Tess has style. She’s full of fun, creativity and her talents are limitless. She produced this comprehensive Seam Finishes Simplified guide to share some of her sewing expertise with all of us. Armed with this guide you can create even more style in your women’s clothing, incorporating finished seams for a more beautiful and sophisticated final product. Tess blogs at Made by Tess and she has a Made by Tess shop featuring beautiful pins, bags, aprons and much more. Bookmark her blog and her fantastic resource for seam finishes below!

When I took my first (last, and only) sewing class in college my teacher always said our garments should look “handmade not homemade.” Being the scrappy kid that I was I thought she was being a bit snobby… What was wrong with things looking homemade as long as they had pizzazz? What was wrong with my two rectangle skirt with no hem, sloppy mis-matched thread seams and safety pins instead of a waistband?

Since they I’ve realized my resistance to seam finishing and tidy sewing was likely a personality conflict with my teacher, and that seam finishing isn’t our enemy… It’s our friend! Seam finishing is very simple when you break it down and really makes a difference in the look and durability of your garment. Many seam finishes can be done with out fancy-pants equipment (many don’t even need a zig zag stitch)!

There are many different seam finishes and I’ve organized them based on equipment needed: Just a Sewing Machine, A Pair of Pinkers, and The Lovely Overlock. So it seems it’s time to talk about seams!


Just a Sewing Machine
All this time you thought you were stuck without fancy seam finishes because you don’t have a serger. As it turns out the most professional and beautiful seam finishes are done with just a machine. Many of the more complicated, but not difficult, seam finishes (French Seam, Mock French Seam, Bound Seam, and Clean Finish Seam) are employed in the finest of high fashion garments. In today’s disposable world you will very rarely find a garment with anything else besides an overlocked seam (which I’m not knocking, I’m just saying there are other choices) which scores another point for handmade, in the store versus home battle. This means we, the home sewers, have the equipment, skills and knowledge available to us to make garments just as beautiful inside as the garments walking down the high fashion runways. And for much less than $10,000.

So from easiest to most difficult, let’s begin!:

  • Straight stitch seam finish
    This is simple, quick, and only needs the straight stitch function on your machine. I don’t usually use this technique but I’ve seen it employed in vintage garments that have a sheer fabric with a solid underlay. This is appropriate for all weights of fabrics but won’t work with easily-raveled fabrics.

    1. With right sides together stitch your seam.
    2. Using presser foot as a guide straight stitch 1/8” from the cut edge of your fabric. Press seams.
  • Zig Zag Edge
    This is a very quick and tidy seam finish that you can use for all most fabrics including those that are thick and fray easily. Use caution when using this technique with sheer fabrics as it can make them shred! For all these techniques, but especially this one, test a scrap and try a few variations of stitch widths and lengths to see what gives you the most tidy finish.

    1. With right sides together stitch your seam.
    2. Using presser foot as a guide, zig zag as close to the cut edge of your fabric as you can. Some machines have an overlock function; you can use that stitch in the same way you’d do a zig zag finish. You can also do a straight stitch ¼” from edge for extra durability. Press.
  • Clean Finish Edge
    This seam finish is easy and look so nice! You can use this on light- to medium-weight woven fabrics.

    1. With right sides together stitch your seam.
    2. Press open seam allowances.
    3. Press raw edges under ¼”, wrong sides should be together.
    4. Stitch down.
  • French Seam
    French seams are one of my favorite seams of all time! They are so fancy looking but so incredibly easy. French seams are appropriate for most light- to medium-weight woven fabrics, but anything too heavy will be very difficult and bulky. This technique is especially good for sheer fabrics since the entire seam is encased. When planning your garment bear in mind that French seams can only be used on straight seams. This is easiest with seams ½” or greater. Instructions are for ½”.

    1. With WRONG sides together stitch ¼” from edge.
    2. Press open then to one side, pressing helps lock the stitches in place and makes the next steps easier.
    3. Cut excess fabric to approx. 1/8”.
    4. Fold right sides together, press.
    5. Seam ¼” from edge; your seam is done!
    6. Press again and stand back and admire your work. The seam will look like this on the inside…
    …and this on the outside.
  • Mock French Seam
    Mock French seams are useful for situations where you can’t use a French seam because of a curve, such as on a princess seam or armhole.

    1. With right sides together stitch seam.
    2. Fold and press the cut edge of each seam allowance in toward the seam line at ¼“. For curvier seams clip or notch as needed to make the seams lie flat. You can hand baste if necessary.
    3. Match the folded edges and stitch as close to edge as you can. TIP: Instead of getting moving your fabric or presser foot, why not move your needle over a position? This makes it easy and fast, you can still use your presser foot as a guide but now you know you’ll be super close to the edge.
  • Flat Fell Seam
    The flat fell seam is a super durable seam often used in children’s clothing and jeans. This is best for medium- to heavy-weight woven fabrics.

    1. With WRONG sides together stitch 5/8” from edge.
    2. Trim one side of seam.
    3. Fold and iron ¼” and fold over trimmed edge and press.
    4. Stitch down 1/8” from folded edge.
    Admire you handy work! (Cat butt not necessary for seam finishing, by the way!)
  • Bound Seam
    Bound seams are beautiful and durable. They can be used on a variety of fabrics, but they are best on heavier fabrics where they won’t disrupt the drape of your fabric. You can either bind both pieces of fabric together or separately depending on the look you want. For example, on a jacket, bind the side seams separately and the neck edge together. This finish is great for armholes on both knit and woven fabrics; it helps prevent the seam from distorting and makes it more durable. This method of binding the armhole is good for all fabrics.There are many different types of binding you can use, and many different ways of applying them. There are two that I find the easiest so I will describe them:

    • Do It Yourself Bias Tape (This is best done with thinner fabrics like silk or a thin cotton.)
      1.Cut a piece of bias tape 1 1/2 inches wide and fold and press down the center. You will now have a piece of bias tape ¾ “. This will make a 1/4″ binding when all is said and done.
      2. Align the raw edges of your garment with the bias tape and stitch ¼” from edge.
      3. Fold bias tape towards raw edge and press.
      4. Fold around cut edge and press again. Pin in place.
      5. With unsewn side in the back, stitch in the ditch along the original bias seam. This will catch the folded edge of the bias tape.
      If you are using matching thread yours will look much tidier!Alternatively, you can hand sew this edge down which is extra lovely!
    • Double Fold Bias Tape
      You can either purchase this pre-made or make it yourself with a bias tape maker. Application is simple:

      1. Wrap bias tape around seam edge. Top stitch down catching both layers of bias tape.

    A Pair of Pinkers

      Pinking sheers not only make a cute pattern, they are also useful for finishing seams. This is a very simple finish and really only useful for fabrics that don’t fray easily. These techniques can either be done to both pieces of fabric at the same time or to each side separately.

    • Pink
      1. Make your seam.
      2. Pink about ¼” away from seam.
    • Stitch and Pink
      1. Make your seam.
      2. Stitch ¼” from seam.
      3. Pink as close as you can to stitching.

    The Lovely Overlock Machine/Serger

        Are you wearing a shirt (I hope so)? Look inside; it is likely to be finished by an overlock machine with a seam that looks like this:


    Doing the overlock seam finish is super simple: just put the fabric in the machine, press the pedal and let her rip! An overlock machine works by trimming your seam allowance and finishing it at the same time.

    You can find out more about the nitty gritty of your serger in your manual as every machine is different! A basic rule of thumb is for thinner fabrics use a shorter stitch length and any width is fine. For bulkier fabrics a longer and wider stitch is more appropriate. The most important part of finishing seams with a serger is making sure not to throw it out the window. Just kidding, though sergers can be frustrating. Just remember to breath deeply and if it’s being screwy you probably threaded it in the wrong order. Seriously, in all my years of using a serger that’s been the problem 99% of the time. Not tension. Not a new needle. Not bad timing. Just threading it wrong.

    Anyway, back to the most important thing to remember: test on a scrap to find the right tension/stitch length and width combo. This will save you time and frustration.

    An overlock machine is expensive but is incredibly useful if you sew a lot of garments, make things for kids, or use knits a lot. You can do a lot of damage without one, but for simple, quick seam finishing this is Queen. An overlock machine isn’t the end all, be all of seam finishing though. All these techniques that I’ve talked about are not only useful but beautiful and easy to do!

    That’s it for seam finishes. Thank you for reading! I know this is a lot of information to process all at once, but try out one or two on your next garment and see how you like it! The extra care you put into your garment will be noticeable inside and out!

    Check out these pictures on Flickr by other sewers to see beautiful seam finishes in action!:
    Bound edges by bitsandbobbins
    More bound edges by Humblelabor
    Clean finish seam by Megan Young
    Zig Zag overcast by hasrik
    French seam by Danny Mansmith