French seams (with a Russian accent)
French seams are widely used to sew delicate fabrics. I always used French seams for my silk chiffon and organza garments. They give very nice and neat finish. Actually, I like them on any lightweight and mediumweight silk. And recently I used French seams to sew 100% silk pillowcases.
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You can find many good online tutorials how to sew French seams. But it seems to me that something is missing in those tutorials. So today I am going to add some tips on how to sew professionally looking French seams.
First of all, I like to use my serger to sew French seams. I think it is faster this way. But it is not recommended for really sheer see-through fabric because the serger stitches still will be visible through the layers of the sheer fabric. But for any other lightweight silk (like georgette, charmeuse, crepe de Chine, habotai, shantung, etc.) it is a good method.
In the past French seams were used mostly because people didn’t have a serger to finish raw edges nicely and fast. But now they are used because they give garments that couture touch, because serger seams don’t look that beautiful on sheer fabric, or because we just need stronger seams for clothing and bedding that has to be washed often.
And now everybody who is serious about sewing has a serger. Well, if you don’t have one maybe it is time to buy it? I wrote an article about most popular sergers on Amazon in 2017, and I also have on my blog a review of a very nice self-threading serger JUKI 2000 QVP (if you would like to upgrade your old serger).
So I think I am not exaggerated when I tell you to use a serger to sew French seams. It is not only faster (regularly sewing French seams is a time-consuming procedure).
But silk fabric is usually fraying a lot and it is a very hard task to trim long seams (it is not so bad for very short seams) properly so the threads and even parts of raw edges are not showing on the right side of the item after you are done sewing French seams.
And this can happen often if you didn’t cut away enough fabric after sewing the first seam or the fabric frayed a lot right away during the trimming process. And I think you agree that it is not acceptable to see any whiskers going out of the seam on the right side of the garment.
Now I am going to show you how to use a serger to sew French seams. I advise you to practice on scraps before actual sewing.
Please note: some links I share on this page are affiliate links. I only recommend useful things that can make your sewing life easy.
Also please note that measurements in this article are provided in metrics so if you are used to working with the imperial system please use this chat from www.craftsy.com or this chat from www.ludlowquiltandsew.co.uk.
Pin fabric pieces wrong side together and right sides facing up. Mark both stitch lines that you need to sew on ( for French seams we need to sew 2 stitch lines) with a fabric marker. In my case, the seam allowances are 1.5 cm (5/8 in) so I marked one line 1.5 cm from the fabric edge. And I marked another line 7 mm from the first one (this distance can vary depending on the fabric used for the project).
I need to mention though that for silk fabric you need to use very sharp extra fine glass heads long pins (so they don’t leave any holes in the material).
I use this wonderful marking pen with disappearing ink for all my sewing projects. It has a fine tip, it has always been very easy to use and it usually gradually disappears with exposure to air.
Serger stitch your fabric using proper threads (extra fine and in tone with your fabric). Stitch line should go 7 mm from the pattern line.
I always use 100% silk threads to work with silk fabric. They are smooth, quite strong, yet delicate, have a lustrous sheen and glide through the silk fabric with amazing ease. Remember that your thread shouldn’t be heavier than the fabric.
Silk threads are just amazing! They are very thin but they are also very strong. Here are affiliate links where you can buy 100% silk threads for your projects.
Press seams flat on one side (any side).
Put pattern pieces right sides together this time and fold the fabric exactly along the first stitch line so the stitch line is right on the edge of your fabric pieces. Baste (or pin) and press carefully. After pressing you will see clearly where the raw edges are.
Stitch with a straight stitch (make the length of the stitch 1.5 – 2.00 mm for silk fabric) enclosing the raw edges and using the marked stitch line. I usually sew 6 – 7mm from the folded edge so that the allowances remain inside. Press again on one side.
The second tip is about the proper seam allowances when sewing French seams.
The problem with them is that the second stitch line (as you may notice there are two stitch lines in French seams) has to go along your pattern line exactly and it is not very clear how to make this properly.
Some millimeters will be lost after first stitching, folding over and pressing. And fabrics are different also – some are thinner others are thicker. And where to sew the first stitch? What is the distance between the fabric edge and the first stitch – 5 mm? 7 mm? 10 mm?
So, just to be sure I usually mark my pattern lines (that are going to be sewn with French seams) with a sewing marker (as you saw above). And I noticed that if I want the second stitch to go exactly over the marked pattern line I have to sew first stitch 6 – 7 mm from the pattern line and trim it after to 3 mm or use a serger (as described above). But I advise you to practice on scrap fabric to find out exactly where your stitch lines should be (for your fabric).
And the third tip about sewing French seams is that they are not easy to rip and redo. So when sewing garments and bedding with French seams make sure that the item will fit properly and you are not planning to make the item bigger or smaller.
I used French seams recently to sew silk pillowcases. You can find a step-by-step tutorial “How to make a silk pillowcase” on my blog.
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