Basics & Tips
The purpose of a sewn seam is to hold two pieces of fabric together. For a durable end result the stitch of the sewing machine should be checked and adjusted according to every fabric. The stitch should look similar on both sides, and it should not be too tight or too loose.
Finishing and overlocking:
The raw edges of a fabric should be finished with either an overlock stitch or a regular sewing machine zigzag stitch. Finishing will prevent the fabric from fraying or unraveling and gives the garment a more finished and professional look. The most common way to finish raw edges is by an overlocker or a regular sewing machine zigzag stitch. The zigzag stitch should always go a little bit over the edge of the fabric. The edges of two panels can be finished together or separately, depending on the part that you are sewing. The edges can also be finished by hand.
Other ways to finish the fabric edges:
Sew a regular plain seam. Make a couple of millimeters’ turnup or hem from the edges of the seam allowances and stitch.
Sew a regular plain seam. Finish the seam allowances with a panel of the same or other fabric. The panel can be cut on the bias or straight along the grain. Turn the panel edges under seam allowances and stitch.
For a French, flat felled seam or hem seam the raw edges do not need to be finished.
The purpose of basting is either to mark the fabric or to keep two pieces of fabric together while sewing. Basting is always undone after sewing as it is no longer useful. Basting can be done by hand or by a long machine stitch.
If you are basting by hand, make long stitches in the area that you are marking or attaching together. Weave the needle from front side to back and back to front side in turn as many times as necessary. If you are basting with a machine stitch make sure the stitch is as long as possible.
Stitching means to sew a stitch on the front side of a fabric. Stitching will either remain visible (topstitch) or inside the garment (understitch). The purpose of stitching can be to attach seam allowances, support a seam or to simply decorate a piece of clothing. Thicker thread, a contrasting color and longer stitches are all examples of decorating with stitches.
Topstitch is a visible line of stitching on the right side of the garment. It can be both decorative and functional, adding strength to a seam and helping keep the seam allowances on the required side of the seam. Topstitch is usually sewn with a thicker topstitch thread and with longer stitch length.
Press the seam allowances to the side where you want to have the stitching on. Sew it the necessary distance from the join seam, but always make sure that the seam allowances are attached to the fabric by the topstitch.
understitch is a line of stitching on the right side of fabric, but inside the garment. It secures a seam that is close to the edge of a garment, for example the armhole or neckline. It also helps keep the seam allowances on the inside of the garment.
Press the seam allowances towards the facing or lining. Stitch the seam allowances from right side of the fabric, near the joint seam.
Pattern matching and marking:
In order to make the garment symmetric and proportional the pattern pieces must be aligned correctly against each other. To facilitate aligning, all patterns are marked with different kinds of symbols such as notches, dots or lines. When you are tracing a pattern and cutting the fabric, make sure that you are always copying all the symbols first to the patterns and then to the ready-cut pieces of fabric. These marks will help you for example to place pockets, making pleats and sewing darts.The fabric can be marked with pins, thread, chalk or basting.
Notches are small slots cut into the seam allowances to mark where the two garment pieces will be aligned with each other. A notch is marked on a pattern by a small line in a 90 degree angle to the pattern. In some cases the notch can also be slightly diagonal. Mark a notch on the edge of the fabric by using scissors. Cut a short slot in the same spot where the notch is in the pattern. Be careful not to cut the notch too deep over the seam allowances.
Chalk can be used for marking dots or lines that do not need to stay on the fabric for a long time – it can be erased from the material very easily. Chalk is very good for marking dart lines before sewing; after folding and pinning the dart you can draw its outline on the fabric to make it easier to sew straight.
Single dots and lines can be marked on the fabric with pins. Pins will stay attached longer than chalk, but they might fall off easily and might not stay on during several phases. When marking with pins, attach them on the required dot or line. Pins are good for marking tips of darts that are usually sewn early in the process.
Basting can be used for marking longer lines, e.g. cases the seam allowances. Basting means that you are sewing long and loose stitches that are easy to undo afterwards.
Individual dots such as places of buttons or pockets can be marked with thread. Thread is a bit more time consuming than other marking methods but it is the most durable. A dot is marked with a thread by stringing the needle through the pattern and fabric to the back side, and then back to front side again, leaving the thread loose. Tie the thread ends together and leave on the right side as a mark.
Matching garment pieces:
Place the pieces against each other so that the edges of the pieces are aligned with each other at both ends at the distance of the seam allowances. This way the edges will run smoothly. Also make sure that all notches are aligned with the corresponding notch on the opposite garment piece.
The aim of sewing corners is to create a sharp and neat corner. You can achieve a sharp point by stitching one or a couple of diagonal stitches in the corner, instead of making just a regular angle with one corner. The amount of stitches depends on the fabric and the sharpness of the corner. One diagonal stitch is enough for thin materials and blunt corners. Two to three stitches are required for thick materials and sharp corners.
Reducing seam bulk by trimming:
Seam allowances are trimmed to reduce seam bulk on front side and to make the piece turn better. The seam allowances should be trimmed in corners and in thin pieces, such as parts of collars. Seam allowances are trimmed by cutting them with scissors in the tight areas. Be careful not to cut the seam allowances too close to the seam, to prevent the fabric unraveling. If the fabric is very thin it might not be necessary to trim the seam allowances at all.
Clipping and notching:
Clip is a small slot cut in the seam allowance to reduce bulk especially in outer curves. Its purpose is also to reduce tension in the seam allowance, make it turn more easily and make the fabric drape nicely. The seam allowances are most commonly clipped on curved edges and in other parts where there is tension in seam allowances.
Notch is a small V-shaped cut in the seam allowance, usually in the inner curves. It is used for the same reasons as a clip. Make small V-shaped cuts on the seam allowances, a couple of millimeters or centimeters distance from each other, depending on the tension of the seam allowance. Be careful not to cut too close to seam to prevent the fabric from unraveling.
When turning a seam right side out, it should first be pressed so that the seam allowances are opened and folded on different sides or folded on one side. Opening and pressing the seams is very important in all phases of the sewing process. Pressing correctly is as important as sewing correctly. Without proper pressing the end result often looks too home made.
The Edge, for example the edge of a collar or armhole, should be turned carefully so that the seam is not “hidden” inside the edges. The pieces should turn nicely on both sides of the seam. Press the edge so that the upper piece comes a touch further than the lower piece. This way the edge will look clean and the lining or facing will stay inside.
When turning corners it is helpful to use some kind of pointed tool. Do not use scissors or anything too sharp that might break the fabric. Trim the surplus fabric at the points and turn the piece right side out. Leave the seam allowance inside as flat as possible. Push the corner carefully from inside, making it sharper. Push the corner from both sides of the seam allowances and avoid pushing them into the tip of the corner. You can also try to open the corner from the front side with a needle. Be careful not to pull the corner too much, so that it will not become too sharp or strangely shaped.
Pressing is very important in different phases of the sewing process. It facilitates the following phases and makes the finished garment look more professional and neat. The purpose of pressing is to make the fabric smooth or to give it a form, such as turnup or hem. Always remember to check and adjust the heat of your iron according to the fabric. Usually cotton, linen and viscose can be ironed in high temperatures. Wool and polyester mixes can be pressed with a mid temperature iron whilst silk, acrylic and nylon require low temperatures. The part of the fabric that is being pressed should be cleaned and laid straight on the ironing board. Never press a dirty fabric, as the heat might make the stains stick to the fabric. It is easiest to press the fabric with strokes along the grain line. Let the iron move on its own weight. Do not press it against the material – this may flatten the fabric, give it a shiny surface or make the seam allowances stick out through the fabric. If the fabric is sensitive or difficult to press without leaving iron marks, it can be pressed through a pressing cloth. Special pressing cloths can be bought for example in sewing shops but you can use almost any thin cotton or linen fabric.
Steam speeds the ironing process. It can also be used to form a garment. You can give form to an armhole, straight trousers or darts.
Framilon is a thin and transparent rubber band that can be bought in different widths. Framilon is used the same way as a regular elastic band but it is slightly stiffer and slimmer, which makes it perfect for supporting shoulder seams of garments that are made of elastic materials.
Sewing Framilon on a shoulder seam:
Sew the shoulder seam so that you include the Framilon in it. Framilon will prevent the seam from stretching in use. In stiff or inelastic fabrics the support is not necessary.
- Cut a strip of Framilon band that is slightly longer than the shoulder seam. This way it will be easier to include the strip on the seam.
- Pin the right sides of the shoulder seams together and place the Framilon on the seam allowance of the front piece.
- Place the shoulder seam and Framilon band under the overlocker foot so that the Framilon is on top.
- Sew the seam so that the Framilon stays under the overlock stitch. Do not stretch or ease the band.
- Cut off the extra lengths of Framilon from the ends. Fold and press the seam to front side so that the Framilon band is hidden under it.
If you are sewing with a regular sewing machine, sew the inner side of Framilon under the shoulder seam. Sew with a regular stitch or elastic stitch. Place the outer side under the zigzag stitch that will finish the fabric edge.