If you’ve taken a look at my photo albums on Facebook, you may notice I mention using French seams to finish off some of my creations. And those of you who aren’t seasoned sewers might be wondering what a French seam is, and how to do it.
A French seam is a way of sewing two pieces of fabric together which encases the raw edges to give a neater finish, whilst also making it softer against the skin than an unfinished or overlocked seam (if you don’t know what overlocking means check back soon and I’ll explain, but I won’t go into detail just now). French seams give your garments a much more professional and high quality finish than leaving the edges raw, and it is also possible to create a French seam on even the most basic machine (or even by hand if you wanted to!) as it only requires a straight stitch.
It isn’t suitable for all fabrics however, only light to medium weight, due to the number of layers of fabric the finished seam will end up with. So for example you wouldn’t use this technique when sewing with fleece as it would be too bulky. There are other types of seam for thicker fabrics, but we’ll save them for another day.
Sewing a seam in this way is actually really easy, and once you’ve got the hang of it, it won’t add much time to your sewing projects but it will give them a great, professional looking finish.
To start with you need to lay your two pieces of fabric wrong sides together. I’ll repeat that as it’s not a mistake: WRONG sides together. You might think that’s wrong as the seam looks like it will end up on the outside of your garment, but have faith! This is the way we will tuck in the raw edges. Pin the fabric in place and sew close to the edge, I’m going to sew 5mm but do whatever you’re comfortable with until you’re confident sewing close to edge of your fabric. *(note: see end)
We are now going to trim the excess seam allowance and get close to the line of stitches we just sewed. This is why it doesn’t really matter how close to the edge you actually sew.
As you can see I’ve left about 1-2mm beyond my line of stitching. This will give me a small, neat seam when I’m finished.
We’re now going to turn the seam to the inside, so that the right sides of the fabric are touching, and we’re going to step away from the sewing machine and go over to the ironing board. This might be a little strange to some of you, but it will give a much nicer finish and make the next step easier so is totally worth it!
Using your fingers, manipulate the fabric so that the seam we just sewed is right at the edge of the fabric. It should look like this:
And not tucked in like this:
Depending on the fabric you are using you might need to manipulate a small section, press it, and repeat along the length of the seam, if the fabric won’t stay put. This method will also let you check each section before you press it and will mean fewer chances for the fabric to shift.
Now it’s back to the sewing machine for the second lot of stitching. If you remember I trimmed my seam allowance to 1-2mm from my last seam, so I know that if I sew my second seam 4-5mm from the edge I won’t catch the raw edges and they will end up enclosed between the 2 seams. Make sense?
When you’re finished sewing tie off the ends of the threads so that your stitches can’t come undone (you don’t want to see your hard work unravel itself!) And the finishing touch is to give the seam another press to get it sitting perfectly. Lay your fabric right side down on the ironing board, gently pull it until it lays flat and decide which side you want your seam on. Press it down and you’re done!
*Note: when thinking about how close to the edge of the fabric to sew you need to consider 2 things. The first is how much seam allowance your pattern has, most are 10 or 15mm. And the second is how big you want the final seam to be. Let’s say I have a 10mm allowance on my pattern and I want the final seam to be 4mm wide. I will have to sew my first line of stitching 6mm from the edge (10mm – 4mm) and after sewing, trim the excess to 2mm (so that when I sew my second line of stitches 4mm from the first it won’t catch the raw edges).