Tuesday, February 10, 2015

French Seams

I've written about finishing seams before, but since I used a French seam on my camisole last week, I wanted to take the opportunity to write about some more advanced seaming techniques.

French seams take a little bit of thinking, but they're very neat! You can use them for most, but not all, garment construction, and the bound seam allowances give your finished product a classy, couture feel.

In this post, I'll show you how to do a French seam, as well as its sister, the mock French seam.
French Seam

1. The French seam is one of my favourites, since it starts with pinning your fabric wrong sides together. This is very weird to me, but it works and I like it because of that.

So, start by pinning your pieces with the wrong sides together.

2. It also requires the tiniest bit of math. I rarely get to do any math, so this is fun! If you don't like math, then it's OK; we're really only dividing by two.

Once you've pinned your pieces together, you want to sew with half the seam allowance called for in the pattern. So, if you need a 1/2" seam allowance in the end, sew a 1/4" seam. 

For a 5/8" seam allowance, you'll be sewing a 5/16" seam... But if you can measure that exactly on a regular sewing machine, I'll be very impressed! Better to round down to a 1/4" seam, too, since you can make up the difference later.

It isn't obvious on all sewing machines, but yours most likely does have a 1/4" marker. It'll look something like this tiny line that goes straight into the feed dog opening.

If you have a patchwork or quilting foot, the distance from the centre of the foot to the edge should be exactly 1/4", so you can use that to help.

3. Once you've figured out where the marker is, sew your seam like you would normally, only with that 1/4" allowance.

4. Next you'll trim the seam allowance down, though not too much! If you get too close to the stitching you risk losing threads.

This is also why it's OK to do the first seam at 1/4" if you need a 5/8" seam allowance.

5. Use an iron to press open the seam you just stitched together. Press the small seam allowance to one side; it doesn't matter which.

Fold the fabric along the seam and press it down, so that the right sides are together and the seam is crisp. Pin the fabric, and it'll be as if you were sewing normally, only with an extra seam already!

6. Last, sew along the seam again, with another 1/4" seam allowance, to get the entire 1/2". If you need 5/8", sew at 3/8" to get the full amount. And that's a French seam! 

You will commonly find these in garments like blouses and skirts, since they're great with lighter weight fabrics where overlocking would otherwise be unsightly and bulky. But if you've checked out my grocery tote tutorial, you can see that I used French seams there, too.

Mock French Seam

The mock French seam looks almost similar at first, but the construction method is different, which you can see upon further inspection. Use a mock French seam when it's difficult to do a real French seam because of construction (e.g., curves). However, this works less well with fabrics that fray easily, since that makes it impossible to make the tiny folds in Step 3.

1. First of all, you start by pinning your pieces right sides together.

2. Sew using your normal full seam allowance, either 1/2" or 5/8". No basic math here! :(

3. To bind the edges of your fabric, carefully fold each side of your seam allowance towards the centre. It helps a lot to use an iron and press them down.

If you're using fabric that creases easily, you can gently press your nail along the fold to get a sharp fold.

4. Carefully pin your folded seam allowance edges together.

5. Sew along the edge of the seam allowance, being sure to catch all layers of the fabric. My favourite machine accessory, the edge stitch foot, is perfect for this!

And you're done with the mock French seam! This one has two lines of stitching, but is effectively the same, since the seams are enclosed.

Enclosed seams are fun to do; I love that you're finishing edges at the same time you're sewing, just by spending a little extra time in the middle of the project. But French seams aren't the only way you can enclose your edges. Next week, I'll write about my exploration with self-enclosed seams: a similar idea, but with different implementation.

Happy sewing!

p.s. Happy birthday to my Spousal Unit! <3

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