How to Finish Seams Without a Serger

Being on the inside of a garment, a seam may not be the most visible finish to a tailoring job. However, experienced and new tailors do appreciate the importance of a good finish as it helps your garments’ edges from fraying and gives an overall good look. Modern tailors often turn to an overlocker or Serger to finish the seam.  What if you don’t have one with you? This guide explains, in detail, how you can create high-quality finishes on your seams without a Serger or overlocker.

How to Finish Seams Without a Serger

There is no one universal method for finishing seams with a normal sewing machine. However, you will find that creating a tight zigzag stitch close to the edge of your seam produces a high-quality and professional-looking finish to your seam. What’s more, the zigzag finish, besides being easy to stitch, keeps the edges of your garments from fraying.

You might have noticed that almost every other garment from before the overlocker/Serger period had a zigzag finish on the seam/edges. However, that’s not to say that zigzags are the only finishing stitch or method to finish your seam. You are free to experiment with other professional stitching or cutting methods such as turn stitching, mock overclocks, French seams, pinked seams, Hong Kong finishes or any other that you can come up with. 

To finish any seam without a Serger using a zigzag, just set your sewing machine to a zigzag pattern and stitch a tight zigzag as close to the edge as possible but not right at the edge. Once you finish the stitch, go ahead and trim the edge to achieve a professional look. You can choose to use the same color thread as the one on the seam or fabric or a contrasting one depending on your style. 

Step by Step to Finish A Seam Without a Serger

Don’t have a Serger or overlocker at home? Hardly any independent tailor can have the luxury of a separate Serger in addition to their already expensive sewing machine. However, you can achieve pretty much the same professional look with a normal sewing machine using the following techniques:

This finishing technique can produce a professional-looking finish on any seam regardless of the fabric or length of the seam. It’s also the easiest and most preferred method for most beginner and experienced designers. Here are the steps you need to follow when finishing with a zigzag

Step 1. Prepare Your Sewing Machine and Thread

We are assuming you are working on a relatively modern sewing machine that can produce different kinds of stitches. If so, then load your thread to your machine and set it to zigzag stitches. The thread should ideally be of the same color as the garment as zigzag stitches can be quite bold even though this is a matter of personal choice.

Set your zigzag sewing measurements to a short stitch of about 2mm in width and 1.5mm in length. Of course, you are free to adjust these measurements depending on your stylistic choices and size of your seam bleed.

Step 2. Aligning Your Seam Edges

Turn your garment inside out and align the seam edges just a few millimeters inside so that the needle doesn’t strike too close to the edge of the seam edge and bunch up the thread. The extra inches will be cut off with a pair of fabric scissors to avoid fraying after stitching the zigzag.

Step 3. Creating the Zigzag Finish

Start from one edge of the seam and stitch a uniform zigzag stitch along the edge all the way to the end. You should end up with a nice, professional-looking zigzag pattern on the edge of your seam. Repeat the same with the other side of your seam to achieve a consistent finish. 

Step 4. Trimming the Seam Edge

If you followed the instructions to this point, you should have a few millimeters of unstitched fabric on both ends of your seam/lips. Use a normal pair of fabric scissors to trim this part off to properly finish the seam. This will also prevent the edge from fraying as the outer edges will be reinforced with the zigzag stitch.  

How to Finish A Seam with A Traditional Turn-Stitch 

This method is a bit traditional and takes a bit more time and skill to achieve a professional finish. It’s suitable for thin fabrics like polyester or those that can shear easily. This method involves turning the edges of the lips on your seam and applying a normal straight stitch. Here is how to do it, step by step:

Step 1. Prepare Your Seam Edges

Open your seam edges/lips wide to prepare them for folding. Next, start with either side of the edges and fold them slightly all the way down while pressing the fold down with an iron box. This is the most delicate and time-consuming part of this finish especially if your seam has a small allowance. In fact, this method is only practical if you left an allowance of at least 1.5mm to 2mm on your seam (the lips).

Step 2. Stitching Your Folds- Finishing the Seam

With both folds pressed down, you can now apply a straight stitch close to the edge of the folds attaching the bottom and top folds together. This means the seam won’t have any exposed edges at the end of the finish.

The advantage of using a traditional turn-stitch to finish your seam include but are not limited to:

  • The finish will look more professional especially if both folds are of the same width.
  • The seam will never fray because there are no exposed edges.
  • The finish uses a simple straight stitch, therefore, doesn’t require a lot of thread.

That said, this type of finish is not practical for heavier fabrics such as denim or even cotton as it might create a rather bulky and unsightly upturn on the edge

How to Finish A Seam with Pinked Scissors

Some fabrics don’t even need a stitched seam to stay put for long periods without fraying. If you are working with tightly woven fabrics or polyesters, then a simple finish using a pair of pinked fabric scissors would suffice. 

You don’t need to do any kind of stitching for this finish. Just grab your pinked scissors and trim the edges of your seam allowance/lips to achieve that professional finish you are after.

Related Questions

What Can I Use If I Don’t Have a Serger?

You can use a normal sewing machine to finish your seams if you don’t have a Serger. There are several finishing techniques that can be used when you don’t have access to an overlocker or Serger, with a zigzag stitch finish being the easiest and most common.  

You can also use a modern sewing machine to finish a seam the same way you could on a Serger using mock overclock modes. Take a look at your sewing machine’s manual and see if it has mock-overclock stitching capabilities. The trade-off might be the speed at which a normal sewing machine can complete a simple mock-overlock but that’s acceptable if that’s all you have to work with.

How Do You Finish A Seam by Hand?

Yes, any finish that can be done with a normal sewing machine can be replicated by hand. For instance, you can hand stitch the traditional turn-stitch method described with just a thread and needle. However, finishing a seam by hand takes a bit more time than it would were you to use a sewing machine or Serger. Naturally, the result may not be as clean as what you would get from a Serger or sewing machine.

You could also opt for a pinked seam if you don’t have access to a sewing machine or Serger and the fabric you are dealing with is tightly woven.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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