Seams hold two pieces of fabric together. That sounds simple enough, but there’s more to it than that. Sewing a straight stitch along the edge will hold the pieces together at the moment, but if you leave it at that and go ahead and wash the garment, blanket, pillow case or whatever you’re making, the seam will soon unravel and fall apart. Then all your hard sewing work will be wasted. So all seams need to be finished. And there are several ways to do that.
All of these options can be accomplished with a simple basic sewing machine and no special attachments. There are other ways to finish seams, but those require a serger or special kind of presser foot.
1. The easiest way doesn’t involve sewing at all. You just trim along the edge of the fabric cutting both layers with a pair of pinking shears. These special scissors cut a zig-zag pattern making the cut edges tiny. This way the fibers fray only a little and the seam holds together very well for years with many washings. This works best on quilting cotton fabric.
If you’re using a kind of fabric that frays more easily or if you just want a more polished-looking seam, you need to finish your seams more securely. And there are several ways to do that.
2. You can sew a zig-zag stitch along the seam allowance. This involves another pass with the machine, but you can think of it as more fun sewing time, and it does a good job at keeping the seam together, especially on knit fabrics. It’s very easy and quick to do.
The following seam finishes are more complicated, but it’s a fun challenge to learn them and they make your sewing look really refined. The best way to learn these is by looking up video demonstrations on YouTube. You’ll understand the steps much more quickly that way than reading them in a blog post or book.
3. A very sturdy seam finish that eliminates all frayed edges is called a flat-fell seam. In this one, you fold the seam allowance, press it, and stitch it to enclose the raw edges. If you take a look at a pair of jeans, it’s the seam you’ll likely see along the outside of the legs. This one is great for heavier fabrics that fray easily like flannel, twill or denim.
4. When you’re making something fancy and working with very light or sheer fabrics like chiffon or organza, you’ll want to go for French seams. This sounds very high-end and difficult, but you’ll be amazed at yourself when you complete your first one. Imagine being able to tell your friends you just make a blouse with French seams! It’s really not that hard. Mock French seams are another variation you may like to try.
5. Bound seams involve stitching folded binding fabric strips to the seams’ raw edges. This is pretty time consuming, but may be ideal in some cases especially if the seam will show in your design.
Now you have many more options for finishing your seams, from the simplest to the more impressive but still doable. Pull out some scraps of fabric to practice on and soon you’ll have advanced your skills quite a bit!