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Conversational Threads

Finishing seams without a serger

jatman | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I was wondering what other people do to finish seams.  I don’t yet have a serger and I have just finished yet another pair of pants where the seams are looking a big messy on the inside.  I’m still at the stage where I put things together and occasionally have to take them apart or take them in or out to get the right fit (maybe someday I’ll get it right the first time!) so french seaming items is a bit more complicated than I would like to do.  Any suggestions for a neater way to finish seams on fabrics that ravel a bit?

Thank you.



  1. sewelegant | | #1

    Before sergers here are several ways I would deal with the problem:

    1.   use the blind seam stitch and sew close to the edge.  I found sewing off the edge worked on some fabrics and made for a neat edge.  I'll bet this would work well for denim.  Flat fell seams are another way many used to treat denim, but all your fitting needs to be done before you finish the seam because ripping is time consuming.

    2.  plain zig zag, but that did seem to pucker the edges for me a lot.

    3.  use "seams great" to bind the edge, but did this only on something I really felt the inside needed to look nice. 

    4.  my trusty old pinking shears saw the most action.

    1. jatman | | #7

      Hi Sewelegant,

      Thank you for all the info!  Do you use your pinking shears to cut the pattern out or just on the longer seams within the garment after you've put it together?  Also, I've never seen Seams Great - is it white or clear?

      Again, thank you!


      ETA:  I think I got my question on the pinking answered by about.com.  Thank you for the info!

      Edited 6/5/2008 12:58 am ET by jatman

      1. sewchris703 | | #16

        Seams Great comes in white, ivory/natural (I'm not sure what color they call it--it's a beige/caucasion skin color), and black.


        1. jatman | | #17

          Thank you Sewchris!


        2. sewingkmulkey | | #37

          Seams Great used to also come in other colors and I still have some red which I love as I sew lots of red.  But, the neutral colors would work on almost any color as the product is sheer.


  2. damascusannie | | #2

    Until I got a zig-zagger, I just sewed an eighth of an inch away from the edge of the seam with a short stitch. It's still my favorite way to finish 100% cotton because it doesn't add any bulk to the seam allowance. If a row of topstitching won't look bad, I sometimes grade the seam allowance, then press it to one side with the wider allowance on top and then stitch a quarter inch from the seam. It makes a nice finish, too.

    1. jatman | | #8

      Hi Damascusannie,

      Do you just sew along the edge without turning the fabric under?  And if so, does that prevent fraying in most fabrics?

      Thank you,


      ETA:  I think I got my questions answered by the info on about.com.  Thank you for your info.

      Edited 6/5/2008 12:56 am ET by jatman

      1. damascusannie | | #28

        Yep, the fabric will fray slightly, but just to the line of stitching. Again, this works best on 100% cotton. If I am using a fabric that frays more readily, I will sew a bit further from the edge and then pink them. Because almost all of my sewing is done on antique straight-stitch machines, I had to find a way to finish edges that was easy and quick. Most of my clothing sewing is period-correct costumes such as would have been worn by a middle-case housewife for everyday, because this is the image I wish to portray when I take my machines to demonstrations.

        1. jatman | | #32

          Thank you for the info!


  3. rodezzy | | #3

    These sites should clear up some of your questions.



    Edited 6/4/2008 2:47 pm ET by rodezzy

    1. jatman | | #9

      Hi Rodezzy,

      Thank you for the info.  I've bookmarked those for future reference!


      1. rodezzy | | #31

        You are so welcome.  Good luck.

  4. Pattiann42 | | #4

    My MIL never owned a serger and did sewing and alterations for her own difficult to fit figure as well as many others (customers).

    She used the pinking shears to finish the seams and I thought it was the neatest thing I had ever seen - I loved the look and still do.  It speaks custom made and not factory made.

    You can straight stitch a 3/8" - 1/4" from the raw edge, then pink.


    PS:  Where in the world are you these days?  MI or Europe?

    Edited 6/4/2008 4:50 pm ET by spicegirl1

    1. jatman | | #10

      Hi Spicegirl1,

      Thank you for the info.  I like the look of it, too.  When I see something in a vintage shop with seams like that I know it's hand made and most of the time that is really the only way I'd know that it is.

      I'm still in Sweden for a few more months.  Then on to MI.  Europe has been wonderful but I guess it had to end sometime, unfortunately.  And at least there is a really good fabric shop only a couple of miles away from where I live in MI!



    2. GailAnn | | #30

      I second the vote for straight stitching the seam allowance and then pinking.  It works for a wide variety of fabrics, and looks, oh so, POSH.

      I've had trouble keeping my pinking shears sharp, and found having them sharpened to be such a quest, that I've resorted to buying new ones.  Not a very economically solution.  Where do you have yours sharpened?  Gail

      1. Pattiann42 | | #36

        I have to confess - I am a rotary cutter/serger user and since I seldom use my scissors and shears, I do not have my scissors and shears professionally sharpened. 

        I use a Fiskar sharpener for scissors and replace the PS with a new pair.  If you have an old pair to experiment with, try cutting foil wrap to sharpen them.  It works for my kitchen shears.

        The last time I dropped off my scissors for sharpening was in the 70's and I was without them for a week.   It was like sending my firstborn off to camp for the first time....counted the days until they were back in my possession.

        You could also try the mfg to see if they offer sharpening - hair dressers send their shears off - don't know about PS, although I have seen a few hair cuts that looked like PS had been used. 

  5. sewingkmulkey | | #5

    Personally I just love "seams great"!  I've used it so much that I find its application very simple, it doesn't add any bulk, and the seams look nice and finished.



    1. Cherrypops | | #6

      I had never heard of 'seams great'. thank you, a quick google search and an online store in Victoria Australia sell it. I will ask at my local habadashery.

      I use pinking shears or overlocker/serger. Good to know of other products.

      Cp - sydney australia

      1. jatman | | #12

        Hi Cherrypops,

        Thank you for the info.  I'd never heard of Seams Great until now either.  Pinking shears seem to be a favorite.  I'll have to oil my very old pair up and get them working again.


        1. Cherrypops | | #13

          I have and use the serger now, I did turn under the fabric and set up for the three threads not the usual four ( cannot afford the 5 thread serger) and it turned out great...no threads sticking out between the stitches, like they did when i did zigzag. and it lays flat too. I still prefer to do some things by hand, and will never part with my pinking shears.

          1. jatman | | #15

            Hi CP,

            I really want to get a serger but I'm waiting to get back to the US to get one.  Everything where I live is highly taxed and then there is also that 220 vs 110 electrical issue so I'm going to wait.

            The pinking shears sound like an easy fix for now!


          2. Cherrypops | | #18

            just make sure they are well oiled so your hand does not tire quickly. that's my pet hate, i need my hands. thanks again.

          3. jatman | | #20

            Hi CP,

            I have a really old pair - I think they were my mom's and maybe even her mom's.  I need to oil them really well and I'm thinking I can use my machine oil to do that.  They are really stiff from not being used.  I'll just have to make sure to get all the oil off before I cut into anything.  What do you use to oil yours?


          4. Cherrypops | | #21

            you are going to laugh......Singer Machine Oil, I also use it on my parents Hills Hoist, for the handle, ( australian metal clothesline ). any light oil will be sufficient.

          5. jatman | | #22

            Cool.  I actually have some of that!  It also cleans the gunk off your scissors if you have been cutting something like duct tape, too.  I helped a friend make a duct tape dress form and she had discovered it accidentally.  I used it to clean her scissors off (I don't think I believed it would work!) and it worked wonderfully.  It's all purpose!



          6. Cherrypops | | #23


            Now go finish your seams JT..:)

      2. sewchris703 | | #14

        Seams Great is for more than just finishing seams.  It's great for mending rips and tears in fabrics; doesn't add bulk like a patch would.  And I use it to cover scratching areas on bridalwear.


        1. Cherrypops | | #19

          Thanks for the extra tips Chris!

    2. jatman | | #11

      Hi Sewingkmulkey,

      I've looked up Seams Great and it looks pretty interesting.  Might have to check it out!


  6. meg | | #24

    For many seams, I do a Hong-Kong finish. It's similar to a quilt binding but with a single, lightweight, layer of fabric, cut on the bias (the bias is very important). This will completely enclose a fabric's edge with another layer of fabric.

    1. jatman | | #25

      Hi Meg,

      do you Hong Kong finish before you put everything together or just the seams that really need it after the fact?  And does it add a lot of time to your sewing or do you just get good at it after a while?  Have you ever finished denim this way?

      Thank you!


      1. meg | | #29

        Yes, Hong Kong finishes do take time.  I have used them on denim; actually today I'm wearing a denim jacket I made from recycled jeans and I used a silk dupioni for the Hong Kong seam finish.  I like to take pride in my creations and one of my quilting friends does say that the interior of my garments almost look better than the exterior.  Especially on denim, which frays SO much, I think a Hong Kong finish extends the life of the garment.

        edited to add:  I apply the finish after the seam is stitched.

        Edited 6/5/2008 9:56 am ET by Meg

        1. jatman | | #34

          Thank you very much!


        2. GailAnn | | #35

          What a great idea! 

  7. BernaWeaves | | #26

    I love a HongKong finish.  If you use very thin fabric in contrasting patterns it can make the inside of the garment look very cool and finished.  It's basically "seams great" with a cool pattern.

    It's easier to do the HongKong finish before sewing the garment together, but it can be done afterwards.

    I would recommend fitting the paper pattern to you and making adjustments to the pattern before cutting out the fabric, and perhaps even making a muslin test garment before cutting into your real cloth, so that you don't have to keep taking apart the real garment and redoing it.




    1. jatman | | #27

      Hi BernaWeaves,

      Thank you for the info.  I may have to do that on the next pair of pants that I make!  It would look so much nicer than the raveling edges!


    2. GailAnn | | #33

      Thanks BernaWeaves, I have struggled with making Hong Kong seam finishes, never tried applying them prior to sewing the garment together.  Of course, that would be easier and better!  You are so smart!  Gail

  8. trekkie | | #38

    use a french seam. wrong sides together,sew a 1/4" seam,right sides together and do a 3/8" seam. raw edges are hidden and it makes a nice finish.

    1. jatman | | #41

      Hi Trekkie,

      I have made a couple of garments with French Seams but I find that when it's a pattern that I've never made before and I'm tweaking the fit that French Seams just don't work well.  On a second try it's a good option.

      Thank you!



  9. Teaf5 | | #39

    I usually trim the seams and then zigzag them together, with the thread tensions very loose so that the seam allowance lies flat. I have never used a pair of pinking shears that worked well, probably because my siblings used to use them to cut decorative paper. They're not good for cutting out patterns because they're so big that they distort the cutting line.

    If a seam might show, as in an unlined jacket, I trim the seams and then use hem lace folded over the exposed seam and stitched down.

    On very sheer fabrics, I use french seams wherever possible (side, back and front) and use lace binding at the sleeve cap.

    1. sewfar | | #40

      I have never really been successful with pinking shears but a friend who teaches kindergarten watched me cut fabric and says I hold my scissors wrong. Of course after doing it my way for a life time, I cannot remember right off what she says I am doing wrong. At any rate I am interested in trying again especially now that I am making old fashioned toddler dresses for grand daughters and I think I would like the look better than serger finish.
      My old Wiss pinking shears are 6 inches. What size do you prefer for finishing seams ?

    2. jatman | | #42

      Hi Teaf5,

      Good to know about the tension.  I hadn't thought about that!

      Thank you for the info!


  10. User avater
    susannah_sews | | #43


    I haven't got a serger, and have managed to sew reasonably successfully for 35 years.  Finishing for seams is dictated by the fabric, and how easily it frays.  Some fabric needs nothing.  I am also fond of stitching  1/4 inch in from the edge, and then using pinking shears. (or sometimes just pinking shears alone).  A zig-zag overcast is also ok - but best to do the zig zag a bit in from the edge, which helps reduce the puckering.  This finish is good for intermediate fraying fabrics.

    For the special fabrics that fray as you look at them, a hong kong finish is excellent.  Most books on sewing techniques have detailed instructions, and it is well worth the extra time (and quite easy to do once you get the hang of it.  If you use a very fine fabric (I ususally cut bias strips from a co-ordinated, or sometimes a contrast, lining fabric).  It adds no bulk, and can be quite a feature on the inside of an unlined jacket.

    I also haven't seen "seams great" in my local haberdashery (which isn't a surprise - it is a bit hopeless), but will chase up a supplier to give it a try.

    Cherrypops - can you let me know your mail-order source? 




    1. Cherrypops | | #44


      Replied to your other post, as I just read this and jumped the gun!

      Thanks for asking.


    2. jatman | | #45

      Thank you for all the info Susannah!  I'm sure I have some info on Hong Kong finishes in a book or two and if I remember correctly the first issue of Sew Stylish had an article on it, too.  Good to know that you can sew and not HAVE to have a serger!



      1. Teaf5 | | #46

        Another non-serger here...and I've sewn just about everything under the sun, including some things that probably shouldn't have been put under the needle!  I'm sure that a serger is better for mass producing multiple knit garments, but I rarely do that, so a zigzag (or a couple of different stitches) works fine for me.

        1. jatman | | #47

          Good to know!  Thank you!


          1. Sancin | | #48

            I use a variety of methods depending on the fabric. Casual clothes usually just get zig zagged edges. My Janome has a special foot for zig zagging that prevents the edge from rolling, but I usually don't bother to use it. I find pinking shears hard on my hands, but if I want pinked seams I use a pinking blade in an old rotary cutter.
            Before there were all these methods we hand sewed the seams with a long overcast stitches. I still sometimes use that method when I want to move away from the machine, or if the seams are shorter. I really do like French seams but find them a little frustrating on curves, such as when sewing sleeve and side seams in one seam, something I always did when I was sewing nursing uniforms. French seams are great if a garment will be washed frequently.

          2. jatman | | #49

            Hi Sancin,

            Thank you for the info.  I never thought about using a pinking rotary blade.  Try as I might - I just can't get my pinking shears to loosen up but I never thought of using the rotary blade!



  11. Cherlyn | | #50

    I used to trim my seams down (trim to about 1/2) and then use a zigzag stitch to bind the two seam allowances together.  I graduated to a serger last year and I love it.  Save your pocket change and get one of these.  I picked up a used serger for $400.  I friend of mine knew I was looking and he happen to have a sewing machine shop (mostly repairs, some trade ins for new models).  Anyway, he knew what I wanted and found something for me. 

    1. jatman | | #51

      Hi Cherlyn,

      I think I'll be getting a serger soon, although I keep putting it off for now.  Thank you for the alternatives!


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