If you’re a sewer, you already know how important your seams are, regardless of the project at hand. Knowing how to sew French seams is also important because you never know when you’ll need to use this specialized type of seam. Fortunately, they are super easy once you learn them, and they can be used for a variety of purposes.
A French seam is very professional-looking and very neat and clean. If you’re sewing something and the instructions suggest using a French seam, it’ll be better if you’ve already sewn one in the past
What Are French Seams?
In French seams, the inside raw edges are actually encased in an extra row of stitching. As a result, the seam is more durable and looks just as good on the inside as it does on the outside.
To get started, it’s best to practice on some leftover fabric first because in most cases, you won’t get your French seams just right the very first time. In addition, here are some of the items you’ll need to get started:
- Ironing board
- Sewing machine
Uses for French seams
More often than not, French seams are used on straight seams and not curved seams, but they also look good on corners as well. They work best with light- to medium-weight fabrics because the heavier fabrics have a tendency to add too much bulk to the enclosed seam. Some of the many uses for French seams include:
- Linen fabrics, which often are susceptible to fraying at the seams.
- Pillowcase seams. Since pillowcases are washed so frequently, they do better with a more durable seam.
- Sheer fabrics. This is because if a French seam is not applied, sheer fabrics’ edges can fray and look just plain sloppy.
- Straight side seams that are used on kids’ clothing. Again, this is because kids’ clothes get washed so often.
- Very fine or delicate fabrics. Fabrics such as chiffon and silk may have unwanted bulking when overlocking and therefore, the stitching may actually show through to the other side.
So now, without any further ado, let’s move onto the main event – how to sew French seams and have them come out looking spectacular every time. It isn’t difficult as long as you follow a few simple rules.
How to Sew French Seams: A Step-by-Step Guide
Learning how to sew French seams isn’t difficult, especially once you learn some helpful suggestions that may make the task a little easier. To do the seams right, just following these simple steps:
1. Getting Started
First, you’ll want to pin the wrong sides of the fabric together before you do anything else. This might feel wrong to you if you’re used to doing seams the regular way, with the right sides pinned together. But French seams are different, so make sure you always start with the wrong sides pinned together.
Go ahead and stitch the seam, and keep in mind that your seam allowance should be 1/4 inch less than the seam allowance mentioned in your pattern. In other words, instead of a seam allowance of 1/2 inch, you would sew a seam 1/4 inch from the edge; for a 5/8 inch seam allowance, you would sew at 3/8 inch from the edge, and so on. Another option is to sew your regular seam allowance and then trim the seam to 1/4 inch.
2. Trimming the Seams
The second step is to trim the seams to 1/8 inch. Make sure you use very sharp scissors so that the cut is nice and clean. If you like, you can use pinking shears and in fact, if you are using very delicate fabric, pinking shears may work best.
If you are sewing this type of seam on any item that has corners, you’ll want to trim the corner diagonally because this is the best way to reduce bulk. An example would be if you’re sewing a pillowcase.
3. Press Your Seam
When learning how to sew French seams, you’ll always want to have your press close by, and this step exemplifies why this is so. At this point, you’ll need to go ahead and press open the seam and make sure the seam allowance is on one side. To move forward from here, you’ll have to make sure the seam is nice and flat.
When you’re ironing, it’s important not to pull the iron along the seams. Instead, make sure you use an up-and-down pressing motion so that you get much better results. The seams always turn out flatter and more attractive when you do this.
4. More Pressing!
At this point, you’ll be pressing the right sides together. Press the fabric in half but make sure the right sides are together and the seam is on the edge. In fact, at this point you’ll want to make sure that the seam is not to the side but is actually on the very edge. The wrong side will be facing out and you will be pressing the very edge of the fabric where the seam is.
5. Start Stitching
With this step, you’ll sew the seam 3/8 inch from the seam edge, which will be folded at this point. You have to sew accurately right now because if you don’t, some of the raw edges may peek through the seam, which isn’t good. Also, the seam allowance you sewed previously will be tucked into the fold.
6. Your Final Pressing
Finally, just like with other types of seams, you’ll want to go ahead and press your seam again. Your seam allowance will be to one side and you’ll want to press the seam open one more time. Then, flip the piece over and press the inside of the seam to make sure it is nice and flat.
As you can see, when learning how to sew French seams, your iron is going to be just as important as your sewing machine!
Some Tips to Make the Task Even Easier
If you’re curious about tips that will make sewing French seams even easier, just keep in mind the following rules:
- Remember that French seams are only for light or medium fabrics and never for thicker or heavier ones.
- Instead of actually ironing your seams, be sure you press them instead. If you iron instead of press, you’ll stretch the seams. On the other hand, if you press the seams they will “settle” and the seam line will be longer.
- When you trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch, don’t forget to trim any loose edges that you see along the cut edges of the fabric. This is crucial because the last thing you want is to see thread peeking out to the face of the garment.
French seams can be a little tricky when you first get started, but like anything else in sewing, the more you practice, the easier it will become. Many sewers start off by practicing on scrap fabric so they can get the hang of it. This is easy because if you mess up, you can just throw the fabric away and start again on a new piece.
French seams are great because they are super neat, and because your raw edges will never unravel. Why? Because they are completely encased and therefore hide those edges.
Disadvantages of French Seams
On the other hand, some of the disadvantages of sewing French seams is that they:
- Are a little complicated to make, at least at first.
- Are rather bulky and therefore aren’t good for thick or heavy fabric.
- Can be a bit time-consuming.
- Require very precise sewing, which can be difficult for some people.
This isn’t to say you should be intimidated by the thought of creating beautiful French seams. Just be realistic with yourself and accept that you may have to practice these seams to get them to look as good as you think they should.
You can think of a French seam as a double seam. It is great for clothes of all kinds but can be used for many other items as well. You should also keep in mind that at the end of your project, the actual finished seam allowance is going to be 5/8 inch. Essentially, you’ll need to check to see what the pattern calls for and keep in mind that you might have to adjust the actual amount of seam allowance you have before you start to cut out your pattern.
Remember, French seams can be a bit tricky and ideally, you’ll want to practice on some scrap fabric before creating one of these seams on an actual article of clothing.
For seams around an arm or around the neck of a garment, you won’t want to try a French seam because remember – they do best with straight edges and not curves. When you’re practicing, concentrate most on getting your seams straight and your ironing nice and neat (and flat).
If you practice these things every time you get a chance, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll start to catch on so that you can have great-looking French seams in no time.