Sunday, September 9, 2012

E is for Edge Finishes

Nothing says vintage sewing to me than edge (or seam) finishing techniques!  While the actual techniques have changed very little through the decades, our preferred techniques for ensuring strong seams has changed mostly due to modern technology.  The best way to learn what seam finishings were popular in each decade is to pick up a pattern and take a look at the instructions.  Recommended seam finishing techniques are included in most vintage patterns from the 1930s through to the 1950s.  It starts to drop off in instructions in the 1960s, which is of no surprise given that the first home overlock or serger machines were available to home sewists around 1964 (though they had been around in industrial sewing since the 1880s!).

Here's a few examples from some of my patterns on popular seam finishings through the decades.

The top four techniques listed in this McCall pattern are 1) overcast edges together, 2) overcast edges separately, 3) seam binding, and 4) turned under and sewn.  While many of us know that seam binding was a popular method used in the 20s, 30s and 40s this is one of the only patterns I've seen that listed it as one of the top four techniques.


In the 1930s we start to see a reference to 'pinking' seams using pinking shears (and this pattern says 'or by machine').  Pinking machines were available for home use at the end of the 19th century and was a simple hand cranked machine that you could run your fabric through to get a scalloped ('pinked') effect on the edges.  Check out this blog post for some photos of antique pinking machines.  Singer also introduced a sewing machine pinking attachment.  Susan from Spare Time (for Sewing) gives a great tutorial on using the pinking attachment.  While pinking scissors were originally patented in 1893, they were not widely used in home sewing until the patent of new and improved pinking shears by Samuel Briskman from Brooklyn who also started the Pinking Shears Corporation.  From the mid 1930s we start to see pinking as one of the top four recommended seam finishing techniques on vintage patterns lasting all the way through the 1950s and it's still a seam finish used regularly today.

The top four finishing techniques listed in most 1940's patterns are very similar to the ones from the 1920s but with the addition of pinking as one of the most mentioned techniques (for example, the Advance pattern in the photo above only lists pinking in the sewing directions).  The top four finishing techniques most commonly listed in the 1940s are 1) overcast seams together, 2) pinked seams, 3) overcast seams separately, and 4) turned under and sewn.


We see the same techniques listed in the instructions of 1950's patterns with a few exceptions including the introduction of french seams.  French seams have been around for ages and are listed as a technique in sewing books from earlier decades but I've never noticed it in sewing directions until the 1950s (like in the Weldons pattern above).

Here are some illustrations of popular edge finishes from my 1943 Minature Fashions: Simplicity Sewing Book:

Here are some really great tutorials, often with step-by-step pictures, on various seam finishes: 

  • The Coletterie blog did a whole series on seam finishes including a great bias bound seam finishes tutorials in two parts (part 1 and part 2

What's your preferred technique?  Have you come across any unique seams finishes in vintage patterns?



  1. Personally, I love French seams -- except when they cross, which can create a bit of bulk (like in a mens shirt armhole).  Splendid post!

  2. Well I learned something today. I've not heard of, nor thought of, turned edges stitched together. That's one I will try on my next project! Especially that now my serger is on the fritz, perhaps permanently. Ugh. 

  3. For sheer fabrics I prefer French seems, otherwise bias bound or turned and stitched edges.

  4. Hi Debi, another great post.  There was a time when I labored over seam finishes. I have tried them all I think. I recently went back to pinking some seams, it was OK but I prefer my over-locked edges for most items. I do an over-locked French seam on the serger that works well. On unlined jackets I use a seam binding on exposed seams, over the serged seam. I always line sleeves, however, makes putting on and off much easier. Genenral sewing is most always over-locked for me. It is quick and easy and holds up so well with daily wear and laundering. I am fortunate to keep two sergers, one threaded with dark thread another with white.

  5. i'm loving this vintage trip through the alphabet!!

  6. I use many different seam finishes depending on the garment, its use, and the fabric. Mostly I use a pinked edge that I then sew a line of stitches along each pinked edge. I have found just pinking doesn't always mean it won't fray. I have also used overcasting, seam binding, and french seams. One method I have seen a time or two - and used on a few rare occasions is to just sew a second row of stitches 1/8" inside the first row. 

  7. Hi, Oona.
    Yes, I think it's a great idea - Debi's full of them!
    She's learned so much in the past year, and this is a chance for her to share her knowledge, and thank great sewists (such as yourself) who have inspired and instructed her.
    Looking forward to seeing you both this Autumn!

  8. Debi_myhappysewingplaceSeptember 20, 2012 11:32 PM

    What a great tip! I really like the idea of sewing inside the pinked edge...that makes a lot of sense! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Debi_myhappysewingplaceSeptember 20, 2012 11:33 PM

    I really love the look of seam binding in unlined jackets! Alas, I don't own an overlocker but I imagine it really is the best in terms of making sure seams hold up!

  10. Debi_myhappysewingplaceSeptember 20, 2012 11:34 PM

    I am a new convert to French seams! I love them!!

  11. Debi_myhappysewingplaceSeptember 20, 2012 11:34 PM

    I'm a recent convert to French seams too!

  12. I'm currently making a few outfits for a WWII reenactment and I was curious on how to authentically finish the seams. Pinking was going to be my guess, but now I know for sure! Thank you!! 


I read each and every comment--thank you so much!

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