Summer School: French Seams

I’m happy to announce a new weekly series that I’ve been scheming up for a while- welcome to Summer School.  Each week we will be delving into a different topic, from mini sewing lessons, terminology, to fashion history. Fashion is so much richer than just trendy, mass produced items that get hyped up by grocery store magazines. It’s an art form, cultural touch stone, and a way of expressing oneself.  So get ready to learn something new every week, and please let us know what y’all think in the comments below.

 Finishing touches are the hallmark of good quality clothes. Call me a fashion geek, but whenever I’m trying to figure out if a piece of clothing is worth spending a few extra dollars on, I start inspecting the guts of the garment.  It’s a habit I’ve developed thanks to working with secondhand clothing for over seven years- if I don’t recognize the name brand, construction is always a telltale sign that I’ve stumbled upon something special.

French seam, as seen on an Andrea Loest tunic

 Seams are everything- no matter how luxurious that silk skirt feels, if it’s shoddily stitched together then it’s a waste of good fabric. One nice detail seen on higher end clothing is a French seam. Best used on light to mid-weight fabrics, this technique encloses the edges of the fabric for a clean finish. The seam is sewn with the wrong sides together, then the seam allowance* is trimmed and pressed. A second seam is sewn with the right sides together, enclosing the raw edges into the original seam allowance encapsulating the raw edges. It’s not difficult to do, but it does take a bit of extra fabric, thread, and work. In other words, you won’t see this on a cheaply made run of the mill dress. That additional cost is worth it- you’ll get a piece of clothing that’s built to last.

 If you’d like to perfect your own French seam, check out this excellent instructional video I found on You Tube from Detroit Knitter. 

*A seam allowance is the area in between the edge of the fabric and the actual seam. Just think of it as a little wiggle room- you wouldn’t want to sew right on the edge and risk ripping the seam open once the garment actually gets tried on.

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