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Seam Finishes

The main purpose of finishing seams is to prevent them from unraveling. Finished seams also make your work prettier, which is not a bad thing when trying to impress the judges at A & S! There are many methods that can be used to finish seams. This "cheat sheet" offers a description of the four main types of seam finishes that I use.

The seam allowance in these instructions is 5/8", which is the seam allowance commonly used in modern patterns. If your pattern uses a different seam allowance, you will need to adjust the width of the seams either on the pattern or on this instruction sheet.

I have a line marked on my sewing machine 5/8" from the needle. The distance from the needle to the edge of the presser foot is 1/4" (another handy measurement to know).


Flat-Felled

This type of seam finish is commonly seen in tents and shirts. It is a type of overlapped seam. Looking from the end of the seam, the edges would look like this:

Flat-felled Edges

Step 1
Place the wrong sides of the pieces together, and sew a 5/8" seam.
Step 2
Trim one side of the seam to 1/4".
Step 3
Fold the untrimmed side over the trimmed side and press.
Step 4

Press the seam open flat (right sides up), with the seam allowance laying to one side so that the raw edges are hidden.
Step 5

From the right side, sew close to the folded edge.

Reinforced

This is the only type of seam finish that I can document as being period. It would of course have been sewn by hand, not by machine. The image below is figure 126 from Textiles & Clothing: c.1150-c.1450, by Elizabeth Crowfoot. It shows three styles of seams, based on textiles from the 12th - 14th centuries, found in London excavations.

Period Seams

  1. Running Stitch
  2. Backstitch
  3. Seams opened flat and reinforced with running stitch

Step 1
Place the right sides together and sew a 5/8" seam.
Step 2
Press the seam open (wrong side up) so that the seam allowances fall to either side of the seam.
Step 3
Stitch 1/4" from the seam line on each side of the seam allowance.

French

A French seam is sewn with wrong sides together, then flipped around and sewn with right sides together. This has the effect of folding the cut edges together. It is not appropriate for bulky materials, because the seam will never lay flat. However, it works very well on lightweight materials.

Step 1
Place the wrong sides of the pieces together, and sew a 1/4" seam.
Step 2
Trim the seam edges to 1/8".
Step 3
Press the seam (right side up) so it lays flat to one side.
Step 4
Put the right sides of the pieces together and press flat.
Step 5
Sew a 3/8" seam.
Step 6
Press the seam (wrong side up) so it lays flat to one side.

Zig-Zagged or Serged

This is the fastest and easiest way to finish a seam.

Step 1
Place the right sides together and sew a 5/8" seam.
Step 2
Serge or sew a line of zig-zag 1/4" from the seam. Trim close to the zig-zag.
Step 3
Press the seam (wrong side up) so it lays flat to one side.