A Guide To Seam Finishes for Woven Fabrics

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

We’ve slowly been combing through our post archives in order to update older posts, and simultaneously identify gaps in the resources we provide. Outside of two French seam posts – one that covers a how to for straight and curved seams and another for right angles – we’ve never provided a comprehensive guide for common seam finishes. Seam finishes are an essential part of garment and accessory construction when working with woven fabrics.

In addition to providing neat and tidy insides, the finishing stitch is what keeps your fabric from fraying or unraveling and ultimately weakening your construction stitch. Different seam finishes can also provide additional reinforcement that will make your garment or accessory durable and able to withstand the stress of everyday wear or use. Being aware of different seam finishes also empowers with the knowledge to choose a finish that’s best for the fabric or project you’re working on. This comes in handy if you use a different fabric than suggested by a pattern and you need to reduce seam bulk or otherwise conceal raw edges.

We’re discussing 8 common seam finishes below and have included step-by-step instructions for a few of them. Scroll down to read and learn about them all!

Pinked

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

A pinked seam finish is created by using pinking shears. Simply snip close to the edge of your seam allowance using your shears, and the zig-zag edge will help to prevent fraying. You can also sew a straight line of stitching close to the pinked edge in order to prevent fraying. This option is useful for fabrics that will become bulky when turned under and stitched.

This finish is best for tightly woven stable fabrics and curved edges.

Turn and Stitch

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

This is a quick finish that will keep your raw edge tucked under and out of sight. Fold the edge of your seam allowance under 1/8 inch (0.32 cm), press, and and stitch close to the folded edge.

This finish is best for light to medium weight wovens, course weaves, and tweeds.

Zig-Zag

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

In addition to being a quick seam finish, the zig-zag stitch is an available stitch option the majority of sewing machines. One option is to stitch both pieces of the seam allowance together and press to one side. Or you can separately finish each edge of fabric with the zig-zag stitch prior to sewing the seam with a straight stitch. This option is useful to reduce bulk when working with heavier fabrics.

This finish will work on most fabrics to prevent fraying, but delicate fabrics may get eaten by your sewing machine. We recommend testing the stitch on a scrap piece of fabric and adjusting the stitch width and length to suit your fabric. Heavier fabrics require larger settings and lighter fabrics will require smaller settings.

Serged

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Serged seams provide the construction and finishing stitches in one pass, but require the use of a serger. Similar to the zig-zag stitch shown above you can serge the edges of your fabric piece separately before stitching them together which allows you to press the seam open. Or, you can serge your fabric pieces together and press to one side. You can use a three or four thread seam finish – we’ve shown a four thread finish above.

We serge nearly everything in the studio from wovens to knits; however, we recommend a different finish for sheer garments, unlined jackets, or items that need to withstand a lot of stress.

French Seam

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

A French seam is best for sheer, lightweight, or delicate fabrics that are prone to fraying and unraveling as the finish fully encapsulates the raw edge.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

The seam finish is sewn in two parts so you’ll need to divide your seam allowance in half. In this example our the total seam allowance was 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) so we will be sewing 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) at each step. Begin by placing your fabric together with wrong sides matching. Sew at 1/4 inch (0.635 cm).

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Trim excess fabric or seam allowance to 1/8 inch (0.32 cm) and then fold the right sides of your fabric together so that the raw seam is now sandwiched between both pieces of fabric. Press, and then sew 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) from the folded edge. Press again and you’re French seam is complete.

Bias-Bound

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Bias bound seams take a little more time, but they stand-out visually and are recommended for fabrics that fray, unlined jackets, and formal garments.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

You’ll need store bought or self-made bias tape that is 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) wide. Cut a piece of bias tape that is slightly longer the seam you’re finishing and pin to seam allowance edge with right sides facing.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Turn over and check that you’ve only caught one side of your seam allowance. Ensure the rest of your fabric is out of the way. Turn right side up and sew the bias tape to the seam allowance 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) from the edge.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Press the bias tape away from the garment.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Fold the free edge of the bias tape over the edge of the seam allowance around to the back. There’s no need to fold the edge of the bias tape under. From the right side, stitch near the edge of the the bias tape in order to anchor the binding in place.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Trim any excess bias tape that hangs over the edge of the seam. Repeat on the other side.

Mock Flat Fell

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
right side
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
wrong side

A mock flat-fell seam finish provides the visual appearance of a flat-felled seam without the bulk. The drawback is that it doesn’t provide the strength a true flat-felled seam provides.

Before sewing your seam finish one edge of your fabric with a zig-zag stitch or by serging. Leave the other edge unfinished and proceed to sew your seam. Trim the unfinished edge to a 1/4 inch (0.635 cm). Press both seam allowances to one side so that the finished seam allowance edge covers the unfinished trimmed edge. Using a straight stitch, sew a line of stitching 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) away from the original seam. You’ll catch the finished seam allowance edge and encase the trimmed unfinished edge. We also sewed a line of stitching 1/8 inch (0.32 cm) away from the original line of stitching to provide additional visual detail

This finish can be used on denim jeans, shorts, jackets, canvas accessories, duckcloth, and sportswear.

Flat Fell

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
right side
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
wrong side

A true flat-felled seam provides more than a clean finish. The overlapping seam makes this an incredibly durable and sturdy finishing stitch. We recommend using a flat-felled seam finish for garments that will experience a lot of stress – denim or canvas jeans, jackets, outerwear, and sports related garments.

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

After sewing your seam, trim down one side of your seam allowance to 1/4 inch (0.32 cm).

A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio
A Guide To Seam Finishes | Grainline Studio

Fold the untrimmed seam allowance in half, press, and then fold over the previously trimmed seam allowance. Pin in place and edgestitch along the folded edge.

Do you have a favorite finish stitch? Let us know below!

18 replies on “A Guide To Seam Finishes for Woven Fabrics

  • Gill

    Wow this is such a helpful guide, thank you so much for sharing!! I love the detailed photos— I realized I’ve been doing the zig zag finish incorrectly this whole time. Can’t wait to have beautiful finishes now!

    Reply
    • Aimee

      You’re welcome! Say more about what you were doing – there is another version where you zig zag very close to the edge so it creates an ‘overcast’. Is this what you were doing?

      Reply
    • Aimee

      Thank you. We’re glad you found it informative! A lot of these names make the finishes sound much more intimidating than they actually are.

      Reply
  • Emily

    I serge or zig-zag most of my seams, although I love a flat-felled seam when that is called for! For the zig-zag, I have a foot on my sewing machine that keeps the edges of light-weight fabrics from getting bunched up (although corners are tricky).
    The serger is definitely my favorite, though. It leaves the cleanest and most professional finish.

    Reply
    • Aimee

      We serge the majority of our seams in the studio. It’s quick and clean! I find flat-felled seams incredibly satisfying to sew, and I am always happy to have an opportunity to finish a seam in that manner.

      Reply
    • Aimee

      It’s a preference. Some people prefer 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) double-fold as the crease can serve as a stitching guide. We tend to use flat strips of self-made bias tape and iron most store-bough tape flat as well.

      Reply
  • Lynn

    This is wonderful! Thank you so very much for sharing this incredibly helpful guide! I have one really stupid question, though … aside from the French and Fell seams, do we sew the edgings after the seam is in place or before sewing the pieces together? Does my question make any sense?

    Reply
    • Aimee

      I think I’m understanding correctly and in most cases if you’re finishing your raw edges ‘together’ you will be finishing after sewing your seam. If you’re pressing your seam allowance open, it will be easier to finish the seams prior to sewing the seam together. Hope that answers your question!

      Reply
  • Ev

    I -and many sewing teachers who teach children- like to use the 3-step zig zag stitch for a seam finish because it allows the fabric to lay flatter instead of the tunneling that sometimes occurs with a regular zig zag stitch.

    Reply
  • Martha Myers

    I love having a variety of seam finishes to choose from, so thanks for this. My personal twist on your *turn and stitch* is this: The first step is the same as yours – a standard straight seam, pressed open. Then I turn and stitch the edges by hand. I use an invisible stitch so that only small pick-stitches appear on the right side. You have to love hand-work to choose this, but I do.

    Reply

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