Tuesday Tips #3: French Seams

French seams in progress

French seams! Wonderful, wonderful French seams. These are an indispensable tool for sheer fabrics or fabrics that fray easily. I like to make summer dresses from 100% cotton in funky prints, and adding French seams in is an elegant way to stop the seams from fraying, particularly if there isn’t room in your two bedroom flat for an overlocker. (sigh – one day…)

If you’re making something out of a sheer fabric like chiffon, voile or tuile, too, a French seam is particularly good, as you don’t want to see an unfinished – or even a finished! – raw seam through your garment. French seams encase any raw edges and give a lovely, neat appearance.

So here’s how you do it. As well as your fabric or garment, your thread and your sewing machine, you will need a ruler, tailor’s chalk, scissors, pins and your iron.

The first few steps of French seams feel wrong, frankly! Take your two pieces of fabric to be joined and pin them together along the seam allowance with the wrong sides facing (1).   For this tutorial, I have marked a 1/2” seam allowance. Using a ruler and tailor’s chalk, mark a line on your fabric 1/4” from the edge (2). Stitch. (3).

close up of French seams, steps 1 - 3

Trim the seam allowance to 1/8” to the stitching (4). Press the fabric flat from the right side, and press the seam allowance to one side (5). Fold the fabric back on itself so that right sides are together, and encasing the raw edges. Pin along the original seam allowance, 1/4” from stitched edge (6).

Close up of French seams steps 4 - 6

Stitch along the original seam allowance, 1/4” from stitched edge (7). Press seam in chosen direction (8). Ta da!! In picture 9 you can see the finished seam in cross section. Pretty, huh?

close up of French seams, steps 7-9

I love a French seam, they’re simple, elegant and above all, neat.

There are times, however, when French seams aren’t the best choice. French seams don’t press open, they have to be pressed either to the back or front (or to the top or bottom) and they are loose, rather than stitched down. They are often caught by other seams, or a hem, but are not stitched flat. So, if your fabric is a bit bulky, the seams might not sit properly, and you may be better off considering a flat felled seam. French seams are also not particularly good on curves; this is where the ‘mock’ French seam comes into its own. But that’s another how to!

For now, enjoy, and happy Tuesday. Oh, and well done to the winner of the Great British Sewing Bee – no spoilers here, in case you haven’t seen it yet, but keep an eye out for a blog on it in the next few days!

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