No Overlocker? No Problem! Finishing Seams without an Overlocker or Serger

Do I need an overlocker?

We see this question a lot! Everyone knows that the best way to give your projects a polished & professional finish is to make sure all of your seams are finished neatly – it’s not often we buy items in the shops and they are left with raw seams! As well as being aesthetically pleasing, appropriately finished seams can help your project or garment last longer, stay together better and strengthen the seams, which is ideal if you plan on washing it!

The best way to finish a seam to a professional standard is with an overlocker, however there are plenty of ways to finish seams using a regular sewing machine, or tools you already have too – meaning you can have a clean finish whether you are a beginner or advanced in your sewing, and have not yet made the leap to purchase an overlocker or serger. 

So here are just a few techniques on how to finish your seams without an overlocker or serger…

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Edges with Pinking Shears

A pinked edge is best used on stable, tightly woven fabrics that don’t fray easily, or on something that won’t be washed or worn a lot, such as a cushion. It works well on a curved edge, or seams on awkward angles that require turning out as it limits the amount of bulk when turned. This is a simple method that requires no sewing, just a pair of pinking shears. 

You will need:

  1. Cut close to the edge of the seam with pinking shears – that’s it! 

How to Zig Zag raw edges

A zigzag edge is perfect for anything but very lightweight/delicate fabrics, and sheers. It emulates the look of an overlocked edge, but can be done on most domestic sewing machines. If the fabric is too lightweight, the machine will often create an undesirable ‘chewed up’ look. For lighter fabrics, use a smaller stitch length, for heavier fabrics use a longer stitch length. We don’t recommend using this method on anything lighter than a Cotton Poplin.

You will need:

  • Sewing machine with zig zag stitch
  • Iron
  1. Use the zig zag stitch on your machine to sew along the edge of the seam allowance, sewing the two sides together. 
  2. Press to one side.

How to sew a Clean Finish Edge Seam

A ‘clean finish’ edge provides a folded over edge along the seam which conceals the raw edge. It works best on light to medium weight fabrics, but not for very lightweight or very heavyweight fabrics. 

You will need:

  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  1. With the right sides together, sew the seam as usual and press open.
  2. For each side of the seam allowance, turn the raw edge under 0.5cm / ¼” or less and press.
  1. Sew close to the edge of the seam allowance, do not sew this to the garment itself.

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How to French Seam

A French seam is perfect for lightweight and delicate fabrics that fray easily, as it encases the raw edges of the seam, and provides a clean and professional finish. Although the seams would be visible through a sheer fabric, it fully encases them so they look like bound seams.

You will need:

  1. The general rule for creating a french seam is to take away 0.5cm / ¼” from the seam allowance that your pattern recommends. For example; if your pattern says to use a standard 1.5cm /  ⅝” seam allowance, sew your first seam with a 0.8cm / ⅜” seam allowance, then trim it down to 0.3cm /  ⅛”. For this example we are using a standard 1.5cm / ⅝” seam allowance. 
  2. With the wrong sides (WS) of your fabric pieces together, sew 0.8cm / ⅜” from the raw edge. 
  3. Press the seam, then fold your fabric along the seam line, so the right sides (RS) of the fabric are together and the stitching is along the edge of the fold. Press again. You may want to clip/pin the fabric in place. 
  1. With the RS of the fabric still together, sew another seam 0.5cm /  ¼” in from the folded edge you created. Make sure that the seam completely encloses the other seam, as otherwise the raw edge will poke through and create a messy finish on the right side of the garment. 
  2. Press. Turn your project the right way out and press the seam to one side from the outside.
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What is a flat felled seam?

A flat felled seam works best for garments that experience a lot of stress, such as trousers, work clothes and jackets. The process creates a sturdy and durable seam that is much harder to split. This finish is visible from the outside of the garment, and is often done with a contrasting colour thread to create a feature. 

You will need:

  1. With right sides (RS) together, sew 1.5cm /  ⅝” seam from your raw edge. 
  2. Press the seam open, and trim one side of the raw seam edge down to 0.5cm / ¼”
  1. With the other side of the seam, fold inwards in half, so the raw edge meets the seam. Press.
  1. Fold this side over the top of the trimmed side, so that it completely covers and conceals the raw edge.
  1. Stitch close to your folded edge to finish. 

How to sew Hong Kong seams

A Hong Kong Seam encases the raw edges of a seam using bias binding. This is best used on lightweight fabrics. We would not recommend using this method on heavy fabrics,  or curves and edges, especially those that need turning out as it creates too much bulk. You can use regular ready made bias tape, and this produces no visible stitching when finished. Hong Kong seams are easy to sew, but require you to be precise with your stitching, perfect for taking your sewing skills to the next level.

You will need:

  1. Make or purchase a length of continuous length of bias tape, 2.5cm – 3cm / 1-1¼” wide (wider tape is easier to sew, as it gives you more room on the wrong side of the seam to sew in place)
  2. Press your seam open.  Cut a length of your prepared bias tape to the same length of the seam you are finishing plus about a 2.5cm or 3cm / an inch or two. Line up the edge of the bias tape with the seam, on the side of the project that will be visible when it is complete. With right sides (RS) together, pin in place. 
  1. Sew the bias to your seam using a 0.5cm / ¼” seam allowance.
  1. Press the bias away from the seam allowance.
  2. Wrap the binding around the edge of the seam allowance to the wrong side and press again.
  3. From the RS of the seam, stitch in the ditch along the bias seam, or along the edge of the bias binding. If you stitch in the ditch the stitches will not show – we have stitched along the edge which is a simpler method.
  1. Trim away the excess bias if required behind.
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How to use Bias Tape to finish seams

A bias-bound seam is a quick way to create a ‘faux’ Hong Kong seam. They use double fold bias tape around the seam to conceal the raw edge. We wouldn’t recommend using this method on very heavyweight fabrics, or using a bias tape that is very different in composition to your project’s main fabric. Shop bought bias tape with a similar composition to the main fabric of your project is easier to sew using this method, as it is made more precisely. If you are making your own bias tape, try to use longer strips of fabric to avoid bulky seams. Using an edge-stitching foot also helps keep your stitch lines neater. 

You will need:

Version 1

  1. Wrap the bias tape around the seam, pinning/clipping in place.
  1. If you are using ready-made tape, there will be one edge that is slightly narrower than the other. Make sure the narrow edge goes on the right side (RS) of the seam edge. This will ensure that you catch the bottom layer of the bias tape when sewing them together. 
  2. On the RS of the seam, sew along the length of the tape, about 1/16” from the edge, ensuring that the folded edge of the bias tape is lying close to and hugging the raw edge of the fabric. 

Version 2:

  1. Press your seam open.
  2. Unfold your double edge bias tape, align the edge with the wrong side (WS) of the seam. Pin/clip into place.
  3. Sew the bias tape to the seam, along the first folded line of the tape.
  4. Fold the bias tape over so that the centre crease of the tape is hugging the raw seam edge, pressing into place.
  5. Sew along the right side (RS) of the seam 0.2cm / 1/16”  from the edge.

You can shop for all of the products mentioned in our online Haberdashery, Plush Addict. We are a one stop shop for all things fabric, sewing and haberdashery. Not sure what Haberdashery is? Check out our online guide here.

We hope you found this seam finishing guide helpful, don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter for more tips, tricks and tutorials!

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