How to Make Seams for Special Materials

The approach towards creating seams for specialized materials, such as leather or vinyl, is contingent upon the nature of the material and the distinct characteristics of the project. To assist you in navigating this process, we have assembled some overarching guidelines that you can consider when working with these materials:

Seams for Special Materials

With the right knowledge, you will have no trouble even when working with fabrics that at first glance look problematic. Very thin or very thick, there is a solution for everything, and it’s sometimes easier than you think.

Very Thin Fabrics

Use french seams. Sometimes very thin fabrics do not slide under the foot very well or feeding them through is difficult. In this case, it is a good idea to place a sheet of tissue paper under the lowest layer of fabric — this also means thin fabrics are not so easily pulled into the opening in the needle plate. After sewing, the tissue paper can easily be torn away from both sides of the seam as it has been perforated by the stitches. You should use a needle that is as fine and sharp as possible (size 60).


Stretch Fabrics

For jersey fabrics, you should always use a ball-pointed needle as it will not damage the material. If your sewing machine does not have an elastic stitch, set it to a narrow zigzag with the stitch width 0.5–1 mm. The resulting seam will be slightly stretchy, like the fabric. If a seam, such as a shoulder seam, should not be stretchy

despite the stretchable fabric when sewing place a strip of folded bias binding or seam binding centrally along the seam line of the top layer of fabric. Then sew the seam through the binding and fabric together. Use a twin needle for topstitching the seams. Put two spools of thread on the machine. Draw both threads together through the threading system and then one through the eye of each needle.

Leather, Artificial Leather, and Lacquer Fabrics

To prevent stitching holes that will later remain visible, use adhesive tape for pinning the materials together. Another possibility is offered by textile or leather glue. Glue the pieces together in the seam allowance close to the seam line. Then you can carefully try on the pieces and they will not slip during sewing. For sewing, use a leather needle, which has a triangular point. The stitch length should be about 3–3.5 mm.

Fur Fabrics

Faux fur with short or long hair has a nap, which runs in the direction of the hair. Always cut the fabric against the direction of the nap (which you can feel with your hand), but sew the seams with the nap. After sewing, place the work on the table with the pile side up. Then carefully pull the hair out of the seam with a pin. Turn the work to the wrong side and use scissors to cut away the pile along the seam allowances. This will make the seam allowances less obtrusive

Blunt Needles

If a few stitches of the seam are skipped or if the needle pulls cross threads that is a sure sign that the needle is blunt or bent. In this case, the only thing to do is to get rid of the old needle and put in a new one.

You can use the tights test to tell whether a needle is still sharp. Stick the needle into an old pair of thin tights. If the needle pulls threads, put it straight in the bin.

Special Sewing Machine Accessories

If you often use materials such as silk, leather, artificial leather or faux fur, you should think about buying an upper feed foot. This works in sync with the needle and the lower feed, so that both layers of fabric are fed through together. Before investing in the expensive upper feed foot, you should consider buying a new sewing machine that is equipped with one. Some machines also come with a roller foot. The rollers turn while you are sewing, pressing the upper fabric layer onto the lower. This also means that both layers of fabric are fed through evenly. A Teflon-coated foot glides over leather and lacquer fabric better than an ordinary universal foot. Laying small strips of tissue paper on top is also a useful substitute.

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Neatening Edges

To prevent them from fraying, all open cut edges visible on the inside of the garment should be neatened. There is usually no need to neaten concealed edges.

Pinking Shears

Neatening with pinking shears is recommended only for firm fabrics, but this way of neatening edges is not suitable for very loosely woven fabrics. When using pinking shears, cut the fabric an even distance from the seam.

Zigzag Stitch

Zigzag stitch (stitch length and width about 2–3 mm) offers a quick and durable way to neaten the cut edges of fabrics. The seam allowances of two pieces can be neatened either separately or together.

Finishing Hems with Zigzag Stitch

Edges cut on the straight grain or bias can be finished with a narrow zigzag stitch (stitch length 0.2 mm, stitch width 1–5–2.5 mm). Stitch along the edge of the hem or fold over the allowance and stitch along the edge of the fold. Then cut away the remainder of the allowance close to the line of the zigzag. On the bias, the edge can also be stretched, which produces little waves.

Hemmed Seam Allowances

Press the seam allowances open. Turn each edge of the fabric about 3–5 mm to the wrong side and press along the fold. Now stitch in place along each edge close to the fold.

Finishing with Bias Binding

Bias binding is perfect for neatening the seam allowances of unlined jackets and coats.

Ready-Folded Bias Binding

  1. Unfold the binding and place it right sides together along the edge of the fabric. Sew along the fold line of the binding.
  2. Fold the binding over the edge to the wrong side, with the free side of the binding folded in, and pin in place with the folded edge overlapping the edge of the seam by 1 mm. Baste in place if necessary and, on the right side of the work, stitch in the ‘ditch’ of the seam or close to the edge of the bias binding.


Making Your Own Bias Binding

With a bias-binding-maker, which you can buy from a specialist shop, you can make binding to match your garment fabric in a jiffy.

  1. Cut strips on the bias. The width of the strips depends on the size of the bias-binding-maker. For very long strips piece several strips together by placing the narrow diagonal edges of the strips together so that they form a ‘V’ shape at right angles. Now sew the straight edge, the corners of which will protrude about 0.5 cm. Press open the seam allowances and cut off the protruding corners.
  2. Insert one end of the binding into the bias-binding-maker and pull a little of the binding through. Press the folded binding in place with the iron, while slowly pulling the bias-binding-maker further along by the handle until you reach the end of the binding, and follow the binding-maker with the iron. Lastly, fold the long folded edges together and press.


Hems are finished edges — e.g. on a skirt, a sleeve, a pair of trousers or a blouse. They may be sewn in various ways. You can safely venture to hemstitch by machine; it will be just as ‘invisible’ as a hand-sewn hem, as well as lasting longer and being much quicker to do.

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Machine Hemming

The most important thing with machine hemming is the way the fabric edge is folded at the hem. Arrange the fabric as in this simplified sketch, which you can transfer to any hem.

Neaten the edge of the fabric. Fold the pressed-over edge of the hem (the final length of the garment) back under the right side of the fabric like an accordion, so that the neatened edge protrudes 0.5 cm from under the resulting fold. Then position the presser foot on the wrong side of the fabric, so that the notch in the middle runs exactly along the fold. The hemstitch set on the machine sews several straight stitches on the seam allowance, and then a zigzag stitch into the fold which picks up only a few threads of the upper fabric along the edge of the fold.

Top-stitched Hem

A hem with visible top-stitching has a casual look. Press the seam allowance to the wrong side and fold over the cut edge a further 1 cm on the wrong side. Press again. Sew the hem all the way around close to the edge. If the seam allowance is very narrow, neaten the edge with a zigzag stitch or pinking shears. Press the hem over at least 0.75 cm and stitch in place the width of the presser foot away from the fold (= 0.5 cm).

Curved Hem

If the edge of the hem is curved, as with a bell skirt, the hem edge must be gathered. Sew a row of running stitch 0.5 cm away from the neatened hem edge. Press up the hem. Pull the lower thread of the running stitch until the extra width lies flat on the underlying fabric. Make sure the gathering is evenly distributed. Press the gathering from the hem edge up. Small folds will form. Now sew the hem by hand or machine. Lastly, remove the gathering threads.

Hems at Non-Mitred Corners

Non-mitered corners are preferred for the hems of shirt or the edges of jackets, as they provide a neat finish. Neaten the vertical and horizontal hem edges. Fold over the neatened seam allowance on the front edge, right sides together. Stitch the hem in place along the sewing line of the front edge, from the folded edge upwards. Press the seam, cut away the seam allowance at the corner diagonally to 2 mm from the corner and turn the corner. Pull the corner into shape and press.

Hem with Mitred Corners

This way of working a corner where two hems meet is recommended for thicker fabrics, as the seam allowance is cut away. The angle of the diagonal line of the corner seam will vary, depending on the width of the seam allowances.

Working with special materials can often present challenges for even the most experienced seamstress. However, with the proper understanding and techniques, one can easily overcome any difficulties and create beautiful and durable seams. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the unique characteristics and requirements of each type of fabric in order to produce high-quality results. This includes everything from selecting the appropriate thread and needles, to adjusting the sewing machine settings to accommodate the fabric’s weight and texture. By taking the time to learn about the different properties of special materials, you can confidently create stunning seams that will stand the test of time.

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