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Machine Sewn Seam Finishes – Part 4 of 4
We’ve made it to the finish of our seam finishes! In this final installment of the series, we venture into the world of the Hong Kong Finish and the Bound Seam finish. If you’re not a ‘finishing aficionado’ (don’t feel bad… few people claim that title), you may have been under the impression these techniques are one in the same. Both involve wrapping the raw edges of a seam allowance with a bias cut strip of lightweight fabric. When finished, they can look almost the same. However, the two options differ slightly, and today’s tutorial will show you how.
As with a number of the other seam finishes in our series; the Hong Kong and Bound Seam are considered couture finishes. This does not mean they’re for experienced sewers only. A novice can easily master either one.
The reasons for using these new techniques are also similar to previous finishes: you have a fabric, heavyweight or lightweight, prone to fraying and where any type of stitch will pull away from the fabric’s edge; sheer fabrics, where you can see the seam finish from the right side; or, simply because it’s a great way to finish a seam, add strength, and make your project look as good on the inside as it does on the outside.
Both techniques use bias cut strips of fabric for wrapping the raw edges, and both require a two-step sewing process to complete. You also need a fair amount of accuracy in your stitching and an equal amount of patience.
The reason for using a bias cut is that a bias edge does not fray (which is the issue we’re trying to solve in using these techniques, right?). Plus, the bias cut has stretch, making the strips pliable enough to go around various curves and shapes.
The Hong Kong Finish is used when you do not want a lot of bulk along the seam. Therefore, you use a single fold bias strip of fabric (or bias tape). This means the strip of fabric is pressed in half along the length of the strip. A Bound Seam uses a double fold bias strip (or double fold bias tape).
In addition, when using a Hong Kong Finish, the seam allowance will be pressed open. When using a Bound Seam, the seam allowance can be pressed open or sewn together in the binding and pressed to one side.
Fabric details for bias strips
Traditionally, the main reason for using a Hong Kong or Bound Seam finish is so you can see it. It’s no different than seeing the pretty silk lining of someone’s jacket or a bold lining inside a tote bag.
You can buy pre-made bias tape, but making your own from a contrasting fabric is so much more fun!
When choosing your own fabric for the bias strips, make sure the fabric you pick to make the single fold (for Hong Kong) or double fold (for Bound Seam) bias strips is fairly lightweight. You don’t want the seam finish to weigh down your sewn project at the seam lines or be unattractively big and bulky.
Some recommended fabric types for making the bias tape for these finishing techniques are: cotton lawn, voile, batiste, silk, or a basic lightweight woven cotton. Depending on the type of fabric you’re using, don’t rule out simply making bias strips from your main project fabric.
Another important detail to consider with either technique is the length and width of the bias strips. We discussed this in great detail in our previous tutorial on making your own bias tape. Check out that tutorial here. To summarize, you need to keep in mind the average seam widths for the various project types. A home décor project uses a ½” seam allowance, whereas garment sewing uses a ⅝” seam allowance. In either case, you know you’ll be applying binding of one form or another to a very narrow area. Depending on the project, you’ll use a ¼” to ½” wide binding.
As for length, you’ll most likely be able to use short pieces versus the strips sewn together end-to-end you traditionally would use for large home décor projects or quilts. However, if you plan to wrap both sides of the seam allowance, you will need a length of bias twice as long as your seam or two lengths the same for either side.
NOTE: Don’t forget about preshrinking your selected bias strip fabric. Otherwise, you could end up with a badly distorted seam after laundering your finished project.
Tools you’ll need
- Needle and thread appropriate for your selected fabric type
- Standard foot (left most in the photo above) – the one on your machine when you took it out of the box.
- Quarter Inch Seam foot (center left in the photo above) since both techniques require a narrow seam allowance in step one, this foot is very helpful for maintaining accuracy.
- Ditch Quilting foot (center right in the photo above)– for Hong Kong Finish only
- Binder foot (right most in the photo above) – for Bound Seam Finish only
- Sharp scissors or or appliqué scissors
- Iron and ironing board. Pressing is a big part of all the finishing techniques!
Hong Kong finish
The Hong Kong finish can be completed using two methods. One is the traditional method used by fine couture houses and the second is a modified version you may find a bit easier to execute. As always, we encourage you to try both using scraps to see which you prefer. The end result is quite similar.
- Sew a standard seam. We used a ½” seam allowance. Press the seam open.
NOTE: Remember to set your iron according to your fabric type. If you’re using fabric that is difficult to press, you can also finger press the seam open.
- Cut a bias strip from your selected fabric slightly longer than your seam.
- Keep in mind the fabric type and width recommendations above. We cut a 1″ bias strip for our ½” seam allowance.
NOTE: If using pre-made binding, you can skip this step.
- Fold the main fabric away in order to expose one raw edge of seam allowance.
- Pin the bias strip along edge, right sides together.
- Set up your sewing machine for a straight stitch. You can use the standard foot or a Quarter Inch Seam foot. We chose the later. Adjust the stitch length to match your fabric type.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, sew the bias strip to the raw edge of the seam allowance.
- Press the binding away from the seam toward the raw edge.
- Wrap the binding around to the wrong side of the fabric to encase the raw edge. Pin in place.
NOTE: If your binding strip seems too narrow to make a neat wrap, you can trim the raw edge of the seam allowance to approximately ⅛”, which will allow you to wrap the raw edge more easily.
- On the right side of the seam allowance, sew in “ditch” of the seam through all the layers. If you have a Ditch foot, as we do on our Janome studio machines, now’s a great time to use it!
- When complete, here’s what it looks like from the wrong side of the seam allowance. The stitching line on the left is the original seam. The stitching line on the right is the “ditch” seam.
- Repeat steps to encase the opposite seam allowance edge.
- For this method, you cut a wider bias strip of fabric. We cut a 1¼” strip for our ½” seam allowance example.
- Following the same steps as above, sew a seam, then attach the binding to the raw edge.
- Here’s the difference, because the strip is wider, you’ll have plenty of excess on the wrong side of the seam allowance and can be a little faster and a little less accurate without worrying about whether you’ve captured the back of the binding in your ditch seam.
- Simply trim away the excess fabric with a sharp or appliqué scissors to ⅛” from the ditch stitching line.
- The finished effect looks the same on the right side.
Bound Seam finish
- As stated above, a Bound Seam uses double fold bias tape. You can sew the binding to one layer (or side) of the seam allowance or both layers. You can also sew the binding in a traditional manner or use a Binder foot to sew in one pass.
- For the example below, we are showing you how to use this technique to finish both layers of the seam allowance at once (rather than finishing the layers independently as we did for the Hong Kong finish above). Binding two layers of the seam allowance at once is a totally acceptable practice. However, keep in mind the weight of the fabric so things don’t get too bulky!
- Sew a standard seam as above. We used a ½” seam again. Press the seam allowance together and to one side.
- Cut bias strip of fabric 1¼” wide.
- To make double fold bias tape, we recommend using a bias tape maker to make the initial folds, pressing the strip as it feeds from the tip of the bias tape maker. Then, fold the strip in half lengthwise and press again.
NOTE: If you do not have a bias tape maker, fold over and press the raw edge ¼” along the entire length of the strip on both sides. Then, press the strip in half lengthwise. Of course, you can also use packaged double fold bias tape.
- Set up your sewing machine for a straight stitch.
NOTE: Since we are applying the binding to both seam allowances together in one step, we adjusted our stitch length slightly to account for the multiple layers of fabric.
- You can sew the binding over the two seam allowance layers following a traditional method. (Our tutorial on making and attaching binding, referred to above, will show you how to do this.)
- Or, you can use a Binder foot to sew the binding in one step, as we did in our example.
- Here’s what it looks like when you’re done!
More helpful tips
- If stitching in the “ditch” seems too difficult or you do not have a specialty foot, you can simply stitch right along the edge of the seam on the fabric. Or, how about trying a zig zag stitch for a decorative finish?
- Although these techniques are common to garment sewing, they can certainly be used on home décor and accessory items. If you find you need to turn a corner, there are tutorials available online about mitering a corner using the Hong Kong finish.
- The Hong Kong finish is completed using a ¼” seam allowance in the first step. If you want to see more of your selected binding fabric, you can increase that seam allowance to ⅜”. Just remember to take into consideration the original depth of your seam allowance.
- You can also use the Bound Seam finish technique along an outside edge of a sewn project, such as the top of an unlined bag or around the neckline or sleeve edges on a garment.
- Use the Bound Seam finish when you want to make something reversible or where a French seam simply won’t work.
- If you choose a bold color or print fabric for the binding, make sure it isn’t too bold. You don’t want the color to show through to the right side.
- Depending on the project, you may have to use both finishing techniques in combination, picking one for straight seams and the other for curved seams.
- To avoid an indention on the right side of your fabric when pressing the final seam, place a piece of a brown paper bag between the fabric layers.
- As you construct your project, think about the order in which pieces go together. In some instances, you will finish the seams prior to construction while others have to be done afterwards.
- Test various binding strip widths on scraps sewn with the exact seam allowance you’re using before trying either technique on your actual project. There’s that mantra of ours again: test, test, test, test.
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly
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