Monday, 31 August 2015

How To - French Seams

Today I thought I'd do a bit of a tutorial on French seams. Plenty of people find them a bit intimidating, but they don't need to be. You do require accuracy though, so it helps to be able to sew straight.

Essentially, a French seam is two straight seams where the first seam is folded into the second. It works well on lightweight fabrics, particularly those which have a degree of transparency and need to look neat inside and out.

To begin, and to learn the particulars of your own machine, you need a ruler, pen, scissors and calico or muslin. Cut two rectangles to sew together. This is a practice piece only, once you know how to line it up you will not be drawing lines on your sewing.

When you use a French seam, you start with the wrong sides together. This is the opposite of other seams so keep it in mind.

Generally, a seam allowance is about 1.5cm or 5/8". It doesn't matter which you use (here's me with a metric ruler and an imperial mat!), the important part is to see how to get there in two steps. Draw the seam line on your top scrap of fabric.

Then draw another line halfway between the seam line and the edge.

This is where you get to know your machine. You want your first line of stitching to fall exactly on that middle line. So you need to find the position where that works. In all likelihood, this will be only a fraction to the side of the edge of the foot. You may find it works just on the edge of the foot!

Many modern machines allow you to adjust the position of the needle in a straight stitch using the width dial. Check your manual to see if this is the case with yours.
 If I put the dial on a 6, 

The needle will come down to the right of the centre line.
 I find with my machine, if I put the dial on '2' and line the fabric up with the edge of the foot, it will fall exactly where I want it to.
 Your machine may be slightly different, but once you figure it out, it will save lots of time and make French seams easier. 

After a bit of testing, I can easily sew accurately down that first line.

 I then trim half of that seam allowance off.
 And press it outwards.
 Fold it back and press it again. You should now have the right side together.

Sew the next seam with the edge of the fold in exactly the same position as you had the raw edge last time.

 Press it to the side.

 Turn it over and press down.
 If you have it in *exactly* the right position, your original pen line will be *just* on that stitching line. I can see my pen line just here.

 Now that I'm confident I can get the seams in the right position, I can try a test swatch on my real fabric. I used French seams on my lace dress. This works well for light weight all over lace. Having said that, it can sometimes distort a little because of the variation in bulk, so take care. It's *always* worth doing a test swatch.

I start with right sides facing outwards (wrong sides together). 

 And I sew down with needle and fabric in the same position as before.

 Snip off half off the seam allowance.

 Press outwards.
 Fold over and press again.
 And then sew again with needle and fabric in the same position.

 Press to the side.
 And there you have it.

As featured on this dress. Looks pretty neat huh?

So to answer the next question, can you use a French seam on a curve, like an armhole or a princess seam? 

Essentially yes. When you press the first time you need to take care to ensure it presses as neatly as possible and doesn't pucker. You may need to use a little steam to shape it. Some tight curves may pucker a little no matter what you do, so if in doubt do a test swatch first. If you find they do buckle, you could consider an alternative such as binding your seams for an equally neat finish.

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