This ‘directory’ isn't in alphabetical order. Instead I have planned it to follow the usual sequence in which a garment is made up, from the first moment when you start with the darts to the finishing stages when you complete the hem and sew on any buttons, fastenings and trimmings.

The previous section — ’Sewing course for beginners’ — should be used in close conjunction with this section, for in effect section 4 sets out the landmarks of the journey while section 5 details the route.

Obviously the sequence given will not apply detail for detail to every garment; for example, you may need to complete the whole bodice, including collar, before working on machine-made buttonholes. Nevertheless, you will find that it follows roughly the order in which you are working.


A basting or tacking stitch is a temporary stitch to hold pieces of fabric in a certain position until you can stitch them permanently.

There are various ways of basting or tacking and these are shown in the diagrams:

Even basting or tacking (103): in which the needle enters and is drawn back out of the fabric at exactly regular intervals.

Uneven basting or tacking (104): in which longer and freer stitches are used.

Diagonal or upright basting or tacking (105): used mainly for securing interfacings.

Slip basting or tacking (106): for temporary pleating or folds.

103, 104, 105, 106


A dart in dressmaking is one of the chief means of producing a third dimension—it moulds the fabric to fit the curves of the figure, and great care should be taken with darts to sew them carefully and press them meticulously in order to achieve a smooth, rounded effect.

The right way to sew a dart is as follows. Fold the dart on the fold line, matching dart markings and ensuring that the point of the dart is exactly on the fold. Pin in position (107), placing the pins across the stitching line at right angles to the fold line. Tack alongside the stitching line (108), beginning at the wider edge and ending at the point. Remove pins, then machine- stitch along the stitching line (109), again stitching towards the point, taking the last two or three stitches directly on the fold, and taking two stitches past the point, almost off the fabric. This detail is very important indeed, for if you approach the point of the dart at too sharp an angle, the dart will look puckered when completed, and no amount of pressing will make it look smooth and molded.

Remove the dart from the sewing machine, and to make sure the stitching isn't puckered, draw your thumb and first finger along the seam so that the fingernails draw out any puckering. Tie the threads and then snip off the ends (110). Press the dart wrong side up over a curved surface, preferably your curved tailor’s ham. Press along each side of the stitching, then press the dart to one side (normally the pattern will advise on this).

Darts on heavy fabrics such as woollens should be slashed before pressing. Cut along the fold line to within in. of the point, then press open using a wool press cloth. Finish the edges by overcasting by hand or pinking (111). Or if you have a zigzag machine, you can use it to finish these raw edges.

107, 108, 109

110, 111

Double-pointed darts should be stitched and pressed just as carefully, and if you want to be sure of achieving a really smooth, even line to each point you can sew the dart in two stages (112), again taking two or three stitches on the thread of the fold and two or three stitches beyond the point.


‘Seam’ is a general term for the joining together of two pieces of fabric. It may be a constructional seam, where one aims for the smooth, invisible fusion of the two pieces, or it may be a decorative seam, where the fact that two pieces of fabric join is made obvious, and the seam is intended to give the garment design and line.

If you are going to produce well-made garments you must determine to become a perfectionist in seams and seam finishes. Puckered and badly-finished seams will proclaim your work as that of an amateur, and no matter how beautifully you embellish the work with embroidery or trimmings, nothing can disguise those seams.

A seam may, of course, be sewn by hand, but most women would agree that a machine-sewn seam is much more satisfactory for general dressmaking.

There is, incidentally, a correct direction in which to sew seams. You should always work in the direction of the grain of the fabric, which normally means from the wider part of the garment to the narrower part (see 113 and 114). In some printed patterns the direction of stitching is indicated by arrows on the seam lines—you may have missed them on previous occasions, so look closely at your next paper pattern.

112, 113, 114

Sew a fine seam—some simple rules

Be sure to check the seam allowance given in your paper pattern (normally in.).

Be sure you have learned to stitch straight.

Be sure you have selected the correct thread and the correct stitch length for the fabric you are sewing. See that the needle is suitable. Test first on scraps of material left over from cutting out the garment. Adjust the tension and pressure if necessary, following the instruction book for your sewing machine.

Be sure you pin and tack before stitching seams. It is particularly important to do this if you are a beginner to sewing or are unfamiliar with your sewing machine.

Do not dismiss these preliminary steps as unnecessary; if you get into the habit of pre paring every seam carefully you will get a far better result and avoid the irritation of Un— picking incorrect work. Remember, too, that if you unpick seams on some synthetic fabrics, the needle marks may still show and spoil the work.

Here, then, is the pin/tack/stitch/press/finish routine step-by-step.

(a) PIN (115). Place the two pieces to be joined on a flat surface, edges together, right sides together. Match the v-notches which have been cut to stand out on the seam turnings. Insert pins at right angles to the seam line, pinning the v’s, then the ends of the seams before pinning the remaining sections. There should be a pin every three or four inches.

(b) TACK (BASTE) (116). Use a hand sewing needle and special tacking thread. Tie a knot at one end of the thread. Rest the fabric flat on a table and carefully tack a line of stitches following the seam line but not exactly on it. This makes it easier to remove the tacking stitches after machining. Make two or three large stitches at the end of the seam, large enough to be pulled out easily but secure enough to stay in position until you wish to remove the tacking thread. Snip the end of the thread. Tacking stitches are illustrated in 103 and 104.

115, 116, 117

As you become more experienced you may find it possible to use your sewing machine to tack because the latest machines have a special tacking stitch, though one or several adjustments may have to be made (which some home dressmakers might consider a bother if they have to make frequent switches from machine—tacking to permanent stitching).

Remove all pins after tacking.

(c) STITCH (117). Now stitch the seam, making sure that you follow the seam allowance pro vided for in your paper pattern. Stitch in the direction of the grain. This normally means that a seam should be stitched from the widest to the narrowest part of the garment, as indicated in 113 and 114.

Keep the stitching straight. Modern sewing machines are designed to help you with this— some have engraved lines on the throatplate so that the edge of the material can be kept to the line. You can also buy a seam guide which fits on many makes of sewing machine. Use it to practice straight stitching (118).

118, 119

It is important that the ends of a seam should be properly finished. This can be done in one of two ways:

(i) at each end of the seam the threads may be knotted together and the ends snipped off. To do this, take an end of thread, tug it gently until the other thread loop is pulled through the fabric, then draw the thread right through. Run your thumbnail and the first finger along the stitched line before knotting, to make sure that you haven't accidentally puckered it. Tie the threads securely at each end (119).

After knotting, snip the loose ends of thread immediately with your trimming scissors. Do not get into the habit of leaving all the ends to trim off when the garment is finished.

120, 121

(ii) if your sewing machine will sew in reverse, seam ends may be finished by sewing back over the same seam line for about in. You will not need to tie the thread ends, but again you should snip off the ends as soon as each seam is finished (120). Correct tension is essential if you use this method of finishing.

(d) i Next press the seam open, using a steam iron or a dry iron with a pressing cloth. Some fabrics mark easily and take the imprint of seam turnings, so if the fabric is suspect in this way, press lightly over a seam roll (121) or make shields of white cardboard to insert under seam edges while you press.

It is essential to press every seam lightly after completion, but obviously if you have a number of plain seams to sew, you can wait and press a few at a time rather than pressing each one straight after stitching.

(e) FINISH. Now finish the seam edge in the way most suitable to the type of fabric and the article you are making. Listed below are the main ways of neatening the edges of a plain seam. You will see from the diagrams how each is done.

Bias-bound seam (122)

This is a useful way of completely enclosing the seam allowance; a valuable finish where it's important to avoid chafing in wear—for example in small children’s slacks or winter dresses. The bias binding is machine—stitched along the seam, the seam allowances are trimmed, then the bias binding is folded over, pressed, tacked and stitched.

Bound seam edges — machined and hand sewn (123)

First stitch and press open the seam. The bias binding is then machine-stitched to each seam allowance, then turned over the raw edge and pressed, and hand-sewn to finish.

Bound seam edges, by machine attachment (124)

This is an effective seam allowance finish once mastered. Instructions are always provided with the binding attachment, which is fitted to the sewing machine quite easily.


122, 123, 124

Double-top stitched seam finish (125a and b)

The seam is stitched and pressed open, pinked if wished with pinking shears (125a), and then top—stitched as indicated (125b) to give a neat, very secure seam.

Edge-stitched seam finish (126)

The seam is stitched and pressed open, then the seam allowances are folded in. from the edge and pressed under carefully. Finally the edges are machine-stitched as indicated. When you press and stitch, keep the seam allowances free of the garment itself to avoid catching the fabric.

Herringbone-finished seam — hand-sewn


Useful for very heavy coatings and suitings where a flat seam is imperative. The seam is pressed open and you work as shown in the illustration, from left to right.

Overcast seam edges—hand-sewn (128)

Oversew the raw edges of the seam allowance, working neatly and from right to left. Do not pull the thread tightly or the edges will pucker.

125, 126, 127

128, 129

Overcast seam edges — sewn by machine with zigzag stitch (129)

There are two ways of doing this—either machine- stitch a line of zigzag stitching on the edge of the seam allowance, or do a closer zigzag stitch in. from the edge and then trim off the excess fabric.

Stayed and pinked seam finish (130)

Here the seam is stitched and pressed open, then the seam allowances are stitched as shown. But the stitches should go through the seam allowances only (do not stitch them down on to the fabric). Finally the raw edges are pinked with pinking shears.


Welt seam finish (131)

This finish is often specified for garments made from the heavier materials. Sew the two pieces of fabric together the ‘wrong’ way, with wrong sides facing and raw edges showing on the right side of the garment. Allow in. seams. Press both seam allowances in the same direction. Trim the lower seam allowance to in. Turn under the raw edge of the top seam allowance to conceal all raw edges, and press. Tack and then stitch from the right side of the fabric, to create a neat, strong and very flat seam finish.

130, 131

Trimming (grading) a seam

Often the instruction sheet accompanying the paper pattern will tell you to trim or grade a seam instead of finishing it. This happens where a seam has to be turned, in a collar for example— bulkiness must therefore be reduced as much as possible. Trimming can be done in one of two ways.

You may have to cut away both seam allowances to an even width—say in. This is likely to be specified at edges which are to be top— stitched.

Alternatively, you may have to trim away the seam allowances to different widths (132). This is called ‘grading’, and it's usually specified where interfacing is joined in the seam. Here it's particularly necessary to avoid a ridge being formed by the bulk of several layers of fabric. Normally you will trim most fabric off the interfacing material, less off the facing material and leave the widest seam allowance on the main fabric.

Curved seams

Curved seams must flow evenly and accurately or the finished garment will have an unmistakably home-made look. Work into the curve, allowing it to twist round as you stitch; use the seam guide attachment if you have one.

It is wise to set a smaller stitch for a curve than for straight seams. This will give the curve greater elasticity, and also greater strength once you have trimmed the seam allowance.

Curved seams are not treated like a plain seam, because it's obviously impossible to finish off the raw edges in the same way. The seam allowance must be either clipped or notched to within about in. of the seam line. An inward curve is clipped (133) and an outward curve is notched (134) so that when the fabric is turned and pressed the seam will not be either unduly taut or unduly full but lie absolutely flat. The clipping or notching is done at about in.-4 in. intervals along the curve. When you cut notches, it's easiest if you hold the work as shown in 135, to prevent your cutting into the seam line.

132, 133


Curved seams which will be turned to the right side and pressed together again —a collar section for example, or the curve of a neck facing— must obviously look as smooth as possible, with no bumpy or bulky parts. You achieve this smoothness by grading — see Trimming (Grading) a Seam, above.

If you are going to grade the seam allowances it's easier if you do this before clipping or notching.

If the curved seam is to be opened out flat (136) it's notched and clipped only, and not graded. Press the seam open under a damp cloth. If you wish the curved seam can then be top-stitched by machine.

It is of paramount importance to press a curved seam correctly. If the fabric is likely to mark easily, cut a piece of cardboard to the exact shape and size, and slip it inside the fabric when you are pressing a collar or curved cuff. If the curved seam is to be opened out to give shaping to a garment, it's important to press over a curved surface to give the maximum molding effect. A press mitt or tailor’s ham is ideal for this job (see page 31). If the fabric is particularly delicate, slip strips of paper or light cardboard under the seam turnings to avoid pressure on the fabric underneath.

Eased seams

You will often find you have an ‘eased seam’ to deal with when you are making up the shoulder or the underarm of a sleeve. It means that the two pieces to be joined together are slightly unequal in length (by design and not by accident) and this must be adjusted smoothly.

This is a perfectly simple job if you gather the extra fabric beforehand either by hand or by machine, preferably with two rows of stitching. The pattern will almost certainly give markings between which the easing should be done, and these should be marked clearly on your fabric.

135, 136


Stitch along the seam allowance, in. and in. from the seam line with a loose tension setting, or hand-gather. Place together the two pieces of fabric to be joined, right sides meeting and notches matched; and pin at notches and at each end of the seam.

Pull up the gathering threads of the two rows of stitches until the seam edge of the longer piece is the same length as that of the shorter one (137).

Distribute the easing evenly, and secure the thread ends on a pin at each end, as shown. Pm and tack the two pieces of fabric together. Press the gathering with a steam iron to shrink out any fullness on the seam line. Then stitch the seam, keeping the eased seam on top as you stitch, and remembering the directional rules (113, 114).

Intersecting seams

Where four pieces of fabric are to be joined with an intersecting seam the first two seams are sewn in the normal way, pressed open and finished if necessary. Next pin together the two pieces to be joined, with the seam lines matching exactly. Tack and stitch the intersecting seam (138a). Turn both seam allowances first in one direction and then the other while you snip away the spare corners of material at each side of the intersection as shown in z then repeat the other side. Press the intersecting seam open. Finish the intersecting seam edges if necessary, preferably with a zigzag stitch or similar machine finish so that there is no added bulk.

138a, 138b

139, 140

Lapped seam

This is a smooth flat seam for joining interfacing or interlining. Overlap the seam edges, matching the seam line carefully, and stitch along it. Trim excess width from seam edges. If you have a swing-needle machine you could use a zigzag stitch or a three-step zigzag (139) or a serpentine stitch, all of which will give a flat, strong join. However a simple straight stitch (140) will also be suitable for most purposes.

Seam on a corner (141)

If you are stitching a seam on an outward or inward corner, stitch along the seam line to within in. of the point, then stop and change the stitch length to a very short stitch (14—16 to the inch). Stitch to the corner point, raise the presser bar, pivot the fabric and continue to stitch with the small stitch length for a further ¾”. Stop sewing again, return to normal stitch length, and stitch on. The added strength will be a great advantage when you trim and clip the fabric and turn it right side out.

Corded or piped seam (142)

This is used as a decorative finish for cushions, bed covers and loose covers. The secret is to pin and tack at every stage before you machine- stitch, and then to use the special cording foot which is usually supplied with every sewing machine.

Choose the cord best suited to the weight of the fabric—a fine cord for cotton and light linen fabrics, a heavier cord for thick fabrics like corduroy, heavy linens and bulky woolen or worsted fabrics.

First measure how much cord your article will need, then cut enough bias strip or braid for the first seam. Fold the covering over the cord, pin and then tack close to the cord. Stitch along this line.

Place the covered cord between the two layers of fabric, positioned right sides of fabric together, and pin and tack the four thicknesses of fabric together as shown in 142b. Finally stitch, keeping as close to the cord as possible ( If the fabric is very bulky an alternative method is to stitch the covered piping to one layer of fabric only, then put the two layers of fabric right sides together and stitch. There is less risk of an untidy seam if you use this latter method.

Finally, cut off the cord at the seam end, and deal with the next seam in the same way.

The strips of fabric to cover the cord must be cut on the cross, otherwise the fabric will wrinkle and the article will look unprofessional. The method of cutting bias strips is shown in 143a, b, c and d. If the thought of cutting bias strips is a little daunting, you can buy wide bias braid in a toning or contrasting colour, and use this in exactly the same way. Be sure the braid is strong enough for the purpose.

141, 142, 142abc

Saddle-stitched seam—hand-finished (144)

This is a useful decorative seam for, say, a child’s washable garment in a thick fabric. It has the advantage of securing and finishing the edges of the seam allowance without being too complicated or bulky. Make up the sleeve in the usual way, but instead of pressing the seam allowances open, press both of them to one side and tack neatly. Turn the sleeve right side out, thread a needle with three strands of silk in a colour which matches the fabric, and sew a line of very neat, even running stitches in. long through the three thicknesses of fabric. If the seam allowances are in. you should position the line of running stitches about in. from the seam line.

Flat fell seam

This is very similar to the welt seam finish (131) but is the seam used when you are sewing fine garments such as lingerie and baby clothes. It is sewn with the wrong sides of the fabric facing each other, so that the turnings come on to the right side of the garment. Stitch along the normal seam line. Trim one seam allowance to in. Press both seam allowances to one side, with the trimmed seam allowance underneath. Turn under the raw edge of the other seam allowance about in. and press. Pin, tack and stitch down by machine or by hand to conceal all raw edges.



This is quite a useful seam for fine fabrics with edges which tend to fray or curl up unless properly secured.

French seam (145)

This is the traditional seam for fine, hand—sewn lingerie, but whether sewn by hand or by machine, a French seam can also be extremely useful for other garments, and especially for fine garments for babies and young children, where frequent washing might cause an unfinished seam to fray or unravel.

Like the flat fell seam, the French seam is produced the ‘wrong way’—the wrong sides of the fabric are placed together for stitching, so that the raw edges appear on the right side of the article.

Instead of stitching on the seam line, stitch nearer to the raw edges of the fabric—say about in. from the edge of the fabric. Trim the seam allowance slightly; turn article to the wrong side. Fold along the stitched seam line so that the right sides of the fabric are touching. Press along the fold, and make a line of tacking stitches in. from the fold. Then stitch. No raw edges should be visible on the right side of the fabric; nothing looks worse than a French seam where strands are trapped in the seam, and there is almost no way of getting rid of these untidy ends once the seam has been stitched. Finally, open and press.

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