How To Finish Seams: 5 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know

How To Finish Seams: 5 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know

For most of us sewists the holy grail of dressmaking and sewing your own clothes is to make something that is fitted and finished beautifully as if a professional dressmaker had created it. In a series of articles our resident sewing guru and founder of Sew Essential, Angela, will take you through some of the key finishing techniques that will help you to achieve excellent results every time starting with seams. There are many types of seam finishes used in dressmaking depending on the garment and fabric type chosen. Here are a few of the most common ones to master.

A 'Normal/Straight' Seam

To ensure the inside of your garments look truly professional and prevent fraying of any raw edges it is crucial to neatly finish any seams. We'll start off with the simple stuff, but do read on for detailed step by step guidance on French seams, flat felled seams, Hong Kong seams and princess seams.

For seams that are pressed open the easiest and most common way to do this is to use an overlocking stitch, found on most sewing machines. Alternatively you can use an overlocker, which sews overlocking stitches at a rate of knots and even trims off any excess fabric for you where appropriate. A three or four thread stitch can be used to finish the seams depending on your preference.

The seam in the image below is finished using an overlocking stitch on my sewing machine.

Sewing Machine Overlocker Stitch

The edge of the fabric in the image below is finished using an overlocker and the same effect can be created to finish the edges of a seam allowance.

Overlocker Seam Finish

Where seams are pressed shut, such as round armholes, an overedge or zig zag stitch should be used to finish the edges as shown in the image below.

Overedge Seam Finish

French Seams

French seams are traditionally used in shirt making and are also an excellent option for sheer and delicate fabrics such as chiffon and satin because they are strong, but subtle since they encase the raw edges of the seam. They are not suitable for heavier weight fabrics since they will create too much bulk.

To create a French seam you break normal convention and sew the wrong sides of your fabric together with a 1/4" seam allowance as shown in the image below. I used a 1/4" foot on this Janome CXL301.

French Seam Allowance

Press the seam flat to set the stitches then press it open.

French Seam 2

Fold the fabric right sides together and press along the fold.

French Seam 3

Sew a line of stitches 3/8" from the fold, which will create a 5/8" seam allowance (due to the 1/4" seam allowance you have already created).

French Seam 4

The raw edges are now neatly enclosed inside the French seam and the seam should be pressed to one side.

French Seam 5

Run And Fell Or Flat Felled Seams

Run and fell or flat felled seams are most commonly seen on jeans and men's shirts and are another neat and professional looking finish for your garments.

Again we are going to break convention with this method and place our fabric wrong sides together.

Line up your raw edges with the fabric wrong sides together and stitch a 5/8" seam allowance (or whatever seam allowance is specified by your pattern).

Flat Felled Seams 1

Trim one seam allowance to 1/4".

Flat Felled Seams 2

Open the seam out with the right sides of the fabric facing you and the seam allowance running down the middle.

Flat Felled Seams 3

Next fold the raw edge of the wider seam allowance over slightly then fold the whole seam allowance over again and pin it in place or use basting tape to hold it in position whilst sewing. Alternatively pressing both folds as you go with a good  steam iron will negate the need for pins if you are a confident sewer and the fabric behaves itself!

Flat Felled Seams 4 Flat Felled Seams 5

Edgestitch the edge of the flat felled seam in place (sew about 1/8" from the edge of the flat felled seam).

Flat Felled Seams 6 Flat Felled Seams 7

Bias Bound Seams Or A Hong Kong Finish

Bias bound seams are an incredibly neat way to finish a garment sometimes referred to as a Hong Kong seam finish. This is especially useful for unlined or partially lined garments such as coats and jackets or dresses and is a good way to add an interesting bit of detail to the inside of your garments by using a contrasting colour or patterned bias binding.

To create a Hong Kong seam finish you can use ready made bias binding or create your own bias binding as detailed in one of our previous blog posts. If you are using ready made you will need to press it open before you start.

Cut the bias binding to the same length as the seam.

Place the bias binding along your open seam lining the edges up, right sides together and pin in place taking care to only pin the bias binding and the seam allowance together and not the main fabric of the garment.

Hong Kong Seam Finish 1

Stitch 1/4" from the raw edge.

Hong Kong Seam Finish 2 Hong Kong Seam Finish 3

Turn the bias binding over away from the stitching line and press.

Hong Kong Seam Finish 4

Fold the bias binding under the seam allowance and pin or press it in place.

Sew a 'stitch in the ditch' along the bias binding seam and trim the excess bias binding from the wrong side. I used a stitch in the ditch foot to help me accurately sew along the line where the bias binding meets the fabric (AKA the ditch!) and it is best to choose a similar colour thread to the fabric rather than the bias binding.

Hong Kong Seam Finish 5 Hong Kong Seam Finish 6

Complete the process on the other side of the seam allowance.

Princess Seams

A princess seam is a seam used in women's clothing to ensure garments fit round curves.

Once sewn the princess seam should be pressed open and the raw edges finished and clipped round the curves i.e. small snips in the fabric from the raw edge towards the seam line taking care not to snip through your stitches. This reduces the bulk and will allow your garment to sit smoothly against your curves. The edges haven't been finished in the image below, but the clipping has been demonstrated.

Princess Seam

We hope we've inspired you to have a go at some new seam finish techniques and stay tuned for the next article in this series where Angela talks hems and finishes...

Have fun sewing!

Lucy & Angela

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