These are a Few of my Favourite Seams: Serging, French Seams and Bias Binding
You may be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? After all, they are on the inside of your clothes and nobody will (usually) see them. But they have a really important role – they hold your clothes together! And for something so vital, I like to make sure my seams are on point (even if I am the only one that usually sees them).
Finishing your seams not only helps to reduce fraying that occurs during laundering and wear, but it also gives your me-made garments a super professional-looking finish. Everything becomes so polished and tidy – a lasting mark of quality. That little extra attention on your seams is a gift you give yourself, every time you put on that gorgeous homemade item.
That little extra attention on your seams is a gift you give yourself, every time you put on that gorgeous homemade item.
There are a few ways you can finish your seams – I’m going to share three of my favourites: Serging (overlocking), French seams, and Bias binding.
A serger (overlocker) is a machine that trims the edge of your seam with a built-in blade to make it neat and tidy and straight and then stitches multiple threads, including wrapping the edge of your seam with threads to secure the yarns and increase fabric durability during the wearing and laundering process.
It is not a “need to have” tool, but it is certainly a very “nice to have” tool, especially if you’re mostly making clothing for yourself or others. I remember receiving my first serger as a gift from my parents when I was about 15. I had started making my own clothes as a teenager, and having the ability to serge the seams was a game-changer; everything was suddenly so professional!
Many people are hesitant about sergers because the threading process can feel intimidating. Have no fear! It is indeed a bit of a learning process, but something that can certainly be mastered with a little patience. I found the trick was to take my time and read the instructions carefully (which I’m notoriously bad at doing).
The diagram on the front of the machine is super helpful to remind you which thread goes where, and now there are tons of video tutorials online that are also wonderful resources. After a few tries, threading the serger is a breeze. Though it’s still a bit of a nuisance if a thread breaks, it’s not a dealbreaker and only takes a couple of minutes to rethread it and start again.
If you don’t have one already and you’re thinking about purchasing a serger, I’d suggest a 4-thread serger at minimum. With a 4-thread serger, you can always remove one of the straight-stitch threads to use only 3 (for example, with wovens). Though I admit I just use four threads for everything I sew ;)
Serging can be done before or after you sew the seams together. For example, many knit designs can be assembled on a serger alone (except the hem, which is generally serged and then folded up and sewn, or a cover stitch machine is used to neatly finish the seam at the hem). For woven fabrics, seams will generally be sewn with a sewing machine first, then serged.
Some seams, like a centre-back seam, may be serged separately before sewing, so that the seam can be pressed open and flat. This is ideal if you’re wanting to add some topstitching on both sides of the seam, or if you’re installing a zipper along that seam.
If you’re sewing and serging, it is best to serge as you sew, so that all seams are finished in full. TIP: To keep the blade sharp, try not to use the serger to cut large amounts of fabric off your seams. Cut your fabric to the appropriate size, and use the blade to correct any little inconsistencies. If you use it to cut the fabric all the time, it will become dull more quickly.
It’s also important to think about your order of operations when serging. You don’t want to sew multiple seams together and then not be able to serge the first seam because it’s tucked into another.
I like to keep my serger right beside my sewing machine so it’s an easy jump from one to the other (or, if you’re like me and have a rolling chair, it’s an easy roll from one to the other!)
If you don’t have (or want) a serger but would like to have a polished, professional finish, French seams are a great option! They are also essential for sheer or lightweight fabrics since the weave is often very loose and seams can be subject to slippage, even when serged.
French seams protect your sheer fabrics from slipping apart at the seams and make a nice, tidy finish
French seams protect your sheer fabrics from slipping apart at the seams and make a nice, tidy finish that you’d be proud to show-off (beautiful seams are especially appropriate when the garment is see-through!). Note that French seams are not ideal for seams that have sharp curves or corners, as the edges cannot be clipped for ease, so the fabric will not lay flat on the right side.
To create a French seam, you must work with a seam allowance that will allow you to sew the seam twice. The first seam secures the edge of the French seam, the second seam is the actual garment assembly seam.
TAL patterns come with a built-in 1cm seam allowance, so you’ll want to increase this to 1.5cm (5/8”) by adding 5mm (1/4”) all the way around the pattern. To do this, I use a see-through ruler to add the additional seam allowance.
This can be done directly on your fabric before you cut, so you don’t have to permanently alter your pattern (you may not want French seams for every garment).
Once you’ve added the extra seam allowance and cut out your fabric, it’s time to sew.
First, start by sewing a 1cm (3/8”) seam with the wrong sides together. You will also want to ensure that your fabric edges match precisely – taking in too much or too little will alter the fit of your garment.
Press the seam to make it nice and flat, which will make the next step easier.
Then trim the seam to 3 mm (1/8”) (be careful not to trim any less than 3 mm so that the thread has enough fabric to hold on to). It is essential to trim the seam so that no frayed yarns poke out of the cleanly finished French seam.
Press the seam allowance open and flat.
Fold along the seam so that the right sides are together, then press again.
Sew the final seam at 5mm (1/4”). Press the seam open, pressing the seam allowance in the direction it will sit in your finished garment.
Voila! You have perfect French seams.
Recently I started getting into using bias binding on my seams. This is a great way to add some creativity to the inside of your garments (and feels very luxurious to have neat and tidy bound seams!) Bias binding can be done with pre-purchased binding (available at most fabric or craft stores). Or, for an extra-personal touch, you can make your own! For a tutorial on how to make your own bias binding, click here.
There are two ways of applying your bias binding – 1) binding your seams together with a single piece of bias tape, and 2) binding each side of the seam separately and then pressing open and flat. For both of these, you’ll want to sew your seam first.
Once your seam is sewn, you’re ready to apply the binding. When binding seams together with a single piece of bias tape, unfold the tape and align it, right sides together, with the edge of your fabric. (Do not press the tape or you’ll lose the crease marks!). Pin in place (through both layers of your seam allowance) to secure it as you sew and prevent stretching out the binding strip.
Next, sew exactly along the crease, as pictured. If you chose a thinner binding size, your sewing line will be closer to the edge of your seam. I have used a 38mm (1.5cm) bias tape here, which covers most of the visible seam.
At this point, I like to trim the seam allowance a little to ensure that the binding wraps neatly around the seam. This is especially helpful when you are using a thicker fabric for your garment, like denim, corduroy, or a heavy twill or canvas.
Don’t trim too much, I’d suggest leaving a minimum of 3mm (1/8”), but you can leave more if you have a larger binding strip. Because I've used a 38mm (1.5") tape, I’ve left about 5mm (1/4”).
Next, fold your binding over and press.
Then wrap your binding to the other side and pin in place. Sew 1-2mm from the sewn edge (a scant 1/8”) through all layers.
Press your seam allowance to one side, and you’re done!
Sewing single layer binding requires your seams to be pressed open and flat and will give you more opportunities for visible binding on the inside of your garment. This is especially great for unlined jackets because you (and even other people when you take off your outer layer) will get to see that binding more than if it was on a garment like a dress, where the inside is seldom seen in a public setting (at least, usually not on purpose! Unlike that windy day a couple of years ago when a gust of wind displayed all the inner seams of my dress to everyone sitting in the front window of the local coffee shop, whoops!).
Sewing single layer binding requires you to press your seams open and flat where you want this effect to be sewn. Centre back seams are a great option. The sleeve seam on a jacket or shirt or outer leg seams on pants are also great options, especially if you’ll be rolling up your cuffs and can show off the binding for an extra pop of colour or pattern!
The sleeve seam on a jacket or shirt or outer leg seams on pants are also great options, especially if you’ll be rolling up your cuffs and can show off the binding for an extra pop of colour or pattern!
For a 1cm (5/8”) seam with single layer bias binding (where the seam will be pressed open), I like to use a thinner bias tape because it’s a bit easier to apply. (The thicker tape covers more of the seam allowance but gets a bit fussy to sew onto both sides of the pressed-open seam). Here, I've used a 26mm tape (1")
To apply single layer bias binding, first, sew your seam, then press your seam open and flat.
Then follow the same steps as above, but for each side of your seam: sew your bias tape in the crease, then press the tape toward the seam edge (do not press out the remaining crease in the tape).
Wrap the tape around the seam, pin in place, and sew 1-2mm from the sewn edge.
Once you’re finished with the first side, continue to the second exposed seam to attach the bias binding in the same way.
Press open and flat, and you’re done!
Beware, these processes will increase your sewing time (maybe even double it), since you’re essentially sewing each seam twice. But the finished product is definitely worth the extra effort.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to try a new seam finish on your next garment. Good luck, and have fun!
About the author:
Kirsten Schaefer started sewing as a hobby over 25 years ago. She currently teaches textiles and fashion design at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and continues to sew garments for herself in her free time. She loves bright and bold colours, natural fibres, and surprise details, like superbly finished seams!
You can find her on Instagram @seamstoanend