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Hand sewing is more than a fun craft—it’s an important life skill. And one of the most useful hand sewing skills you can learn is how to hand sew seams. It’s not hard, but there are some essentials you should know in order for your final product to be both durable and attractive. 

Whether you’re a total beginner wondering, “What is a seam?” or have some practice and want to dig into the different types of seams, we’ve got you covered.

What Are Seams?

sewing leather
Hand sewing a seam on leather is tougher than on fabric.

What is a seam? In sewing, a seam is defined as the joining of two pieces of cloth (or other materials, such as leather), usually near the edge. Most clothes and fabric homewares (think bed sheets or tablecloths) have seams. 

Sewing seams is an essential part of sewing clothing, whether by hand or using a sewing machine. Even if you’re not making a whole item of clothing from scratch, knowing how to hand sew a seam is useful. If you’ve ever bought a pair of pants that are too long, it’s handy to be able to hem them yourself, rather than pay a tailor to do it. Similarly, if the seams of an old favorite item of clothing come undone, hand repairing the seams yourself can get more life out of it. Learn how to sew seams, and you can save money on new clothes and tailoring fees!

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Types of Seams

jeans
Want to learn how to sew seams for jeans? The flat felled seam is the best type.

Wondering how to hand sew seams yourself? Before you get started, figure out what kind of seam you need. Some fabrics and materials require sturdier seams, while others need a lighter touch to avoid bunching or tearing. Different types of fabric and garments require different types of seams. Here are a few to know about.

Plain Seam

Most people hand sewing a seam will start with a plain seam. It’s the most straightforward type: It attaches two pieces of fabric by facing the insides together and stitching in a single row. You can easily do this type of seam by hand, using any kind of stitch, and it’s suitable for most types of material and garments.

Double Seam

A double seam is like a single seam, but there are two rows of stitches instead of one. It’s a bit sturdier than a single seam.

Flat Felled Seam

jeans seam
A flat felled seam is often used on jeans.

A flat felled seam is often used for jeans, menswear, and other clothing that needs to be durable and withstand wear and tear. It’s an overlapping seam that’s sewn flat with two rows of stitching and is usually done on a machine rather than by hand, especially when the material is thick, like denim. It’s different from a simple double seam because the fabric is usually folded over before stitching.

French Seam

orange pants seam
Source: Instagram
Learning how to hand sew a seam will be useful if you do a lot of sewing. This is a French seam.

With a French seam, no raw edge of the fabric is visible because it’s turned inwards and the edge of the garment is sewn shut. A French seam should only be sewn on light, delicate fabric as it can get too bulky with thicker fabric. 

A bound seam is similar to a French seam and looks the same on the front side of the fabric, with stitches only visible on the back.

Lapped Seam

patterned hem
Source: Instagram
An example of a lapped seam.

Lapped seams can be used with materials that don’t fray easily, such as leather, thick felted wool, or fleece. Instead of sewing two “wrong” sides of fabric together, with a lapped seam, the “right” side faces up and overlaps with the second layer of fabric. Think of them as overlapping.

Piped Seams

seams
Source: Instagram
Want to learn how to sew a seam like this? This collar has a piped seam.

A piped (or corded) seam is a decorative type of seam that’s sometimes used for collars, cuffs, or pockets or for fabric home furnishings. A contrasting piece of fabric is inserted between the two main pieces of fabric, folded around, and sewn neatly. It can be tricky to execute, and although expert sewers may be able to do it on a sewing machine, it’s usually tidier when sewn by hand.

Methods

Ready to learn how to sew a seam yourself? There are two methods to choose from:

Hand Sewing

Hand sewing doesn’t require anything more than a basic sewing kit. If you sew infrequently or just want to finish or tidy up the seams of your clothing occasionally, hand sewing works perfectly. Some seam sewing techniques (such as French seams and piped seams) are actually easier by hand.

Sewing Machines

Sewing machines are useful if you do a lot of sewing, as you can seam garments and complete other large projects quickly. Many professional or industrial sewers use overlocking machines, which can trim edges to minimize fraying before finishing them with a seam. Smaller overlocker machines are available for home use, too, but they’re not necessary unless you do a great deal of sewing. 

What Is a Seam Ripper?

seam ripper
Hand sewing seams can result in mistakes—have a seam unpicker nearby!

A seam ripper, or seam unpicker, is a handy tool to have in your sewing kit. They’re inexpensive and available at most sewing supplies stores, and many basic sewing kits come with them included. 

What It’s For?

A seam ripper is what it sounds like: it rips seams! It’s intended to take stitches out neatly. Whether you’re upcycling an existing garment and need to undo the seams or have made a mistake in your own project, a seam ripper will cut through the stitches quickly and (usually) without damaging the fabric. 

How to Use a Seam Ripper

Place the pointed end of the seam ripper underneath the sewn seam; the shorter end with the knob should be facing up. The inside hook part of the device is very sharp and will cut through your stitches as you move it carefully along the length of the seam. If you don’t have a seam ripper, you can use small sewing scissors, but they’re a bit trickier for undoing tight seams.

Sewing is a skill that requires a bit of practice, and that includes hand sewing seams. But once you have the hang of it, you can fix and upcycle your own clothes and other fabric items. As with many crafts involving stitching and needles, you may find it easier to learn about the different types of seams and stitching techniques via a video tutorial. Here’s one to get you started!

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