A beautifully finished seam can make all the difference between a DIY masterpiece and a fraying fabric fiasco! Finishing seams not only adds a touch of professionalism to your sewing projects, but it also protects the raw edges of your fabric from fraying and unraveling over time. Plus, it helps your garments and creations withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear (and, let’s be honest, the occasional laundry mishap).

A serger machine is a go-to tool for creating a neat finish on your sewing projects, but there are actually quite a few techniques to finish a seam without it. That’s right, my friends, no fancy overlock machines needed here; just your trusty sewing machine and a sprinkle of creativity. Let’s dive into some of my favorite methods:

Zigzag Stitch

This classic technique is a go-to for many sewers, and for good reason! Simply set your sewing machine to a zigzag stitch, and sew along the raw edge of your seam allowance. This will help prevent fraying and keep your seams looking neat and tidy. You can also trim the excess fabric close to the zigzag stitching for a cleaner finish.

zigzag seam finish

Pro Tip: When using a zigzag stitch to finish your seams, one of the key factors to consider is the stitch width and length. A common issue that sewers face is the fabric edges curling or tunneling under the zigzag stitch, which can cause the seam finish to look less than polished. To prevent this, try to adjust your stitch length and width. The ideal settings for a zigzag seam finish may vary depending on your fabric type and sewing machine. As a starting point, set your stitch width to around 3-4 mm and your stitch length to 2-3 mm. Test these settings on a scrap piece of the same fabric you’ll be using for your project. If the fabric edges still curl or tunnel, try decreasing the width and/or increasing the length of the stitch until you achieve a smooth and flat finish.

Zigzag stitch truly shines when you’re working with fabrics that have a tendency to fray or unravel, like medium to lightweight woven materials. Think cotton, linen, or even delicate fabrics like silk or chiffon.

This trusty stitch is also a great choice for finishing seams on stretchy or knit fabrics, such as jersey or ponte, because it allows the seam to maintain its elasticity without breaking the thread. Thanks to its flexibility, a zigzag stitch can move and stretch with the fabric, making it an ideal choice for activewear, swimwear, or any garment that requires a bit of give.

French Seam

Ooh la la, how chic! The French seam is a two-step process that encloses the raw edges of your fabric within the seam itself. First, sew your fabric pieces together with the wrong sides facing each other, using a narrow seam allowance (around 1/4 inch). Then, press the seam open, fold the fabric along the seam line so that the right sides are now facing each other, and sew another seam about 3/8 inch away from the folded edge. Voilà! A beautifully enclosed seam.

The French seam is a beautiful and clean seam finish that encloses the raw edges of your fabric within the seam itself. It’s best suited for lightweight to medium-weight woven fabrics, such as cotton, voile, silk, or chiffon. The French seam works wonders on delicate fabrics that are prone to fraying, as it completely hides and protects the raw edges, giving your garment a professional and polished appearance.

While the French seam is a fabulous finishing technique, it’s not the best choice for every fabric type. For instance, it’s not ideal for heavyweight or bulky fabrics like denim, canvas, or heavy wool, as the double layer of fabric within the seam can create unnecessary bulk and make it difficult to sew. Additionally, the French seam isn’t recommended for fabrics with a significant amount of stretch, such as jersey or other knit materials. Since it’s a straight stitch, it doesn’t allow for the same elasticity that a zigzag or overlock stitch would provide.

Flat Felled Seam

This sturdy seam finish is perfect for projects that need a little extra strength, like denim jeans or tote bags. To create a flat felled seam, sew your fabric pieces together with the right sides facing each other. Trim one seam allowance to half its width, then fold the wider seam allowance over the trimmed one, and press flat. Fold the wider seam allowance under itself, so that the raw edge is hidden, and topstitch close to the folded edge.

flat felled seam finish

The flat felled seam is a strong, durable, and neat seam finish that’s perfect for medium to heavyweight fabrics or projects that need some extra reinforcement. It’s particularly well-suited for fabrics like denim, canvas, or twill, which is why you’ll often see flat felled seams on jeans, workwear, and outdoor gear.

This seam finish is also a fantastic choice for garments that will be exposed to a lot of stress or wear and tear, such as bags, backpacks, or home furnishings. The flat felled seam not only encloses the raw edges of the fabric, but it also creates a double row of stitching, making it extra sturdy and able to withstand the test of time.

Hong Kong Finish

This elegant seam finish involves binding the raw edges of your seam allowance with bias tape. Cut your bias tape to the length of your seam, and sew it to the raw edge of your seam allowance with the right sides facing each other. Then, fold the bias tape over the raw edge, press, and stitch in the ditch (or as close to the edge as possible) to secure the binding.

The Hong Kong finish gets its name from the bespoke tailoring industry in Hong Kong, which has long been renowned for its high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail. In the mid-20th century, Hong Kong emerged as a global hub for custom tailoring, and many of its skilled tailors began using this particular seam finish to give their garments a polished and professional appearance.

hong kong finish bound

The Hong Kong finish works wonders on unlined garments or projects where the inside of the seam allowances will be visible, as it gives a polished and refined look to the raw edges. This finish is particularly suitable for medium to heavyweight woven fabrics such as wool, tweed, or even denim, as it prevents fraying while adding a touch of sophistication to the inside of the garment.

You’ll often find the Hong Kong finish on tailored jackets, blazers, or skirts, where a clean and professional appearance on both the outside and inside of the garment is essential. It’s also a great choice for home decor projects like pillows or curtains, where the inside seams may be visible and need to be neat and tidy.

Turn-and-Stitch Seam

Simple and sweet, this seam finish works well for lightweight fabrics. Press your seam allowances open, then turn the raw edges under about 1/8 inch and press again. Finally, stitch close to the folded edge to secure the seam.

The turned and stitched seam is a simple and effective way to finish raw edges, particularly for lightweight and delicate woven fabrics like cotton lawn, voile, silk, or chiffon. It’s a great choice for projects where you want a clean and neat finish without adding too much bulk or weight to the seam allowances.

This seam finish works well on garments like blouses, skirts, or dresses made from lightweight materials, as it helps prevent fraying and gives the inside of the garment a tidy appearance. It’s also a good option for home décor projects like table linens or lightweight curtains, where a clean finish on the inside is essential.

Pinking Shears

Simple and sweet, this seam finish works well for lightweight fabrics. Press your seam allowances open, then turn the raw edges under about 1/8 inch and press again. Finally, stitch close to the folded edge to secure the seam.

Pinking shears are a nifty tool with zigzag-edged blades that create a unique, sawtooth pattern when cutting fabric. This clever design helps minimize fraying and can be used as a simple, no-fuss method to finish raw edges on your seams. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sew your seam: First, sew your seam as you normally would, following the seam allowance specified in your pattern or project.
  2. Trim the seam allowance: Once your seam is sewn, grab your pinking shears and trim the seam allowance, cutting close to the stitch line. Be careful not to cut into the stitches themselves. As you cut, the pinking shears will create a zigzag edge that helps prevent the fabric from fraying.
  3. Press the seam: After trimming the seam allowance with pinking shears, press the seam open or to one side, as appropriate for your project. This will help create a smooth, flat finish on the right side of your garment.

Using pinking shears to finish your seams is a quick and easy way to prevent fraying, especially for fabrics that don’t fray too much or for projects that won’t endure heavy wear and washing. Keep in mind, though, that this method might not be suitable for very delicate or stretchy fabrics, in which case you might want to consider other seam finishes.

And there you have it, my fabulous fabric fanatics—a whirlwind tour of some of the best seam finishes out there, ready to take your sewing projects from homemade to haute couture! From the sturdy flat felled seam to the refined Hong Kong finish, there’s a seam-azing technique for every fabric type and project under the sun.

But let’s not forget, while a simple sewing machine can work wonders in the right hands, a serger can truly elevate your seam-finishing game. This magnificent machine is designed specifically for trimming and finishing raw edges with efficiency and ease. So, if you’re getting serious about sewing and want to give your projects that extra professional touch, it might be time to consider investing in a serger. Check out my top 5 serger machines for beginners right here.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and the more you experiment with these techniques, the more polished and professional your projects will become. I’m always here to lend a helping hand or share a tidbit of advice. Together, we’ll conquer the world of sewing, one fabulous seam finish at a time!