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Bag Making Tips - Let’s Talk Top-stitching, With Dianna Leckner!

Welcome to the first post in our new series of bag making tips, brought to you by Dianna Leckner! I am so happy to be able to present these tips to you here on the Blog.

Dianna is an awesome sewist and avid bag maker with loads of wisdom to share! She previously shared her tutorial on Creating Fabric Using Colour Weaving, here on the blog and it has been a big hit!  Dianna is going to share some great advice and tips with us as time permits PLUS seek out some of YOUR secrets to share with us too! You can read more about that below in Dianna's post....

Dianna's first post is all about achieving the perfect top-stitching and i must say hers is definitely that!! Over to you Dianna:-


Let’s Talk Top-stitching!

Dianna Leckner
I have been asked by Christine to write a series of posts for her blog that will incorporate sewing tips, bright ideas, and best practices that can be used in bag making. She said she thought I had a lot of tricks up my sleeve, and that she’d like me to share them on her blog. I’ll tell you the truth – I don’t have so very many, but I’m willing to bet that her blog readers and her ChrisW Designs Pattern Group members on Facebook have a bajillion of them. My mission will be to compile them and to write a monthly post so that everyone can benefit! More about that idea later.

Chris gave me a specific assignment for this first post, so we’re going to get to it! She gets lots of questions via email, and one of the most common is about the dreaded subject of top-stitching. Some people are afraid of it; others do it grudgingly when it’s required but kind of hope no-one notices it; still others just plunge in without a thought as to how it might look when it’s done.

I am a firm believer that if you’re going to put visible stitches on the surface of your project, you ought to own it and make those stitches look awesome! This post is intended to help people improve their skills and I’ll also show you my favorite tool for applying beautiful top-stitching that you’ll be proud to show off!

If you’re a member of ChrisWDesigns Pattern Facebook group, you may already know that my favorite pattern from the ChrisW Designs line is the Genevieve messenger bag. This pattern incorporates quite a bit of top-stitching, as do many of her other patterns. Here’s a picture of the slip pockets that went inside a Genevieve bag I just finished.

Top-stitching 1

So what’s the secret to creating this kind of professional looking, super straight, perfectly placed top-stitching? An underappreciated little jewel called an edge-stitch foot. Sometimes called a blind-hem foot, or an edge-joining foot, this versatile accessory has a blade that is centered on a wide foot that will allow you to either center or offset your needle and create precisely placed stitches you can be proud of. Here’s mine.

Top-stitching 2

Okay, I admit, there are a couple of other secrets you need to know to be able to do this, and we’re going to talk about them, too. One is a fading pen or other fabric marking pen. My favorite is the very affordable FriXion Pen by Pilot. The marks made with a FriXion pen are erasable, and in most cases, a quick pass with a hot iron will remove all traces of the ink. Perfect for top-stitching!

The other secret is a specific stitch I use especially for this application. My sewing machine, a Bernina, offers a stitch called the “Triple Straight Stitch.” This stitch sews two stitches forward and one stitch back, (think “forward-forward-back, forward-forward-back”) effectively tripling the amount of thread applied for each stitch. This stitch is typically used for top-stitching jeans or other heavy fabrics, but if your machine offers it, you might not even know it unless you’re looking for it. The triple stitch is totally optional for regular top-stitching, though, and you can still achieve good results just using a regular straight stitch. Bear in mind that it takes a little getting used to the forward-forward-back rhythm generated by the motion of the foot on the fabric, but you get used to it. Practice makes perfect!

So there’s one more secret – in addition to the edge-stitch foot, the FriXion pen, and the triple stitch, I like to use a high sheen 40 wt. embroidery thread for most top-stitching, but I also use a good quality polyester sewing thread when that high sheen look isn’t appropriate.

So how does all this stuff work together to create these awesome little stitches? Here’s the scoop!

Most top-stitching is applied along the edge of your fabric, and the edge-stitch foot is a superstar when it comes to this. You will simply lower your presser foot so that the edge of the fabric runs along the center blade and then offset your needle either left or right. In all of the pictures in this post, when I used a left or right needle position, that offset was 3 mm. I also set my stitch length to 3.5. Secure your stitch as usual and then watch the front edge of the blade as you sew, guiding your fabric so that the blade always touches the edge of the fabric. With practice, you will be sewing your top-stitched lines at high speed without a hitch.

Top-stitching 3

The Genevieve pattern often suggests adding a second line of top-stitching inside the first as a means to strengthen the seam or the join, but you want it to look pretty, too. To do that, go back to the beginning of your first line and lower your presser foot so that the blade rests on the first line of stitching. Stitch your second line, watching the front edge of the blade again, ensuring that it stays centered on your first line of stitching. This is also the method I use when top-stitching a strap. We will address pivoting at corners a little later in the post.

Top-stitching 4

Sometimes, as with the division of the slip pockets in the Genevieve, you will stitch on a line you’ve drawn on your project. For the Genevieve slip pockets, I draw lines with my FriXion pen one inch apart as indicated in the pattern instructions. Then I center my needle and place the blade on the line, sewing over the top of the line itself.

Remember to watch the front edge of the blade and not your needle as you stitch. To make the second lines in these pocket divisions I pivot at the top of the drawn line, make one stitch, pivot again, and then sew all the way back down to the bottom of the pocket. On that second pass, I don’t rely on my blade – instead, I keep the second line straight by watching the first line pass under a specific spot on the presser foot. Instead, you may want to draw another line to follow until you get used to this.

Top-stitching 5

Another common use for top-stitching in bag making is when sewing around a zipper opening. Most of you probably use a zipper foot for this job, but I like to use my edge-stitch foot because, at least with the Bernina, it’s exactly the perfect width. Take a look.

Top-stitching 6


Top-stitching 7

Top-stitching 8


This time I offset my needle to the right by the same 3 mm and stitched right around the zipper keeping one half of the foot inside the zipper opening while sewing down each long edge. Beautiful results!

A word about pivoting when using the “triple straight stitch.” I mentioned the “forward-forward-back” motion of the foot on the fabric earlier. This creates a little challenge when it’s time to pivot. When I get close to the pivot point, (about an inch away) I slow way down and begin to watch the needle as it moves “forward-forward-back.” I accompany the motion of the needle with a silent mantra in my head as it progresses – “forward-forward-back, forward-forward-back.” I want to pivot when the needle is at the right spot in its rhythm, or else I will end up with a stitch out of place, or with a stitch with thin coverage. Remember this – if you pivot your needle at the right point in the rhythm, it will give you perfect results.

But when is that point? Watch the motion of the needle and . . .

“. . . Forward-forward-back, forward-PIVOT-forward-back.” How do you know your needle will be down at the right place for the pivot? You’re going to have to trust me on that. I promise that it works like a charm, and it works every time!

Not all of you will own an edge-stitch foot, and not all brands offer one for sale to fit every machine. I have also used my reverse pattern foot, aka zig-zag foot, with good results, using the incised line in the center of the foot to line up with either the edge of the fabric, or with a drawn line. It also tends to work better than the edge-stitch foot when I’m sewing around pronounced curves, since keeping your eye on the edge-stitch foot’s blade on a curve makes your stitches out of alignment.

As for me, I also use my edge-stitch foot for decorative stitching and for stitching in the ditch. I even use it for basting when stitching 2 to 5 mm from the edge of my fabric. It’s an indispensable tool and helps me produce professional results that people notice and comment on!

Top-stitching 9

Top-stitching 10

I said earlier that I would be doing a monthly post for Chris’s blog, and that I’m going to shamelessly use Chris’s readers and Facebook group members as a resource – so here’s your assignment! The next post is going to be about tools we use that are not designed for sewing, but which you’ve adapted for use when sewing bags. I bet you have ideas by the ton. I use ½” foam core board when cutting out patterns, and I use large spring clamps. Can you guess how I use them?

Top-stitching 11

You’ll have to wait for the next post to find out my secrets, but I need to hear about yours now! I have created a special email address just for gathering your ideas for this blog. It’s, and I need to hear about the tools you use when you’re making bags that aren’t designed for sewing.

  • What is the tool? (pictures would be great!)
  • What is it used for in its real life?
  • How do you use it for bag making?
  • Why do you think others should use it the way you do?

If I use your idea in the next post I’d like to credit you with the idea, so please give me as much or as little information as you’d like to about yourself. I’d like to know at least your first name and where you’re from. I’m excited to learn about what you’re doing and how it can help the rest of us! Thanks for reading!



WOW....I must say those tips are AWESOME! Thank you so much Dianna....I am sure I am not alone in saying that I can't wait to see what you do with those clamps! I have some in my stash....which I use for clamping photographic backgrounds.....I never gave it a though to use them in my sewing room! Interesting..... :)

Happy Top-stitching! 


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