Learn to Sew the Absolute Easiest Way to Finish Seams by Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy

Sewing basics—that’s the feature of today’s blog. Adjusting the sewing machine’s tension, stitching basic knit or woven seams, and seam finishing options. You can’t get more basic than this!

Troubleshooting Tension

Balanced stitches are generally easy to achieve if the sewing machine is properly threaded. There may be a time that the top thread and bobbin thread are not in sync, causing the seam to pucker or the seam strength to be weak.

  • Correct Tension: The stitches look even in length. The bobbin thread color does not appear on the top of the seam, nor does the upper thread color appear on the underside of the seam.

  • Tight Tension: The fabric puckers and stitches easily pop when tension is applied to the seam. Slightly loosen the top tension setting and possibly lengthen the stitch.

  • Loose Tension: Top thread appears on the underside of the seam and the seam is weak. First, check to see if the bobbin thread is properly in the bobbin case and/or guided through the bobbin tension. If the bobbin thread was correctly inserted in the machine, slightly tighten the top tension or rethread the sewing machine.

Stitching Seams on Knit Fabrics

The beauty of sewing knits is that there are very few rules to follow. The sewing is truly simple.

Seaming Knit Fabric with a Sewing Machine

  • Use a ballpoint or stretch needle. The specially designed tip pushes the loops of the knit fabric apart, rather than stitching through them.
  • Thread the machine top and bobbin with polyester thread.
  • For stable knits, such as fleece, use two rows of stitching: a straight stitch followed by a zigzag.

  •  If the pattern includes a 5/8″ seam allowance, trim the seam allowance to 1/4″ before applying the zigzag stitch.

  • For knits with greater stretch, use a wobble stitch, or narrow zigzag. This stitch is really important when stitching slinky knits with a conventional sewing machine, but it can also be used on other knits with moderate stretch.
- Adjust the machine for a zigzag stitch, stitch width set at 0.5 mm and stitch length at 3.5 mm.
- Stitch the seam.
- Optional: Zigzag edges together with a wider zigzag stitch.

  • Use a straight stitch for vertical seams, such as side seams.

Seaming Knit Fabric with a Serger

A serger can be used to stitch a side seam on knit or woven fabrics. A serged seam is stitched, trimmed, and finished in one step.
  • Use a 4-thread overlock.
  • Position pins parallel to the seam allowance to avoid hitting the blade mechanism.

  • For patterns with a 5/8″ seam allowance, align the edge of the fabric along the marking appropriate on your serger. For patterns with a 1/4″ seam allowance, align the edge of the fabric with the blade.

  • Serge, trimming any seam allowance in excess of 1/4″.

Secure serged seam ends:

  • A serger does not backstitch, so you cannot secure seam ends by backstitching. Leave a thread tail at the end of your seam.
  • Place the fabric and thread tail on top of a folded piece of paper toweling.
  • Apply a dab of seam sealant, like Fray Block, to the end of the seam to seal the threads. The liquid dries clear and prevents the thread ends from raveling. After it dries, cut off the thread tails.

Note from Nancy: Speed up the drying process by pressing the thread tail with the tip of an iron on paper toweling.


Finishing Seams—Woven Fabrics

Most woven fabrics ravel unless the edges are finished. After stitching a seam, add a seam finish to each seam edge to prevent fraying. Most seam finishes are done on a single thickness of fabric to avoid bulk and make the seam flatter and neater. Here are several ways to finish seams:

Zigzag each seam edge.

  • Use a medium width zigzag and medium to short stitch length.
  • Stitch the “zig” in the fabric and the “zag” close to or off the cut edge.
  • Zigzagging works best on medium to heavyweight fabrics. If zigzagging draws in the seam edge and makes a pucker, try using the Overcast Guide Foot.

Serge each seam.

  • Serge each seam edge with a 3- or 4-thread serged overlock stitch.

Stitching French Seams

For very sheer fabrics or fabrics that ravel easily, French seams enclose the seam allowances, giving a neat finish that practically eliminates raveling. French seams are a perfect choice for joining fabric such as batiste, chiffon, and voile. With two rows of straight stitching and a little pressing, you can encase the raw edges of the fabric attractively and neatly.
  • Place wrong sides of seams together with the raw edges aligned. Straight stitch 3/8″ from the cut edges.
  • Trim the seam allowance to just slightly less than 1/4″ using a rotary cutter and cutting mat.
  • Press the joined edges flat and then press the seam open. This makes it easier to fold the seam allowance along the first stitching line in preparation for the second row of machine stitching.

  • Refold the seam allowance with the right sides of the fabric together, positioning the first stitching line at the fold.

  • To complete the French seam, stitch 1/4″ from the fold, encasing the cut edges.
Note from Nancy: To save time, I often reverse the width of the seam allowances, stitching the 1/4″ seam first, then the 3/8″ seam. This method produces a slightly wider seam, but it eliminates the trimming step. For extremely sheer fabric, the narrower width is best.

All my favorite sewing tips in one book.

  • The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew chapters include:

    • Sewing Notions
    • Sewing Machine Confidence
    • Serger Spotlight
    • Patterns
    • Fabric Facts
    • Sewing Basics
    • Beyond the Basics

The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew by Sewing With Nancy Zieman

Watch The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew (Part One, Part Two, and Part Threeon Sewing With Nancy online.

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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