How to Sew a Basic Seam

2:52 PM

Check out A Beautiful Mess's post about different types of seams
Hi Everyone!  If your following this class, good to see you back again.  If your new welcome to the class! If you need to catch up you can see at the bottom of this post or click here to what our prior lessons were if you need to catch up  Today we are going to finally sew a basic seam!

So What is a Basic Seam?
A basic seam is the seam you will use the most often.  Once you learn a basic seam there is an endless amount of projects you can do.  There are two different ways of doing a basic seam. One is an open seam, and one is a closed seam.  Let's look at both.

Closed Seam
 The standard basic seam I use is a seam sewn at 3/8-5/8" with the ends (the fraying fabric part) secured by either using the zig-zag stitch on your home sewing machine(pictured first below), or serged with a serger machine (pictured second below). 

Why We Need to Secure The Ends
We secure the ends with either zigzag stitch (on home sewing machines), serged (with sergers), or pinked (with pinking sheers).  The reason we need to secure the fraying edges is to make sure that the seam stays secure.  If we did not secure it eventually the fabric would fray to the seam, (not to mention the threads that would end up in your laundry!), and eventually the seam and your project would fall apart.  Remembers this while you are doing this step.  I have found it helps students to remember why they are doing a step, and what they are trying to accomplish.  That way you know if you are "doing it right or not".  If you accomplished your goal, in this case securing the ends so they cannot fray than yes.  If you did not accomplish your goal in securing the ends (like if your sewing is to close to the seam and not touching the edge), then no.    

Advantages and Disadvantages of this Seam
 The reason I use this way of making a basic seam is it's so much faster! Let's face it sewing does take a lot of time and you're more likely to finish your project the less time it takes.  The disadvantage to doing a closed one step seam is you won't have the ability to have to large of a seam allowance because it will be to bulky. 
Zig zag Closed seam from Angela Osborn
Serged Closed seam from Angela Osborn
Open Seam
Another way you could do a basic seam is to zig zag stitch or use pinking sheers to both ends of the fabric (the fraying parts of the seam) and then iron it open as pictured below.

Advantages and Disadvantages of this Seam 
The advantage to this type of basic seam is that it is easier to alter if needed because it can have a wider seam allowance, without being bulky.  So if you think you might gain some weight or want some extra wiggle room for mistakes this would be the seam for you.  One disadvantage is it takes about three times as long  to do an open basic seam versus a closed basic seam.
Open Seam from Commercially Alternative
Supplies Needed for This Lesson
  • threaded sewing machine
  • two pieces of fabric scraps similar in size
  • scissors and a seam ripper
Now that you know what a basic seam is let's start sewing.    First you need to make sure your sewing machine is plugged in to the outlet and that your foot pedal is plugged into your machine.  Then thread your machine.   Now make sure you have two pieces of fabric that are similar size and preferably have a right and a wrong side that are obvious.  "What's that?" you say.  Well let's look at that first.  

Right Side Wrong Side
Shwin and Shwin
All fabric have a right side and a wrong side, some are just more obvious than others. The right side is the side of the fabric you want showing on your fabric and the wrong side is the side you want inside your project (not showing). See the picture above for an example. Often I have had students (and I've done this myself) looking carefully at both sides of a piece of fabric trying to determine "which is the right or wrong side".  In this case I usually tell students to just pick what side they want to show on the outside and consider that the right side.  It's your project so you decide is my rule of thumb.  When sewing a basic seam you always want right sides together.  So position your pieces of fabric right sides together now.

 I'd encourage you to use fabric that has an obvious right and wrong side starting off.  I find that it is much easier for students to learn this way, once you are more comfortable sewing you can begin to use fabrics that have less obvious right and wrong sides. The reason is you will often find yourself forgetting to check that the correct side is facing the way it should, and end up proudly finishing your next step, only to realize you need to rip it all out only to start again because your wrong side is facing out.  I've done this more times than I can count!   If you are using fabric where both the wrong and right side look similar than you might not notice when you accidentally have the wrong side facing out.  It's better to learn to always double check that you have your right and wrong sides positioned correctly while you are making small projects, and if you don't realize you've made a mistake you won't learn this good habit that will save you a lot of time and frustration!
Image of Seam Allowance Guides From future Girl
  Seam Allowance and Sewing Straight
 A guide is the lines next to your presser foot with measurements such as 3/8, 5/8 (as pictured above).  Seam allowance refers to the area between the stitching and raw, cut edge of the fabric.  The most common seam allowances are 1/4", 1/2" and 5/8". Always check your pattern directions and use the seam allowance called for in the directions.  Typically commercial production uses 1/4" and most patterns call for 5/8".  The reason for the difference in home sewing and commercial (manufacturing) is the larger seam allowance gives the home sewer some room to make mistakes or to take out seams in the future.  Commercial production wants to use the least mount of fabric needed to cut down on costs. 

Back Stitching or Back Tack
Whenever you are starting or finishing a seam you need to back tack, to secure the seam.  If you don't do this your seam will fall apart.  (If you have a sewing machine for quick tailoring that doesn't have this function you will need to tie a knot in the beginning and end of the seam). You will need to find the reverse stitching button on your sewing machine.  It varies where it's located on every machine.

Get Your Machine Ready to Sew

Set Stitch length
First make sure that you stitch length is set anywhere from 3-5.  While learning to sew I suggest using a longer stitch length when practicing, so when you need to rip out a seam it's easy.  The typical stitch length used in most projects is 2-3. 

Position Your Fabric
Now take your two pieces of fabric right sides together so the wrong side is facing you as you put the fabric under the presser foot and chose a guide to use based on how much seam allowance you want to use.
If you for example chose a 5/8" seam allowance you should position the end of your fabric on the 5/8" line and use this as your guide to keep your seam straight.  Once your fabric is properly positioned put your presser foot down (the lever is behind your presser foot). 

Time To Sew Your Seam!
  • Make sure your sewing machine is turned on and your foot on the pedal while having your hand on the reverse switch.  
  • Now put light pressure on the foot pedal (go very slow) and count 1,2,3,4 (forward) and press the reverse button to go 1,2,3,4 (backward) then keep sewing forward being careful to stay aligned with your guide.  
  • Go slow while beginning, you will actually save time going slower because you'll have less mistakes that you need to rip out.  
  • Once you are about an inch away from the end of your seam go very slowly until you are almost at the end of the seam.  
  • Then press the reverse button, and count 1,2,3,4 (backwards) and 1,2,3,4 (forward) and stop your done.  Just remember to lift the presser foot and cut off the threads.
Watch this great video from Threads magazine about sewing an open pinked seam.  She is very detailed and I think everyone will find it helpful.
How to Sew a Basic Seam: Threads Magazine (5 min)

If you have an problems, questions, or comments don't be shy!  Next lesson we will cover patterns.  Class dismissed!

 Next lesson: Trouble Shooting Your Sewing Machine ©Oh You Crafty Gal! All rights reserved.

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  1. Thanks for this great series! I am fairly comfortable with my sewing machine and overlocker, but I definitely benefited from the posts so far!

    I make things with straight seams like curtains and pillows but when it comes to making clothes, I am a complete beginner! I have no idea where to start.

    Since patterns are the most scary thing I can imagine, I can't wait for your tutorial on them!

    Thanks for the time you put into these posts!


    1. Hi Tina,

      Thanks for the feedback. I would suggest starting to learn how to make clothes with something easy like pj pants or an elastic band skirt. Then build from there. try to learn one new skill per project. And watch videos and tutorials to show you how to do that new skill first. I'm, glad I could help you learn to sew. It helps to know what posts people are interested in and that people are enjoying and learning from my lessons. I am planning on doing my next lesson on tension, and perhaps on reading patterns after that. I will likely post new lessons soon since I start teaching my non virtual class next week. I am usually in the sewing zone then and it helps my students who can't attend class. But I am busy preserving my tomatoes from my garden (I'm averaging 18 lbs a week lately) and in the middle of a kitchen renovation too, so we will see... hope this helps Tina!


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