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Mar 20, 2010

Seams: The Inside Story



Little did I know when I started sewing that finishing seams was going to become something of a fetish for me -- as it is for so many of us, I suspect.

Honestly, seams are something that I'd never thought about twice -- or even once probably -- until I started to sew.

But once I started, I would never look at the inside of a garment the same way again.

I am one of those people who can easily obsess over finishing seams.



 





Since I made a lot of mens shirts early on in my (admittedly short) sewing career, I got to practice my flat-felled and French seam technique early.  This is a great way to finish seams because there's no visible seam allowance to obsess about.  Maybe that's why I like sewing shirts so much!

I hadn't been sewing more than a few months when I started to feel like the old zigzag overcast stitch wasn't really cutting it: I needed a serger.  (Can you relate?)

Once I got my serger, I felt like I had to finish every seam with it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that I often don't want the added thickness of a finished seam.  This depends on the fabric, of course, and the garment, and on the kind of wear the item is likely to get.





Today, I am happy to report that I no longer obsess about finishing seams as much as I did.  (As you can see, sometimes I don't even match my thread!)  I'm more concerned about the outside than the inside. 

If the fabric doesn't fray, I am just as happy to leave my seam allowances as-is.  I don't have to overcast, serge, or finish in any way.  It won't be seen by anyone and if it doesn't look exactly like ready-to-wear, that's OK with me. 



(You can see (or not) on this copper fabric I managed to incorporate the selvage into the seam allowance -- that helps.)



But I will admit that sometimes I feel a little guilty about this, like I'm cutting corners or am too lazy to give my garments the finishing touches they deserve.

Then I quickly snap-to and talk myself out it!

How about you, wise reader?  Are you a seams-obsessive?  Do your home-sewn garments have to have Hong Kong finished seams, or are you satisfied with a pinked edge?

Have you really found that garments with fancier seam finishes hold up better over time?   I'd love to hear about your experiences!

42 comments:

  1. Good Morning Peter! I love that I can count on you to give me something to think about every day.

    I really try to chose the right seam finish for the application. I probably use a serged finish the most, quick and easy for quick and easy projects. Your non-matching thread makes me twitchy, I admit it! I like the inside to look nice too because I'm worth it!

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  2. Don't feel guilty AT ALL. I was shocked--SHOCKED!--the other day when visiting my mother, an expert sewer who used to make all her own clothes for years and all my clothes... she NEVER finishes seams at all. And I went into a vintage store the other day to inspect the clothing and found that the only seam finish in most of the clothing from the 50s, 60s and 70s was just pinking sheared edges.

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  3. For me it depends on the garment and fabric. I don't have a serger (well, I was recently given an older one - but I haven't felt up to learning about it yet.) I don't finish knits - though I rarely use knits anyway. I have yet to learn a French seam or Hong Kong finishes - but they are moving up my list of priorities of new skills to tackle. Since I mostly use wovens - I have to do something - so I sometimes use a 2nd row of stitches for things that aren't used hard and where I don't need the seams opened. I have used a row of zig-zag stitches on opened seams, but I only have 1 machine that zig-zags, and it isn't my favorite finish or my favorite machine (though it is the both the machine and finish my daughter prefers.) I have used flat-felled for some items, but I have settled where I like to mostly use pinking shears, but then I run a row of straight stitches next to the pinked edges (pinked edges do still fray over time.)
    Blessings,
    Patti

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  4. Such a great question. I am obsessive by nature and I have really struggled with this. On the one hand, I want everything to look as good on the inside as outside. On the other hand, I want to sew as much as possible and spending a weekend on seams can get old. I sew a lot with knits and I don't have a serger. I cut with a rotary blade so the edges are very clean and press. With wovens, I've pinked (and then covered the seams with lining) or overcast (fake serged) but I do love a french seam. I might try that (noticed it on the silk shirt I was wearing yesterday and it did look elegant) were I to make a dress shirt out of a woven fabric.

    I also want to figure out how to use bias seam tape. Gertie explained it to me once but I don't think I was ready at that point...

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  5. Ooh, I can't wait to read what everyone has to say on this topic, especially all those expert sewists out there (ie not me). I do love a French seam, it is so satisfying and so neat. But I will on occasion just leave things finished with the pinking shears. Some things are hard enough without all those extra hours and I agree that some fabrics really don't suit the extra bulk. My seams are my secret, who's gonna look? It's a bit like choosing what underwear you pick out for the day: Nobody's business but mine!

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  6. I like French seams or bias bound seams when possible, but have been known to zig zag the SA or pink it, depends on my time, mood, the fabric, item, etc., but I try to make it neat inside.

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  7. What interesting timing you have Peter! I'm reading David Coffin's new book on pants and he talks about finishing seams. I've always been pretty obsessive about finishing seams, before I had a serger I would zig zag. But now I'm rethinking things...I mean, if a high paid designer doesn't do it then why am I obsessing over it?

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  8. I don't have an overlocker (aussie word). I've used french seams, and flat-felled seams and bias tape. It looks so pretty when you make bias tape out of the outer fabric and amazing using a contrasting fabric. Zig zag looks weird/gross anyway so I don't bother. I have also just left it and crossed my fingers but then if I go to lend something or god forbid gift something I feel funny about showing that other person my slack lazyness.

    Once I regret to say I lied and told a friend I lent something to, that I actually bought it from a little shop that supports local small designers, and she made a comment about dodgy producers! oh the shame!

    I have seen the Hongkong method around blogland and I am keen to use it but the instructions I have read I didnt really understand. soon.

    Kate

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  9. I grew up sewing. Mostly the sewers in my family did not finish the seams. For a while I would see my mom cutting out a pattern with pinking sheers so that the seams would be all pinked inside. I purchased a surger over 13 years ago. I have been pretty obsessive over seam finishing since then and have not calmed down much. My serger does such a wonderful job of seaming. If the fabric is not weak and the garment is not "fancy", I will just sew my seams with the serger set on 4 thread as much as I can. I do love making flat felled seams on my boy's shirts, but I have never loved the french seam much. That is the standard on heirloom sewing. I have done a bit of that when my kids were small, but mostly I fudged the french seam with a serger 3-thread.

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  10. I also hate facings. RTW clothes never have facings so I try and avoid those at all costs. I usually line everything and put the interfacings on the inside of the lining but Gerties top with the speedy lining gave me some new ideas. Has anyone read any vintage sewing books? The number of suggestions for finishing seams is long.

    Kate

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  11. I was feeling the same about seams 2 yrs ago and bought myself a serger. It's still in the box because it intimidates the hell out of me. Baseless fear, but fear none the less.

    French seams and the Hong Kong finish are my favorite seam neatening techniques since pinking shears and I can not work together without some kind of drama.

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  12. Pinking is fine with me. Unless the fabric is super ravelly. I bought pinking shears and I'm going to use them!

    One day I will purchase a serger/overlocker/coverstitch machine and seams will never be the same...

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  13. I don't know if I could ever make myself buy an overlocker. The bit were they cut the fabric is just too scary! and the price! I am far to cheap/tight to put that much money down.
    Kate

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  14. Sadly I think I am a bit seam-obsessed. (Er, beauty is on the inside, or something like that?). I have rows of serging thread in various colours and have somewhat ridiculously been known to Hong Kong finish children's trousers.

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  15. I like my insides to look great. I do use a serger when appropriate (knits mostly), but like finished, enclosed seams too. Yep, it IS a bit of an obsession with me to have finished seams. Great topic. I wish I had a book on appropriate seam finishes for different fabrics and applications. There must be one?

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  16. Yes, I am one of the obsessive ones. Thread must match and finishes must look neat but not bulky.

    I am hard on my clothes so they do need to hold up better than the average garment.

    I am not a fan of the zigzag or the serger, but I do serge-finish my knit seams (3 threads) because I think it looks nicer than unfinished seams. I am less obsessive about thread color with the serger, though.

    I also sometimes serge-finish the bottom edges on pants legs (before hemming), especially if the fabric is bulky or stretchy. But I prefer to use hem tape whenever possible.

    For wovens, I will usually go for french seams or a Hong Kong finish (very easy, by the way); or I will pink the edges if I need to control bulk.

    I've been known to hand-overcast curved edges, even though I know it's probably not necessary due to the bias cut.

    I haven't made any lined garments, but I've heard you don't have to finish seams on those and so I probably wouldn't.

    I know that unfinished edges are very trendy right now, but I can't stand them. I have some expensive RTW tops with unfinished chiffon trim on the necklines and they just drive me crazy!

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  17. I am far too lazy for the fancy finishes like flat-felled, French or Hong Kong seaams, but I do serge everything right after cutting it out. I can't stand the thought of raw edges, and I can't even stand zigzagging the edges anymore. Even if a garment will be lined, I still serge all the edges, because I simply prefer working with pieces that have been finished so they won't fray. And serging is so quick and easy.
    I often don't use matching thread but whatever it is I have threaded the serger with at the moment, so I guess I'm not too obsessive. ;)

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  18. I'm glad you learned this. IF you've constructed the garment well enough to not fall apart, who cares what it looks like inside. OK, confession here: I had to learn this from my daughter ... when she was about 13 ...

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  19. I'm a control freak and obsessive. I've some garments I made over 30 years ago that look like they were just purchased. Should someone sneak into my closet with my best pieces they wouldn't know what what was bought or made by me save the garment tags. One reason I sew is that I can't afford the clothes I'd love to own and thus I do the best I can to create that wardrobe. For me the serger is best for knits and is too harsh and rushed for wovens where a clean closed seam is beautiful. I've even closed seams entirely by hand because the item was casual or had an odd situation to accomodate.

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  20. I french seam and bias tape seam most things. I say most because if it is, say... felt or fleece, you know, something that doesn't fray, I don't bother. I zig zag some things--if it's too much effort to french seam or bias tape them. I just think they look neater and while I'm not sure if they really do last longer, it's what I've heard all my life.

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  21. I'm usually too lazy to finish a seam, but it's lending to some durability issues. I made some pants that fray like crazy on the inside and it makes me wish I had a time machine to go back and finish me some seams!

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  22. I fall into the depends on the garment side. An open jacket with no lining, yes I would finish with something fancy. After sewing for decades I finally broke down and use a serger for a lot of finishes, but thread color? I hate changing the thread, and yes, I've tried the tie a little knot technique.

    Also if I'm making formal dress (here comes the MOB dress...very soon), then that baby will definitely be finished inside and out. A fun, knockabout skirt in a fabric that doesn't fray, probably not.

    I don't even know what a Hong Kong finish is, but I'm interested in finding out.

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  23. Yes, guilty as charged, sir.
    I am a 99% seam finish obsessive but get to the point where I just say to hell with it and get the garment done.

    That said, my last skirt that took forever has the underlining/Hong Kong seam finish in one. Not super easy with slippery silk. Some spots are hand overcast. The pockets are just stitched 1/4" from the seam and trimmed close to that stitching.

    I am just going with the regular Hong Kong finish for the matching top. Not that it is any quicker.

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  24. I don't over finish anything that is going to my sister's little girl, she will outgrow it too fast. The serger is very good for certain fabrics, and excellent for sportswear, swinwear, and ballet and skating costumes. There are things I would not do if I did not own one. But I didn't bother using it on any of the 100% cotton sundresses I made last year. $10 cotton from the sale table, $1 pattern, equals pinked seams. :) However, when I make a tailored garment or spend any type of money at all, proper finishing will help it keep together in the laundry much better. You just need the right finish, and reduce bulk every chance you get. Plus, If I remove a hand made jacket at work, I do not want unfinished seams exposed. My work looks like ready to wear - if the materials warrant the time and effort. I just finished a little blue cotton sundress for 4 year old Isobel, and I covered it with little sew on fabric bugs. She is a bug crazy child. Needless to say, I skipped the serger and the Hong Kong finish. Stephanie

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  25. I love my overlocker but when I use the sewing machine I never finish the edges on anything with a lining. If you can't see it, it doesn't count :)

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  26. I pink everything that stands still!

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  27. Hmmm, reading all these comments makes me think I need to pull out my pinking shears and start using them! As far as my seams go, I generally don't finish them. If I'm making an unlined jacket, I will usually do either French seams or a Hong Kong finish. But that's about it! As I sew more knits, I'm thinking that it'd be nice to have a serged finish on my seams but, at this time, I really don't want to add a serger to my sewing room. That could change at some point . . .

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  28. For me the seam finish is dependent upon how quickly I want to wear the garment. If I need it for that night, I'll just pink it. If I'm a season ahead, I'll go for the nicest finish possible considering the fabric and amount of wear I"m expecting the garment to endure.

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  29. I like the Peter who doesn't obsess over seam finishes! On one or two of my last projects I ran a zig-zag stitch over the allowance, but I mostly can't make myself care! If it's wearable and not sloppy looking, it's fine by me! I would like to get a serger, though, so that I don't have to worry about the lifespan of my garments without cutting too much into my time.

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  30. I fully commit myself to it "being as pretty inside as it is outside."
    Learning to craft and sew, this was the motto (among others) my grand-mas taught me by.

    I don't think I have made a single garment that lacks seam finishing (unless its fully lined). If it's worth my time to cut and sew, it's definitely worth my time for it to look RTW or Couture rather than "home-sewn."

    Especially after studying fashion design formally, "home-sewn" has a very negative connotation. I cringe at the sound of "home-sewn" actually.

    Just as many of you say "nobody will see it, it's like choosing underwear" I totally feel the same way in reverse (if that makes sense).

    While most people don't put a lot of thought into their underwear choice or seam finishes, for me both my choice in undergarments and seam finishes is my secret. I want a smile on my face because I have great underwear on and the seams of my garment feel great. Other people want to appreciate my garments from the outside. I'm the only one that gets to enjoy them from the inside. So it may as well be great.

    :)

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  31. Oooohhh, that tickled my obsessed side into action!
    My stand is a result of two things - freakish perfectionism and hyper-sensitivity.

    The perfectionism, I guess, is pretty obvious, but as for the hyper-sensitivity - most serged seams make me itch. Especially if we're not talking about soft knits (though they can be quite irritating, also).

    And in contrast to other sewists (for lack of a better general term), I've had some experience with the serger, and it only made me hate it more. I mean, I dealt pretty well with the machine, I just hate the finish. So no, my sewing space has only a non-serger machine (I do contemplate buying one, but only for knits).

    Other than that, I'm obsessed with finishes, and can't see a raw edge if my life depended on that. I do try to be creative and not always use a French seam or hong kong finish (though I sometime venture into insane realms, like hand stitching a mini double turn hem on all stitch allowances in a knee length dress, and hand binding a bias tape over the hem - about 18 feet circumference.)

    So no - no serged seam allowances, no zigzagged seam allowances, no pinked seam allowances, no raw seam allowances. Only bound (or fully lined, but then it also depend on the fabric, some fabrics will get edged anyway :P)

    Unfortunately, it's really hard to buy anything because of that, and I managed to ruin my mom the same way (she barely sews, and not nearly as perfectionist as I am, but she can't buy anything now because of hideous seam finishes).

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  32. I fall firmly in the control freak and obsessive camp. I overlock practically everything because I want to make damned sure that NOTHING is coming apart. I did eventually stop overlocking seams on lined garments. But I do usually pink them. (I did say I'm obsessive) I sew most seams on knits using the overlocker, but when binding an edge I use the sewing machine and leave the inside edge alone. That's about the only thing I don't finish though.

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  33. 99% of the time I serge all my seams, press serged edge to one side and stitch atop the serged edge to keep it flat.

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  34. finished or unfinished, your seams are gorgeous! i can promise you, the insides of my projects aren't nearly so neat.

    in other words, i think i have seam envy. :)

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  35. I really prefer my garments to look as pretty on the inside as they do on the outside, but I don't think I get quite as obsessive about it as I could. Bias tape is becoming a close friend on woven garments, but for knits, I usually just trim close to the edge and call it a day. I'm still lusting after a serger though....

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  36. I recently sewed flat-felled seams for the first time and it was love at first stitch, but I normally keep my seams much more simple. I'd like to do more beautiful insides, since I admire beautiful finishes, but, alas, I am just not that obsessive.

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  37. I like to have my garments look as RTW as possible. I have a serger and sew a lot with it so those seams are automatically finished. On other seams I will serge the edges (the thread usually matches or at least comes close), stitch together on the sewing machine and press open. Sometimes I do flat felled seams (I don't think I have ever done Hong Kong). I don't think I could just pink the edges. I think I should be less obsessive about my seams. It sure would make sewing faster.

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  38. Wow, what a wide range of techniques!

    I have never pinked a seam allowance. I only use those shears if I'm pre-washing a large piece of fabric and don't want it to fray. I probably should use them, though. Why not?

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  39. Huh. So that's what a Hong Kong finish is. (I just looked it up) And apparently, I've been doing one with bias tape on seams that I deem too hard to french seam. I just don't bother to cut my own strips....

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  40. I obsess over seam finishes. It's one of my sewing idiosyncrasies. I like to be able to proudly turn any of my garments inside out. I like the (high-end) RTW look.

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  41. I had you figured as a seam-obsessive, Erica. Your stuff is too great-looking to be otherwise, darn it! ;)

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  42. OK, so I recently discovered this Blog and LOVE it! I have not ever commented but felt I must here. Why would anyone NOT finish a seam?!?!?! Why put all that time and effeort and money into a garment to make it just the way you want it, only to have it all unravel in the wash? I must say that not only does a proper seam finish increase durability and make a garment look nicer, but it can also be used to add volume, detail, shape, etc. This is a must in my opinion...just sayin! :o)

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