7 Seam Finishes Explained (and when to use them)

Updated: Sep 8



Seam finishes are a very important part of the sewing process. They make the inside of your garment or project look as neat and clean and professional as the outside. But most importantly It prevents the fabric from fraying and creating a mess on the inside. There are many different finishes you can choose from, some are fabric and others are project dependent.


WHAT IS FRAYING?

Fraying occurs when fabric is cut and the threads that make up the fabric begin to unravel. The speed and extent to which a fabric frays depends upon many factors, including the tightness of the fabric's weave, how much wear the fabric endures on a day-to-day basis and the age of the fabric. For example, looser weaves such as linen fray a lot in comparison to a tightly woven cotton poplin.


Following, I will cover 7 basic ones and when to use them.



1. PINKED EDGE

WHEN TO USE IT: Stable fabrics or fabrics that don’t fray easily such as cotton, including cotton lawn and quilting cotton. Adding pinked edges as a seam finish on something that may not be washed or worn a lot is a good idea. It is the simplest of all seam finishes, and requires no sewing.


HOW: You’ll need a pair of pinking shears. Simply cut close to the edge with your shears and then press the seam open or to one side. You can also cut your pattern pieces using the pinking shears before you actually sew the layers together.



2. ZIG ZAG EDGE

WHEN TO USE IT: Any type of fabric, except for sheer and delicate fabrics – they may shred; or woven fabrics with an open or loose weave - they may make the fraying even worst.


HOW: Use the zig zag setting on your machine. Test it out on a piece os scrap fabric first before taking a chance on your seams. Try a smaller stitch length for lighter fabrics, and a longer stitch for heavy ones. You can also play around with the width of the stitch, if you can adjust this setting on your machine. You can either zig zag both sides of the seam allowance and press the seam open (see smaller photo), or you can zig zag the two sides together, and press to one side to finish.



3. CLEAN FINISH EDGE

WHEN TO USE IT: light to medium weight woven fabrics. It might be too bulky for heavier fabrics.


HOW: This is a really simple seam finish:

1. With right sides together, sew your seam and press open.

2. For each side of seam allowance, turn under 1/4” (0.6cm) or less and press. Sew close to edge of seam allowance only. Don’t sew it to the garment.



4. FRENCH SEAM

WHEN TO USE IT: Sheer, lightweight and delicate fabrics such as silk, chiffon, rayon/viscose and even delicate cotton lawn. A French seam completely encases the raw edge of the seam allowance, creating a clean and professional finish on a garment where the seam might be visible.


HOW:  If this is your first time sewing french seams, try to choose a fabric that has a clear wrong & right side. It will make your first french seam much easier to sew. The following steps apply, if the seam allowance is 5/8" (1.5cm). If the pattern you are using has a smaller seam allowance, you might need to adjust the following steps or increase your seam allowance when cutting your fabric:



1. With WRONG sides together, sew 1/4” (0.6 cm) from the raw edge. trim seam allowance to 1/8″ (0.3 cm). Press down.

2. Turn your fabric so the right sides are now together, encasing your previous trimmed seam. Press. Sew 3/8″ (1 cm) away from folded edge. Press again.

3. This is what it will look like from the inside….

4. And this is what it will look like from the outside.


PS: this beautiful finish, we use in my Intro to Drapey fabrics workshop.



5. FLAT FELLED SEAM

WHEN TO USE IT: In areas of garments that see a lot of stress – like pants/trousers and woven shirts. Take a look at your jeans – I bet you they have a flat felled seam finish. It is a good seam for these types of garments because it is sturdy and durable.



HOW: It is easier to sew than it sounds.

1. With right sides together, sew 5/8″ (1.5 cm) from raw edge. Press seam open, and trim ONE side of seam allowance to 1/4″ (0.6 cm).

2. With the other side, fold inward in half  – so that the raw edge meets the seam. Press.

3. Fold this over top of the trimmed side, so that it completely covers it. Stitch close to the folded edge.

4. This is what it will look like from the outside. Actually, you can use either side for the outside of your garment, depending on what kind of look you are going for.



6. BOUND FINISH (OR HONG KONG SEAM)

WHEN TO USE IT: A Hong Kong seam finish is a clean finish and thoughtful details that adds luxury to an unlined or partially lined garment. This method uses bias tape to bind the seams for a clean finish. It is often found in unlined jackets and coats but would also make a beautiful finish in tailored dresses and skirts. This seam finish works best on garments made from medium to heavy weight fabric.



HOW: The technique used to create Hong Kong seams is simple but can be quite time consuming. The results though are well worth the effort.

1. With right sides together, sew 5/8″ (1.5 cm) from raw edge. Press seam open.

2. Begin by cutting a metres (you might need more or less depending on your project) of 1" bias tape. You can also use pre-made bias tape and press it flat.

3. Cut a length of your prepared bias tape to the length of the seam you are finishing, plus an inch or two extra.

4. Place the bias tape and seam allowance right sides together and sew at 1/4" (0.6 cm)

5. Press the bias tape away from the seam allowance.

6. Wrap the binding around the edge of the seam allowance to the wrong side.

7. From the right side of the seam allowance, stitch in the ditch, capturing the bias on the wrong side of the seam.

8. Trim excess bias tape, press and repeat on the other seams.



7. OVERLOCKED OR SERGED FINISH

WHEN TO USE IT: Many different (pretty much all) fabrics and garments.


HOW: You’ll need an overlocker (or serger) to do this. Follow the instructions for your machine to thread it properly. There are two types of overlock seams – 3 thread and 4 thread. This one above happens to be a 4 thread finish. Like other seams, you can either serge both sides of your seam allowance and press open, or serge them together and press to the side.


Which seam do you use often or prefer? Before I had my overlocker, I used to bind my seams. I never personally liked the zig zag finish, or used fabric like linen where the zig zag finish would make the seam fray even more than before. Comment below and I'll try my best to help.


Thanks for hanging out with me.

Happy Sewing,

Maria


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Jebel Ali Village, Dubai, UAE     |     maria@threadwerk.com    |     +971 58 576 2739