Bonjour, mon ami! Want to learn how to give your sewing projects a professional finish without needing a serger? It’s like music to my ears. Kathy from Merriment Design is a master of French seams and is going to share her knowledge with you. For those of you who are not familiar with French seams, they are an easy way to tuck in those pesky raw edges to keep them from fraying. I’ll let her tell you more, take it away Kathy…

How to Sew French Seams

French seams. Sounds fancy, yes? Well, they do look really nice when they’re done but they are really pretty easy to do. And below I’m going to show you how step-by-step.

So what is a French seam? It’s basically a two-step seam that encloses raw fabric edges inside the seam. The outside looks like a regular seam like this:

But on the back the raw fabric edges are enclosed in inside the seam like this:

French seams are good when you want to have super extra professional-looking, clean seams — like on the back of an apron where you’ve pieced together a couple different fabric patterns — or when you want to avoid raw edges from unraveling in the washer — like the pillowcase I’m making right now. Now all you lucky serger owners who can actually thread them and get the tension right (yep, jealous) could just serge finish edges instead of any of this at all, but French seams can be a good substitute for the rest of us, and some fabrics like silk or organza can be too delicate for serging anyway.

A couple downsides: First, French seams take more fabric which I’ll explain in a bit, and it takes a bit more time too. French seams are best for lightweight fabrics like silk or organza because it will add some bulk to seams. That said I use it with cotton and I think it’s fine. Really it depends on what you’re making. If a little bulk is going to be OK and you’re sewing straight seams (not curved where bulk gets nasty) then I think French seams are a go.

OK, let’s get to the steps.

Step 1: Add a little fabric to each pattern piece (unless it already factors in enough fabric for French seams)

Step one happens before you cut out any pieces at all. Remember when I said these seams take more fabric? You’ll want to account for that before you cut anything out. For instance, normally I sew 1/2″ seams on most things so I usually add 1/2″ of fabric to each piece for every seam. But with French seams, you’re kind of sewing two seams — the first one is 1/4″ and the second is usually either 3/8″ or 1/2″, so instead of adding 1/2″ of fabric to each side for every seam you’ll need to add 5/8″ (1/4″ plus 3/8″) or 3/4″ (1/4″ + 1/2″).

So multiplying this by two for both sides that you’re going to seam together, that means French seams add about 1/2″ of extra fabric for every seam that you sew – now you can see where the bulk comes in.

Step 2: Sew the ‘first’ seam

Place *wrong* sides of your fabric pieces together. Yes, this is totally opposite of what you would do for a normal seam. Make sure the edges are lined up. Sew 1/4″ seam.

Press the seam closed first to flatten the stitching and seam.

Open the fabric like so with right sides facing up.

Now we’re going to do some ironing. And here’s where people can have different techniques for different projects and fabrics. I like to press the seam open because it helps me get the seam really straight in the next steps, especially when using cotton. So I like to press it open first like this:

Other people, instead of opening the seam, like to press the seam to one sides like this:

So you can choose – press it open to really get the middle seam pressed flat, or just press the entire seam to one side. For both methods, now fold right sides together, enclosing the 1/4″ seam. Press one more time.

Optional: Trimming ‘first’ seam with pinking shears

Now let’s pause just a second. Another thing that you could do is choose to trim the edges of the first seam to 1/8″ with pinking shears like this before you press and fold it together:


Trimming can be good if the fabric is really thin and you’d rather see zigzagged edges through the final finished seam . Here’s what I mean – this is what it the final seam will look like with no trimming when held up to the light:

But I think this is only an issue with really sheer fabric so for most things that I make I skip trimming. So let’s get back to our seam.

Step 3: Sew the ‘second’ seam
Now this part will feel more like a normal seam. Right sides of the fabric are together, wrong side is on top. Sew a 3/8″ seam (you can use painter’s tape like I do as a guide) which will enclose raw edges completely inside.


When you’re done it looks like a normal seam, but the end is sewn shut and the 1/4″ ‘first’ seam is enclosed inside.

Press the seam to one side and you’re done!.


Totally optional: Topstitch the seam
Technically the French seam is done at step 3, and some people scoff at topstitching it. But again, it depends on what you’re making. If you’d like to topstitch to draw more attention to the seam, or add a contrasting color, or to better secure the seam to one side in the wash, then topstitch away. I’m showing this photo in black and white so you can see the topstitching a little bit better.

That’s really it. Well, at least that’s how I do it. Tell me: What have you made using French seams? Do you do anything differently?

Check out more of Merriment Design tutorials like her St. Patrick’s Day Craft: Shrinky Dink Necklaces And Pins With Irish Maps And Sayings {Free Printable}, or her Fuzzy Bunny Slippers From Recycled Felted Sweaters For Kids {Free Slipper Pattern} that are perfect for Easter.

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