How to Finish Seams

Whether you are just learning how to sew or you have been making clothes for years, there is one dilemma that we all run into – how to finish seams. In this post, I am going to go into the different methods of seam finishing and tell you about what I believe to be the best and easiest way to finish seams on the clothes and accessories that you make.

How to finish seams with an overlock sewing machine

How to finish seams

After spending hours making a garment, tote bag or purse, you want to make sure that the seams are durable and that they don’t fray (more later on how I learned the hard way about that one).

There are several ways to do finishing, and it will depend on the fabric you have chosen. Let’s start with the simple ones first:

Pink it!

No, not the colour! For fabrics that are not going to be laundered often or at all, trimming the seam allowance with pinking shears is the simplest solution. The shears cut the fabric with a toothed edge, and that reduces fraying. This method works fine for vinyl, felt and wools that will be dry cleaned. If you use pinking shears on the seams of cottons or other fabrics that fray and unravel a lot, it will look nice for a washing or two, but fall apart after that.

How do I know this? When I was first starting to make my own clothes, I made a nice pair of pants in a burgundy cotton. I pinked all the seams and the pants looked great! After a few washings, the seams frayed a little but looked fine, so I wore the pants to school. And the entire back center seam of the pants (the butt-covering one) ripped open the first time I sat down! So yeah. Although it looked like it would hold, it didn’t. So that little lesson brought me to my next solution.

Encase it

After trimming the seam allowance down a little, seam binding can be used to encase the seam – just in case it is going to fray. (bad joke, huh?) This involves stitching the binding down to completely enclose the raw edges of the seam. Yes – that means the seam will in effect be sewn twice. You will be sandwiching the raw edges between the layers of the binding and that will keep the fraying in check. I used this method for a while, but it was so time consuming!

Get classy

A real classy way to encase the raw edges is to sew a French seam. With this method, you initially sew the garment pieces wrong sides together, and sew a 2/8″ seam. After sewing the seam, press it to one side and the with the right sides together, sew a 3/8″ seam. This method is excellent for a jacket or shirt that you wear open and the seams will show. It’s great for straight seams, but gets a little tricky when you get to a curve. And then there is the whole sewing-the-same-seam-twice-thing again.

Zig-zagging and fauxverlock

(Yes, I just made up that word.) If you read my post or ebook (which you have free, instant access to if you subscribe to my newsletter) on A Guide to Buying Your First Sewing Machine, the first thing on the list of essentials is a zigzag stitch. This can be used to finish both edges of a seam allowance to keep the fabric from fraying too much. Some machines also have a mock overlock stitch (a fauxverlock) that is one step better than zigzagging – but – you don’t trim the seam allowance down at all because you need to finish off both raw edges separately with the stitch, then press the seam open. So essentially, you are sewing the same thing three times. I don’t have time for that, and neither do you.

So after years of trial-and-error (with lots of errors) on seam finishing, I finally found the perfect way to finish every seam – straight, curved, on cottons, silk, vinyl….everything!!

The secret?


Juki MO644D Serger

A serger

This serger isn’t my first though. I had a Toyota for about 25 years, and it finally broke down last year. I searched for a replacement, and bought a Singer. Honestly, I don’t like working with the Singer machine. So I kept looking, and found this one – the Juki MO644D. I. LOVE. it.

Here’s what a serger does:

Overlocking a curved seam 1

In this photo, I am using the serger on a curved underarm seam. Since the fabric is cotton and won’t stretch, I’ve clipped the curve after sewing the seam on the regular sewing machine. I use the screw on the presser foot as a guide, and keep it just to the right of the stitches. (Each machine varies, but you can easily figure this one out.)

Look at what it does!!!!

Overlocked curved seam

How it works

I have the Juki set up to use 4 cones of thread, and find that to be the most durable finish.

The serger has TWO sewing needles and razor blades. As you sew, the razor blades cut the extra fabric from the seam allowance – while it sews an extra two rows of stitches AND uses the other two cones of thread to overcast the seam. All at once.

Finished seam using an overlock sewing machine

Isn’t that awesome?

The Juki has a free arm too, which makes it perfect for cuffs and pant leg hems. I use it to finish off the raw edges, and then turn them under to sew down on the regular machine. Hemming anything takes only a few minutes now!

Professional finish

Look at how the seam is finished on the clothes you are wearing right now. Chances are, those seams were finished with a serger. And you can get those same exact results on whatever YOU make too! And it’s not a super expensive piece of machinery either.

I use the serger on every single item I make – whether it’s for myself or for sale in my shop. I know from experience that the items I make can withstand many, many washings and the seams will not ravel and are extra durable. (And I can sit down in pants and not worry any more about the seam shredding!)

If you sew with knit fabrics, a serger is essential. The stitches are flexible and will stretch with the knit fabric as well as providing a nice, clean finish.

Compared to the other sergers I have had, this one is easy to thread too. (Some sergers can be a real nightmare to thread, and my first one used to make me cry. And swear. A lot.)

Bonus trick to use when changing thread

  1. Set all the tension dials to “0”
  2. Cut the thread on the existing spools up near the top of the spool
  3. Tie the new colour thread to the thread that is still in the machine
  4. SLOWLY run the machine – watching carefully for the knots in the two spools of thread that go to the needles
  5. When the knots get close to the needle, stop running the machine
  6. Clip the thread at the knot and pull the remaining thread out of the eyes of the needles
  7. Thread the new colour thread through both needles
  8. Return the tension dials back to their appropriate settings
  9. Sew on a piece of scrap fabric until you are sewing with all of the new colour thread
  10. DONE!

Go get one!

Right now, the Juki MO644D Portable Serger is available on Amazon where I bought mine. Seriously, I wouldn’t recommend something that I haven’t tried out myself. I absolutely love this machine, and I know you will too!

8 thoughts on “How to Finish Seams

  • Florence

    Popping over from Blogging Fifty…I don’t know much about sewing or serging. I have 2 Singer machines, but prefer most of the time to sew on my Mother’s old 1940’s model that has to be oiled. What a funny story about the pinking shears fail! I can just see that!

    • Donna Post author

      Good thing I had a long coat to wear that day! As for sewing machines that need oiling – check your owner’s manual on those two Singers you have, as most machines DO require oil! The instructions for where to oil the machine are at the back of the manual. If you don’t have the manual, you need to download one! Proper maintenance will make your machine sew better and it will last for years.

    • Donna Post author

      Thanks so much Marci! French seams really do give a nice finish when you are taking your time making a nice unlined jacket or shirt, but they are time-consuming!

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