Learn to Sew Series Lesson #3: Turning and Top Stitching

You’ve done it! You’ve made it to week 3 of the Learn to Sew series. How have you done so far? Are things going ok? So far we’ve learned to sew a straight line and how to zigzag stitch. Today we are going to learn how to turn things and how to top stitch along with a couple of other handy sewing tips.

So, on to the lesson.

Lesson #3: Turning and Top Stitching

What do I mean by turning? Very often when you are sewing you are going to put the right sides together, stitch them and turn them right side out. That’s how you sew something without getting a raw seam on the outside. You’re going to use it all the time, so let’s learn how.

I am going to demonstrate this idea with the strap of an apron. In this example, I cut out my straps to the size I need. I then lay them so that the right sides of the fabric (the part that has the pattern-the part that I want to have show when I am done) is on the inside. So that the right sides are touching each other and I am looking at the wrong side.

Then, as you can see in that picture, I am going to sew it together (of course where you are sewing will depend on what you are making. This is just one example.)

Important: You will always need to leave an opening in your sewing of at least a couple of inches. Otherwise you won’t be able to turn it right side out. Typically the pattern or tutorial will tell you where to leave your opening.

Once I am done sewing and have left my opening (in the case of a strap that’s easy-it’s just open at the end of the strap) I am going to start to pull the fabric through the opening so that it is right side out.

Sometimes this will be easy, but when you are working with a small space it can be a little tricky. There are a few tricks to help you poke that fabric through.

First, use something like your scissors or a chopstick or knitting needle to help you push the fabric through:

You can also reach inside the tube and pull from there a little:

Once you get it completely turned you are going to press it nice and flat:

Then, in most cases you will need to sew your opening shut. To do that you will pinch it or press it so that it matches the seam you already had and then stitch it closed. Yes, this will leave a little bit of stitching on the outside of your item. That’s ok-it’s normal. Typically you will put it at the bottom of the project so it doesn’t show as much.

Now, what is top stitching? Top stitching means to sew on top of the the thing that you just sewed and turned. Hence the name top stitching.

There are 2 reasons to top stitch.

1. To hold what you just sewed in place. For example, if you sew the strap to a bag and then top stitch it, the strap will be more sturdy and your seams will stay where you want them instead of shifting around.

2. It can add a nice finishing touch to what you made.

As you can see in this picture I top stitched this messenger bag strap. In this case I did two straight lines just to add a nice look to it.

To do this you are simply going to line up your presser foot once at say a 1/2″ seam allowance and sew a straight line then do it again at a 1/4″ seam allowance. Easy.

Here’s another example of top stitching. This time it’s on another bag (in fact, it’s this week’s project bag) but it’s around the front of the bag:

One more example. This time from my ear warmer headband.

You can use top stitching on anything.

A couple more things to note for this lesson. Sometimes when you are sewing something that will need to be turned right side out, you will be sewing curves. (You ready for that?! You’re going to do it in this week’s project.) When you sew a curve, before you turn it right side out, it is helpful to make some very small cuts in the fabric that got right up close to (but definitely don’t cut through it!) your stitching. This helps the fabric to not pucker and bunch when you turn it right side out:

See the little cuts in this now?

You can do this for any curves that you sew to help it lay more flat.

So, to practice these skills this week I have 2 project options for you. You can make this small messenger bag. You will sew with right sides together, turn and top stitch in this project:

Or, if you want a second option, you could do this VERY easy ear warmer headband. It also has turning and top stitching:

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Hey there! I'm Amber, mom of 4 crazy boys, wife of 1 and non-stop, always busy, crazy project doer. (There's a reason why we call it *Crazy* Little Projects.) I love chocolate, reading, sewing and being with people!
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  1. Lorie M says

    I am really looking forward to making the mini messenger bag; I too have a bag obsession! I cannot wait to make the bag and give it to two little girls in my life and start their bag “collection” early :)
    Thank you Amber, I have been learning so much with your lessons and they make sewing much less intimidating!
    I have to admit, I did need to look-up what the terms “jelly roll”, “layer cake” and “charm pack” meant…now that I know I think that is what I will use for the first blanket I try because I have trouble picking coordinating fabric and this is a great solution!.
    Thanks again :D

  2. says

    I just love this! Thanks for the great instructions ad tutorial! I made two of the messenger bags that will be for my nieces this coming Christmas! Nothing like preparing early!

  3. Jana says

    I’m so happy with this week’s project suggestions!
    I’m going to finally try and make my own handbag, messenger style. I was going to do that for a while, but I’ll try to finally get started.
    Thank you!

  4. Heather says

    So excited for this weeks project! Ive actually brrn working on the bag but hasn’t been goin too wel because I added some material (I forget what it is called but its stiff) for more durability but it’s failing me :- Need to tear it apart and start over. I shortened the strap & its going to be a pirse for my 2yo niece!

  5. Brenda Melahn says

    I have followed along even though I’m a 40 year sewer — this is THE best thing — I envision so many young, new sewers benefiting from your patience and step-by-step instructions. Also, a few tricks for the old dogs :).

  6. Trasity says

    Hey! I cannot wait to start this week’s project..I wanted to make my own small diaper bag for our girl due in 4 weeks!

  7. Julielorene says

    Great lesson. Love the clear pics & the conversational tone that is just like you were beside me showing me how to do things.

  8. joni says

    thanks so much for these easy-to-follow tutorials!! :-) You make everything seem so easy and not at all intimidating. I’m going to try the cozy headband. :)

  9. MaryB says

    I love your tutorials. I am behind in the lessons but keeping them all so I can catch up. I used to sew a lot for years and years, then stopped when work become too much and spare time was non-existent. I am using your lessons to get back into my sewing. I am really loving it even though I have a less than enthusiastic sewing machine that seems to have a lot of problems. I probably need to take it in for an overhaul. The messenger bag is great. Thanks for all your help.

  10. Andra says

    Okay, I’m stumped. (Shocker, I know! Haha!) I’ve made it to the strap insertion. Instructions say to insert the strap between the 2 fabrics. I folded the raw edges in on the pocket fabrics and stitched them together, so there’s no opening now to insert the strap. Where did I go wrong? Thanks!

  11. Diane Collins says

    Great instructions. I found it to be very easy to follow and solved some questions. Had never heard of charm packs, jelly rolls, and layer cakes. Learn something new every day!

  12. Trasity says

    Okay I have a general sewing question completely unrelated to this lesson lol..

    I’ve been tackling a pattern for making the nursery accessories for our baby’s room. Currently, I’m working on the crib sheet pattern. I went and bought the amount of fabric the pattern called for, and I’ve washed, dryed, and ironed it how the end of the bolt suggested. Now, I just went and folded the fabric according to the instructions. But, when I lay the pattern on the fabric how it says to, my fabric comes up short by like a half inch..barely. Any idea what I may be doing wrong? Should I just go with it and cut out the pattern? I’m not really sure who else to ask!


    • Amber says

      Uh oh! I am guessing your fabric just shrunk a bunch and is now too short. I’ve never made a crib sheet so I don’t know for sure how it works but if there are hems or anything around the edges maybe you can make them smaller to compensate? I don’t know-sorry!

      • Trasity says

        All is well. I went ahead and just cut out the fabric even though the pattern was hanging over my selvages just about a half inch. Turned out great! Again, the hubby was so impressed with my work haha. I figured it didn’t matter if it came up a little short since that part would be under the mattress anyway. Either way it was great practice for straight stitching, hemming, and making a casing for using elastic!


    My girls are so excited for me to make them their messenger bags!! I finished their matching penguin hooded towels yesterday and they love them!! This is so much fun!

  14. Michele says

    You have been more help than you will ever know. I would love to win one of your giveaways as a start to my fabric collection. I have done more sewing the last three weeks than all my life combined thanks to your help. Thanks again and stay terrific :-)

  15. Robyn says

    This is such a great series – thanks. I am a self-taught sewer and have been following along to see if I do things correctly. I really appreciate it!

  16. Andrea says

    This is awesome! I have been sewing for a few years, but I always thought I needed some refreshers on basics. Thanks!

  17. Shelley D. says

    I love this project and it turned out so darn cute! I would never have thought to use my scissors to turn the strap right side out…..awesome stuff that I am learning. I love that you are doing this, you know teaching me to sew.

  18. Sherrie says

    MODA is my favorite manufacturer !!! I am going to try the messenger bag. My little granddaughter would love that I think.

  19. Jessica graziano says

    Thank you for taking the time to do this. Even though I have been sewing for awhile I love getting your tips and tricks. I sure have needed them and Im learning some new things. I would love to know where you get all your beautiful fabric.

  20. Darcy says

    I was so excited for this project that I ran to JoAnn’s to get fabric since we are a one car family & I will be car-less for the next 3 days. I didn’t measure, but I wonder if the girl cut just short of 1/4 yard because I don’t have enough to do the straps! & I made good use of all my fabric (didn’t cut in the middle). Guess I’ll have a pouch until Friday night I can hopefully get back out.

  21. Jona says

    I love the earwarmers! I use the skills taught all the time, but love to read the tutorials so I can learn little tricks that I didn’t know before!

  22. says

    As usual, I’m just a little behind in getting through the lessons, so I’m really glad you are spreading them out! I actually combined the first two lessons and one of your projects to make burp cloths with zig zag accents (and now that I think of it, I guess I used the zig zag as a top stitch too). I’m having a great time, can’t wait to make the messenger bag!

  23. Kim H says

    I made the messenger bag for my daughter and she loves it! I had a few problems along the way, but nothing too serious. I find my straps interfere with the flap though. I’ll try this again soon. Thanks for these tutorials!

  24. Pam S says

    Thanks for the lesson! I’ve been sewing for awhile but have never done any turning! I tried it and learned a handy new skill!

  25. Kelsey says

    Okay. I made the bag – I’ve kept up, even though we’ve had three cases of the flu in the last week and a half, and we’re moving to a new house on Saturday. And my bag, well… it looks pretty good from far away! From up close, not so much. ;) And I couldn’t get the lining to fold right, for some reason, even though I read the directions a bunch. Maybe it was my foggy brained, drug (NyQuil) induced state that made it awful? Who knows. Anyway, I’m keeping up!

  26. Leslie says

    I am working on making the bag, which is such a cute idea, but I have practiced turning and top stitching before. These lessons are great, and I am learning so much! Thank you!

  27. says

    Thanks for these great lessons. I have been sewing for quite awhile but it is still a good idea to re-learn things from others as you can always pick up some new ideas from others. Thanks again! I had fun making the messenger bag!

  28. Marlene says

    Thank you so much for this series. You have taken the fear out of learning to sew. I have completed the messenger bag and I am so proud of myself. I would love to win the charm pack and make a quilt for my baby.

  29. patricia says

    My daughter and I are going downtown Athens(Greece) tomorrow to shop for fabrics. Maybe she’ll make the bag herself! You’re inspirational!

  30. Amber Cavalier says

    Thank you for this whole Learning To Sew Class, and your doing it FREE, THANK YOU!
    Ive always had a passion to learn but not the money for the classes held at the local fabric store.

    I have started late,, but have quickly caught up! I can say this was pretty easy, alot easier than i expected.

    I made the bag wrong tho, somehow I made it toooo small, but hey I was making it for my one year old, so maybe it will be okay! lol. I need to practice cutting out my fabric, Im not sure if I printed it wrong or what on earth! (: But, I am deff learning a lot, thank you, Amber!

    • Amber says

      Did you fold the fabric and then put the pattern on it and cut? That might have been your problem if you didn’t do that.

  31. Karis says

    Easy peasy, compared to sewing through those towels anyway ;-) My 2-year-old daughter already claimed the bag as her own :)

  32. Devin says

    Thank you so much for your tutorials! I just found you yesterday and caught up to Lesson 3 already. I spent a day cursing at my sewing machine before I found your wonderful tutorials. Now we are friends, not best friends, but very close acquaintances!

  33. Lynn says

    Love your lessons! I will be making the ear warmer for my granddaughter. (Maybe the bag too.). Thank you for all your inspirational ideas.

  34. becca says

    Thanks for the inspiration! I made one of your messenger bags (like the gray, yellow and black one) and I am super excited about it…not perfect, but I still like it!

    • Amber says

      Mine’s not perfect either. :) Pictures are deceiving but no one but the person who sews something notices the imperfections. :)

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