When you're sewing your first projects, just joining two pieces of fabric together is a great achievement. However, as your skills increase and your projects grow in complexity, using more professional sewing techniques will give your finished items greater durability, and you a higher level of satisfaction – a job done right and all that. Our seam finishing tutorial takes you through the various ways to finish seams with your regular sewing machine – from pinking shears to an overcast stitch.
First, let's cover the basic question I can hear you screaming: Why bother finishing your seams? No one can see them, so what's the point?
A finished seam prevents ravelling and fraying of your fabrics. Even though your seam is "hidden" on the inside of your project, laundering or general use can cause the fabric to fray, which eventually will result in holes or tears or other unsightly problems. Some materials, like a loosely woven linen, are more prone to fraying than others. Others, like polar fleece, won't fray at all, and don't require finishing – even when exposed on the outside of a project.
The most obvious way to finish a seam is something we do all the time: create a hem. To do this, you press the seam under, then press again and stitch down, so you enclose the raw seam in the fold. This method will always work, but it is time consuming and uses up more fabric than necessary. The yellow gingham sample shown above is done with this method.
The first and easiest method of finishing seams is pinking shears. Pinking shears have a sawtooth edge and cut fabric in a zig zag pattern, which helps prevents the edges from fraying. You'll only want to use this method if you're sewing with fabric that isn't prone to ravelling.
Create a pinked seam
- Stitch your seam. You may want to broaden your seam allowance to allow room for the pinking shear's zig zag. Generally you'll need to make sure there is at least an extra ¼" for the blade.
- Trim off both edges of the fabric with the Pinking Shears.
- Press the seam open.
Create a stitched pink seam
- If you prefer, you can reinforce the regular pinked seam by creating a Stitched Pinked Seam.
- To do this, begin by sewing a regular seam. (Again, you may need to widen your seam allowance for this method.)
- Then, sew an additional row of stitches about ¼" from the regular seam, toward the outer edge of the fabric.
- Trim right along this second row with the Pinking Shears.
- Press the seam open.
A clean finish is an extra line of stitching just inside a seam. Use this finish on fabrics that don't tend to ravel, like dense cottons or wovens.
- Create a regular seam.
- Press seam open.
- Stitch an extra row of stitches about ¼" from the edge of the fabric, on each seam allowance.
- You can modify the clean finish to achieve an even more reliable seam by turning under the edges of the seam allowance, and then stitching close to the fold of the fabric. This technique isn't suitable for very heavy fabrics, however, because the extra folding makes the seam bulky.
Zig Zag Stitch
A zig zag stitch is a great way to finish a seam on any kind of fabric. Before you begin sewing, test the zig zag on a scrap of fabric. Depending on the stretchiness of the fabric, you may need to adjust the stitch length or width. (For tips on selecting machine stitch length, click here.)
- Stitch your seam.
- Press seams open or to one side.
- With your zig zag stitch selected, stitch along the edge of the seam allowance, so the right side of the stitch falls just off the edge of the fabric, encasing the raw edge in the stitching.
- Based on your pressing method, you will do this to each side of the seam, or you will stitch the edges of the seam allowance together.
A French Seam is used for very sheer fabrics like organdy or chiffons. You might choose to use this seam if you are making sheer or unlined drapes where a stitch like a zig zag or overcast stitch would show through. One extra note: A French seam is kind of complicated, and doing it on a curve, while not totally impossible, is certainly not advisable ... if you want to maintain your sanity.
- With wrong sides of the fabric together, pin the edge of where the seam will fall.
- Stitch a ¼" seam allowance along this edge.
- Trim the seam allowance to about 1/8".
- Press the remaining seam allowance to one side.
- Now "open" the seam, folding your fabric so that the wrong sides of the fabric face out, and folding to place the right sides together along the seam.
- Press the fabric flat on the fold. Pin the fabric to secure along the fold.
- Stitch along the fold using a 3/8" seam allowance.
- Unfold the fabric and press the seam with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. Press so the seam lays flat on one side.
NOTE: You can quickly turn a French Seam into a Flat Felled Seam like those found on the sides of jeans. After you press the seam flat in the last step, sew another row of stitches along the fold, just in from the edge of the fold.
- Create your seam.
- Press the seam either open or to one side.
- Position the edge of the seam allowance so the outer stitches fall just off the edge of the fabric.
- Stitch along the length of the fabric.
- If seam was pressed open, repeat process on the opposite side of the seam allowance.
Stay tuned! In the coming weeks, we'll be featuring the champion of seam finishing: The Serger. Once you read about the fabluous ways you can use this machine for a truly professional-looking finish, you'll put it on your list of must-haves!