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Seam Finishes

Technique for seam finishes

When you spend hours working on a sewing project you don’t want it to be spoiled by fraying seams on the inside.  When you cut a piece of material the raw edges will start to fray, so most materials need to have some kind of seam finishing to prevent this problem.

Here we share the most common seam finishes and when to use them.

 Pinked Edge

Using picking shears to finish a seam

This is the simplest way to edge your fabric – you merely use pinking shears to cut the edge leaving a zigzag effect.  You should sew your seam first, then cut the fabric with the pinking shears and press flat for a smooth finish. With finer fabrics it’s sometimes easier to cut the two edges together.

Tip – Pinking shears do not work properly when held at an angle, make sure you hold them straight when using them.

Pinked edges will still fray eventually so it’s not an ideal finish for seams that will be rubbed, for example seams inside a garment.


Light weight cottons with a close weave.


 Zigzag Edge

Seam finishing tutorials

For this kind of edging you sew your seam as normal, then change to a zigzag stitch and sew just over the side of each raw edge of your seam allowance.  You adjust the size of the zigzag according to the thickness of your fabric.  So with a thick fabric you’d use a larger wider zigzag and with a lighter fabric you’d use a smaller tighter zigzag. 

You can either zigzag both raw edges separately and press the seam open, or you can put both edges together and zigzag, then pressing to one side.


Suitable for most types of seam and much harder wearing than pinked seams.  You can make the zigzag closer together for loose weave fabrics to make it last for longer without fraying.


French Seam

Learn to sew a French seam

Place your fabric WRONG sides together and sew a small seam (about half a cm or ¼”). Press the seam to one side then fold back the fabric so the right sides are together.

Then sew the seam again from the wrong side (right sides together) of the fabric marginally larger than the first seam so it encloses the edges of the first seam.  Press the seam to one side.


Only suitable for lightweight fabrics because otherwise it would be too bulky.  It is a very hard wearing seam and it used to be used for underwear as it is soft when rubbing against your skin.


Overlocked Seam

Back to basics sewing

Luckily you don’t need to have an overlocker to do this as most machines have an overlocker type stitch, which will encase your raw edges.  A genuine overlocker trims as it sews, but your domestic machine will not., so you may get the odd thread sticking out but it will stop your raw edge from fraying.  This is the finish you most commonly see in factory made garments, although they do it using an overlocker.

Overlocking on a domestic sewing machine

Depending on your sewing machine you may need to change to an overlock foot to do this stitch.  On my Janome machine it requires stich number 09 as shown in the picture and an over edge foot as shown.   Please refer to your sewing machine manual to check which foot and stitch you will need for your machine.


This stitch is a little better at securing the edges of the fabric than a zigzag stitch so is better for loose weave fabrics which are prone to fraying.   It is also a good choice for garments which will be worn frequently for the durability of it.

Flat Felled Seam

How to sew Flat Felled seams

Sew your seam as normal, right sides together leaving a good half inch seam allowance, or more. Press the seam allowance to one side then trim the underneath seam allowance to ¼”.

Technique for seam finishes

Turn under ¼” on the larger seam allowance and press it on top of the shorter seam allowance.   Then topstitch the seam allowance down on the very edge to the main fabric.


This is a good hardwearing seam for things like trouser leg and seat seams.  You can double stitch it for extra strength as they do on jeans. 

For other useful sewing techniques please visit our techniques page.