Introduction: How to Finish Seams Beautifully WITHOUT a Serger!

About: I adore sewing and knitting, mostly vintage or vintage-inspired patterns. I hope to inspire others to create lovely and lasting garments that speak of a past era and yet remain timeless and elegant.

If you want to learn to finish your garments beautifully, rayon seam binding is a fantastic way to go!  For mere pennies a yard, you can encase your raw edges with beautiful colored rayon.  This is so much cheaper and easier than purchasing a serger or overlock machine and struggling to figure out how to use the darn thing!  Not to mention the fact that a bound seam will never ravel, and a serged edge just might after a number of washes . . .

Here is how it works!

Step 1:

First, you will need to make sure you have the right materials.  I use Hug Snug Rayon Seam Binding.  This is not twill tape, polyester hem tape, or single/double fold bias tape.  I highly recommend getting your hands on some RAYON binding.  It is ½” wide, will add almost no bulk to the finished garment, and irons beautifully.

Whenever possible, I like to sew my seam before applying the hem tape to the raw edges of my fabric.  This way, if any stretch occurs, your piecing will not be affected.

Step 2: Double-Seamed Method

There are a few different techniques I have used to apply the seam binding, and I am sure there are more that I am not aware of, so I will start with my favorite.

Double-seamed method:

1.  Pin and sew your seam as you normally would.

Step 3:

2.  Iron your seam flat.

Step 4:

3.  Go back to your sewing machine.  Push all of the fabric to the left of the needle except for one raw edge (you should have the wrong side of your fabric facing you).  I like to keep a spool of seam binding at my feet and unwind it as needed. 

For my first seam I do not use pins, but you certainly could if it would make you more comfortable.  The seam binding is a bit sheer and very delicate, so you should be able to see/feel where the edge of your material is.  I like to place the binding so a bit more than half of the binding hangs over the edge (if your fabric if thick, you may want to have even more hang over the edge to accommodate the thickness).  Stitch this is place and continue unwinding from the spool at your feet until you reach the bottom of your seam.

Step 5:

4.  Cut the binding about an inch from the edge of your fabric just in case it unravels at the cut end before you finish your garment.

Step 6:

5.  Back at the ironing board, fold the hang over to encase the raw edge.  At this point, depending on the length of the seam, you may want to use a few pins to hold the folded over edge in place.  You may not need to, however, this stuff irons beautifully!

Step 7:

6.  Now you need to go back to the sewing machine and stitch that seam in place.  I usually complete the first seam on all of my lengthwise seams at once before heading to the ironing board, iron a bunch of them down, and then head back to the machine to be more efficient.

This method obviously uses up twice as much thread, but I find that I get the best results.  I do not have to struggle with a narrow folded piece of drapey rayon and I do not have to pre-cut lengths of binding, so in the end, I feel like it saves time and frustration.

But that’s just me.

Step 8: Pre-Fold Method

Pre-Fold Method:

For this method, lengths of seam binding are cut to the length of each raw edge that needs to be covered.  If I go this route, I like to use pinking shears to cut the binding.  (While the lengthwise edges are woven and will never ravel, the cut ends have a tendency to fray.)

Step 9:

1.  Pin and sew your seam as you normally would.

Step 10:

2.  Iron your seam flat.

Step 11:

3.  Cut your pieces of seam binding a bit longer than your seam (to account for any measurement mistakes – you will not want to unpick your stitches once you have completed a long seam, and it is always better to have a little too much than not enough, right?).

Step 12:

4.  Go to the ironing board and fold the lengths of cut seam binding so that the edges are off by approximately 1/16”.  This will ensure that your single line of stitching catches both the front and back sides of the binding.

Step 13:

5.  Now comes the irritating part (at least for me) 

[Forget I said that – it may end up being you favorite part and I would not want to influence you! ]

Encase the raw edge of you fabric with the thinner folded edge on the top and pin in place.  Go back to the sewing machine and stitch as close to the edge of the seam binding as possible.  When you turn your seam to the wrong side, you should have easily caught the back side of the binding. 

If your stitches look a bit wavy or the binding looks ruffled, go back to the ironing board and press your seam flat with a bit of steam.  Presto, you have a beautifully finished seam edge.

Step 14: Pre-Fold Hand Stitched Method

Pre-Fold Hand Stitched Method:

This method is the same as the pre-fold method except that you will be hand stitching the seam binding. 

I have found that with a piled fabric like velvet or some thicker wools, the folded rayon does not like to stay in place with the Pre-fold method and then you have to fight your machine, the stitching line is no longer straight, and frustration ensues. 

I should also confess that I find hand sewing to be incredibly relaxing (unless you are on a deadline!) and easier to keep things from shifting. 

I use a combination of a running stitch with a few backstitches every few inches to make sure that the running stitch does not gather my seam.

Step 15:

Now you have a lovely finished seam – nothing is ever going to ravel or fray!

And look, you now have another completed seam that needs to be finished!  Time to get to work!

Step 16: *A Few More Things to Keep in Mind*

This is obviously a rather time consuming technique to finish raw edges, but I believe the end result it worth the extra trouble.  The light-weight rayon will not add bulk to your seams and it really is pretty.

If you have perpendicular seams, make sure to finish all of your seams traveling in the same direction before sewing up cross seams.  For instance, each lengthwise skirt seam should be bound before the skirt gets stitched to the bodice along the waist seam.  This will catch all of the ends of the seam binding in that waist seam, which, in turn, gets finished with the binding.

Step 17: More Fun Facts

I have never pre-washed the rayon binding, and have never had an issue with shrinkage.  That being said, I normally drip dry all of my hand made clothing, so I am not sure what too much dryer time might do to the binding.  I would imagine that if your fabric is pre-shrunk there should not be any issues.

Rayon seam binding also works great as hem tape.

And contrasting colors can looks very pretty, so don’t worry if you cannot find an exact match to your fabric.

Step 18: Curves

Seam binding is NOT cut on the bias. However, I have had quite a bit of success with curved seams, but it does take an extra bit of fussing to get to it work properly. A good steam under the iron makes all the difference after it is applied.  For curved seams, I would recommend using the Double-Seamed Method.

To bind an armscye, I trim the seam down before applying my seam binding.  This works beautifully!

Have fun!!  I will warn you - this stuff is addictive!