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Topstitching versus Edgestitching: A Sewing Basics Quick Tip

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As a writer and editor, I’m a bit of a “word geek.” I love all the crazy intricacies, like the subtle but important difference between further and farther, fewer and less or lie and lay. Yes, I am one of those annoying people… and a devastating opponent in Scrabble. There are a couple terms in sewing that get tossed about interchangeably: topstitching and edgestitching. They are similar but different animals, each with its own distinct purposes. The images above of our Five-Pocket Canvas Bag feature a variety of beautiful and precise topstitching and edgestitching.

The Quick Tip series here on Sew4Home is part of our dedication to sewing fundamentals. If you have a basic question or technique we’ve yet to feature, leave us a comment below or send a note to info@sew4home.com. Whether you’ve been sewing for a few days or several decades, the basics are always important.


Edgestitching is a row of stitching on the very edge of a garment, normally ⅛” or less from the edge. It provides a crisp edge for facings, collars, lapels or any situation where you want a tight, professional finish along a seamed edge. It is usually done in thread to match the fabric but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. At Sew4Home, we often use thread in a contrasting color as an embellishment. 

Shown: Day at the Beach Bag with Rope Handles

Edgestitching is also the stitch of choice to attach ribbons, lace or other decorative trim. 

Shown: Layered Tea Time Placemats

A sub-set of edgestitching is understitching, which is a line of edgestitching that secures a seam allowance to a facing or lining. This allows the seam to roll toward the inside of the garment or project. The stitching is always done in matching thread and does not show on the outside of the project. The photo below of a little girl’s linen party dress shows the understitching that is holding the facing in place as well as the edgestitching detail along the collar and armholes.


Topstitching is a line of stitching that adds detail to seams and edges and is meant to be visible from the right side of the project. The stitching is usually more than ⅛” from the edge or seam and can be done in many ways: straight stitch, decorative stitche, multiple rows of stitching, even twin or triple needle stitching. It can feature a wide variety of thread colors in order to blend in or stand out as a decorative element.

The controversy

Don’t you love sewing controversy? It makes us sound as if we might qualify for our own reality TV show. The term topstitching has traditionally defined the line of stitching that attaches one element to another, such as a pocket to a shirt. However, these days, sewers more often default to width rather than construction when describing their right-side–of-the-project stitching, using topstitching when describing a stitch distance of more than ⅛” from the edge and edgestitching for ⅛” or closer. This is our standard choice here at Sew4Home. 

Our favorite feet

As a Janome studio, we have several favorite presser feet we turn to for precise stitching. Some are optional, such as the Janome Edge Guide foot, which is adjustable so you can get really close, but not too close. 

The Janome Sliding Guide foot is another adjustable option with options to work with both 7mm and 9mm machines. 

Several of the feet that are likely to come standard with your machine are also excellent. Your Standard presser foot is nice for edgestitching along ribbon because its wider base helps keep the ribbon flat as you sew. Shown below is a Satin Stitch foot, which features a see-though base and a handy guide arrow. Don’t forget to always sew in the same direction along each side of a ribbon to prevent distortion. 

A Blind Hem foot can also work quite well. In the sample below, we turned up a 2" hem then added ribbon trim to the right side. The needle was moved to the left position so the Blind Hem foot could guide the line of stitching along the edge of the ribbon.

By edgestitching along the ribbon through all the layers, we attached the ribbon and secured the hem at the same time, using the Blind Hem foot.

A Quarter Inch Seam foot is another alternative for a precise seam allowance. We use this option along with topstitching along zipper teeth.

Depending on your machine make and model, you may have other feet from which to select. Visit your local dealer to find out about all the choices and their details. 

More information

Check out the detailed step-by-step tutorials listed below for more information on how to keep your stitching on the straight and narrow.

Topstitching: Tips for a Professional Finishing Touch

Understitching: How to Create a Sharp, Seamed Edge

Six Ways to Sew a Straight Line

Basic Heirloom Stitching by MachineEdgestitching is often used in heirloom for pintucking and other techniques.


Comments (2)

Caroline from France said:
Caroline from France's picture

The narrow zipper foot can also be useful for topstitching or understitching accurately along a seam by running the foot along the seam and stitching on the opposite side of the foot, particularly when the seams are bulky. I did this when I was making the Messenger Bag last weekend!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Caroline - Thanks for another good suggestion. I actually wish this foot was more readily available... it's a dandy!