Finishing Seams: Overcast, Zig Zag, French Seams, & Pinking Shears

If you’re new to sewing, finishing seams may seem not that exciting or necessary. You already did the fun and hard part of cutting and piecing together your garment. Now you have to iron and sew some more in a place that no one will ever see??

If you want your new project that you spent time, money, and effort on to survive the washing machine, you absolutely have to finish your seams. In this post I quickly review four of my favorite types of seams finishes and when I like to use them. Remember, whichever one you choose, practice on a piece of scrap fabric from the project you are working on! You want to make sure you understand how your machine is going to react to those sometimes delicate edges

Overcast Stitch


The overcast stitch is my go to favorite. I love how much the thread pops against the fabric (I like to use a contrasting color thread) and it is the strongest way to finish seams. It is similar to what a serger does. I don’t have a serger. I don’t want to sacrifice space or money I could spend on fabric for one! Maybe in the future…

To do an overcast stitch you need a computerized machine and an edge foot. Take a look in your manual with how to access the stitch. The edge foot perfectly aligns up the edge of the fabric so your stitches are even and loop across the edge. The only downside to this stitch is that it does take some time. Just put a podcast in and think about your next project!

Zig Zag Stitch


The zig zag stitch is a pretty standard way to finish seams. I had issues with my fabric getting pulled into my machine since the stitch is so close to the edge. Just be sure to practice on a scrap piece of fabric first! It is faster than the overcast stitch and it still prevents your fabric from fraying pretty well! Just be sure that if you trim your seams you don’t cut into your stitching.

French Seams


French seams are regarded as beautiful and sometimes bulky. If you are using a heavier weight of fabric or sewing something like a tight fitting garment, a french seam may not be a good idea. If on the other hand, you are sewing a loose fitting summer dress out of cotton lawn, this would be a perfect way to finish your inside seams.

In sewing I feel like we are hardwired to always sew the right sides together. If you want to sew french seams you need to sew the wrong sides together first, press the seam, turn the piece inside out, press again, and then sew your final row of stitches. This approach ensures that your seams are neatly tucked away inside the fabric.

If you do a french seam you have to be careful about seam allowances! There are different ways to do this. Here is one example, if you pattern calls for ⅝ inch seam allowance you could sew a ⅜ inch seam at first, trim it down, and then sew a ¼ inch seam. (Adds to ⅝.) Other people will sew a ¼ inch seam and then a ⅜ inch seam. Other people will sew a ¼ inch seam, trim, and another ¼ inch and assume they lost that ⅛ inch in the making of the french seam. Seems a little tricky! But just make sure you total seam allowances add up to what the pattern calls for!

Pinking Shears


The final way to finish seams are with pinking shears! This is by far the fastest way to finish seams. It can come off as a little quick and perhaps unprofessional, but if no one is going to see the inside of your garment, and you would rather save the time go for it! It does require a special pair of scissors, that creates a zigzag cut. This cut prevents the fabric from fraying as much. You may get some fraying, but not huge long tails of threads.