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Pretty on the Inside: How to Finish Your Seams without a Serger

Image of a pair of pinking shears
Pinking Shears

When I started sewing, I had no idea that I was supposed to be finishing the raw edges of my seams. I would read commercial patterns, and some of them would tell me to finish my seams, but what the hell did they mean? It was only when I started reading sewing blogs that I understood what finishing your seams meant—and why I had to do it.

Finishing the seams of your woven garment serves two purposes: It makes the garment pretty on the inside, and it secures the raw edges so that your fabric does not fray or unravel as you wear and wash your garments. As soon as I learned this, I bought a serger. This is my preferred method to finish ear edges.

But if you don’t have a serger, how are you going to finish your seams? There are many different ways you can give your raw edges a secure—and pretty—finish simply using your sewing machine or pinking shears. Which method you choose will depend on the fabric you are working with, the tools you have access to, and how pretty you want your clothes to look on the inside

How to Finish Raw Edges without a Serger

Pinking Shears 

Pinking shears are an oversized version of those cute craft scissors that you use to give a zigzag effect to the edge of paper. If you are a vintage clothing fan, you might have seen raw edges with this finish. Just use the shears to cut the excess fabric of your seam allowance, and you are done!

Types of Fabric: Medium to heavy woven fabrics that will be hand washed or machine washed minimally.

Pro: This is a quick and easy finish no matter how new you are to sewing. 

Con: You must buy a pair of pinking shears. Because the seams are not encased, they might fray if machine washed frequently.

Turn, Fold, Stitch

After sewing your seams, turn each side of the seam in by ⅛, press, and sew. 

Types of Fabric: Light to medium woven woven fabrics that will be hand washed or machine washed minimally.

Pro: This is another easy finish that does not require any extra tool.

Con: Because the seams are not encased, they might fray if machine washed frequently. Not suitable for heavy-weight fabrics due to bulk.

Zig Zag

Once you have sewn your seams, use a zig zag stitch to sew very close to the raw edge. You can sew each side of the seam separately, or join them with the zig zag stitch. You can also zig zag close to the seam stitch line and then trim the excess with scissors.

Types of Fabric: Light to medium woven fabrics that will be hand washed or machine washed minimally.

Pro: This is another easy finish that does not require any extra tool.

Con: You will need lots of thread. Because the seams are not encased, they might fray if machine washed frequently. Not suitable for heavy-weight fabrics due to bulk.

Overcasting Foot

This is the closest to a serged seam you will be able to achieve without a serger. It requires an overcasting foot (less than $10), and you will have to consult your sewing machine manual to check for the correct zig zag or overcast stitch setting.

Types of Fabric: Woven fabrics that will be hand washed or machine washed minimally.

Pro: This is the closest to a serged finish you will get on a budget.

Con: You will need lots of thread. Because the seams are not encased, they might fray if machine washed frequently. 

French Seams

This is a beautiful way to give your garments a very professional finish. 

  1. Start by placing fabric pieces with wrong sides together—it will feel weird, but don’t be afraid. Pin in place.
  2. If using ⅝” seam allowance, you will sew ¼” away from the raw edge.
  3. Cut excess fabric close to stitch line,
  4. Press the seam open, then press to one side.
  5. Now, fold the fabric with right sides together. Press so that the fold is flat and crisp. Pin.
  6. Sew with ⅜ seam allowance.

Types of Fabric: Light to medium woven fabrics.

Pro: Seams will not fray and unravel as they are encased. Very professional finish.

Con: More time spent sewing. Not suitable for heavy woven fabrics.

Bound Edges

This is another very professional way to finish seams with beautiful results. Using bias tape, you sandwich the raw edge inside the tape.

The Easy Way

Simply place the seam inside double folded bias tape. Pin and sew. You are done!

Hong Kong Bound Seam

  1. Line the right side of your bias tape with the right side of the seam. Sew in the fold of the tape.
  2. Fold the bias tape over the raw edge. 
  3. Stitch in the ditch—use the sewn line of stitches as the guide for your second line of stitches.
  4. There will be no visible stitches on the side of the seam facing out.

Types of Fabric: Medium to heavy woven fabrics.

Pro: Seams will not fray and unravel as they are encased. Very professional finish.

Con: More time spent sewing. Not suitable for light woven fabrics. May cause bulk.

No Serger? No problem!

Not having a serger can actually work to your advantage. It will push you to experiment with different kinds of seam finishes, and it can produce beautiful garments inside and out. 

I’m not gonna lie: I L-O-V-E my serger, and almost all garments I sew are finished with it. But when I work with delicate materials, or when I am feeling extra, I put my serger aside and have fun with French seams of bound edges. Beauty is on the inside‚ and these finishing methods will guarantee that all your garments are pretty inside and out.

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