Sewing princess seams with semi-finished edges

Sewing princess seams 02

Sewing princess seams requires a little finessing, and it took me a few tries before I could create a decent-looking curved seam.  Also, I found it puzzling that the traditional method for sewing princess seams (see this tutorial) requires pressing the seam open and clipping and notching the edges, which doesn’t result in a  “finished” edge.  Once the garment is complete, how do you ensure all the little bits of the seam edges stay in place, particularly if the seam is to be permanently enclosed under a lining?  How do you get your iron in there to press it?

After playing around with the seams and doing a little online research, I found a method that I like and that seems to work for me, and I thought I’d share it for anyone else new to princess seams and wondering how to finish the edges.

A few disclaimers:

  • This is *not* the traditional way of sewing princess seams.
  • I’m sure I’m not the first person to tackle princess seams this way.
  • I don’t think there is any real “right” way to do this.  This is just one of many methods that will work, depending on how you’d like the finished seam to be used.
  • This is something that works for me on this particular dress (Butterick 5353), but it may not work for you!
  • I consider myself an advanced beginner and make no claims to know what I’m talking about.  : )

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, here’s how I sew princess seams with a semi-finished edge:

Sewing princess seams 01

First, make sure your sewing helper/supervisor is ready.  Here, Maggie is sitting on my sewing table and ready for action.  : )

The seam I’m going to sew is the princess seam joining the center bodice piece (on the right in the photo at the top of this post) to the left side bodice piece (on the left).  Notice that the side piece is much more curvy than the center piece.

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I used a regular pencil to mark the notches on both pieces of fabric along the princess seam.

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To stabilize the bias-cut edges of each piece, I sewed a line of staystitching (just a simple straight stitch) 1/2 inch from the edge.  My seam allowances here are 5/8 inch, so I’m sewing just slightly inside of the future seam line.

Sewing princess seams 05

Next I began the pinning odyssey.  I find that using a lot of pins is helpful in finessing the curved edges together and keeping everything where you want it to be.  First I pinned one edge of the seam…

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… and then the other end.  Note that the pieces will *not* lay flat in the middle once you have both ends pinned!

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I then pinned the fabric together at the two marked notches, which you can see marked by my gray pencil dots along the fabric edges.

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Before tackling the super-curvy middle section, I put a few more pins in the areas between the notches and the ends of the seam, since these areas lay relatively flat and were easy to get out of the way.

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Now for the curvy middle part.  Since it’s hard to figure out exactly where the two pieces of fabric should come together since the edges don’t seem to match up at all, I found the approximate center of each edge by gently pulling the edges apart and creating a crease with my fingers.

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I put a pin through both creases (the center pin in the photo above).  Notice the puckering on either side of this pin!

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I did the same thing on either side of the center pin — creating a crease in the center of each edge, and then pinning the creases together.  Little by little, the super-curvy section was pinned into place.

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I added a few more pins (as I am wont to do), and there you have it — a pinned princess seam!

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Here’s what it looked like from the back — lots of pins holding everything in place, and a lot of excess fabric along the curve, underneath the pins.

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As I sewed the seam together, I gently spread the fabric away from the needle to flatten the fabric.  I sewed very slowly, maybe 4-5 stitches at a time, and frequently lifted up the presser foot to shift the top and bottom layers to avoid puckers.  The fabric really wants to pucker since I didn’t clip or notch the seam allowances, and therefore the fabric edges are not the same length.

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I did it!  Above you can see the seam, as well as the original staystiching line below it.

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I opened up the fabric to make sure I didn’t have any puckers or tucks.  If you have any, rip out that area and sew it again.

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Now for the semi-finished edges.  First I sewed 1/8 inch away from the seam line in the seam allowance, which happens to be exactly where I did the original staystitching, so I used it as a guide.  Again, be careful not to create any tucks (although if you do, it’s not a big deal since it’ll be in the seam allowance).

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Then I trimmed the seam allowances to less than 1/8 inch away from the staystitching.  This creates a semi-finished edge with the following features:

  • Since the seam allowance is very small (less than 3/16 inch), it doesn’t need to be clipped or notched and will lie flat around the curves.
  • There aren’t any loose flaps that will need to be pressed after each wash of the garment.
  • Fraying is reduced (although not completely eliminated) since the seam allowance is so small.
  • The seam is reinforced with a second line of stitching, so it’ll securely contain your body’s curves.

I’ve found that the seam allowance naturally wants to sit toward the side bodice piece (the more sharply curved piece), so I decided to press it that way.  I’ve also found that the seam allowance will stay there after multiple garment washings, which is great because my seam is permanently enclosed underneath the dress lining, so I can’t get in there to press it if I wanted to.  No need to fuss with it — it stays where I put it!

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Here’s the finished seam after I pressed the seam allowance toward the side bodice piece (to the left in the photo above).  It does create a little bit of bulk right at the seam, but it’s pretty minimal and hasn’t been an issue on this particular dress.  The little bit of bulk is a trade-off for the semi-finished nature of the seam.

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And here’s the finished seam from the wrong side.

Sewing princess seams 21I did the same thing for the princess seam on the opposite side of the bodice, and above is the finished bodice front.  Awesome!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this method may or may not work for you, depending on your garment type, fabric, and how the finished seam will function in the finished garment.

If you have any other tips for sewing and finishing princess seams (or any curved seams), share them in the comments!

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10 comments
  1. Great tutorial on sewing princess seams. So glad Maggie was there to ‘supervise’. :-)

    • Carolyn said:

      Thanks! Yes, Maggie thoroughly enjoys supervising my sewing and always wants to get in on the action. : )

  2. Thanks so much – very clear, makes sense to me – Luckily my pins went ‘missing’ today so I took the time to do some extra research while waiting for an opportunity to grab some more… Will be much happier with the end result now I am sure!

    • Carolyn said:

      Great, hope it works out well for you! BTW, I’m always dropping pins on the floor and finding them days later – oops. : )

  3. Marie Blocher said:

    If the material is really prone to ravel, putting a zig zag over that final 1/8 inch will contain the threads nicely.

    • Carolyn said:

      Yes, great tip Marie – thanks! Especially if your garment won’t be lined.

  4. Adrienne said:

    I am sewing my first princess seam ever – after 10 minutes of staring at my fabric pieces in total confusion, I googled and found your post. Very helpful, thank you!

    • Carolyn said:

      I’m so glad this helped, and congrats on your first princess seams! : ) They’re not too bad once you wrap you head around them.

  5. Marie Blocher said:

    I would add a suggestion that you make sure the bodice fits BEFORE trimming the seam. I’ve had to re-adjust the curve up or down on some patterns to fit my personal curves. It is usually only a slight change and accomplished within the seam allowance. But if I had already trimmed the seam it wouldn’t have been possible.

    • Carolyn said:

      Very much agreed, thanks Marie! I had already made a muslin of this particular dress, with a few rounds of alterations, so I was sure it would fit perfectly by this point. The trimmed seam allowance doesn’t allow for any more alterations, so better to figure this out ahead of time!

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