A variety of seam finishes

No matter how well prepared you are in life, at some point you will fail, and if you can fix the frayed ends of things, then you probably will survive.

With this lesson I am going to assume that you only have a sewing machine of some sort that has at least a zig-zag stitch setting besides the normal straight stitch.
In Lesson 1 we practiced to sew in a straight line. Now your are ready to sew a seam or two.  Most cotton and linen materials tend to fray at the edges. Without an overlocker to finish the edges of the material you might be stuck with a 'not so neat on the inside', shirt or pair of pants.

There are a variety of ways to finish the edges of material, some are effortless and others might be more difficult or cumbersome. Your choice of finish will also be determined by the type of material you are using.

Zig zag stitch

This is the most widely used way of finishing any raw edges if you do not have a serger.  Zig-zag is ideally suited for heavy-weight materials or non-stretch cottons, linens, gaberdines, and other woven materials. A medium width and length of the stitch should be suffice for most materials. The heavier the weight of the material, the wider the zig-zag stitch, is an easy guide to start with.

When using zig zag on thin materials you will need to use a finer needle and ensure to hold both ends of the material when you feed the material under the pressure foot when stitching.  You can also shorten the stitch length to ensure more covering of the threads.  The stitch may also roll the side seam to a certain extent, depending on the type of material. Always practice on scrap pieces of material before using a specific stitch before using it on the garment.

On heavier materials you can also shorten the stitch length if needed, to ensure that you catch more of the threads that may otherwise fray and unravel.
On medium and heavy-weight material you can also fold the side seam over to the wrong side of the material and then zig-zag to finish the seam.

Bias binding seam finishes

One of the neatest ways to finish raw side seams is the bias binding method, which is ideally suited to pants, coats, jackets, shirts, cuffs on blouses and any medium to heavy weight woven material.  You first finish the side seams before assembling the garment. See the figures below. Same material as the above, different finish.

How to apply
1.  Open up the one edge of the bias binding and line up with the raw edge on the right side of the material and stitch in the fold.
2.  Open up the seam and score the seam with your nail or with a wooden scorer or iron the material and bias binding flat.
3.  Fold the bias binding over in half making sure that it extends just a little bit further than the stitching line on the back.
4.  You can then blind stitch, in the ditch, on the front of the material.  It does take a little practice to catch the bias binding in the back, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes fairly easy to do. Practice makes perfect.  Practice with scrap bits of material and bias binding before attempting the real thing.

See images below. Click and hold to enlarge.

Stretch material

The important thing to remember when sewing any stretch material is that the seams need to stay stretchy once sewn together.

  • A very narrow zig zag stitch is ideal for the side/long seams.
  • To apply elastic you can use your 3 step zig zag stitch.
  • To hem your garment you can use a 4mm or 6mm twin needle (depending on the width your sewing machine can manage) for stretch material in order to keep you hems stretchy an neatly finished.
  • Most modern sewing machines have one or two stitch patterns aimed at creating an overlocking stitch which covers the seam and sticth the seam in one go.  See images below.  Click and hold to enlarge.

French Seams

Chiffon can be very tricky to work with. It never hangs straight, is mostly see-through and it frays until it falls apart.  Not to despair, a french seam is the answer. It stops any fraying and it looks great from the outside.

How to:
1.  Divide the seam allowance in half when stitching the first run of seam.
2.  Place the wrong sides of the material together, then stitch with a slightly shorter stitch length while holding both ends of the material and evenly feed the material under the pressure foot.
3.  Trim off a bit of the seam allowance to neaten the edge.
4.  Fold the seam allowance over to place the right sides of the material together. Stitch just outside the frayed edge, thereby enclosing the frayed edge in the new seam. See images below.  When you open up your seam to the right side of the material you will have a very neat seam with no fraying on the inside.
5.  Finish all the long seams in the same manner when putting the garment together.

See images below.  Click and hold to enlarge.

If the above seems a little advanced to your liking please visit Lesson 1 and practice some straight stitching until you feel more confident.

Happy sewing!