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How to Sew a Seam

Updated on July 30, 2016

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Sewing a Seam

Sewing a seam with 5/8" allowance.
Sewing a seam with 5/8" allowance. | Source

Sewing a Seam

Rip your pants? Want to make a dress or skirt? Then one of the things you'll need to know is how to properly sew a seam.

The seam is a fundamental part of any sewn piece. It is the line of stitching between two pieces of fabric, and helps to create structure to a garment. If you're beginning to sew, here are some practical seam methods to put into practice.

Materials For Seam Stitching

Some things you will likely need include:

  • A sewing machine or hand-sewing needles
  • Thread
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure

A seam ripper is helpful to quickly remove any unwanted stitching, such as when you make a mistake, or when you want to undo a seam to make alterations.

How to Find the 5/8" Seam Allowance Mark on a Sewing Machine

Measure from center needle position to find the footplate marking that corresponds to the 5/8" seam allowance. You can put masking tape or other colorful reminder onto the footplate along the 5/8" mark to act as a reminder.
Measure from center needle position to find the footplate marking that corresponds to the 5/8" seam allowance. You can put masking tape or other colorful reminder onto the footplate along the 5/8" mark to act as a reminder. | Source

Tip:

The 5/8" mark on a sewing machine's footplate is often bisected by the large screw that attaches the footplate to the sewing machine.

How to Sew a Seam With a Sewing Machine

If you're constructing a new garment, you'll need to know a few things before starting:

1. Typical pattern sewing instructions assume a 5/8" seam allowance. This means that the seam is sewn 5/8" from the edge of the fabric. Measure this distance on your sewing machine so that you'll know what mark on the footplate denotes a 5/8" allowance. Use masking tape if you like to make it more obvious, and to make it easier to line up your fabric perfectly to sew that 5/8" seam allowance.

2. Sewing a curved seam is actually very similar to sewing a straight seam. Guide the fabric with one hand and let the sewing foot help move things along. Keep your eye on that 5/8" mark on the footplate so that your seam stays accurate.

3. Pin fabric pieces together so that the pins run perpendicular to the seam. This will allow you to sew right over pins, if you want to. (I personally remove pins as they get close to the needle, though.) Don't be afraid to use lots of pins, as they will help keep your fabric pieces from shifting and will help you sew a better seam.

4. After sewing a seam, always press it open. There is a technique to this, designed to ensure that the seam is a nice flat join. See the "How to Press Open a Seam" pictorial guide for directions.

Practice Seam Sewing

Using scrap materials, practice sewing seams by doing the following:

  • Pin two fabric pieces together, matching edges.
  • Make sure that the sewing foot is in the up position, and that the needle is up. The threads will be long, loose and hang back, away from you.
  • Place the fabric under the sewing foot, lining up the right edge of the fabric at the 5/8" guideline on the footplate. The top edge of the fabric will be close to the needle. Lower the foot.
  • Place the sewing machine into "reverse" stitching mode and sew in reverse for a couple of stitches to lock the beginning of the seam.
  • Place the sewing machine back into "forward" stitching mode and sew forward, using your left hand to help guide the fabric. Note that the machine will automatically "feed" the fabric so that it moves from front to back (not side to side.) Your left hand simply makes sure that the fabric moves with control.
  • When you reach the end of the seam, place the sewing machine into "reverse" stitching mode and sew a couple of stitches in reverse to lock the end of the seam.
  • Lift the sewing foot up, pull the fabric out and clip the threads close to the garment.

Once you are comfortable sewing a practice seam, you're ready to tackle the real thing!

Sewing a Seam

Line up fabric edges and pin perpendicular to the seam you will sew.
Line up fabric edges and pin perpendicular to the seam you will sew. | Source
Pin the whole area where you will sew your seam so that the fabric doesn't shift.
Pin the whole area where you will sew your seam so that the fabric doesn't shift. | Source
Place the garment that you're sewing under the sewing foot, lining up the sewing edge to your 5/8" mark. The sewing needle is close to the top edge, or the start of your seam.
Place the garment that you're sewing under the sewing foot, lining up the sewing edge to your 5/8" mark. The sewing needle is close to the top edge, or the start of your seam. | Source
Lower the sewing foot. Ensure that your seam edge lines up against the 5/8" mark, the thread tails hang away from you.
Lower the sewing foot. Ensure that your seam edge lines up against the 5/8" mark, the thread tails hang away from you. | Source
Put the machine into reverse
Put the machine into reverse | Source
Stitch a couple of stitches in reverse, then release the reverse mechanism.
Stitch a couple of stitches in reverse, then release the reverse mechanism. | Source
Sew the seam, guide with your left hand, but remember that the feed plate will push your fabric in the right direction (from front to back.)
Sew the seam, guide with your left hand, but remember that the feed plate will push your fabric in the right direction (from front to back.) | Source
At the end of the seam, put the machine in reverse and sew a couple of stitches to lock the end of the seam.
At the end of the seam, put the machine in reverse and sew a couple of stitches to lock the end of the seam. | Source

A Sewn Seam

This shows what a seam looks like after it is sewn. It uses reversed stitches at each end to "lock" the seam. It has a 5/8" seam allowance. Now it is ready to be pressed open.
This shows what a seam looks like after it is sewn. It uses reversed stitches at each end to "lock" the seam. It has a 5/8" seam allowance. Now it is ready to be pressed open. | Source

How to Press Open a Seam

Place your fabric right-side down, seam allowance up, on your ironing surface
Place your fabric right-side down, seam allowance up, on your ironing surface | Source
First iron both seam allowances to one side.
First iron both seam allowances to one side. | Source
Then open up the seam and press it open
Then open up the seam and press it open | Source
Iron the right side (not shown) keeping the seam allowance open,and you're done!
Iron the right side (not shown) keeping the seam allowance open,and you're done! | Source

How to Repair a Seam

If you've ripped out a seam on an existing garment, don't worry - it is usually quite easy to repair. To start, turn the garment inside-out and then remove any stray bits of thread from the area that you are about to repair.

Next, match up edges so that you can re-sew the ripped part of the seam. Pin the two pieces of fabric together so that the area won't shift while you are sewing.

If Using a Sewing Machine:

If you're using a sewing machine, place the garment under the sewing foot. Lower the foot so that the needle lines up with the existing seamline.

Sew a few stitches in reverse so that you "lock" the beginning of the seam. This is similar to making a knot - if you sew a few stitches in reverse first, the seam that you sew won't unravel.

Then sew forward until you've stitched the entire area. Note that you can sew right over needles that are placed perpendicular to the seam, or remove each needle as you approach it with the sewing needle.

When you've completed stitching, sew a few stitches in reverse to lock the end of the seam. Clip the loose threads and you're done!

If Handstitching:

If you're handstitching, thread a needle and knot the end of the thread. Using a simple running stitch or backstitch, stitch the area that you are repairing. Make an overhand knot when you reach the end of the repair area and clip the thread close to the knot.

Seam Sewing Video

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