How to Sew a French Seam ~ Expert Tips from Nancy Zieman

on August 17 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 40 Comments

Nancy Zieman, Executive Producer and host of Public TV’s Sewing With Nancy, has compiled 100+ sewing methods and techniques in her new Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z. For more on Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z, including a free PDF download of the entire Seam Finishes section of the book, visit our Sewing A to Z blog tour post.

Nancy shares more tips and visuals today in an exclusive tutorial for Sew,Mama,Sew! readers about French Seams. Once you can confidently sew French Seams you’ll find they are perfect for any number of sewing projects, from totes to pants for kids. Enjoy Nancy’s expertise, and be sure to check out Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z!

French Seams– Surprisingly Easy & Versatile ~ Nancy Zieman

When I hear the term French Seams, my mind immediately pictures a silk or batiste blouse. That thought, as my youngest son would say, is old school!

French seams enclose the raw edges, producing a neat, ravel-proof seam. To achieve this result the seam is stitched twice.

Traditional French Seam, using a 5/8” seam allowance:
1. Place wrong sides together. Stitch with a 3/8” seam. Move the needle position to accommodate the seam width.

Trim the seam allowance close to the stitching. Press the seam allowance to one side.

2. Refold the seam allowances with the right sides together. Position the first seam at the fold. Stitch a second time, using a ¼” seam allowance. Move the needle position to the right to achieve a ¼” seam.

Easier French Seams
The tricky part of traditional French seams is to trim away enough of the seam allowances to avoid catching the fabric “whiskers” in the second seam and not trim too much to weaken the seam.

To resolve this issue, I reverse the width of the seam allowance. In Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z, you’ll find a faster approach.

Stitch the first step with ¼” seam allowance and the second step with a 3/8” seam. I still trim away a small amount of the seam allowance, but never have the “whiskers” of the cut edges peak through to the right side. The seam allowance is an 1/8” wider— that’s not much— but easier and faster to stitch.

Versatile French Seams:
Okay, so your sewing wish list doesn’t include a batiste Christening gown or a silk blouse. You may be wondering what other fabrics are suitable for French Seams? The answer: practically any fabric!

Consider making a market tote from denim or canvas fabric. Heavy-duty fabrics can easily ravel, much like their lightweight fabric cousins. To keep the seams tidy inside the tote, plus add durability, use my Easier French Seams process and stitch away!

I hope that you’ll enjoy this technique and the other timesaving tips in Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z.

Bye for now,
Nancy Zieman

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40 Responses to How to Sew a French Seam ~ Expert Tips from Nancy Zieman

  1. KeriCan says:

    Thank you! Right on time for a custom order with tricky ravel-y fabric. I learned this way back in 4-H, but definitely needed the reminder.

  2. Maud Cucuzza says:

    Do you have a Facebook page? I tried searching but couldn’t find one 🙁 I would love to become a follower!

  3. Cheryl Lake says:

    Thanks for the tip, I make a lot of market bags and this will help!

  4. Deborah says:

    Just a bit behind schedule, however, I am finding all to be inspiring! Can’t wait to try this in a dress/jumper for my eleven year old granddaughter! Thank you for making it look so easy!

  5. Cindy McCord says:

    I love french seams and use them on every pillowcase I make.

  6. Love this!

  7. CathyC in Alberta says:

    Learned french seams in highschool and use them anytime possible. Love the finished look. Nancy has created a great reference book for beginner and advanced sewers.

  8. Jessie Agnew says:

    Nancy, as my brother would say, “You’re a WIZARD!” That’s going to be my go-to seam from now on. And I’m going to make room on my bookshelf for Sewing A to Z. I’m really excited to get a copy.

  9. Beth T says:

    There is so much I could learn from Nancy Z.

  10. Ray Janikowski says:

    What a great and faster technique. Thanks!!!

  11. Katy says:

    Perfectly timed tutorial! I’m about to make a dress for my mum out of some pretty sheer fabric, and wanted to French seam the outer material with the lining, so I shall follow this to the letter

  12. I love using french seams for pillow cases but never thought bout using them for tote bags. A nice french seam would finish off the seams of a tote bag without having to use a lining.

  13. kimberlee says:

    French seams are fascinating to me, something I can’t quite wrap my mind around, like when email came out in the 90s and I just couldn’t understand that either!

  14. JLWhite says:

    A french seam makes even the simplest garment seem so much more professional! Thanks for the great, clear tutorial!

  15. Becky says:

    Hi Nancy!What an awesome giveaway,the book is a must have for me.Its what I need since Im a wantobe quilter.I could use lots of info,things I dont already know and there are many believe me lol.Thanks for sharing your expertise with us all on Samm”s blog today.

  16. Mamima says:

    We start sewing a few months ago and we use french seams in our totes. Like Monica we really love the little attachment and we would like to know what is it and where can we get one?


  17. Heather says:

    Good to know and to add to my arsenal.

  18. Brilliant idea! I love French Seams…love, love, love them and use them as often as is reasonable. Although I’m quite experienced and don’t have the hairs very often, I’m going to try this “reverse the order” technique.

    Yet another example of why I love to “sew with Nancy!”

  19. Mary M. says:

    This is so helpful — thank you very much!!

  20. Thanks so much for sharing this tip! I just used the tip for sharp corners and it had amazing results and was sooooo easy to do. If I don’t win a copy of this book on Deborah’s blog at Whipstitch Fabrics I’m running out to get a copy for between my sewing machine and ironing board.

  21. Ellen Ban says:

    Thanks for the how -to on french seams. Such a nicer finish.

  22. Christy Coy says:

    Thanks for the information! Love your show!

  23. Aniza says:

    I like french seams for casual wear and tote making. Thanks for the review and download.

  24. I just learnt how to do french seams last week (a dress pattern I was using called for them!) and I LOVE them! So neat and tidy. Love them!

  25. Sheryl says:

    I like using this technique on armhole sleeve seams on shirts.

  26. Suzanne says:

    This is such a great idea! Thank you.

  27. Brenda says:

    Thanks for the download. I love this site.

  28. Alli says:

    I was so stoked when I learned how to do French seams, especially since my crochety machine hates doing zig zags. 😀 Congratulations on your book!

  29. kathyh says:

    French seams are perfect for pillowcases.

  30. Kirsten N says:

    I was just wondering how to do these yesterday – thanks for the tips!!

  31. Katrina H says:

    great photos!

  32. MarciaW says:

    Thanks for the peak into Nancy’s new book!

  33. VickiT says:

    Great instruction on the French Seam. Wonderful as always info from Nancy. Thanks for the info.

  34. Monica says:

    I love Nancy! Met her once at a quilting expo in Madison, WI.

    Love the tutorial, but even more, I really love the little attachment she has on the sewing machine bed to set the seam allowance. What is it and where can I get one?

  35. Gail says:

    Was just considering this method for a dress….very timely for me…thanks so much.

  36. Susan says:

    I love using french seams, a must with pillowcases. Loving the blog tour already.

  37. Lauren J says:


  38. Tammy says:

    I have a serger so I mostly finish my edges that way, but I have used French seams for delicate garments. I made my daughter a dress with voile for Easter, and the inside is finished with French seams. It just seemed to be the best way to finish the seams for the dress!

  39. This is great! I need to learn to create these more consistently. (Question/comment – I tried to pin this on Pinterest so I could find it later (and share it of course), but it doesn’t find any pictures on the page to be able to link to it. Quite a bummer!)

  40. Andrea says:

    thanks for the easier version, I love french seams.

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