Super seams!

This post is part of a fun online event called “Shorts on the Line!” It’s a summer sewalong all about… shorts! It’s hosted by imagine gnats and  small + friendly. Fabulous guest bloggers are posting their shorts inspiration, tutorials, and pattern reviews, and those sewing along at home have a chance to win some great prizes, including fabric, patterns, and gift certificates! Welcome, Shorts on the Line readers!!!

Today I want to talk to you about something I think is pretty important when sewing for children: taking a little extra time whilst sewing to make sure your seams are nice and strong. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Take, for instance, these cute little shorts I made for Clementine last week from my Parsley Pants pattern (shortened into shorts; see the how-to post here):

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They look pretty innocent and adorable, right? What you don’t see, though, is that on the inside they have…

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SUPER SEAMS!! That’s right. Don’t be fooled by the cuteness, people. These shorts are made to last.

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When I began making clothing for my children six years ago (for BABY Elliot!), I used a pinking shears to trim the seams, figuring that would help keep them from fraying. The trouble is that kids are pretty rough on their clothes. All that crawling and rolling and running around? After washing the clothes multiple times I started to notice fraying seams, which led to holes. It felt like a waste of time to spend precious nap hours making a pair of pants for Elliot, only to go back and fix them later. It was always worst with the pants and shorts.

Now when I make my kids shorts or pants, I have three ways I like to “finish” my seams. But first, let’s review the basic steps of sewing a pair of shorts or pants with the help of this handy-dandy infographic (by the way, these steps are outlined in MUCH greater detail, along with hints, in both my Parsley Pants Pattern and in my Newborn Pant tutorial, which comes with a free pattern):

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Step 1: First, you need to sew the center (“crotch”) seams, for both the front and back. This is done by placing the two pieces of the shorts together and sewing the front and back curved edges.

Step 2: Sew the legs together: open up the pant, pin the center seams together, and sew up one leg and down the other. This seam is also called the “inseam.”

Step 3: For basic pants or shorts, an elastic waistband can be made by folding and pressing the top edge 1/4″ towards the inside of the shorts, folding another 1-1.5″ down, and then stitching along the lower fold to form a casing for the elastic. Then you thread the elastic through the waistband, stitch the ends together, and close the hole. I always put a little piece of folded ribbon in the hole before I sew it shut so my kids can tell front from back when they’re getting dressed.

Step 4: Hem the bottom of the shorts by folding and pressing 1/4″ twice towards the inside of the shorts and then stitching that second fold down. You can make a wider hem by folding 1/4″ and then 1,” or replace the 1″ with whatever width you want!

OK, so now that you have the basics, let’s take a look at three ways to finish a seam to make it a SUPER SEAM! (Instructions follow photos.)

SUPER SEAM #1: Fold and stitch down

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I use this seam finish most often when sewing the center seams (step 1 in the basic steps above). First, to make the seam itself stronger, I use a “5 stitches forward, 2 stitches back” approach, meaning I stitch forward a spell, then back a couple stitches, forward a bunch, back a couple, and so on. This insures that the stitches themselves won’t pull out with wear. Then to prevent the seam allowance from fraying, fold each side under on either side of the seam, and stitch the folded edges down. A quick easy seam finish that takes almost NO extra time! Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

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SUPER SEAM #2: Flat fell

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I use this seam finish most often on inseams (step 2 in the basic steps above). After sewing the seam, trim one side of the seam allowance to half the width of the other, fold the bigger side around the trimmed side (to enclose it, if you will), press it flat and stitch it down. Takes a little extra time but has the added advantage of being super strong AND looking awesome.

SUPER SEAM #3: Serge and stitch down

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If you have a serger, you can finish seams quickly just by running them through the serger after you’ve sewn them. Once you’ve serged them, press them to one side and stitch them down. Main disadvantage: You need to own a serger. But for speed reasons, this is definitely my preferred method.

UPDATE: If you don’t own a serger, you can use a zig zag stitch over the edges for the same effect — works just as well, just doesn’t look quite the same.

Note: I don’t usually use the serger to sew the seam itself, because if I make a mistake or need to adjust something once I’ve tried it on a kid, a serged seam is a heckuva lot harder to un-sew.

Here’s what this finish looks like from the outside:

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So that’s it! I often use a combination of two or more of these finishes on one garment. I think you’ll find that using these three seam finishes, you’ll be able to make clothing for your kids that will last without much extra time invested. Put them on your kids and watch them go!

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You can see a few more pictures of the blue shorts in action on Clementine over on this post.

If you need a bit more detail or want to read about even more great seam finishes, I highly recommend these other top-notch resources:
Sew Mama Sew’s Seam Finishes Simplified
Seam Finish Tutorial Roundup from the Coletterie

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The Shorts on the Line sewalong is hosted by imagine gnats and small + friendly, sponsored by Jo-AnnPretty Prudent/Pellon®, and Hawthorne Threads. Here are the rest of the Shorts on the Line posts for you to enjoy:

6/10 Petit a Petit and Family and Shwin & Shwin

6/11 Delia Creates and Buzzmills

6/12 Cirque du Bebe and Sanae Ishida

6/13 Fake It While You Make It and elsie marley

6/14 No Big Dill and Max California and Designs by Sessa

6/17 girl inspired and Casa Crafty

6/18 Frances Suzanne and Caila Made

6/19 Made by Rae and Craftstorming

6/20 Noodlehead and emmyloubeedoo

6/21 Siestas & Sewing and Made with Moxie

6/24 imagine gnats and small + friendly

42 thoughts on “Super seams!

  1. I’m so happy that you posted this. I have noticed with my 14mo. old that this is happening& i feel so frustrated ! Such an easy fix!

    <3 Mae

  2. Rae, thanks for posting this! But I’m curious – how do the seams look on the OUTSIDE of the shorts/pants with the first two seam finishes?

    Also – I don’t have a serger, but what about zig-zagging the seams after sewing them? Is that also an option? (I hope so, that’s what I did on the pants I just made my daughter!)

  3. Thank you for sharing the tips, Rae and I’m excited that you’ll release bigger size of Geranium patterns! (I’m one of those who asked you for it last time) 🙂

  4. Awesome! I really need this tutorial! With a rough and tumble little boy and no serger this is a huge win win for me! Thanks so much for joining in the sew along!

  5. these are such great tips!! for some reason, my youngest is way harder on clothes than her older sister and i’ve had to really pay more attention to this lately… all i can say is thank goodness five is still young enough that a seam fail isn’t an epic embarrassment 😉

  6. Hey rae,
    a geranium and a charlie under the foot…but I have a question that is going to be silly for you : those shorts also go for boys right ?? (I mean just another kind of fabric…).
    Thanks,
    T

  7. Wow, first 2 options look really great! I wish I had tried before. Now I’ve got an overlock and I use the 3rd option, I love it.

  8. first of all, thank you! You rock on kids’ clothes! Just today I sewed my first pair of shorts for my son using one of your tutorials.
    Secondly, PLEASE tell me where you got that blue cat fabric. My daughter is already a Crazy cat Lady at age 6, and she would just die if I made her something with that. (she loves blue too).
    Thank you!!! 🙂
    Jen

    • Hi Jen! Unfortunately the shop I bought it from (www.pinkcastlefabrics.com) is now sold out. Do a search for “Yuwa Cat and Bird fabric” and see what comes up? Or maybe Fabricworm has it? You should be able to find it around yet!! I just bought it a month ago.

    • I know Rachael from Imagine Gnats ordered a lot of this at quilt market. Not sure if she’s received it yet but might be worth contacting her.

  9. Love this name ~ super seams!!
    I have been using the fold & stitch down and also French seams for the seams in the sundresses I sew for charity. You are so right kids are pretty rough on their clothes, plus think of how many years a girl in Africa/Haiti will wear a charity dress ~ gotta have super seams so they will last for as long as possible.

  10. Great tips! Have you ever tried a felling foot for your machine? I’ve often wondered if having one of those would make felled seams even easier.

    • Hi Kim! I haven’t tried a felling foot, but I think it would definitely be nice to have it do the folding and stitching all in one step though! I don’t find it to be too tedious, but it’s always nice to have something that makes it even faster!!

      🙂

  11. Rae, I just finished my first pair of Parsley Pants, and I LOVE that I am equally proud of the inside of the pants as I am of the outside. Your super seams are awesome! I did my first flat felled seam on these pants, and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I wasn’t sure I did it right until I read this post today. (Luckily I did do it right.) Thanks for explaining super seams!

  12. Don’t forget french seams for super strong seams. They are nearly indestructible! Learning where to use all these seam finishes was one of my favorite things about the Sewing for Boys book. She makes great suggestions about what finishes to use on which parts of a garment and reminds you to do it.

    It is so true that it is worth it to reinforce kids clothes!!

  13. Thanks for your timely post on seams. I have been a bit lazy in my seams for my grandsons pants and have mended many a pair. I just today made two pair of shorts; a pair of BBBP, shortened and a pair of flat front shorts with pockets for my two grandsons. I decided to flat fell the seams of the light weight railroad denim I used. They turned out beautiful and was well worth the extra time. I didn’t feel it was a lot of extra time and it was pretty easy. Thanks again.

  14. I loved this tutorial. As a novice sewer, I need exactly this sort of step by step picture tutorial. This was my first visit, and I will be back!

  15. Since I’m on a thanking you kick today 🙂 I wanted to come back to this post and say THANK YOU so much for putting it together! I used all these finishes (well, modified the 3rd one a bit due to the presence of an invisible zipper) on a pair of shorts I recently made for myself and it was such a pleasure to have a garment that is well finished on the inside too. I NEVER in my life thought I would be making flat-felled seams, but you made it seem so accessible (and how sneaky–try it first on the inseam of a pair of shorts, it’s such a short seam that you figure, why not?). I’m a total convert.

  16. Thanks for the tutorial Rae, it worked out just great on my shorts. And I’ve even experimented with blogging about them, so I put a link to here too.

  17. I can’t tell you how exciting this is to find. I sew but mostly for myself and my adult sister. My brother and his wife recently had a baby and I made a pair of pants for him. The pants were fine for a few wears but they did not last as long as I had hoped. I am for sure going to use this when I make him some shorts for next summer! BTW the blog looks great.

  18. hi! I know you wrote this post forever ago but I”m wondering what seam allowance you are using. would 1/2″ be sufficient?

    • I don’t know about children’s clothes, Alison, but when I am making adult’s shirts with flat fell seams, 5/8″ is recommended. You could try out a 1/2″ flat fell seam on scrap fabric and see how it goes.

  19. Hi

    So I am a tad confused. I am making the parseley pants…and I serged the inseam…but then how do I sew that down flat…seems difficult to get through the entire inseam…

    The front and back center seam was no trouble at all.

    Any suggestions? So as not to bunch up the stitches by trying to jam an entire constructed set of pants into the machine just to make flat-felled-esque stitching?

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