Tips on Troubleshooting Tension to Seam Finishes

Learn to Sew the Absolute Easiest Way to Finish Seams by Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy

Tips on Troubleshooting Tension to Seam Finishes

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Learn to Sew the Absolute Easiest Way to Finish Seams by Nancy Zieman | Sewing With NancySewing basics—that’s the feature of today’s blog. Adjusting the sewing machine’s tension, stitching basic knit or woven seams, and seam finishing options. You can’t get more basic than this!
Troubleshooting Tension

Balanced stitches are generally easy to achieve if the sewing machine is properly threaded. There may be a time that the top thread and bobbin thread are not in sync, causing the seam to pucker or the seam strength to be weak.

  • Correct Tension: The stitches look even in length. The bobbin thread color does not appear on the top of the seam, nor does the upper thread color appear on the underside of the seam.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 11 right

  • Tight Tension: The fabric puckers and stitches easily pop when tension is applied to the seam. Slightly loosen the top tension setting and possibly lengthen the stitch.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 12 Tight
  • Loose Tension: Top thread appears on the underside of the seam and the seam is weak. First, check to see if the bobbin thread is properly in the bobbin case and/or guided through the bobbin tension. If the bobbin thread was correctly inserted in the machine, slightly tighten the top tension or rethread the sewing machine.

FinishedSeams NancyZieman 13 LooseStitching Seams on Knit Fabrics

The beauty of sewing knits is that there are very few rules to follow. The sewing is truly simple.

Seaming Knit Fabric with a Sewing Machine

  • Use a ballpoint or stretch needle. The specially designed tip pushes the loops of the knit fabric apart, rather than stitching through them.
  • Thread the machine top and bobbin with polyester thread.
  • For stable knits, such as fleece, use two rows of stitching: a straight stitch followed by a zigzag.

FinishedSeams NancyZieman 17

  •  If the pattern includes a 5/8″ seam allowance, trim the seam allowance to 1/4″ before applying the zigzag stitch.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 16

  • For knits with greater stretch, use a wobble stitch, or narrow zigzag. This stitch is really important when stitching slinky knits with a conventional sewing machine, but it can also be used on other knits with moderate stretch.
– Adjust the machine for a zigzag stitch, stitch width set at 0.5 mm and stitch length at 3.5 mm.
– Stitch the seam.
– Optional: Zigzag edges together with a wider zigzag stitch.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 20

  • Use a straight stitch for vertical seams, such as side seams.

Seaming Knit Fabric with a Serger

A serger can be used to stitch a side seam on knit or woven fabrics. A serged seam is stitched, trimmed, and finished in one step.
  • Use a 4-thread overlock.
  • Position pins parallel to the seam allowance to avoid hitting the blade mechanism.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 21

  • For patterns with a 5/8″ seam allowance, align the edge of the fabric along the marking appropriate on your serger. For patterns with a 1/4″ seam allowance, align the edge of the fabric with the blade.FinishedSeams NancyZieman 22
  • Serge, trimming any seam allowance in excess of 1/4″.

FinishedSeams NancyZieman 24

Secure serged seam ends:

  • A serger does not backstitch, so you cannot secure seam ends by backstitching. Leave a thread tail at the end of your seam.
  • Place the fabric and thread tail on top of a folded piece of paper toweling.
  • Apply a dab of seam sealant, like Fray Block, to the end of the seam to seal the threads. The liquid dries clear and prevents the thread ends from raveling. After it dries, cut off the thread tails.

Note from Nancy: Speed up the drying process by pressing the thread tail with the tip of an iron on paper toweling.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 25.Learn to Sew the Absolute Easiest Way to Finish Seams by Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy

Finishing Seams—Woven Fabrics

Most woven fabrics ravel unless the edges are finished. After stitching a seam, add a seam finish to each seam edge to prevent fraying. Most seam finishes are done on a single thickness of fabric to avoid bulk and make the seam flatter and neater. Here are several ways to finish seams:

Zigzag each seam edge.

  • Use a medium width zigzag and medium to short stitch length.
  • Stitch the “zig” in the fabric and the “zag” close to or off the cut edge.
  • Zigzagging works best on medium to heavyweight fabrics. If zigzagging draws in the seam edge and makes a pucker, try using the Overcast Guide Foot.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 2

Serge each seam.

  • Serge each seam edge with a 3- or 4-thread serged overlock stitch.

FinishedSeams NancyZieman 1Stitching French Seams

For very sheer fabrics or fabrics that ravel easily, French seams enclose the seam allowances, giving a neat finish that practically eliminates raveling. French seams are a perfect choice for joining fabric such as batiste, chiffon, and voile. With two rows of straight stitching and a little pressing, you can encase the raw edges of the fabric attractively and neatly.
  • Place wrong sides of seams together with the raw edges aligned. Straight stitch 3/8″ from the cut edges.
  • Trim the seam allowance to just slightly less than 1/4″ using a rotary cutter and cutting mat.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 4
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 6
  • Press the joined edges flat and then press the seam open. This makes it easier to fold the seam allowance along the first stitching line in preparation for the second row of machine stitching.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 7

  • Refold the seam allowance with the right sides of the fabric together, positioning the first stitching line at the fold.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 9

  • To complete the French seam, stitch 1/4″ from the fold, encasing the cut edges.
FinishedSeams NancyZieman 10Note from Nancy: To save time, I often reverse the width of the seam allowances, stitching the 1/4″ seam first, then the 3/8″ seam. This method produces a slightly wider seam, but it eliminates the trimming step. For extremely sheer fabric, the narrower width is best.

All my favorite sewing tips in one book.

  • The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew chapters include:

    • Sewing Notions
    • Sewing Machine Confidence
    • Serger Spotlight
    • Patterns
    • Fabric Facts
    • Sewing Basics
    • Beyond the Basics

The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew by Sewing With Nancy Zieman

Watch The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew (Part One, Part Two, and Part Threeon Sewing With Nancy online.

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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  • Starla
    August 16, 2016

    Thanks especially for the tension tips!

  • Donna Wilson
    August 16, 2016

    Thanks for the tips, Nancy! Very helpful, especially the tip about trimming the seam in the French seam application.

  • beth
    August 16, 2016

    your tips are very helpful and I like your shows on this subject.

  • beth
    August 16, 2016

    these are helpful tips. Even your shows help me out.

  • Gail Beam
    August 16, 2016

    Awesome tips and easy to understand instructions with great photos.

  • Jackie
    August 17, 2016

    I liked the tension tips, too. Actually all of them…so helpful!

  • Sandy ball
    August 31, 2016

    Nancy, thank u for all you have done. I watch every tv show you have. However, what has impressed me, is that in spite of your disfigurement you have managed to be successful in all areas and have been such a mentor to me. I too have physical problems but, I choose to be a hermit rather than facing my weaknesses and turn them into positives until that is, when I saw your show. I watched you and finally said if she can go on tv, I can go to the grocery store. Now I am beginning to sew. too.
    If asked. I explain my situation and decided to think it was because they cared rather than make slide remarkes.
    thanks again Nancy, God bless you

  • Diane Pigman
    September 25, 2016

    I have been planning my Saturday mornings around your show which airs at 9:00 AM CT on LPB of Louisiana for years now, especially since retiring. You not only inspire and teach me, but I find your special Skype features very interesting. Thanks for your faithfulness to the sewing community. We are MI transplants so also enjoy knowing all the great things that come to us from Wisconsin and you.

  • Diane
    November 30, 2017

    Whats the best way to sew fleece fabric and what needle to use?

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