How to Finish Edges/Seam Allowances

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Hey, you!

I believe with all my heart that a garment should be as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside.

Yes, I’m a demanding seamstress!

And that means this…

Generally, there are two steps to sewing with wovens:

  1. Sewing your seams; and
  2. Finishing your seam allowances or edges.

In this article, you’ll learn why you need to finish your edges/seams and seven ways to get the job done!

Now, let’s talk about the rules…

NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!

Rules of Edge/Seam Finishes

Rule #1: You should finish your seam allowances (SAs) or edges. That’s what professionals do.

Rule #2: You can use more than one seam or edge finish in a garment.

Rule #3: Fabric is the #1 factor to choosing the right seam or edge finish. Start with a test sample!

Rule #4: After you’ve sewn a seam, pressing the seam open makes for a nice flat finish on the right side (RS) of your garment!

Alright. Now that you know the rules, let’s talk about the benefits…

3 Benefits of Edge/Seam Finishes

There are three main reasons to finish your seams to…

  1. keep fray happy fabrics from unraveling to nothing during construction or through the life of the garment;
  2. add strength and durability to your seams; and
  3. add beauty.

Okay, now that you know the why, let’s learn how to choose the right seam or edge finish for the job…

Choosing a Edge/Seam Finish

The right seam or edge finish depends on three things:

  1. fabric weight;
  2. how fray happy your fabric is; and
  3. how the garment will be worn.

So if you’re ready, let’s finish our seams…

7 Basic Edge/Seam Finishes for Woven Fabrics

When it comes to finishing your SAs, you can finish them with the…

  • seam pressed open and each SA finished individually; or
  • seam pressed to one side and both SAs finished simultaneously.

And depending on the type of garment you are sewing AND the seam finish, SAs can be finished…

  • BEFORE you sew a seam; or
  • AFTER you’ve sewn a seam.

Here’s the thing…

There are so many ways you can finish SAs.

And as you gain experience, you will definitely learn your favorite methods. But for now, let me share seven simple ways you can make your seams pretty on the inside…

Option 1 & 2: Pinked vs. Stitched + Pinked

A hundred years ago, pinking seam allowances (SAs) was the seam finish of choice for the home sewer.

Today, we have so many more options for finishing edges or seams. But for fabrics that are lightweight, firmly woven and/or not very fray happy, pinking your SAs is still a great choice.

When you pink, those zigzag edges are cut on the bias. And the bias doesn’t fray (easily).

However, if the fabric is super fray happy, pinking may only limit but not entirely stop the fraying!

There are two ways you can pink your SAs…

  • Pinked: This finish works well with light- to medium-weight fabrics. First, sew your plain seam and just pink both SAs simultaneously as close to the raw edges as possible. Then, press the seam open.
  • Stitched + Pinked: This finish works really well with light- and medium-weight fabrics. (See detailed instructions below.)

simply-pinked-vs-stitched-and-pinked-seam-finish

Personally, I love the look of stitched + pinked edge or seam! To me, it’s just prettier! And it suggests that someone put an extra bit of love into the making of a garment!

Plus, it adds a bit more strength to the seam finish!

If you agree with me, here’s how you can stitch + pink like a master…

  1. Separately, sew a stitching line ¼ inch from the raw or cut edge of your seam allowances.
  2. Now, sew a plain seam.
  3. Next, place your garment on a flat surface.You’ll be pinking both SAs simultaneously — this is very useful if your fabric is flimsy.
  4. Now, position your pinking shears so that the tip of the bottom blade in touching the cutting surface.
  5. Then, position the second sawtooth from the back of your pinking shears at the start of your seam allowances and to the right of the stitching line. And then, simply bring the blades together BUT not closed — essentially, you are taking short “bites” with your pinking shears! (The blue arrow in the image below demonstrates the positioning of the sawtooth.)
  6. Now, open your shears and re-position them, lining up that same second back sawtooth with the last notch made and continue in this fashion along the entire length of the SAs.

how-to-align-pinking-shears

  1. Once you’ve reach the end, you’re now ready to press the seam as sewn and then open from the wrong side (WS).

Option 3 :Double-Stitched + Pinked

And in this variation, you stitch on the seam line. Next, you stitch again ⅛ inch from the seam line inside the SA. And then, you finish off with pinking (or a 3-step zig zag)!

The SAs would be pressed to one side.

double-stitched-and-pinked

This will definitely show fray happy fabrics who’s the boss!

Sew easy tip: If you’re pinking a delicate or lightweight fabric, you may need to place a scrap of stabilizer or a strip of tissue paper behind the SA before you begin.

Okay. Now that you know how to pink your SAs, it is time to get zigzaggy…

Option 4: Zigzag vs. 3-step Zigzag (or Tricot Stitch)

If your fabric is medium-weight, you can use a regular zigzag stitch.

And if your fabric is lightweight, then the 3-step zigzag stitch is the way to go to avoid tunneling.

zigzag-stitch-various-types-and-widths

But, honestly, regardless of the fabric, if I’m finishing with a zigzag stitch, then I use the 3-step zigzag stitch.

Why?! Because it is so gosh darn attractive!

If you’re pressing the SAs to one side, here’s how you do it…

  1. Sew a plain seam using the desired SA.
  2. Next, choose the 3-step zigzag stitch on your sewing machine.
  3. Then, align the raw edge of your SAs with the ¼ inch SA guide on the throat plate and 3-step zigzag along the entire length.  Do NOT backstitch!
  4. Next, with small embroidery scissors, trim as close to the zigzag stitching line as possible.
  5. Finally, press the seam to one side towards the back of the garment.

And you’re done!

3-step-zigzag-trimming-seam-allowance

However, if you’ll be pressing your seams open, you’ll need to do this…

  1. Choose the 3-step zigzag stitch on your sewing machine.
  2. With the right side (RS) of your SA facing up, align the right edge of your presser foot with the raw edge of your SA. You want to zigzag about ¼ from the raw edge.
  3. Without backstitching, stitch a line of 3-step zigzag along the entire length.
  4. Repeat on the adjoining SA.
  5. Next, align the fabric with right sides together (RST) and stitch a plain seam.
  6. Finally, with small embroidery scissors, trim as close to the zigzag stitching line as possible. You can do this to both SAs simultaneously.
  7. Finally, press the seam open from the WS, and then a quick press from the RS.

And you’re done!

Sew easy tip: Use fabric scraps from the project to play around with the width of your zigzag. This way you can determine what looks pretty to you and/or works best with the fabric in hand.

Option 5: Clean Finish

This is a pretty SA finish for light- and medium-weight fabrics. I like to think of it as if we are “hemming” the SAs. It does take a little extra time, but this kind of pretty is worth it!

FIRST, individually, staystitch the SAs ⅛ inch (lightweight fabric) or ¼ inch (medium-weight fabric) from the raw edges. Then, sew a plain seam and press the seam flat and open…

clean-finish-guidelines

SECOND, press the edge under along the stitched guideline — use steam from your iron or a spritz of water to get nice crisp, folded edges. For extra unraveling power, you can pink the SAs before you press them under. In the image below, check out the SA on the left.

clean-finish-pressed-under-along-guideline

THIRD, edgestitch close to fold like this and finish with a quick press…

clean-finish-edgestitched

Easy, right?! And pretty too!

Now, for my absolute favorite seam finish…

Option 6: French Seam

If you want to hear a grown woman squeal like a five-year girl, whose favorite daddy has returned from a week-long business trip, then just let me discover this seam finish in a ready-to-wear (RTW) dress.

Yes, I did just that when I saw my very first French seam in a Belk’s Department Store. I was so bowled over that I lost my senses and bought a totally inappropriate too short dress because of it.

Here’s the thing…

The French Seam is rarely seen in RTW because it is double the work. But let me tell you this: It is worth it!

And this seam is not only sublimely pretty but mighty strong too.

I have had great success using it to sew lightweight, medium-weight, and sheer fabrics.

Anyhoo, let me stop gushing and tell you how to sew this seam finish so that you can experience its loveliness for yourself.

Here’s how you sew the ever lovely French Seam using a 5/8 inch seam allowance:

FIRST, with the wrong sides of your fabric together, stitch a plain seam using a ¼ inch SA…

french-seam-wrong-sides-together-stitch-quarter-inch-from-raw-edge

SECOND, press the seam open if you can, and then press the SAs to one side…

french-seam-pressed-open

I find that this step makes the fourth step below easier!

THIRD, with your embroidery scissors, trim the SAs to ⅛ inch or by half…

french-seam-trim-seam-allowance-in-half

FOURTH, align your fabric with RST, press, and then stitch using a ¼ inch SA…

french-seam-right-sides-together

Finally, press seam to one side towards the back of the garment from the WS, and then finish with a quick press from the RS.

And voilà!

Admit it! This is one gorgeous, lovely, comely seam!

voila-gorgeous-lovely-comely-french-seam

If you try this seam finish and fall in love with it as much as I have, then you will have to come back to this article and share the love in the comments section.

WARNING: When using this seam finish, do NOT snip notches in the SAs to transfer pattern markings. It will weaken the seam! Instead, use a tailor’s chalk or a marking pen or pencil.

Sew easy tip: I’ve done French seams successfully on straight and curved seams!

What About Finishing Edges/Seams on Knits?

So glad you asked.

Because of how knits are constructed, knits don’t fray and unravel. So technically, you don’t have to finish the SAs of knits.

However…

If you want to press your SAs to one side or if you want to contain those madding cut curly ends of jersey knits, you’ll need a seam finish.

And while on many computerized sewing machines there are many options, double stitching lines are simple, pretty and functional.

Here’s how you double stitch it, using the wobble stitch

seam-allowance-finish-knits

  1. Sew your first stitching line using a 5/8 inch SA.
  2. Next, sew a second stitching line using a 3/8 inch SA. This will give you two lines of stitching that are about a ¼ inch apart.
  3. Now trim as close as you can to the second stitching line.
  4. Finally, lightly press seam to one side towards the back of the garment. And you’re finished!

Now, how easy was that?!

The End

You are now in the possession of six awesome seam/edge finishing techniques for wovens:

  • pinked;
  • stitched + pinked;
  • zigzag;
  • 3-step zigzag;
  • clean finish; and, my all-time favorite,
  • the French seam.

And while knits don’t fray and, therefore, don’t technically require a seam finish, you now know a couple reasons why you might just want to and how.

Okay. With such simple options for finishing seams or edges, there is no reason why your garments can’t look as lovely on the inside as they do on the outside!

Why?!

Because you deserve it!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn all the basic sewing skills you need to begin sewing insanely pretty dresses!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn about the plain seam!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn more about the zigzag stitch!

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4 thoughts on “How to Finish Edges/Seam Allowances”

  1. I hate to be repetitive, but you are the living embodiment of COMPREHENSIVE. And a good writer who is also funny.

    Reply

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