If the stitching on your favorite skirt is unraveling, learning how to sew a French seam may be just the ticket to solve your fashion dilemma. French seams may be considered the piece de resistance, or the ultimate finish, in tailoring.
What is a French seam?
In sewing projects, a French seam is one in which the seam allowances are tucked under and stitched in place, either alongside a garment's seaming or in the seam itself. French seaming adds a significant level of professionalism to any sewing project.
Top of the line
Fancy computerized sewing machines usually offer automatic French-seaming capabilities. Most often, a special pressure foot is attached, replacing the standard one. This high-tech pressure foot actually rolls the fabric edges under while you sew, producing a French seam in one pass through the machine.
Basic sewing machines may not perform French seaming automatically, but it is not hard to master. All you need is a simple straight stitch and steam iron.
Inverted French seam
To produce an inverted French seam the old-fashioned way, you will begin by stitching your two fabric pieces with their wrong (backing) sides together. Straight-stitch them close to the fabric edges rather than making the usual 5/8-inch seam allowance.
After finishing the first seam, you will press this seam open with your steam iron. Then fold the two fabric pieces back together, hiding the seam you just created. Your fabric pieces will now have their right (fancy outer) sides together.
Straight-stitch your seam again, hiding your original seam and the fabric edges within the hidden channel your new seam will create. After stitching, press your seam flat.
Voila! A perfect French seam, with all the fabric edges neatly tucked inside!
Poor man's French seam
Beginners who are learning how to sew may wish to try an easier method. The poor man's French seam offers this solution.
Following sewing pattern instructions, you simply straight-stitch your seam, attaching your fabric pieces together, with right (fancy outer) sides facing.
Press the seam open with a steam iron. Then press each side of your seam allowance under. Stitch each seam allowance to itself and press it again. Your two finished seam allowances should sit neatly and flatly next to your seam.
Other ways to finish edges
It's not necessary to use French seaming, of course. Other options for finishing your fabric edges include attaching seam binding or folded bias tape over your edges for a nice touch. Of course, serging edges is perfectly acceptable. Most off-the-rack garments have inner serging.
In a pinch, zigzag stitching or even pinking shears may prevent edges from fraying, at least for your own clothes. However, for sewing projects you are planning to give as a gift or to enter in a sewing contest, truly finished edges are essential.