5 Ways to Finish a Seam Without an Overlocker (Serger)

I remember when I first started sewing how frustrated I used to get at finishing seams.  This was before I had an overlocker/serger and I really really really wanted one!  I didn’t know much about finishing seams and wish I had known more of the techniques below.  So, here they are specially for the new or beginner sewists!  I love some of these techniques so much that I prefer them to an overlocked finish!

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There are many ways to finish a seam without an overlocker (serger) and here are the two most basic methods and my three favourites!  My favourites are French Seams, Flat Felled Seams and Hong Kong Seams.  You will only need a sewing machine and an iron to be able to sew all of these seams.  If you  do have an overlocker you can definitely use it in place of the zigzag stitch on the two basic seams.

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I have used fabric off cuts for this tutorial with different colour/patterns for each side of the seam so that it is easier to see what’s going on.  I also used black thread with really doesn’t give the best finish on these light fabrics but is much easier for you all to see!

What You Will Need

  • A seam in what ever you might be sewing
  • Matching Thread (or near enough)
  • Iron – This is really important, it will give you a much better finish than not using one
  • Double Fold Bias Binding for Hong Kong Seams

Seam 1 – Basic Seam with zigzag

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This is the simplest of them all.  You sew a straight seam using whatever seam allowance that your project has specified.  Standard is 3/8 inch (1cm) but a little bigger is fine too.

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Here are my two off cuts.

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Lay one on top of the other with the right sides of the fabric facing each other (inside out).  Pin the two raw edges you are joining together.

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Sew your seam using a regular straight stitch.

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Sew a zigzag stitch on the outside of the straight seam you sewed just before.  Once that is done you can trim off the excess of the raw edge.  The fabric may fray a little but only as far as the zigzagged seam.  Press flat with the seam to one side and you are finished!

Seam 2 – Basic Seam Opened Out

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This seam is very handy for keeping the bulk down and when there is a wide seam allowance.  The first part is sewn in the same way as the first seam.

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Make sure that you leave a wider seam allowance, I sewed this one with a 5/8” (15mm) allowance.  Straight stitch with the raw edges lined up, with the right sides of the fabric facing each other.

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Instead of pressing the seam to one side you press it open one piece to each side.

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Now zigzag down each side of the seam as you did before.  Take care to only sew one layer of fabric at a time.  The other pieces should fold out of the way easily.

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And after you have trimmed of the excess raw edges it should look like this!

Seam 3 – French Seams

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French seams have been one of my favourites for quite a while now!  You can check out the Skirt and Diaper (Nappy) Cover I made using french seams.  They look way more complicated then they are, they are really simple, easy and look great!  I think they would make the perfect seam for a beginner wanting to branch out a little.

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Pin your seam together with the WRONG sides of the fabrics facing each other (right way around) and sew with a narrow seam allowance, I am using the side of my presser foot.  Depending on the seam allowance your project has you may need to add a little to allow for this type of seam.  You can sew with a wider seam allowance if you like as we will be trimming it anyway.

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I trimmed mine down to roughly 1/4”.

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Time to press!  I find the easiest way to do this is to press the raw edges over in one direction.

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Then fold one side on top of the other.

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Until the seam is at the edge like in the photo above.

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Then press again making sure the seam stays at the edge of the fold.

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You should be left with an edge that looks like this.

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Sew a second straight seam 3/8” (1cm) in from the folded edge.  This encases the raw edges inside and gives you the sleek look of the french seam.  All that is left to do is press the seam over to one side.

Seam 4 – Flat Felled Seams

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Flat felled seams are another great seam that is nice and simple to sew.  You will have the seam and one line of stitching on the right side, and two lines of stitching on the wrong side.  This is one of those seams that I like the wrong side of as much as the right side.  There would be no harm in doing this wrong side facing out if that is the look you’re going for!

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You will need a larger 5/8” (15mm) seam allowance for this oen too.  Sew a straight seam with the right sides of the fabric facing each other.

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Trim one side of the seam allowance down to half of what is was.

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Fold and press the longer side over top of the newly cut side.

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Flatten out your seam and press the folded seam over again to hide the raw edge.

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It should look like above, that is the original black seam.

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Sew on top of this fold as close to the edge as you can.  You will need to be careful to catch the edge though!  And that’s it, pretty simple really!

Seam 5 – Hong Kong Seams

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These seams are super neat and tidy and very gorgeous!  The bias does add a bit of bulk so I wouldn’t be doing these on any lightweight floaty fabrics.

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You will need some double fold bias binding which you can buy from any sewing store or you can even make you own.  Check out my making bias binding tutorial.  To start with sew your seam with a straight stitch using a 5/8” (15mm) seam allowance, with the right sides of the fabric facing each other.  Press the seam open just like for Seam 2 – Basic Seam Opened Out.

Fold out your bias, I like to press mine lightly so that is stays open nicely.  Don’t press so much that you remove the creases!

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The bias will have one side that is a little wider than the other, you can see above that it sticks out from underneath the top layer.   Make sure in the next step that you pin the smaller side.  If your bias doesn’t don’t worry sew either side and I will explain how to sort it below!

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Pin the smaller side of the bias to the raw edge on one side of the seam.  For more information on sewing with bias binding here is the link for my Struggling with Bias Tutorial.

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Sew in place using a straight stitch in the crease closest to the raw edge.

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It should look like above.

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Fold the bias back up and it will completely encase the raw edges.  Since you used the smaller side first, once folded back up the longer side should line up perfectly with where the stitching will go (see photo below).  Press the bias folded so it stays nicely in place.  If your bias didn’t have a wide side, fold it over a little past the original fold and press in place, to create one.  If this isn’t making sense…my Banadana-ish Bib Tutorial shows all the steps and there is even a video!

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Now you can pin for this next step if you like but since I have pressed it well I didn’t bother.  Sew a straight seam right in close next to your bias ‘stitch in the ditch’.  Checking to make sure you are catching the underneath layer.

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Here is what the underside of the bias will look like, the stitching just catches the edge to hold it in place.

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Repeat on the other side of the seam and you have a Hong Kong seam!  Nice and neat on the right and wrong sides.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial useful!  I would have loved to have known about these options at the start of my sewing journey, so hopefully you will appreciate them too!

Happy Sewing x

7 thoughts on “5 Ways to Finish a Seam Without an Overlocker (Serger)

  1. I've not seen the Hong Kong seams before. Not sure I'd have the patience for that much bias binding though. Love French seams although corners get trickier. One thing you missed though. It's so cheap to get an overcast/over edge foot or even a cut and hem foot (which trims your fabric as you stitch similar to an overlocker) for a standard sewing machine that let's you seal in the edges by letting you stitch over the side of the fabric for hardly any cost. It's quick and easy and definitely my preferred method 🙂

  2. I totally agree Allison! My favourite would have to be the french seams for their simplicity and tidiness. But for a thicker garment like a special coat I would use the hong kong seams. Definitely makes it feel more special when the inside is beautiful too! x

  3. Hi Linda, it does take a little longer for the Hong Kong seams but I would only use those on that extra special garment. When the inside looks great it just makes the whole garment feel more luxurious, and in my opinion totally worth it! You are right it is relatively inexpensive to get extra feet (you even sell these I believe ;), but most beginners don't have these so it would be an extra expense and a delay while you wait for them to arrive, if like me you can't buy most things locally. And to be fair I don't even have either of these feet! Maybe I should have called this post 5 ways to finish a seam using a standard foot 🙂

  4. Yeah, you got me, I pedal feet 😉 There is a reason why we stock so many though. In truth, it was getting a few feet that really got me into sewing properly. Until then I'd only sewn occasionally and always been frustrated with my wobbly lines and birds nests every time I got too close to the edge. I realised that actually a few little feet can make a massive difference to the standard of my sewing and suddenly I could make things that looked so much more professional without hours and hours of practice. That made me want to sew much more. My quarter inch foot and overcast foot come out for almost every project for the seams. 🙂

  5. If it gets/keeps you and others enjoying sewing then get all the feet you like 🙂 I understand where you're coming from it totally makes sense, you're either a gadget person or not. I like the challenge of making things out of and with what I have. I am a bit of a perfectionist so am happy to take my time. But I will admit I would love a few of your feet once I upgrade to my dream machine! Once I've decided which one that is…so many machines to chose from!

  6. If it gets/keeps you and others enjoying sewing then get all the feet you like 🙂 I understand where you're coming from it totally makes sense, you're either a gadget person or not. I like the challenge of making things out of and with what I have. I am a bit of a perfectionist so am happy to take my time. But I will admit I would love a few of your feet once I upgrade to my dream machine! Once I've decided which one that is…so many machines to chose from!

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