Welcome to Part 5 of our Zinnia Sewalong. Today we’re going to be taking a wee jaunt through the topic of Seam Finishes.
Before we get going, it’s worth letting you know that in our next post we’ll be covering pockets; patch pockets and in-seam pockets. Part of the reason we’re covering seam finishes first is that, in Version 2, the seams need to be finished before constructing the in-seam pockets.
What’s a Seam Finish?
When we talk about seam finishing we are referring to the treatment of the raw edges of our fabric within the garment. This finish can be achieved in many different ways, but the end goals are always the same: prolong the life of the garment and give it a ‘completed’ aesthetic.
Can you imagine if we all went around wearing clothes with the raw edges left as they were when cut? Our garments would look like half finished projects and the fabrics would quickly become frayed.
There are many ways in which you can finish the seams of the Zinnia skirt, depending your choice of pattern version and fabric. But I would like to make some suggestions for the methods I think work best with this pattern, and take you through a wee introduction to each of them. They include:
- Overlocking on an overlocker machine.
- Zigzag stitch on a sewing machine
- Overlock stitch on a sewing machine
- French seams
As a side note, examples of the overlock and zigzag stitch can be found in Part 4 of the Sewalong, under the section entitled A Crash Course in Sewing.
Overlocking On An Overlocker Machine
An overlocker is a really handy machine if you have to get through a lot of sewing; It’s much faster than a normal sewing machine and contains an integrated knife that cuts your fabric as it is fed through, leaving you with a straight, professional looking edge.
I use an overlocker in a couple of different ways, depending on whether I'm using a knit fabric (such as a jersey) or a woven fabric (such as a cotton). With a knit fabric I'll use it for the actual construction of the garment, sewing most (if not all) of the seam together with it.
SIDENOTE - If you are interested in learning more about how to sew with knits, I highly recommend Colette's newest book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits.
But with a woven fabric, I’ll use it to quickly whizz round all the raw edges of my fabric, giving them a finish before I sew the pieces together on my regular machine.
One thing to note with the latter of these methods is that there are certain raw edges that you don’t need to bother overlocking. These are the edges that will get turned under, such as hems, the waistband, and the waist edge of the skirt.
Since most overlockers don’t have a backstitch or lockstitch, it is necessary for the sewer to finish the thread off so that it doesn't unravel. There are two main ways of doing this:
- Leave the thread tails long, untangle them, and then tie them in a knot. And then clip them.
- Use a fabric glue, such as fray check on each thread tail. Apply the glue on the very end of the seam, from both sides and let it dry. Once dry you can clip the threads. I usually also give it a press, as the heat of the iron will soften the area that has been glued.
Zigzag stitch on A Sewing Machine
For a visual reference of what a zigzag stitch looks like, check out stitch type 4 in the photo near the top of Part 4 of our sewalong.
The quality of this stitch can be helped enormously if you accompany it with an overlock foot. This has two small prongs that help keep the tension steady and I tend to find that, without it, the fabric rolls under or puckers. Overlocking feet don't generally come as a standard accessory with your machine, but they are definitely a worthwhile investment.
I also highly recommend that you test your stitch width, length and tension on a scrap piece of your garment fabric, before using it on the actual garment pieces.
Once you're happy with the settings, you’re ready to start sewing. When you place your fabric in the machine, align the raw edge with the black plastic guide on the right of the overlock foot. For a perfect seam, you want to make sure that the outer stitch of the zigzag lands exactly on the edge of the fabric each time the needle comes down.
Start the seam with a lockstitch. Or if your machine doesn't have this function, then leave the thread tails long and tie knots at each end by hand, remembering to clip the ends of the threads (without cutting into your zigzag stitches!).
A WEE TIP
When it comes to zigzag stitches, a handy starting point is to know that with lighter-weight fabrics narrower stitches work better than wide ones. Wide zigzag stitches may cause the stitch to pull inwards, which will inevitably pucker a lighter-weight fabric.
Check out the image near the top of Part 4 of this Sewalong, where we've shown different lengths and widths of stitches.
Overlock Stitch on A Sewing Machine
An Overlock Stitch on a sewing machine is effectively like an upgrade on the Zig Zag stitch. It uses the same zigzag pattern, but it adds an extra couple of straight stitches for improved strength and durability.
While a zigzag stitch will be found on almost all modern sewing machines, the overlock stitch generally starts to be included on machines that are a step above entry level. It’s definitely something worth looking for if you’re trying to decide on what machine to invest in.
An overlock stitch is sewn in exactly the same manner as a zigzag stitch. So if you’re using this kind of seam, follow the instructions and recommendations given above.
As mentioned in our previous Sewalong post, seams can be categorised as either closed or open. A French Seam is a closed type, often used on sheer or fine fabrics; although the technique can be applied to medium weight fabrics too.
This type of seam is a personal favourite of mine: It has a professional, clean aesthetic and, unlike most seam finishes, it is applied at the point of sewing your seams together, rather than before or after. So in a sense it’s quite efficient, which is always good for morale!
Being closed, French seams are constructed quite differently from most other types. They effectively use two seams – one inside the other – to complete the job. So, for example, our Zinnia standard seam allowance is 5/8”. If we wanted to use a French Seam to achieve this, we could use a 1/4” for our first seam and 3/8” for our second. This will become clearer as we explain the steps below.
STEP 1 – Bring the wrong sides of your fabric together, with the raw edges aligned and pin in place. This is the first thing that tends to confuse people, since most seams involve bring the right side of the fabric together first.
STEP 2 – Stitch your first seam at a ¼” using straight stitch.
STEP 3 – Trim the seam by a scant 1/8”.
STEP 4 – Press the seam allowance to one side. It doesn’t really matter which.
STEP 5 – Fold your fabric so that the right sides are now facing. Your first seam should now be hidden inside, and your fold should be exactly on the seam-line. Press.
STEP 6 – Pin your fabric again, this time with the right sides of the fabric facing, making sure the seam edges are completely flush.
STEP 7 – Sew your second seam at 3/8”.
STEP 8 – Press the seam to one side. Which side is up to you, but there are a couple of handy rules that I stick by for this:
Firstly, if you know you’re going to be using in-seam pockets later in the garment construction, you should definitely press towards the front of the skirt. The pocket slopes towards the front, so if the seam was pressed to the back you would end up with twisting along the side seams of your skirt.
And secondly, if you’re using two different fabrics for the front and back of your skirt, like I have, press the side seams towards the fabric that is darker in colour. In this way the seam allowance will be less visible from the outside.
I recently made the Hawthorne Dress by Colette Patterns and decided to add in-seam pockets to the side-seams. As I was using a lightweight cotton voile, my seam finish of choice was a French seam. But I have never attempted this with an in-seam pocket, so good ol' Google came in handy. And I found a brilliant blog post by Sew Mama Sew, which did a great job in explaining how to do French seams with in-seam pockets. So if you are doing version 2 of the skirt, give it a go and let me know how you get on with it.
Next on the Zinnia Sewalong
We'll be covering how to sew in-seam pockets and how to do a classic patch pocket. As always, feel free to post any questions. Happy sewing!