Sewing Basic Seams

Basics to sewing a seam. This practical glossary of basic seams will teach you how and when to trim, tuck and fold fabric.

Sewing seams is a cinch when you know the basics. You'll find that all of these practical applications can also be used as decorative techniques. There are five basic seams that are essential to sewing. Each has its own purpose and level of difficulty. We'll start with the easiest and finish with the most difficult. That way, you can print this off and use it as a tutorial while you're in front of your machine practicing.

When you practice sewing, be sure to keep an even pressure on the fabric. You don't need to push or pull it through the machine. It should glide effortlessly and with minimal urging. Your hands are gently holding the edges of the fabric together while maintaining an even seam allowance. Let the fabric and sewing machine do the work and you can act as the guide or overseer.

Also remember to practice your back-tack. This is a technique that knots off the end of them seam to prevent unraveling. You can achieve this by sewing forward a few stitches, backward, then forward again. For optimum insurance, be sure to do this at the beginning and end of each seam you sew.

The Plain Seam

It doesn't get much simpler than this. The fabric is bound by one continuous seam, generally sewn in a straight line. Two pieces of fabric are joined and the seam allowance""that can be as narrow as 1/8" to as wide as 2" or more""and either pressed to the open or to one side. Perfect for beginner projects from pillows to pants,

this seam is probably the most used and if you can master this one, you will have the skill to conquer the more advanced seams.

The French Seam

This seam is great to use for a clean, finished look. It's created by sewing one plain seam, then encasing the seam allowance by pressing the all the fabric to one side and sewing another plain seam. The technique is a practical way to prevent woven fabrics like voile, organza or burlap from unraveling.

This pretty seam is easy enough if you remember a couple tips. First off, remember that you're flipping the fabric once more than you normally would. That means under normal circumstances you would put the topsides of the fabric together when you start to sew. In this case, you must put backsides together first""unless you want the finished seam allowance on the outside of the garment or project. Secondly, the first seam's allowance should always be narrower than the finished allowance. By doing this you will ensure that all of the first seam allowance is encased in the second seam.

The Welt Seam

This is a great variation on the plain seam. It's used to add an extra ounce of strength to seams that might need it. It's achieved by sewing a plain seam and pressing the seam allowance in one direction, then a second topstitch is sewn from the fabric's topside to secure the seam allowance. This seam works well as a decorative accent and can provide just the right touch to a yoke or style line.

The Flat-Felled Seam

A twist on the French and welt, this one will be more difficult the heavier the fabric. Start with the backsides of the together and sew the first seam. Press the seam allowance to one side, tuck its edge under and run one more stitch right along the fold to anchor it in place. This seam can be used for heavy-duty jobs. Most often you see this seam when denim is used""check out the side seam of any pair of jeans.

The Curved Seam

The most difficult of seams is this one. Seen wherever a bustline, hipline or shoulder seam come together, its also one of the most used. This will be the toughest task to tackle and you'll have to fight your urge to fight the fabric. It's best to learn this seam with pins to hold the fabric. You'll know you've mastered it when you don't need them anymore. Start with the piece of fabric that is concave (it goes in like a cave) and clip the seam allowance every 1/2" to inch. Be careful not to clip beyond the seam allowance""clipping it a little more than three-quarters of the way is usually enough. Now, as you sew the pieces together, there is ease to pivot the pieces together.

And there you have it. These five seams will get you through most any sewing situation. For absolute success, don't forget to press. This is the number one mistake a novice will make. It seems like you're saving time if you don't use the iron, but you'll be saving your seams (and patience) by steaming them up!

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