Why Use a Topstitching Needle?

on Apr 15, 2008 in Sewing | 71 comments

Before:

After:

Big difference! I stitched up a trio of Notelets today and got a bit lazy. I started topstitching the spine without changing my needle. I thought it might be worthwhile to show you guys an up close view of the quality variation between using a Universal Needle (the top photo) and a Topstitching Needle (the second photo). The thread and tension was the same, only the needle changed.

At this point of the construction, the needle is stitching through 4 layers of fabric: 2 folded over spine fabric + 1 lining + 1 exterior. Add to those 4 layers of cloth a layer of Peltex stabilizer. Holy moly!

Topstitching needles feature an extra large eye to accommodate thick thread. They also have an extra sharp point that allows the needle to penetrate easily through multiple layers. A Jeans needle is very similar to a topstitching needle, it shares the extra sharp point and strong shaft. I often use the two interchangeably. Read that as: whatever I have on hand!

The limitations of trying to utilize a Universal needle for this job are painfully obvious in the photo. Frayed thread caused by the needle attempting to pierce through the layers and dragging the thread along for the ride. The stitch tension is way off, see all the blue pin dots? That’s the blue bobbin thread pulling up to the top of the fabric. At the upper right hand corner where I made the turn you can see an angled thread pulling across the corner. Compare that to the nice neat corner in the second photo.

Some might not like the large holes created by the larger needle eye. I actually like the definition it gives the topstitching. I have a few more finishing details and then I’ll show off these cuties!

4/17/08: Answers to questions from the comments:

– From Teresa, do I change my stitch length when I topstitch? Yes, from 2.3 to 2.5. Not for any technical reason, just because I like a longer stitch aesthetically.

– Sarah asked about needles for quilting and piecing. I use Universals for my piecing but I like ‘Quilting’ needles for both free-motion and walking foot quilting that I do on my home machine. The Quilting needle has a larger eye and a sharper point. It gives me better thread tension and doesn’t ‘drag’ on the fabric, especially noticeable when doing free-motion work.

– KathieB asked about metallic thread. Eek, that stuff scares me. I asked Kristin LaFlamme this same question several months ago because she does some beautiful free-motion quilting work with metallic threads. She recommended using a #90 Topstitching needle. Kristin also told me she uses Microtex needles for everything else, piecing and quilting with the exception of Stretch needles for knits. Patty A. recommends Microtex too in the comments: “It goes thru the fabric like butter without the fabric goobering up at the beginning or at the end.” I’m definitely picking up a pack and plan to try them out. (Patty gets a star for using the technical term “goobering up” which gave me a laugh because I knew EXACTLY what she meant.)