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Machine Sewn Seam Finishes - Most Popular - Part 1 of 4

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In sewing, there's a difference between stitches you use for construction and ones you use for finishing. When you’re first learning to sew, your immediate focus is getting all those pieces to fit together correctly. From the moment you cut the fabric, you’re concerned with maintaining the shape of the pattern pieces. You tediously concentrate on perfecting seam allowances, matching cut pieces end to end, lining up seams, and measuring hems exactly. When a project is finally completed, you’re so happy; your sense of accomplishment is overwhelming... but, what about the inside edges beyond where you sewed? One of the signs of a truly well-made project is that it looks nearly as good on the inside as it does on the outside. If you want your projects to look "handmade" but not "homemade," it's well worth it to give your seams a professional finish.

No matter how much you love to sew, there are still many times you need to buy something from the store. But when you know how things are made, you become one tough customer. You shop from the inside out, because that’s the true test of how well an item is made. You can tell immediately if something is going to last one washing or one hundred washings. When a manufactured item falls apart, you'll find yourself, shouting, "I could’ve made that better myself!" Because you can!

There are a number of reasons most, if not all, fabric raw edges should be finished inside a sewn item. If a fabric frays aggressively, it must be finished or you risk the seam allowance raveling away and creating a hole in the seam. Or, how about a sheer fabric? You certainly want to finish the seams since you can’t hide them. Then there are the items you plan to wear and, therefore, launder on a regular basis. Their seams and finishes have to hold up through all that washing. Sometimes, it's simply about how it looks. In garment sewing, if a jacket is unlined, you wouldn’t want unsightly raw edges hanging in breeze, would you? Thankfully, there's a solution for each of these scenarios using your trusty sewing machine. 

Your sewing machine and specialty feet

No matter what make or model sewing machine you own, chances are you have at least two stitches you can use for finishing raw edges. After reading through this tutorial, we encourage you to sit in front of your sewing machine with the instruction manual in hand to review the exact stitches (and appropriate feet) and their recommended uses. You may be surprised to find a few more stitches you can use for finishes that you’ve been skipping over. Or, visit your sewing machine retailer for assistance. In the Sew4Home studio, we use Janome sewing machines exclusively, therefore, we’re featuring the stitches and feet associated with this brand throughout this tutorial. If you’re interested in seeing their current line of sewing machines, visit their website.


Standard foot – On most sewing machines, the standard foot (the one that comes on the machine when you take it out of the box) is used for most of the available stitches, especially the straight and zig zag stitches. 

Overcast foot - Used with an overlock stitch, this foot has a black guide on the front so you can feed the fabric evenly along the raw edge. The three wires in the middle help to form the overcast stitch. However, those same wires require that the stitch be 5.0mm wide or wider. 

Overedge foot – It makes sense that you would use the Overedge foot with an overedge stitch. This foot is designed to keep the fabric flat along the edge as the stitch wraps the raw edge. That’s why there’s a little brush on it; it acts like faux fabric for the needle to go through as an additional stitch is formed off the raw edge of the fabric. There’s also a guide at the right side of the foot to help you maintain a straight seam finish.

Side cutter – For quite a few years, you've been able to find a specialty attachment/foot called a side cutter. Side cutters are generally brand specific, but can sometimes be found in generic versions. Basically, the foot functions like a faux serger. It allows you to sew with an overcast or zig zag stitch and trims the edge of the fabric at the same time for a clean finish in one step. Our exclusive sewing machine sponsor, Janome, currently has the Jem Gold Plus with this feature built-in (pictured above)!

Stitches for Finishing

As you review the options below, it’s important to note sometimes the finishing technique is completed on only one layer of fabric at a time, while others are completed with two layers. In addition, some finishes are best completed prior to actual construction, yet others require the seam to already be sewn. Remember, there’s a difference between a reference to the seam stitches and finishing stitches. 

Ultimately, your best guide for which technique to use is the actual fabric type. Some fabrics can be finished using multiple techniques, while others require a more specific approach. You can research a little bit about your selected fabric before getting started. Or, if you’re following a pattern, there’s usually finishing information included for the recommended fabric type.

The sewing machine settings for each stitch (stitch width and length options) are truly dependent on the type of sewing machine you own. Electronic sewing machines may not have as many options as computerized ones. However, on computerized machines, some finishing stitches have a set width and only the length can be adjusted. Again, your sewing machine's instruction book is a great guide, as is a visit to your local retailer.

Most importantly, before trying any of these techniques on your final project, always test, test, test on scraps first!

NOTE: Always confirm you're using the appropriate needle type and size and thread type for your selected fabric.

Straight stitch

You may be surprised to learn the common straight stitch can help you finish a raw edge. You can use it in a couple of ways (of course depending on the fabric type): a clean finish or a turned and stitched finish.

Stitched and pinked

Once the seam is sewn, fold the two main layers to one side to expose one side of the seam allowance. 

Sew approximately ⅛" to ¼" from the raw edge with an average length stitch. Repeat to stitch on the opposite side of the seam allowance.

This finish is suitable for fabrics that do not fray much, such as a firmly woven fabric.

In addition to the stitch, you can also pink raw edge, making sure not to clip into your seam line. However, pinked edges in general are not meant for long term durability or to completely prevent fray-prone fabrics from fraying.

Turned and stitched

Also known as a clean finish, this technique is ideal for light to medium weight woven fabrics. If you happen to have a straight-stitch-only machine, this is your go-to finish for most projects.

It starts just like the straight stitch finish above. Once the seam is sewn, fold the two main layers to one side to expose one side of the seam allowance. Sew approximately ⅛" to ¼" from the raw edge with an average length stitch. Repeat to stitch on the opposite side of the seam allowance.

Using the stitch lines as a guide, fold under the fabric to the wrong side and press in place. 

Stitch again close to the folded edge through the seam allowance only. Repeat on the other side.

NOTE: We found moving our needle position to the left for this step very helpful!

Press open. Here’s the final finished seam.

Zig zag 

The most common stitch is the zig zag. It can be used for a variety of sewing tasks, one of them being overcasting the raw edge of fabric. Depending on the type of machine you own, varying the width and length of your zig zag can provide you with more flexibility in your finishing.

Similar to above, sew on one side of the seam allowance at a time with a zig zag stitch. Be sure to sew in from the edge slightly. Then, trim away the excess beyond the zigzag, making sure not to clip into any of the stitching.

You can also use two rows of zigzag for extra "fray-stopping" power.

Or, you can zig zag the two layers of the seam allowance together, then press to one side. The success of this technique depends on the bulk of the fabric; it doesn't work as well with heavier fabrics. 

Either zig zag approach is ideal for woven fabrics that fray as well as for knits. Don’t forget to adjust the width and length to test which size of zig zag is best for your project.

Multiple zig zag 

Also known as a tricot stitch, this specialty zig zag stitch is ideal for overcasting the edge of knits. The best way to utilize this stitch is to sew the multiple zigzag approximately ⅛" to ¼" in from the raw edge, then trim away the excess (making sure not to clip into the stitching, of course).

NOTE: Check out our tutorial on Sewing With Knits for more hints on finishing and other techniques unique to knits.


An overcast stitch on a sewing machine sews and finishes the raw edge at the same time. One thing to keep in mind with this stitch is that the seam allowance is only about ¼", or the width of the actual stitch. You need to account for this ¼" measurement when using the stitch for sewing and finishing in once pass. You can also use this stitch as the second part of a two step process: first sew your seam with a standard straight stitch, then overcast along just raw edge. The photo below sews a ¼" seam and overcast, which has been done with one pass.

Double Overedge

If you’ve selected a fabric that aggressively frays, such as linen, you’ll want to use a double overedge stitch along the raw edge. This unique stitch creates two rows of zig zag stitches simultaneously to help control that crazy fraying. It can be stitched on a double layer of seam allowance or single layer (as we did below)


You may have heard a reference or two to overlock stitches. This term is usually equated with a serger (also called an overlocker), but many home sewing machines also have an overlock stitch. Finishing the raw edge is the main purpose of this stitch. It has an extra line of stitching along the raw edge for added strength. This stitch is designed to wrap the edges of the fabric with adjacent triangle shaped stitches to help prevent fraying on medium to heavyweight fabrics, especially those known to fray easily, like linen or tweed. Similar to the overcasting stitch, it can be used to construct and finish the edge at the same time.

NOTE: This is an example of a stitch where the width cannot be adjusted.

Knit Stitch

Some home sewing machines have stitches that are for sewing and finishing specific fabric types. The knit stitch on our studio Janome machine is a perfect example. This stitch is designed to be sewn about ⅛" to ¼" in from the raw edge, then trimmed away (similar to the multiple zig zag above).  


If your sewing machine has a stitch that looks like a squiggly line, it’s most likely a serpentine stitch, which can be used for finishing similar to how you use your zig zag stitch.

A few tips

Thoughtfully consider how you sew the pieces of a project together. Many times it’s best to finish the raw edge of fabric prior to construction. Plus, it’s simply easier to do.

Finishing stitches always provide added strength to a seam and the fabric edge.

Never underestimate the visual appeal of finishing stitches.

It’s recommended you even finish fabrics that don’t appear to require a finish! It helps to reduce bulk on certain fabrics, like fleece.

When finishing the edges of delicate fabrics, where you'll be using a straight stitch, try to use a straight stitch foot and needle plate. It helps to stabilize the stitching area.

For a true couture finish, you can use a hand overcast stitch. For this, we recommend our quick overview of hand stitching.

An alternative to seam finishes, is to cut the pattern pieces along the selvedge of the fabric. This is a sure way to prevent the fabric from fraying, but there's only so much selvedge on each yardage cut, so this technique is best for small segments.

Continue to expand your finishing techniques

If you’re interested in learning about other seam and hem finishes, check out the following helpful tutorials: 

Other seam finishes

Flat Felled Seams

Understanding Understitching

Introduction to sergers

Sewing with Sheers 

Hem finishes

Simple Hem

Blind Hem

Rolled Hem

Corner Hem


Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly



Comments (28)

Copihue said:
Copihue's picture

Silly question, but when doing the overedge/overcast stitches, are you sewing right at the edge of the raw edge so the thread wraps around it?  As opposed to other stitches you show, where you sew anywhere within the seam allowance, then cut the raw edge very close to the stitching?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Copihue - Not silly at all! These stitches do wrap the edge. If you read through the overcast description again, this "along-the-edge" feature is why we mentioned the seam allowance adjustments that need to be taken into account if seaming and finishing in one step. If you want to finish an already sewn seam allowance, you need to position the foot and set the stitch so it runs right along the raw edge - you can see this effect best in the photo of the double overedge.

Vix_baeo said:
Vix_baeo's picture

hi, i have this sewing project that i have to do and i am struggling with a question:

why do you use a double needle to finish off certain seams?

clementine sewing said:
clementine sewing's picture

May I leave a few tips about Brother mechanical sewing machines here?.Brother machines require strict cleaning and oiling.All machines require it some are more forgiving.Brother isn't it.Even if it doesn't seem dirty Please clean it.I have solved several problems this way.Yes they will stop in mid stitch with little to no warning.[Its actually a safety feature..When starting thread the top thread must be under the foot of use.Otherwise you will either have a very long thread or will be rethreading relentlessly.Unlike some older machines[various models]you can't hold a four inch section and begin stitching.If you break a needle and you will if you sew long enough.[Took me many years to do so.It was on a Brother and recent.]Please be aware that the machine has a safety feature that throws the needle to the back.Its a safety feature for you and the machine.

clementine sewing said:
clementine sewing's picture

Hi everyone.I just want to let any one using a overcast foot [on a brother] that stitch width is very critical.I changed mine ever so slightly and broke a needle.Even though I checked it by hand turn.In fact I have broken three needles in 24 hours with the overcast foot.First was my fault using the wrong size needle.The second I thought may have been a problem with machine.After breaking it down inspecting cleaning and oiling.I rethreaded and started to sew.Worked like a charm.Didn't like the width and tried to narrow it.Hand turned didn't see a problem.Few stitches later broken needle.Changed out foot to universial zig zag and had no problem.Also can anyone tell me why the thread started to accumulate in the overcast foot?It was wrapping around it.I have used the foot before with far less problems

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@clementine sewing - thanks for sharing your experience. I'm afraid we don't have any such specific information to help you troubleshoot a Brother machine It's not a brand with which we have a lot of familiarity. It sounds like something that perhaps needs to be looked at by a dealer. 

Clementine sewing said:
Clementine sewing's picture

I checked the machine.It isn't the problem.The problem was me.I created a type of closure and overcast that I was happy with.It however wasn't made with the overcast foot or stitch.I used a narrow rolled hem foot and set the stitch for zig zag2.5. I just started using feet.I didn't make note what I used.It had been a week or more since I used the feet.I got the two confused.That was why the thread and even thin fabric was wrapping around the shaft of the foot.I inspected the foot and there wasn't anything amiss.I have used it with heavier fabric and for what it was intended for and haven't had a problem with it.Once again human error.I apologize for posting in a panic.Thank You for answering.

Anne Kamau said:
Anne Kamau's picture

Dear Liz,

Thank you for the information.

Kindly advise me which sewing machine is best for making comforter, duvet covers and bedsheet.



Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Anne Kamau - there are many, many machines that will handle the projects you are interested in. You need to decide your budget, your space, your favortie features, etc. Our favorite models are the Janome machines, which we use exclusively in our studios. If you have a Janome dealer in your area, I encourage you to visit there and test several machines. The article below may give you hints of what to look for:


Joyce Delfino said:
Joyce Delfino's picture

Bernina had a great tutorial on their website.  It suggested a different color spool for each cone.  Then you're able to select the problem and adjust tension.  I also learned to make a tail first and then begin sewing.  It changed my 15 year old White into a fabulous machine.

Ava said:
Ava's picture

What do you mean by "make a tail?" I've learned a lot the passed 2 years about sewing, but I'm not sure what this means.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Ava - they are referring to the serger finishing. When you thread a serger, the last step after pulling all the threads thread is to serge a bit without fabric under the needles. This creates a chain of thread, usually called a "tail."

lisha said:
lisha's picture

hi can anyone help i have just bought a new Jnome DSK100 sewing machine to help with making my dog fleece coats.

but my thread is snapping all the time and slipping stitches, its set at 4 and presser foot is set at 6 i have size 14 needle in and also it wont sew zigzag stitch, it starts off ok then i hear a clunk coming from spool area it then either snaps thread or the underneath goes loose and a total mess, i have tried 16 needles different threads everything but still it keeps doing this, im new to this site so not sure if i have posted this in correct place or how to read comments of any help

lisha said:
lisha's picture

hi i have just got a Janome DKS100 and i cant get it to sew polar fleece no matter how much i try, im using a size 14 needle have tension set at 4 and presser foot set at 6, i have tried size 16 needles and different tensions it just wont sew it, its slipping stitchs then i here a click which sounds like coming from spool then all underneath just goes a mess, if not doing this its constantly snapping the thread when i try and pull thread so can rethread its so tight and feels like getting stuck in tension, can anyone help with this please

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ lisha - that is a Janome model with which we are not familiar, I believe it is sold primarily in Europe. This sounds like a very specific issue that would be best handled by a dealer. In addition to what you are already doing, my only suggestion would be to try a Walking foot for the thicker polar fleece layers. Since I'm unfamiliar with that model, I don't know if that is a standard or optional accessory.

lisha said:
lisha's picture

thank you for comment think i will contact dealer and see what they say as should not be doing this for a brand new machine

Ashley carlson said:
Ashley carlson's picture

I am fairly new to sewing.  I have been making my own bibs, burp cloths and baby blankets for my daycare for awhile, but I have more and more people asking me to make them so they can purchase them.  Anyway, here's my question, do I finish seams on these projects as well?  Same question for pressing every seam... I'm so frustrated in trying to do both of these in my projects as they all are sewn together on all sides.  I just want to make sure my friends are getting quality items and that's the bigest tip I've read is to press and finish every seam.  If I am suppose to can you give me any tips or tricks to make it easier? 

Grandma's Girl said:
Grandma's Girl's picture

i know this is an old post. Did you get yourself a ham? I have a few extra. You probably have a serger by now.

I just inherited one of my Grandma's legacy of everything sewing. If anyone Wants to buy anything and everything sewing related email me at shoelove85@yahoo.com. I have excessive amounts of almost everything. Walls of knitting yarn. Oh my goodness I feel so greatful!! I am looking for a serger, and body forms would've had 2 but we won't go there.Am willing to trade too, maybe you need a dress or costume. Yey!!

Happy sewing,


thank you to everyone who takes the time to share their skills on the internet. 

I have a bunch of really good sewing books for sale or trade that I bought during college.

seriously you guys I have soooo much fabric!! Wow!! Thing that sucks is that I can't tell her right now how thankful and joyed I am cause my mom doesn't want to upset her. She's 92. I'm going to throw her the best party she's ever had for this!!

and dedicate my fashion house to her!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Grandma's Girl - What a wonderful inheritance - you are a lucky girl! Thanks for sharing.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Ashley carlson - pressing your seams is always important, so you're not off the hook there. There really isn't a shortcut for that one. In terms of finishing, yes, it is the most professional option, however, it isn't always mandatory. It depends on the type of fabric and how it will be laundered. If the fabric has a tendency to ravel and will be laundered often, then finishing the seam allowance is important so there's no chance of the allowance raveling so badly that it opens the seam. In terms of shortcuts, a simple zig zag is probably the fastest. If you are going to be doing a lot of these, you might want to consider investing in a serger, which will stitch, trim and finish the seams in one pass. 

gretchen2 said:
gretchen2's picture

Thank you for this tutorial!  It has helped me tremendously!!!!!

Lebec Egirl Sews said:
Lebec Egirl Sews's picture

Wow ... this is really a "good read."  Thank you for bringing us back to the basics with a few new tips.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

What is the rule for selvedges? I was taught to incorporate them when cutting. For instance, the back of a zippered dress. Recently I have seen different info. Of course, always when cutting pieces for quilting the seledges are snipped off. (There is even a niche of quilters/upcyclers  who save the selvedges for projects.)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jane Coombs -- no hard-and-fast rules. As we mention above: "An alternative to seam finishes is to cut the pattern pieces along the selvedge of the fabric. This is a sure way to prevent the fabric from fraying, but there's only so much selvedge on each yardage cut, so this technique is best for small segments." So, yes, you could certainly use selvedge as part of a zipper if there is enough available Because we are such fans of fussy cutting, we tend to shy away from cutting to preserve selvedges in favor of cutting to best center our motifs,