Secrets to Finishing Well

Feb 13, 2013

So often, sewing instructions will add this phrase to the end of a construction step:

Pinked edge finish

Pinking is a simple, effective seam finish.

Zigzag edge finish

Keep both swings of the needle on the
fabric so that the fabric doesn't bunch.

Turn and stitch edge finish
Pressing before stitching saves time
and aggravation. Make only a single fold.
Finish the raw edges of the seam allowances.

Ever wonder why you need to do this? And what exactly it means? 

Most fabrics, after being cut, will begin to fray. After being pinned, stitched, and pressed, they will fray more. Finishing the raw edges minimizes the raveling and will extend the life of your garment or accessory. And besides, well-finished edges simply look good.

The three most common finishes are pinking, zigzagging, and turn-and-stitched edges. (Not surprisingly, many more finishes exist, but let's focus on these today.) The process you choose will depend on the fabric, the project, and, realistically, how much time you have. 

Pinking is quick, pretty, and very effective (if you have good pinking shears--which are worth the investment). This is a good choice for lightweight cottons and other wovens.

A zigzag stitch is also quick and effective. If both seam allowances will be pressed to one side, zigzag them together and save yourself some time and thread. A zigzag edge may be your best choice if you have a more loosely woven fabric. 

To make a turn-and-stitched edge, press the raw edge ¼" under and then stitch close to the fold. It will look like a miniature hem. This process takes a little longer, but it's a lovely finish and worth the time-even if you're the only one that knows it's there.

If you're not sure which finish to use, test them. Once you get in the habit of finishing your seams, you may never look back.

If you like trying new things, check out Jewelry Stringing magazine to learn some basic techniques for making your own accessories. 

I love pinked edges on little girl dresses. Do you have a favorite finish--or do you skip edgefinishing completely? I'd love to know.

Happy stitching,

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shellybsgs wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 5:26 AM

I generally use my serger to finish seams, if I haven't done the seam itself on the serger. However, the first time I made an Aloha shirt for my husband the pattern called for French seams on the side seams. I loved them and now use them in most places where I have a long, straight seam that needs to be finished. I've been working on changing my focus on garment sewing from the finished product to the process, and nice seam finishes are one step in that journey.


jwhite46 wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 7:44 AM

I like to serge my seams finished.

janetleora wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 7:48 AM

I also always serge my seam allowances, either together or separately.  I have even serged the first seam of a french seam, then sewn the final one. Before my serger, I turned and sewed (your sample 3) for garments and did nothing or pinked on other items.

Bonneesews wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 9:08 AM

I onften serge my seams.  On the other hand, flatfelling is great for denim.  When working with suiting type fabrics, a nice Hong Kong finish looks really classy!

Bonneesews wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 9:13 AM

Life before my serger was not fun, I use it a lot.  However, some fabrics beg for a different approach, I like to flatfell denim seams.  When it comes to suiting fabrics, nothing beats a nice Hong Kong finish for sheer class!

kitkat1223 wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 9:47 AM

Since I got a serger, I tend to serge my seams to finish them, especially if I'm sewing for my grandchildren.

on Feb 13, 2013 10:19 AM

I like the french seam as well.  And I also like to finish my edges of the fabric pieces before I construct a garment or project.  Makes my life so much easier, and also seems less time consuming for some reason. . . .

ahcharles wrote
on Feb 13, 2013 10:29 AM

I love the French seam, and like to use it wherever feasible, especially on straight seams, of course.  I have also noticed, that if I keep it very narrow, it can be done on a gentle curve!  I first noticed this on a little vintage linen tea cosy.  This is rounded in shape, but the little French seam sits very nicely inside.  Experimenting, I can get this to work well.

on Feb 14, 2013 5:04 PM

I don't have a serger (wish I did!). When I zig-zag seam allowances, they curl up into an ugly edge -- is there a trick to getting the zig-zag to stay flat?