Finishing a Garment Without a Serger

on August 23 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Essentials, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 10 Comments

Sabrina Alery of Honor Roll is here today with some tips for finishing garments without a serger, giving the things you create a professional look inside and out. Learn more about Sabrina in her introduction, and share your questions or tips for finishing garmets without a serger in the comments.

I have a confession– As much as I love fabric and thread, sergers terrify me. In all my 10+ years of sewing, I have never touched one nor could I tell you the first thing about how to use them. Four or more spools of thread, a knife and a seam that looks like it could very easily turn into a rat nest is just plain intimidating. Not to mention the price tag is much more than a standard sewing machine. That can be very prohibitive, especially if you are just starting out sewing and only have the budget for one machine. Others may produce beautiful and professional results with the assistance of a serger, but it is just not for me.

This isn’t to say I don’t care about beautifully-made, professional-looking garments; in fact I care about them very much. If I am going to spend several hours cutting, measuring and stitching together a handmade item, I want it to look nice and I want it to last a long time. In this article, we will take a look at several methods you can use to finish a garment to high standards with just a sewing machine; even the most basic models will get the job done.

As an example, we will completely finish this baby doll style top without a serger. The same techniques can easily be transferred to any other style of top, skirt, dress or jacket as well.

If you want to sew along, download the free pattern for this top in size 4/5T here.

1. Add a Lining
The easiest and best way to finish a garment, in my humble opinion, is by adding a lining. Take a look at all the messy seams on the bodice above. They can all be hidden away without any extra effort just by cutting an extra piece of material and stitching it to the inside. Do this by cutting out your pattern twice (once with outside material and once with lining material) for patterns that don’t come with specific lining pieces.

If you want to avoid the extra work or are working on a bodice that uses several pieces, sew your bodice pieces together, then trace the completed bodice onto your lining material and cut out.

Unless you are lining a coat or other item intended for cold weather, I recommend using a very lightweight material or muslin to avoid adding any extra bulk to your garment.

To add the lining, stitch wrong sides together at the neckline. If your garment is sleeveless, stitch together there as well (but don’t stitch shoulder seams first– you will have a difficult time turning the garment back right-side out).

Don’t forget to clip along the curves!

The result is a nice, smooth neckline.

2. Double-Fold Hem
The double-fold hem is one you are probably already familiar with. It works great for finishing edges that can be seen from the outside of the garment like skirt and sleeve hems.

Simply fold over and press, then fold and press once more to hide the raw edge. Make the hem as wide or narrow as you like. Secure the hem with a single, straight topstitch or if you don’t want the hemline visible from the outside of the garment, use a blind-stitch instead.

Whenever possible, I like to take advantage of pre-made seams, such as this sleeve cut on the selvedge edge. It saves a step (however small) and a tiny bit of fabric as well. If you are refashioning an item from a preexisting garment, utilize the seams that someone else has already made and save yourself some work.

3. Bias Tape
Finishing the inside of the sleeve can prove to be a bit tricky. The only way I have found to do this is by adding a Hong Kong seam or bias tape binding to the edge where the sleeve meets the bodice.

Begin by pinning on your sleeve to the bodice, wrong sides together. Be sure to include the lining in your pinned layers. Stitch to secure using a 1/4″ seam.

Now pin your binding around the sleeve edge. Use lots of pins to ensure it doesn’t budge.

Stitch on your binding nice and slowly, using the same 1/4″ seam as you used to attach the sleeve.

Now doesn’t that look much nicer than just a raw, pinked edge? Even better than a serged edge if I may say so. Definitely worth the extra bit of effort.

I also want to mention here that if you do not want to use a lining or are just looking for a way to add some extra color and pattern to your garment, adding a bias tape binding around sleeves, necklines and even lower hems is another great and easy way to finish an item without the help of a serger.

4. French Seams
For the insides of your garment– shoulder and side seams– a French seam produces lovely results.

To create this type of seam: Pin wrong sides of fabric together and stitch using a 1/4″ seam. Snip off excess fabric close to the seam line and turn garment inside out with right sides facing and stitch again. This creates a little pocket to keep the raw edges contained within the garment. You can include your lining in a single French seam or you can sew them separately.

This type of seam is difficult with bulky fabric. If you are using a heavy-weight fabric with a lining, tuck the lining into the lower double-fold hem on your skirt, coat bottom, etc., and stitch it closed so there is no opening at the bottom. Then you don’t have to worry about ever seeing those messy side seams!

Thanks so much for joining me! I hope you will employ some of these techniques when finishing your next garment. I know you will be happy with the results!

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10 Responses to Finishing a Garment Without a Serger

  1. Jenni says:

    Thanks for all the excellent tips. I do have a serger that I LOVE using, but when it acts up, I have to resort to using my regular machine to finish a garment. When it comes to knit fabrics, though, a serger makes seams look perfect and un-puckered, which is hard to do with a regular machine no matter what techniques you try. If you’ve been sewing for 10 years, I bet you would catch on to a serger quick! Check on craigslist to buy one for less money to see if you like it… I bet you’ll fall in love! 🙂

  2. Camilla says:

    I think in the French seams bit she says “right sides” when she means pin wrong sides together. Wrong for how we normally sew (rights sides together) but never the less, when doing a french seam you start with the wrong sides of fabric together, which is counterintuitive for a sewer. Also in an earlier bit talking about the lining, she says “stitch wrong sides tog at neck” when I think it should say right sides of fabric and lining together, then turn? A bit Confusing…

  3. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for catching my error Kelly Jo – the photo is correct but the wording was reversed! Sew wrong sides of seam together, then right sides to contain the seam in the inside of the garment.

  4. Aimilia says:

    @Seanna Lea:
    There are a lot of great tutorials on French seams out there – search youtube if you are a visual learner. However, a straight French seam is actually very simple (I have yet to try curves).

    First of all, make sure you have a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Then, with your fabric wrong sides together, sew your seams with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. At this point, it looks completely ‘wrong’, like you’ve sewn it inside out, as your seam allowance is on the outside of the project. Then, clip your seam allowance a little – a couple of millimeters – and press to one side. Now, turn your project inside out (and press)- it still looks ‘wrong’, as the inside looks ‘finished’. Now stitch 1/4 inch from the sewn edges – you are creating a tube that will encase your previous seam allowance.

    Hope this helps!

  5. carriem says:

    Thanks–some great ideas!

  6. Ann Cooper says:

    Pressing each seam as you go also adds to the professional look of garments.

  7. Peggy Grow says:

    Great summary of finishing techniques. Thanks!

  8. Kelly Jo says:

    Isn’t a French seam sewn wrong sides together first, and then right sides together?

  9. Hong kong seam?! I’m intrugied, off to google it!

  10. Seanna Lea says:

    Do you have a tutorial on the French seams? I’m just having the hardest time visualizing it!

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