Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sewing Seams

Learning to sew can be exciting, but it can also be an intimidating process for some people. Often my beginner sewing students will arrive for their fist session, convinced that it will take them forever to catch on. They subsequently leave pleasantly surprised at how well they have caught on, and in awe of the great projects they have created.

One of the first lessons I teach in the "Beginner Sewing" course is how to make seams. The basic seam and flat-filled seam are two of the seams that are taught. I therefore wanted to share on the blog, how to sew these two seams. Before you get started with your project you will want to make sure you have the proper thread and needle for your material. Depending on your fabric, for example 100% cotton, you may also want to pre-shrink your fabric. Confirm the seam allowance on the pattern you are using for your project. Check your machine settings to make sure the stitch, length, width and tension will work well for your material and project.

Basic Seam
The basic seam is the most used seam for a majority of the projects you will sew. The width of your seam will vary depending on the project you are working on; however, 5/8" seam allowance is a common seam allowance for commercial patterns.

Step 1:  Place your fabric together with the right sides facing each other. Pin your pieces together to hold in place. Depending on the type of fabric you are using you may want to hand-bast using a running stitch. Align the edge of your fabric with the line on your throat plate, for the desired seam width.

Step 2:  Lower your presser foot and lower your needle into the fabric. Backstitch by using your reverse stitching mechanism at the beginning and end of your seam to avoid the thread from undoing on the ends. This will eliminate the need to tie thread ends.

Step 3:  Guide your fabric as you stitch, using the desired line on your throat plate as a guide. If you do not have lines or your lines do not have numbers, use tape or another marking to assist in identifying the correct line for your stitch. You will need to measure from the point of your needle to the desired width.

Step 4:  Complete by opening your seam and pressing in place.

Once your seam is complete, there are many ways to finish the edges, including using pinking shears, zig zag stitch, overcast stitch, binding or by using a serger. You would finish your seam edges based on the type of fabric you are using and its' nature to fray.

Flat-Filled Seam
I like this seam on casual items and find it to be a great decorative touch on some pieces. Children's clothing, sporty items and casual handbags are some of the ways I use this method. You can use a contrasting colour thread to add a bit of detailing if you like.

Step 1:  Prepare your seam the same as you did your basic seam; however, place the wrong side of the fabric together, and stitch on the right side of the fabric.

Step 2:  Cut away one side of your seam. The amount you cut will depend on the width of your seam. I usually cut a minimum of half the given width.

Step 3:  Fold over the remaining side of the seam and iron over the cut side.

Step 4:  Fold under the end of the fabric and press your seam in the direction of your fold.

Step 5:  Stitch along the outer edge of the fabric. It is important to take your time while doing this, given that it is visible on the outside of your project.

Step 6:  Guide fabric along while stitching, staying close to the edge.

Step 7:  Iron finished seam in place.

With the flat-filled seam, I have found that it looks best if your stitch is straight, otherwise you notice it and it will take away from your project. I suggest practicing on ends of fabric or using a fabric guide to help keep your lines straight. I also suggest playing with top stitch thread or contrasting colour thread to add some detailing. I have also used a decorative stitch along the edge to add a decorative touch.

Happy stitching!

*Thanks to my mother Dr. Cheryl Cottle for assisting with some of the photography for this post :-)


  1. Thanks for teaching me how to sew a flat-filled seam. So I wouldn't forget, I went home yesterday after my class, and practiced all the steps. And the result I must say.....not bad! Can't wait for you to see it. Oh, and I also managed to complete a French seam sample for you, without your tutorial. :)

    1. I only just saw your comment :-) Thanks for bringing your samples to class. You did a great job and I am so happy that you nailed both seams. I am also happy to know that my in-class demonstration of the French seam did the job and did not require a follow-up tutorial post. Mind you I am still way overdue on doing the post. See you next class. :-)


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