Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Back to Basics - Seam Finishes

If you've ever sewn something you love, only to have it fall apart at the seams, you've likely already learned about the importance of finishing your seams.

As many of you know, I'm a self-taught sewer. Neither my mother or grandmother sat me at their knee while I was a young 'un and taught me the secrets of sewing. Nope, I learned through trial and error.

I learned the importance of finishing seams many years ago when a cotton skirt I had spent hours sewing came apart at the seams after a few washings. The seams had simply unraveled to the point where the thread no longer had anything to hold together. Until that point, I had no idea you needed to finish seams when you sewed something. The pattern instructions certainly didn’t mention it.

Now, when I teach others to sew, one of the first things discussed is how to finish a seam edge. Because I own a serger I will usually serge finish my seams. But what do you do if you don't have a serger handy?

This is how I finished my seams pre-serger. While different fabrics will require different seam finishes, you’ll quickly discover your favorite finish.

Pink or stitch and pink:
This one is as simple as it sounds. I use this finish when I'm working on a tightly woven cotton fabric that does not ravel.

Trim the edges of a seam allowance with a pinking shear. To stitch and pink, sew a line of straight stitches about 1/4” from the raw edge. Trim close to the line of stitching with pinking shears.

Pinked seam finish

One of my all-time favorites, especially before I owned a serger.

Using a medium zigzag stitch, zigzag close to the raw edge and then trim close to the stitching. You can zigzag each seam allowance separately, or zigzag the seam allowances together and press to one side.

ZigZag seam finish

Another favorite that requires just a bit more time than the the zigzag finish, but it looks so nice when it's done.

Turn each raw edge under 1/4” and stitch in place.

Clean finish seam finish - back side

Clean finish seam finish

Bias Bound:
I'll admit, I rarely use this finish now that I've used the Hong Kong finish, but try it for yourself and see what you think.

Use a purchased single fold bias tape or make your own in a contrasting fabric. Encase the seams with the bias binding and stitch in place.

Encase raw edge with bias tape

Bias bound seam finish

Hong Kong Seam Finish:
Oh, how this one used to scare me. It sounds oh-so-fancy and hard. But it's actually very simple and produces a wonderful looking seam. Once I got over my fear of this seam finish it quickly became a favorite.
  • Use purchased one inch wide bias tape or make your own in a contrasting fabric.
  • Pin the bias tape to each raw edge (right sides together) and stitch 1/8” from the edge.
  • Press the bias tape flat - away from the seam allowance.
  • Turn the bias tape to the back side of the seam allowance, encasing the raw edge, and press.
  • On the top side of the seam allowance stitch in the ditch (sew in the center of the seam of the bias tape and seam allowance).
  • Trim away any extra bias tape on the backside of the seam allowance.

Stitch in the ditch on the right side to secure the bias tape

Hong Kong seam finish

There are many excellent instructions for the Hong Kong finish on the Internet such as here, here, and here. If you're a visual learner, like I am, then you'll really appreciate the step-by-step photo tutorial on Burda Style.

What's your favorite seam finish? Pin It


  1. I just got a serger so I like that for knits, used it to finish off jean legs for some jeans I shortened for oldest child before sewing the new hem down. I like zigzag for kids clothes and french seams for lighterweight.

  2. This is a great tutorial! Most of us bloggers have been sewing forever and we sometimes forget that there are alot of newbies out there reading our blogs and looking for just this type of information!

  3. I like lining covering them best of all. Otherwise I serge or hong kong finish.

  4. I mostly take the quick way and serge. I do like to do french seams on dresses and skirts when I can take the time.

  5. Sharon, thank you so much for doing this! Your tutorial and pictures are very clear and very, very helpful. I'm bookmarking this for my sewing students (and myself!)

    My personal favorite finish? Flat-felling, no contest. Love the clean, finished look and it's surprisingly easy with an iron and the right foot. However the finish I use most often would be serging. Hey, it's fast and not all fabrics look good with flat-felling.

  6. Great information.. I am still pinning for my serger.. Dun really in need of it since I dun really sew clothing now.. But, it will be nice to have 1..


  7. I'm getting a serger for Christmas and can't wait but I've been using the French Seam on some of my dresses.

    You sew the seam wrong side together...trim and press...and then stitch it wrong side together and you have a nice encase seam. I will probably continue to use this a lot even when I get my serger!

  8. Hey Beau! I, like yourself, am a self taught! Trial and Error and Sandra Betzina's Sew Perfect on HGTV for 2 years :)!!! My FAVORITE seam finish is the hong kong BUT after I got my serger several years ago, Im afraid Ive gotten lazy! hee hee! Merry Christmas to you XOXO!



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