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from the village smyths of olde Yaxley

Cheryl’s Modified French Seams

French seams have been used to hide open, rough unfinished seams for years. They have traditionally served an aesthetic purpose in draperies and similar household furnishings, but they also fulfill a functional role in garments that are made from fabrics that fray easily. I have developed a modified version of a French seam that results in a very durable seam and is also very aesthetically pleasing. I’ll share my technique with you here.

Here’s what you’ll need: fabric, thread, scissors, and a sewing machine. I use a sewing machine that can also do serge* stitches, but if your machine can’t, that’s ok, just use a very wide zigzag.

Note: Usually I use a matching color thread so that the color of the thread blends with the fabric so that you can hardly see the thread, but for the purposes of this demonstration, I am using a contrasting color thread so you can easily see the stitches.

STEP 1: Take the two pieces of fabric you want to sew together and place them with WRONG (back) sides together and RIGHT (front) sides out. (This is opposite from making a normal seam.)


French Seams Picture
Here is a picture of the right and wrong sides of the fabric I’ve used for this demonstration. You can also see a few frayed edges in this picture.

Pin in place.

French Seams Picture
STEP 2: Serge stitch at the edge of the fabric. Note the frayed edges at the seam.
French Seams Picture
Trim away frayed edges from seam. (My machine has an attachment that does this step automatically as it sews the seam, but I didn’t use it in this step for the purpose of illustrating the point). Trimming away the loose fibers is an essential part of this step, as any stray threads will show through the finished seam.
French Seams Picture
STEP 3: Press seam open making sure that the serged seam is flat.
French Seams Picture
French Seams Picture

Trimmed and pressed, the seam looks much neater and is almost invisible from the back (wrong side) of the fabric.

STEP 4: Fold the fabric over so the right sides are together and the wrong sides are out. Press and pin into place. (Fold is on the top of this picture.)


Folded and pressed in place.

French Seams Picture

Now it is pinned in place and ready to sew.

French Seams Picture

STEP 5: Sew using a straight stitch, enclosing the entire serged seam.
French Seams Picture

STEP 6: Open seam and press. Here is where you can tell if you did a good job trimming away any stray threads, as they will show through if you didn’t trim carefully enough. This picture shows the completed opened, pressed modified French seam.

 

French Seams Picture
front view (right sides)
French Seams Picture
back view (wrong sides)
Usually this finishes the seam; however, sometimes I prefer to “anchor” the seam in place so that it won’t move. I often do this on unlined capes and other seams where a moving seam would be irritating or unattractive or where a decorative touch would be pleasing to the eye.

Anchoring the seam: For a regular anchor I use a straight stitch and sew along the outside edge of the seam, as illustrated in the top part of the next picture. When using a decorative seam, I start on the outside edge and sew toward the middle of the seam. Here are just a few of the examples of the stitches I can use to anchor the seam. I always use a contrasting color thread when anchoring the seam, whether it is with a straight stitch or a decorative one.


French Seams Picture
Examples of straight and decorative anchoring stitches


* I am fully aware that seamstresses in the 12th century or even in the 17th century did not have sewing machines that could serge, for that matter, they didn’t even have sewing machines. So using a machine in general is not period, but it’s the best way for me to make you a beautiful garment in a timely fashion. One more note on the serge stitch I use, it is similar to an old-fashioned embroidery stitch called a blanket stitch. I make no claim that medieval seamstresses used the blanket stitch when sewing garments. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t. It was (and still is) a stitch traditionally used to bind blankets, hence the name. But since they didn’t use sewing machines either, in my opinion, whether to serge or not is moot. Serging the seam produces a much stronger, longer-lasting seam and is commonly used in most manufactured garments today.