Try These Techniques for Perfectly Beautiful Seams

comments (23) February 20th, 2009     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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Four beautiful ways you can seam a garment include (clockwise from top) Hong Kong finish, flat-fell seam, French seam, and pinked seam.
The flat-fell seam is commonly used on blue jeans and woven shirts.
When doing a flat-fell seam, press the seam allowance over the trimmed seam allowance.
Four beautiful ways you can seam a garment include (clockwise from top) Hong Kong finish, flat-fell seam, French seam, and pinked seam.

Four beautiful ways you can seam a garment include (clockwise from top) Hong Kong finish, flat-fell seam, French seam, and pinked seam.

Photo: Mary Ray
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When you sew two pieces of fabric together, you create a seam. For many projects that’s all you need to know. But, if you’re making a garment, the type of seam and seam finish you choose can really impact the outcome. Seams should be compatible with the fabric and the style and function of the garment. Finishing a seam with a serger is a good option, if you own one. Many commercially made garments are finished this way. But it’s far from the only choice.

Here are four seam techniques you should know—and you’ll have all the bases covered.

Flat-Fell Seam
This is the one used on blue jeans and woven shirts so they’re completely finished and smooth on the inside. It’s a sturdy seam and the best choice for garments that are worn and washed a lot. But, I like to use it on my quilted jackets as well because it adds a nice construction detail.

Here’s the traditional method:

First, sew the sections wrong sides together using a 5/8-inch seam. For thicker fabrics, you might want to sew a 3/4-inch seam. Trim the seam allowance on one side to 1/4 inch.

Press the other seam allowance over the trimmed seam allowance.

Fold under the raw edge and press.

Stitch it in place along the fold.

On many of my quilted jackets, I do a variation that I call a serged flat fell. I like it because it’s less bulky and, frankly, easier to do. I sew the seams right sides together, trim away the seam allowance on one side, serge the other seam allowance just along the edge, press that seam allowance over the first, turn the garment to the right side, and topstitch 1/4 inch from the seamline, catching in the seam allowance underneath.

A serged flat fell is smooth on the inside.

The topstitching adds detail on the outside.

French Seam

Use this seam on sheer fabrics or very lightweight fabrics. This technique completely encases the seam allowances and it is very pretty on see-through garments. Allow a 5/8-inch seam and follow these steps:

First, sew the sections wrong sides together with a 3/8-inch seam. Trim to about 1/8 inch and press.

Fold along the stitching so the right sides are together, and sew a second time with a 1/4-inch seam.

The Pinked Seam

I mention this one because it’s a very easy way to finish a seam and, for some fabrics, it’s the best way. Use it with lightweight, stable fabrics and on garments that are not going to be worn or cleaned a lot—like taffeta formalwear, for instance. Pinking prevents the fabric from fraying, and it breaks up the straight cut edge of the seam allowance so there is not a visible ridge on the garment's right side once the seam is pressed. But, pinking needs to be done properly to be effective.

Using a pinking shear or a pinking blade on a rotary cutter, cut along the very edge of the seam allowance. You should get the tiniest amount of fabric residue.

The seam allowances should be even when you’ve finished trimming.

The Hong Kong Finish
This is a couture technique and a beautiful way to finish the seams on an unlined jacket. It requires binding the edges of each seam allowance with a narrow strip of lightweight fabric that’s cut on the bias.

Sew the seam, right sides together, and press open.

Sew a 1-inch-wide strip of bias-cut fabric, right sides together, to the edge of each seam allowance. Trim to about 1/8 inch.

Press the bias strip away from the stitching.

Turn it over the edge and press.

Stitch in the ditch along the ridge between the seam allowance and the bias.

This catches the underside of the bias and holds it in place.

Press the seam open again and admire your work.

I love to use a Hong Kong finish on quilted jackets. On this jacket, I used a combination of the flat-fell and the Hong Kong techniques, trimming the seam allowance on one side, binding the other, and topstitching in place from the right side.

A word of caution: Make sure your garment fits before you trim the seams!

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posted in: fabric, wearable, seams

Comments (23)

Wim2 writes: The Hong Kong finish looks gorgeous...
Thanks for the tutorial, very clear.
Posted: 5:14 am on May 26th
togorose writes: I never knew this type of seam, and I'm so glad I checked this. I will sure make use of my new found knowledge and I thank you for posting this tutorial.
Posted: 1:07 am on June 14th
PamF writes: The instructions are so easy to follow. I especially like the photos. I can see exactly what to do. Seems like it can be difficult to get good online photos of how to sew.
Posted: 1:06 pm on March 20th
Weena writes: Thank you for an excellent and clear tutorial. You photos and instructions make the techniques very easy to understand.

I would like to know which technique(s) would be appropriate for clipped curved seams, such as princess seams, and also which would work best for the seams attaching sleeves to garments?

Thanks again!
Posted: 2:11 pm on February 26th
funkified writes: i sure will give it a try in my next project,thank you.
Posted: 2:15 pm on February 25th
seamsoeasy writes: Very informative tute. was nice to see the pictures that were very clear and instructions that were easy to follow.
Posted: 6:14 am on February 25th
materialqueen writes: Mary Ray, You say to use bias cut fabric for the Hong Kong seam but your fabric appears to be cut on the straight. I have only seen Hong Kong tailors use selvedge fabric for this finish. Do you find it necessary (or recommend) bias fabric rather than selvedge.

Posted: 1:20 am on February 25th
dbthreads writes: Thank you - this is excellent and easy to understand. I have one question: for a garment with princess (curved) seams that must be clipped to lay flat, would you recommend any of these techniques?
Posted: 7:56 pm on February 24th
Linda68701 writes: Thanks for the great tutorial. I still have a question, though. What did you use for the seam allowance for the seam binding onto the seam allowance for the Hong Kong finish? It said trim to 1/8, I assume it was 1/4, but I want to clarify.

Thanks again!
Posted: 6:31 pm on February 24th
junekaatz writes: Excellent tutorial, clear, concise and taught me something new after all these years! Thank you!
Posted: 12:59 pm on February 11th
Posted: 11:00 pm on October 22nd
faerie writes: Marvelous tutorial! Did not know about the Hong Kong finish. Been sewing for 40 years off and on. Now I want to make a few warm and stylish Jackets. Thank You for teaching me something new.
Posted: 5:55 pm on April 27th
Stacey_Folsom writes: Thank you. Great tutorial and photos.
Posted: 10:10 pm on April 8th
CraftyJoan writes: I absolutely love these seam techniques. I can't wait to try each of them. Thank you very much.
Posted: 11:13 am on March 2nd
Kyla writes: I can use some of those ideal thanks a lot.
Posted: 11:29 am on March 1st
Isagaard writes: Flat-fell AND Hong Kong...Brilliant!! I now have the finishing answer to my Tyrolean jacket. Thank You!
Posted: 7:47 am on February 28th
elizabethjayne writes: Love this! This is really helpful. I'm a bit unclear on the French seam, but I'm sure it'll come together as I try it :D
Posted: 10:44 pm on February 27th
Patzee writes: Good tutorial. I love the look of your quilted seams.
Posted: 8:09 pm on February 27th
MaryRay writes: DazzLynn,
Thanks for the question. It's a good one.
When I say -- "Make sure it fits" -- that's because you are trimming away seam allowance and can't get it back if you need to slightly expand your garment.
But -- you do need to finish each seam as you go. You can't wait until you've sewn it all together.
Posted: 10:44 am on February 24th
PoochPal writes: Mary, Thank you for a fabulous detailed tutorial!
Posted: 11:35 pm on February 22nd
Tally writes: Thanks for this tutorial.
I haven't been sewing cloth for many years (back than using french seam sometimes), but this Hongkong finish looks so inspiring.
Posted: 6:37 am on February 22nd
DazzLynn writes: This is amazing! thank you. for so long i've wondered about these seams.

at the very end, you say "make sure the garment fits before you trim".

do you finish the whole garment, and then go back and finish your seams? or do you finish each seam as you are working?
Posted: 2:02 pm on February 20th
Sister_Diane writes: I'm so happy to see this tutorial - seam finishing is too rarely covered in modern sewing books. Your instructions are excellent. Thank you!!
Posted: 11:08 am on February 20th
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