I am Angela and I love to sew. I started sewing as a child and by the time I was a teenager I was wearing the very latest fashions to go out in. All me-made. I am passionate about reducing the amount of textiles sent to landfill, and encourage you to repurpose fabrics and clothes I started this blog in order to have a way in which to pass on my gained knowledge, and my professional knowledge to you, Sewing is empowering, you can save money by making items, make money by selling then, You can pass your knowledge on to others. What is there not to love? Interestingly I am a direct descendant of the Flemish weavers who came over to England in the 1300's. I find that fascinating especially as most of my family from as far back as I can trace are somehow involved in the manufacturing of fabric . . I have a degree in tailoring with a special interest in WW2 fashion.

Sunday 3 January 2021

Sewing Seams and Sewing in Straight lines

This is a tutorial about working seams,finishing seams, and sewing straight  seams

A Jaycotts.co.uk blog post

Recently I have had people tell me that it is years since they  last used a sewing machine  and could not sew in a straight line.

I remember when I was learning to sew my seams were never straight either. Like everything else it only comes with practice.  Luckily there are now lots of gadgets to help.

                                            A spot of hand sewing

What is a seam?

A seam is much more than joining two pieces of fabric together. A seam can provide subtle shaping to a garment and when correctly made can be almost invisible. Decorative seams add design and interest to a garment.
So what are the rules in sewing a seam?
  • Pin the seam together right sides of the fabric together normally, but there are exceptions which we will come to later
  • Pin the seam edges together matching the ends, notches and any other markings
  • Hand tack the seam. You can omit this if your fabric is easy to handle and if you are experienced at sewing.
  • Stitch the seam with thread which exactly matches your fabric and buy the best quality thread you can afford
  • Finish the seam edge appropriately
  • Trim loose threads
  • Press every seam every time. Pressing gives a crisp edge and makes the thread sink into the fabric making the stitches invisible.
NB Please note that in order to show you the different seam finishes  more clearly I am using a contrast thread. The only time you should sew a seam with a contrast thread is when it is a design feature for example top stitching.

How to sew a straight seam - some tips 

Seam allowances are usually 5/8" wide, there are occasions when 1/4" or 1/2" seams are used so do check your pattern.
Why is this important? 
Quite simply if your seam is too wide or to narrow, your garment will not fit. 
There are lots of ways to ensure your seam is the correct width and straight(ish) The simplest method of all and is what I do is to quite simply attach a piece of tape ,masking tape will do, positioned 5/8" away from the needle. Then when you are sewing align the edge of your fabric with the side of the tape nearest your machine. And there you have it! Straight seams at exactly 5/8" from the edge.

Measuring the seam allowance

 Before starting to sew a garment you may want to practice sewing straight lines so simply draw some with any pen onto plain cotton or you could follow the stripes on a fabric. Then to take it a step further draw a gentle curve and follow that. This will give you confidence.
Years ago we practised sewing lines on paper but this is not recommend,  one reason is that it will quickly blunt your  needle which only last for 9 hours of sewing anyway. Yes that's correct, your needle is going in and out of fabric thousands of times during the sewing process and after sewing each garment it needs to be discarded.

Measuring the seam allowance 

There are lots of measurements on the machine itself but they can be hard to see

Most sewing machines now come with a seam guide which is place onto your normal sewing foot or walking foot. 
If you do not have one and want one give Jaycotts a ring on 01244 394099 and they will advise.

This is particularly useful for quilting as the guide can be used to sew a set distance from one quilting line to the next 

This gadget is by Clover and it is available  from Jaycott.co.uk Clover stich guide it comes in two parts and just sticks to your machine 

This is in my sewing tools collection and if you were to purchase any it would be this one because it is large enough to guide your fabric next to it very easily. Cost? Around £8

The next guide is a magnetic guide , it is inexpensive,  but it is small and some electronic machines are not compatible with it. Magnetic seam guide
Nevertheless it does have its uses and is less than £5

You will of course need something to measure your seam allowance with. This is my preferred tool and I use it a lot for lots of things . This particular  sewing gauge comes in at just over £1 and has measurements on both sides. The only downside is that it tends to melt if you attempt to go anywhere near an iron with it! Plastic seam gauge There are more on this link Measuring tools

Now we are ready to sew the seam. Backstitch at the begining and end of the seam to secure the threads .There are rules as to which direction the seam should be sewn in but I do not propose to go into that in too much detail except to say that you should sew similar seams eg bodice, sleeve etc in the same direction.
Just have a go and most of all have fun. Stop when you have had enough.
You could cut out a simple shape in a contrast fabric and sew it onto the plain with a zig zag stitch , good practice and entertaining. This is called applique. 

Seam finishes 

Why is it important to finish a seam? 
  • To give durability and strength to the seam
  • To prevent fraying
  • To ensure that the inside of the garment looks just as good as the outside.

The pinked seam 

In the 1950s and 1960s pinking the edges of the seam was normal. It was quick and easy. In the 1960s especially most young people made their own clothes because there were not that many ready made clothes available for young people, but girls did not want to dress like their mothers any more. So home dressmaking was at its height.
I do not recommend pinking your seams now however, after a couple of washes your seam will start to look very untidy and will start to fray. Save your pinking shears for crafting and for a decorative edge on leather and fabrics like it

The zigzag seam

The next easiest seam is to just zigzag the edge of the seam and then to trim the seam allowance close to the stitching afterwards.
This is perfectly  acceptable .

The self bound seam

Stitch a normal seam ,right sides together.

After pressing the seam open trim one edge to about 1/8"

Fold the longer seam edge over the short edge enclosing it.press it flat.
To do this fold the longer edge over the shorter and tuck it under. 

Stitch close to the folded edge. Don't forget that you will be using matching thread not a contrast as I am doing. This is the wrong side of the garment above

This is the seam from the right side (outside) of your garment. When it is seen with matching thread it will not be noticeable. It is a very robust seam, suitable for fine fabrics, blouses and children's clothes 

The flat felled seam 

Flat felled seam is exactly the same but the fabric is seamed wrong sides together. You will often see it on jeans on one of the leg seams. In this instance a top stitching thread can be used. This does look great on heavier fabrics. Top stitch thread is thicker  than ordinary sewing thread Top stitch thread 

The Channel seam

This looks fantastic on skirts and as a decorative feature on the fronts of  jackets too.

Stitch your seam with the longest stitch you have on your machine and do not fasten off the ends as it will be removed later. Press open.

Pin a strip of the same or a contrast fabric, right side up, to the back of the fabric .
Working from the right side tack along both sides of the seam.
Then stitch between 1/4" and 1/2" from the seam center making sure that both sides are equal. Pull the basting threads out leaving a gap in the centre

This is what the seam looks like from the outside. I love this seam and use it on medium to heavy weight fabrics as a design feature, sometimes with a contrast backing, sometimes not.

The only other step is to trim the underlay to match the seam allowance and zigzag the edges together, making sure to lift the seam allowance away from the main fabric - you are finishing the seam, not stitching it down.

The Hemmed  (Edgestitched) seam

This is a simple and effective way of finishing a seam, simply turn the seam allowances back on themselves and stitch them close to the edge.

The Hong Kong or Bound seam

This is a beautiful finish to any seam. It is used a lot in couture garments because it does look lovely.
You can use a contrast binding as I have done or if your fabric is very fine you could use hand made binding made from tulle or net. It looks fabulous inside an unlined jacket or coat.
Stitch your binding to the seam allowance matching the edges as above.

Trim the seam allowance to 1/4" making sure that you do not cut the binding. Press.
Fold and pin the binding behind the seam allowance. "Stitch in the ditch" making sure that   the binding underneath is stitched down.

Press and admire!

French Seam

A couture seam but one which is very useful forvtou to learn

The French seam is another beautiful seam. Use it on lingerie and blouses and on any other fine fabric.
Using a 1/2" seam allowance stitch the seam WRONG sides together.

Trim the seam back so that it is less than 1/4" from the stitching. Press the seam flat.
Then fold the fabric the other way so that the right sides are together and press again.

Pin the seam together and stitch the seam again about 1/4" from the edge , enclosing the raw edges. Press.

What you have on the inside is a very neat seam with no raw edges showing at all

From the front it looks like a normal seam. As with the Hong Kong seam the beauty is on the inside.

Overlocked Seam

A simple way to finish a seam is to use your overlocker. You can also use your overedge foot on your regular machine.
Quick, easy, robust this is a very good choice for everyday garments. You can overlock each side individually or both together as I did
Overlock feet for your regular sewing  machine are available here Overlock foot  This is the Brother overlock foot but do contact jaycotts for different makes . These are also available with a side cutter.

The Curved Seam

We sew curved seams just about every time we make a garment, the neck facing, armhole facings and princess seams are all curved. How do we deal with them so that they always lie flat?

You are likely to be faced with pattern pieces which look a bit like this. They have to be joined together to make a smooth clean finish on the top edge.

Sew your regular 5/8" regular seam and then trim black to 1/2"

The curve will not turn to the inside unless you release the fabric, so to do that you must make slits at regular intervals right up to , but not cutting through, the seam line. If your fabric is bulky you have to get rid of some of the bulk by cutting V shapes out of the fabric, again at regular intervals up to but not cutting into the stitches.
This is a good use of pinking shears if you have any

To press the curve it is best to do it over a tailors ham or sleeve roll. Gradually press the seam open all the way along. You will need to keep repositioning the fabric as it will not be possible to press the whole seam in one go.

Turn the facing to the inside - it should turn in smoothly and neatly if you have snipped into the fabric enough - and then press. Make sure that the seam Is exactly along the top edge for a dress or blouse and slightly to the inside for a tailored garment in a heavier fabric

Open it up again as we are going to "staystitch" the facing to stop it from moving out of place. To do this, on the WRONG side, stitch the seam allowance to the facing.

Turn it the right way out again and press. This is what the inside will look like - of course you're will be invisible almost because you will be using a matching thread.

And this is what the right side will look like. As you can see there is a perfectly smooth edge with no lumps and it looks very neat and tidy. This is the look you are aiming for.

Stretch fabrics 

I hope that you find this post interesting. There are one of two more seams I can think of but I think that these are the most useful. Just a note about stretch fabrics . If you stitch a stretch fabric with an ordinary straight stitch, when you pull the garment even gently, the thread will snap and your garment will fall apart. Therefore you need to use a stitch with some give. I find that a narrow zigzag is perfect for this, followed by an overlocker to tidy the seams. Some people just use an overlocker without stitching the seam first, it is entirely up to you. A lot of sewing machines have various stretch stitches so do try them all out, however if your machine does not have any there is no need to worry because I find a very narrow zigzag just as efficient.

if you want any more information about products then do contact Jaycotts , the details are here, Contact Jaycotts
If you would like any help with your sewing please let me know.

Thank you again for reading this



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