Progress on the Marfy Coat and a Tutorial on Topstitching

Happy Holidays, Campers! Now that I’ve picked up the Marfy coat again, it’s coming along very nicely. It’s amazing how taking a break from a project gives you a fresh outlook. The major construction is pretty much done (and there are some serious construction considerations that I’ll put in the review, for anyone who wants to make this coat – nothing bad, just stuff you need to know). I spent a lot of time thinking about the topstitching on the lapels and front. I wish like all get-out that I had thought about it last year when I was topstitching the pockets and the chest shield. The topstitching on those is not bad, but it could be better, and it could be closer to the edge. Live and learn, eh?

Recently I saw a blog post from a self-styled ‘expert’, where the topic of topstitching was discussed. I have to say, it was appalling. Seriously. I try very hard not to criticize, but the information in the post was so wrong, and it is read by many new sewing folks, that I have to say two things right up front. (Bad language alert)

1: Topstitch all the way around any piece. Half-way is half-assed, people.

2: Topstitching is not used to finish an open seam. And most certainly not partial topstitching. See #1. Slipstitch your openings, then topstitch. It takes less than 5 additional minutes and you won’t have your seams falling apart after the first washing. Just do it, dammit.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about topstitching in general terms. The Marfy coat has a fair amount of topstitching to it. I haven’t done the topstitching on the cape pieces, yet, but I did topstitch the lapels and smaller pieces. When doing the lapels, I decided to test out a few different options for getting my topstitching done well. I have to tell you that, while I have very little OCD, seeing wobbly topstitching is one of the few things that makes me want to take a seam ripper to someone else’s work, especially when there are so many different tools to help you do a nice, even line of stitching. Let me show you some of the options that are available on my Pfaff machine. I suspect there are similar options for just about any machine. I made tests of each of them on some scrap wool. I’m using black thread for contrast so you can see it clearly. I’m only using a single thread (I’ve seen recommendations to use doubled thread for topstitching, but it’s not the effect I’m going for here). I set my stitch length to 3.5 mm. And I have several different feet that I can use to get an even topstitching line. Here are the results for each:

I prefer to sew my seams with an open appliqué foot.

When I sew seams, I use an open appliqué foot. I find that it Gives Me Good Control. If you have a steady hand, and don’t have to go over many layers, it can work well. But in a coat, it can move around a lot, giving you uneven topstitching.

One of the standard feet included in my machine is a Blindstitch/Overlock foot. It has a little wheel that rides (in this case) along the edge of the fabric. It’s rather like a stitch in the ditch foot (which I don’t own). I think that foot could also work well for topstitching along an edge as well.

The little wheel runs along the edge of the fabric

I also have an edge stitching foot. The only difficulty with it is that it is left-handed, meaning the bulk of the coat has to fit under the harp of the machine. When you are dealing with a big ol’ winter coat, that’s pretty much a non-starter. It’s perfect for shirts, though.

This foot has a two-tier bottom. One is lower than the other to easily run along the edge of your fabric.

Last but not least is the regular foot (or I could use the appliqué foot) with an edge guide. I don’t know if other manufacturers do this- I would assume they do. The nice thing about this is that it’s adjustable to whatever distance you want from the edge of the fabric, so you can topstitch wherever you would like:

The distance from the edge is adjustable

.

So what was the winner in this case?

The Blindstitch/Overlock foot!

For my preferences, it gave the best results. I moved the needle over all the way to the left, so I got a wider edge.

I liked this foot the best, though all of them have their merits. Of the four feet I tested, all but one of them (the appliqué foot without the edge guide) give you good, solid guides for topstitching. Here you can see the coat in its still-unfinished glory. It’s getting really close. I need to hem it, then I have to figure out when I can get to Jonathan to put the buttonholes in. I hope to finish it before Christmas, so it’ll only be a year late. More shortly.

So far so good…

Happy sewing!

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21 thoughts on “Progress on the Marfy Coat and a Tutorial on Topstitching”

  1. All I have to do is compare your result to the self-styled expert’s result and it’s obvious which tutorial to follow.
    Thanks for putting this up, I’ll be referring back to this soon!

  2. That coat is looking really good. Thanks for the reminder about the open-toe applique foot – I hadn’t thought of it and must try it.
    I have a Pfaff machine and for top-stitching between about 3/8 inch and 1 and 1/2 inches from the edge I have a foot with a fixed guide (adjustable guide foot) which works really well and I think better than the screw -in guide you show. Closer than that I find what Pfaff call the narrow edge foot quite invaluable and better than the blindstitch foot. It has a central blade, and a wide zig-zag needle hole. So by setting the needle position outwards (my needle positions go up to 4 millimetres out from the centre) you can run the blade along the edge and have a steady stitching line the relevant distance away. And it can work left or right handed, unlike the blindhem foot where you can only really use it with the stitching to the left of the edge. I am not quite sure what you mean by “stitch all round? I might topstitch the front opening of a coat and all round the outside of the lapel and collar as you have done but not the hem – and that isn’t really “all round.
    Thanks for a valuable post. Anne

    1. I also don’t topstitch the hems of my coats. By “all around” I am referring to the entire lapel/front edge of the coat. On smaller pieces, like tabs, I mean go all the way around the entire piece on all visible edges.

      I’ll have to check into those feet/guides you mentioned. Two of the four feet I show (the blind hem and the standard foot with guide) come standard with the Pfaff, so anyone can use them in a pinch. The nice thing about Pfaff and most machine types is that accessory feet are reasonably priced. But it’s nice to know you can get good results without having to run to the dealer or buy a new foot.

  3. Ann — do you have a tutorial on hemming coats here? Because I certainly could use one – mine on thick wool coats just..look…(language alert) crappy.

  4. Ann, that looks absolutely wonderful. My preferred topstitching tool is a magnetic seam guide (to be put onto the stitch plate) that can be adjusted to any width instantly.

    1. If that’s the tool I’m thinking of, it doesn’t work for me because it gets dislodged easily. To create a guide I’ve tried chalking the line, thread tracing the line, and, when using an industrial machine, using a compensating foot.

      This comparison of home machine feet was helpful.

  5. The coat is looking good!

    You made a good point for trying out different tools for top stitching, if you have them. The answer isn’t always “hammer” 🙂 I wish I knew which tutorial you write of that had such advice. The only time I’ve ever seen partial topstitching used to close a seam is on decorative pillows, and maybe a bag lining. None of which were, shall we say….quality items.

  6. The coat is looking great! I’m kind of jealous of coat making, but there’s no way I want to spend that time on something I might wear twice a year. Or maybe not at all. 😉

    And haha/yes sistah! on the mini rant. I know exactly that of which you speak.

  7. Perfect edgestitching and topstitching… a goal, a goal, a goal. Thanks for this. I have found that the edge-stitching/stitch in the ditch foot to have markedly improved my edge stitching, though curves and some fabrics still cause issues!

  8. I love everything about this coat. Everything. I recently had a topstitch heavy project and looking at that compared to something I did last year on a lighter weight machine is eye opening. I also like to use my walking foot for some topstitching because of the control you mention.

  9. I tend to sew a lot of 1930’s bias-cut dresses with intricate seaming, and almost all of the seams are topstitched. Given that I’m usually working with silk crepe de chine or silk charmeuse, this is pretty challenging. Do you have any recommendation for which foot to use for this?

    1. Ah, bias cut silk charmeuse makes me run screaming from the room. I would definitely use a walking foot, perhaps with one of those magnetic seam guides that Manuela suggested.

  10. Oh gods YES! to number 2.

    Love the coat. Maybe if good quality wool didn’t cost a fortune here I’d try & make one.

    I often use my 1/4″ piecing foot for top stitching. It’s close enough to the edge I think.

  11. I notice that your pic in your 11/29 post has the front overlap left over right and in this post right over left. Is there a reason for the change? Also what can Jonathan do for buttonholes that you can’t?

    1. This is the way it will be when it’s finished, right over left. I probably just wasn’t paying attention when I took the picture on the 29th, since I still had a lot of work to do. Jonathan can do keyhole buttons much more cleanly than I can. Plus I do need to make one more trip to NY before the end of the year on business, so Jonathan is a bonus! 🙂

  12. Yes, a thousand times yes about the topstitching rant. I am so envious of having a place near-ish that does buttonholes. For thick fabrics, I have an industrial needle fed machine, that thing just marches perfectly on. For thinner fabrics I use my home machine and like you, will try out various feet options, edge stitch foot, stitch in ditch, I think it s a 1/4 inch piecing foot?

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