool or in this thread in the Forum. You might win a SINGER sewing machine or a subscription to Ottobre.

See this post for details about all the prizes this month!

Pin It

Related Posts

86 Responses to Finishing Touches for Garment Sewing

  1. Ali says:

    What great tips – for a beginner like me, they will save me many a disgarded and over looked handmade items

  2. Erin says:

    Great tips. Thanks!

  3. Tammy says:

    Another great post, thank you!

  4. Heather says:

    Awesome tips!

  5. jackie says:

    i like that statement “heat forgets and cool remembers”.

  6. Molly says:

    I appreciate these tips! Saving this page for future reference.

  7. Joke says:

    Thank you for the advice, I think I’m going to make me a pressing ham!

  8. Heather says:

    Topstitching really does make a garment look proffessional.

  9. Claire says:

    Thanks for the tips! I had no idea about the different thread.

  10. Christine says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  11. Corvus says:

    Fantastic tips.

  12. nikole terry says:

    My mother always said pressing is what will make or break a project, she was right!

  13. Lisa K says:

    I did not know there was top stitching thread — I’ll have to give it a try! Those pants look great.

  14. Heidi says:

    great tips, I need to remember to change my needles more often.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the advice.

  16. Ginger says:

    great tips!

  17. Sarah says:

    Great tips!

  18. Julia in WDM says:

    i found this helpful. thanks!

  19. The finishing touches are always fun!

  20. Wendy says:

    Really helpful info!

  21. Rochelle says:

    I was reading about a clapper just yesterday but couldn’t find a good explanation of what, why, and how….thanks for answering my questions!

  22. jessica says:

    Any advice on how to ‘sew on the bias’? Would love some tips!

  23. briana says:

    Thanks for the tips. Already putting them to good use!

  24. Layla says:

    nice article and lovely pants.

    To get extra pop, I’ve heard of threading from 2 spools, rather than getting special thread.

  25. Larri says:

    Very informative! Thanks! Happy Sewing 🙂

  26. Stacy says:

    Thank you for the tips. Would you believe I’ve never seen a sleeve board before? It looks so handy!

  27. Kerrie says:

    Thanks for writing these tips. I didn´t know you could get special top-stitching thread, so I´ll be looking for some tomorrow.

  28. Mama Lusco says:

    thank you!

  29. Jill says:

    I’ve needed advice like this. Thank you!

  30. Liz says:

    I was just topstitching tonight. Thanks for the tips!

  31. Rosa in the Antipodes says:

    I loved it! Thank you so much

  32. jana says:

    Great tips!

  33. Joy says:

    Thanks for the tip on how to use the clapper – I didn’t know how to use that particular tool.

  34. Jennifer S. says:

    I used to not press things. But then my mother in law came to visit, and she silently went out and bought me an iron. Now I’m a better sewer. Thanks Diane!

  35. Melanie says:

    Thanks for the great tips! This is definitely an area I need to work on…

  36. Kelly says:

    Great tips! Thanks 🙂

  37. Kelli says:

    Nice top stitching makes a huge difference!

  38. QSOgirl says:

    I’ve never heard of a clapper before- I’m going to have to look into one of those!

  39. Sara says:

    Graciously reading your tips that continue to impress me!

  40. Lark says:

    Thanks for more great tips! Great idea to use a new, special needle for topstitching.

  41. sy says:

    great tips, thanks for sharing.

  42. Kelli says:

    great tips–topstitching always looks so nice and doesn’t take that much longer. THANKS!

  43. Dana St John says:

    great tips thanks

  44. Marcia W. says:

    Thanks for the helpful sewing tips.

  45. Danyelle says:

    Love the tips! Thanks.

  46. THERESEA says:


  47. Vida says:

    Great info, very helpful. Thanks!

  48. Cecily says:

    Great tips. I’ll have to try them.

  49. DebbieKL says:

    I wonder if my machine has a top stitching foot – I’ll have to go look!

  50. Sara says:

    Who knew there was a topstitching foot? Thanks for the tips.

  51. Trish says:

    Great instruction, very helpful.I didn’t know what a clapper was. That topstitching looks very professional too.

  52. Andi says:

    I didn’t know that there were topstitching needles – or a topstitching foot. Thanks for the tips!

  53. Sade says:

    Another very interesting topic! I usually always finish the threads by knotting them as described. Probably because my grandma did that too.

  54. Liz says:

    Great tips for a novice sewist like myself!

  55. Margie Bennett says:

    I love topstitching!! Thanks for the tips.

  56. susan says:

    I’m usually so relieved to actually finish something that I neglect the details — thanks for the excellent reminders!

  57. Ramona says:

    Wonderful tips. Thanks you.

  58. 4vs1 says:

    Great tips! I love the way top stitching finishes an item.

  59. Joy says:

    Great tips! thanks! I love top stitching =)

  60. Laura says:

    Great tips, thanks!

  61. Trudy Callan says:

    This was an excellent article. Thank you.


  62. beverly says:

    great tips.

  63. Fawn says:

    Very helpful hints, thank so much for this post! I love the last suggestion about popping the top thread through to the underside so you can tie the ends and trim there, I will totally have to remember that! 🙂

  64. wendy says:

    Top stitching rules!!

  65. Netter says:

    I need one of those topstitching feet!

  66. Amber F. says:

    Topstitching can really make a difference!

  67. Taki J says:

    Thanks for the tips. I need as much help as I can get.

  68. Noel says:

    I really wish I still lived in Oregon and could take your classes. Thanks for the awesome tips.

  69. Megan says:

    Wonderful tips! Thank you.

  70. Ana V says:

    Again, very helpful; thanks!

  71. PeachRainbow says:

    Top stitching is intimidating!

  72. Steph W says:

    These are great tips – thank you!

  73. Jenny says:

    Top Stitching is SO satisfying!

  74. amber says:

    love these tips – esp. the pressing ones, I’d never heard of a clapper.

  75. Lindsay says:

    The tip about the bobbin thread is helpful, especially for stitches where you can’t/don’t want to backstitch at the end.

  76. Kirsten says:

    top stitching is so good as an embellishment on boys clothes where you can’t add all kinds of bows and flowers. It really pops, especially in a contrasting color. I appreciate the tips!

  77. Kathryn says:

    If you google pressing tools there are many tutes out there for making them yourself. I’ve done a tailor’s ham (very easy!) but am having problems finding hardwood for a clapper/sleeve board. Still looking though…

  78. Serena says:

    Excellent tips. I don’t think a lot of people realize how important a fresh, new needle is for topstitching!

  79. Unity says:

    Thank you for the advice!

  80. Eni says:

    Wow, didn’t know there was an edgestitching foot. Gatta get me one. I’m obsessed with making sure my clothes don’t look homemade and topstitching and pressing definitely help.

  81. Elle says:

    Great tips! I need to look into re-learning topstitching.

  82. Kimberly says:

    Thank you!

  83. Tong says:

    Great and very practical tips, thanks!

  84. Laurel says:

    Such practical tips. Thanks.

  85. Katie says:

    I love topstitching!

  86. susan hwang says:

    thanks for the great tips!

« »

Subscribe to the newsletter

Sewing inspiration, projects, events and offers delivered conveniently to your email.


Get the latest news via