Sewing Tutorial | French All Your Seams

After posting my navy lace scout tee I got a few questions asking how I french seamed my armholes. It can seem a little confusing at first but, as with apparently all of my tutorials, I promise it really is very easy. I’m first going to do a run through of the french seam and then will show you how to apply it to the armhole.

Just a few notes before we begin… 1. french seams are usually best used on light to medium weight fabric. 2. French seams require you to split your seam allowance in two parts. This tutorial is done using a 1/2″ seam allowance, but if you are working with a 5/8″ seam allowance, sew the first seam at 3/8″ and the second at 1/4″. I’ve tried to notate where this applies. With that, lets get to it! Click through to view the tutorial.

Part 1 | French Seams on Straight Seams

Step 1 | Cut your pieces from your fabric. I only made a half top for this so photographing would be easier, but yours will look normal of course.

Step 2 | Sew the sides and shoulder seams with the wrong sides of the fabric together at 1/4″ (or 3/8″ if you have a 5/8″ seam allowance) and press the seam open. I like to do all of the seams at once instead of completing one seam at a time because you are much less likely to end up with one seam backwards.

Step 3 | Grade your seam allowance down to 1/8″.

Step 4 | Fold and press along the seam so that the right sides are together and stitch at 1/4″.

Step 5 | Press both the side seams and shoulder seams towards the back of the garment and this part of the process is over!

Part 2 | French Seaming Armholes (and other curved seams)

Step 6 | First we will assemble the sleeves, this part is a bit repetitive. Sew the underarm seams with the wrong sides of the fabric together at 1/4″ (or 3/8″ if you have a 5/8″ seam allowance).

Step 7 | Press the seam open and grade the seam allowance down to 1/8″.

Step 8 | Fold and press along the seam so that the right sides are together and stitch at 1/4″. Press seam towards back of sleeve.

Step 9 | Sew a line of gathering threads from the front notch to the back notches.

Step 10 | Pin your sleeve and armhole together with wrong sides facing. Begin by matching the underarm seams and notches.

Step 11 | Pull on your gathering stitches to ease the sleeve cap into the armhole. Stitch around the seam at 1/4″ (or 3/8″ if you’re working with a 5/8″ seam allowance). After sewing this seam, check for any tucks and remove them if you have any.

Step 12 | Press the seam open and grade the seam allowance down to 1/8″. This will be most easily accomplished by cramming a ham or sleeve roll inside your shirt and pressing the seam around that.

Step 13 | Fold and press along the seam so that the right sides are together and stitch at 1/4″. Check for any tucks and correct those if you have any. You should now have a french seamed armhole like the one below, congrats!

And that’s that! As always if you have any questions leave me a note below and I’ll leave you a reply; I try to respond to all comments. Hope you find this tutorial useful!

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100 Responses to Sewing Tutorial | French All Your Seams

  1. pam says:

    My scout sleeve seems way too big for this.

    • jen | grainline says:

      Just sent you an email.

      • Emma says:

        I’m having the same problem! It’s been a joy until the (puffy) sleeves. Love a copy of that troubleshooting email…

        • Jen says:

          Sorry, I sent her that email almost 3 years ago so I have no idea what it said. The sleeve is the correct size for the armhole, you just need to properly distribute the ease between the notches as with any set in sleeve.

  2. Very cool! Nice way to finish the seams on the inside – especially if someone doesn’t have a serger (overlocker). And, it’d be good for any fabrics that might unravel – as the raw edges will be enclosed :)!

  3. Sarah says:

    Mind blown. LOVE this! Thank you for the visual!

  4. erin says:

    I’ve been thinking about doing these seams because I don’t have a serger. Thanks so much for showing how it’s done together with the measurements for seam allowance and sewing. Your tutorial is very clear.

  5. Carla says:

    thank you!! this is SO helpful.

  6. elena gold says:

    thank you so much for this!!! i’ve always wondered. i love french seams but always skipped the armhole because it seemed way too difficult. I will give this a try. one quick question: how far in from the edge do you sew the line of basting stitches? 1/4 “? can you make more than one line of basting stitches for more control? do you take out the basting stitches before sewing the second part of the french seam? ok, that was three ?s… 😉

    • jen | grainline says:

      I was definitely sewing things in backwards the first time I attempted it! As for your q’s, those are all things I should have included in the tutorial, so thanks for asking!
      1. I sewed the basting line in at 3/8″.
      2. You can definitely do more than one row of basting stitches, I think most books recommend that, but I guess I’ve gotten a bit lazy.
      3. You will want to take out any basting stitches that will be bound up into the seam out before you sew the second seam or it will be a little difficult to get the inside thread out. If I was going to do 2 lines of stitching I would probably do 3/8″ and 5/8″ and take out the 3/8″ after the first pass and the 5/8″ after the second.

  7. martha says:

    I’ve always skipped the armhole seams too, but it definitely looks so much more polished! And not nearly as scary as I thought. 😉

    p.s. did I comment on how awesome your lace tee is?

    • jen | grainline says:

      I feel a little silly because with every tutorial I say “It’s really easy!!” but it really is once you see it all laid out with clear photos. You’re gonna have the best looking armhole seams on the block!

      I am really pumped up about that top you’re thinking about making! I’m ordering a bunch of chambray for my next collection this week and I’m seriously considering throwing in a few extra yards and making one myself. It looks SO perfect.

  8. Kristen says:

    This is fab, thanks! I’ve done french seams on simple straight seams, but I never would have dreamed it possible on a curvy armhole! Wow!

  9. anna says:

    another lovely tutorial! I’ve never tried french seams on an armhole, but I will now! I love the finished look. 🙂

  10. Grace says:

    When I was trying to exempt my way out of a beginning construction class I did a french seam on a sleeve sample and I got marked down for it! I was told french seams only worked on straight seams. This was troubling and I am delighted to see this tutorial. I feel so vindicated.

    • jen | grainline says:

      So funny you would mention that, I did my first one in school and had a similar experience, though it was of surprise that I had successfully done it rather than a marked down grade. Apparently one of the teachers says that you can’t do them, luckily I didn’t have that teacher. I find that confusing because I own more than a few nice silk shirts + dresses with french seamed armholes and every seamstress I’ve worked with at the bridal studio does them on our dresses, though they were all trained outside the US (mostly eastern europe). Of course it’s not going to work in all situations, but what technique does?!

  11. Rae says:

    Beautiful! I love how you’ve really made it look simple and easy (as it should!)


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  13. Ginger says:

    Love this! I didn’t realize you could do a French seam on armholes! And it looks so simple! Thanks a million!

  14. Sue says:

    Hi. It’s so nice to found your blog.
    I came here through blog and blog and blog…i don’t know anymore.
    I loved your pattern immediately and ordered one immediately and got one two days ago and made it. so i have a Tiny pocket tank now. it was so easy and fits perfect.
    oh, Thanks for your tutorial. I used this french seaming for Tiny pocket it.
    i always thought it’s difficult but it wasn’t. your tutorial was very helpful.
    Please show us more of your patterns.I’ll make it again.

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  17. Hilary Grant says:

    Hey this was a really good tutorial. My expertise is not in garment construction at all though I have picked up bits and pieces on various jobs and online. I’ve just bought your Scout T and Tiny Pocket Tank to start making some nice light summer tops (to wear under cardigans of course) I’ve been meaning to do this for ages and I’m off to practise with some nice A.P.C.-style checked fabric today. Can’t wait!

    I’m definitely going to give French Seams a go.

    I’ll let you know how it works out…

  18. Neus says:

    Thanks!! I never understood it properly!

  19. kath says:

    I can’t wait to try this 🙂 Thanks again!

  20. Mita says:

    Great tutorial!!! French seams are just… classier. I don’t own a serger, don’t really want to own one and have always seen French seams as the better way to finish things. Just looks better. I guess I am a bit French seam crazy too! Great Blog as well

  21. Rhonda says:

    This was a very easy to follow tutorial thank you! I do have one question: When the French seams are done, do you have to press them to one side or the other? I was thinking they might poke out of the top? I am a relative newbie to better sewing so all this is a learning curve for me (in other words, please excuse if that was a dumb question LOL). I am making a blouse for myself this weekend and it is the first blouse I have made in probably 30 years! OMG the sleeve was tricky — the pattern didn’t even suggest making the gather threads! Obviously I need to order one of your patterns instead of the one I got! I just found your blog and am eager to read through your other great info! Thanks!

    • Glad you found the tutorial useful / easy to follow! I press my seams to the back of the garment for straight seams and as far as the armscye seam, typically you’d want to press typically press it towards the sleeve. Hope that helps a little!

  22. I am a french seam fiend as well … admittedly I would rather take the extra time and french seam everything rather than use my serger … But I do thank you for the armhole tutorial … I tend to skip the french seams on the arm holes but actually it looks so easy I now have no idea why I didn’t try this earlier … must be that mental space thing 🙂

  23. Rebecca says:

    I have just printed out my Woven Scout Tee pattern and I am definitely going to try this now. The tutorial is so clear. I love french seams on straight lines but have been too intimidated to try them on an armhole until now. Thank you.

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  25. sewnotwork says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I had wondered how I would finish my armscye on a sheer jacket. Now I know!

  26. Lark says:

    Great tutorial! I did this on another shirt with a sleeve similar to the one on your T. It worked pretty well. I was thinking it might even work better with a few clips along the curves after the first round of stitching, before encasing the seam. Have you tried that before?

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  29. Ptteptterose says:

    It’s funny. I’m french and in France we call these seams “coutures anglaises” !

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  31. Lana says:

    supper happy I came onto this page. that’s me done with bias binding….thank you so much for sharing, x

  32. Regina says:

    Do you press the finished seam down or top stitch?

  33. kathy says:

    Thank you for this excellent tutorial. I’m making a pattern from a garment that was made in India, and opened it up to find it was made with French seams. I’ve been uncertain whether to create 5/8″ seams or larger; now I know I can go with the 5/8″.

    Your website is fabulous. I’m looking forward to checking out your other tutorials. Keep up the great work!

  34. Fiona Kirkcaldie says:

    This is great! I just made the Scout tee over the weekend for the first time – brilliant pattern – from a lovely silk and french-seamed the sides, but hadn’t quite finished the armhole seams. I’m going to take the sleeves out again now and try this! I know I’ll be making this pattern again and again.

  35. Christi says:

    This is great — I just finished (I think) drafting a pattern from a favorite blouse and had planned to sew the first test with all French seams … except the armhole. From what you did here, I guess gathers aren’t an obstacle to using that kind of seam? There’s gathering at the bodice of the shirt, too, which I had also wondered about, but based on this, I think I’ll try French seams all around. A good tip about the grading, too — I’ve followed the basic concept on several projects, except for that part.

  36. Grace says:

    I tried this when I was in design school and got marked down for it. The instructor’s opinion was that such curved seams couldn’t (shouldn’t) be frenched. I’m happy to see that you disagree and have success… it gives me liscense to try it again for myself.

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  38. hollymadness says:

    thanks a lot for making this tutorial ,I have always wandered how to french seam the sleeves, I panning to use this tutorial to construct a shirt for my self because the fabric that I have is lightweight and shear, I don t think serging the seams would look nice.

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  41. Ioana says:

    Thanks for sharing! Your pictures are very clear and instruction great! can’t wait to pun in practice!

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  43. moineau16 says:

    What a great tutorial, I’ll definitely give French seams a try next time Interrestingly enough, we call them “English seam” in French 😉

  44. Are you kidding me?! I was always “told” you could only do French seams on a straight seam. Well look out sewing machine! We are are to get a little more French!

  45. Anna T says:

    These comments make me glad I never took a very serious construction class… I have only taken theatre costume construction from a very knowledgeable but chill lady, and the motto of the class was basically, do whatever works!

    Nowadays I call my mom, google for video tutorials, or even check my vintage sewing books and manuals for old-school tips. I am so glad I found your blog, because I think these techniques are going to help me out immensely when I get back in the saddle and take on some less-than-basic patterns!

    Lastly, I don’t own a serger (even when babysitting my mother’s for a year, we couldn’t figure out how to fix a messed up thread tension), and my favorite way to finish seams was just to trim the allowance down after seaming and zigzag along the edge of the fabric. ugly, unclassy, but easy and function. Whatever works! But my current machine is OLDER than the zig zag… so it looks like I have a big world of french seams opening up before my eyes. They don’t seem (snort) so hard, but they are new to me! so thank you for the great tut with great photos!

  46. Lorna says:

    This is a great tutorial! Thank you lots. It’s just never occurred to me to do French seams on an armhole. Genius! Thanks again,

  47. Thank you. This was exactly what I was looking for – great tutorial and pictures.

  48. Toni Heckman says:

    Most instructions, like yours, make the underarm sleeve seam & garment side seam first & then set the sleeve in. Can u please explain to me why this is preferred over setting the sleeve with the side & underarm seam open….& then stitching those seams in one move? I have tried to find a discussion of this & have not been able to find one. Thank you so much. Love your blog!

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  50. Ann says:

    I am a new sewer, having started this year, and had never heard of insetting a sleeve with a Princess seam. I followed your tutorial today, and made my most beautiful armhole seam ever. Thank you for your clear, step-by-step, illustrated instructions. I am thrilled with the result, which looks better than the bias binding I have been using to finish armholes. I feel like the cat who swallowed the canary!

  51. Julia says:

    Thank you so much for a great tutorial. I have made my Scout Tee today with French seams all the way. Thank you 🙂

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  54. Alicia says:

    Can you do this on polyester and chiffon? It would be one around the waist above the pregnant belly.

  55. This is a wonderful tutorial as I am considering doing most of all my seams French from now on. I don’t have a serger and quite honestly love the way french seams look over overlocked edges anyways! Thanks so much for posting a very clear tutorial! Much appreciated.
    xx Easy Outfits, by Pip

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  59. Laura Dodson says:

    Sewed my Scout Tee with FRENCH SEAMS and little pintucks at the front neck and lemme say this was the best, easiest to follow tutorial ever. My shirt looks so good with no exposed pinked seam edges. Yay! Thank you thank you.

  60. Diane Buchanan says:

    As I couldn’t get my overlocker to stop jamming and breaking threads, I used French seams on a light weight cotton for PJs and a robe. I didn’t know you could use this on sleeves so did an internet search and found you. Now I can have a go at completing the sleeves with this lovely finish.

    By the way, I used You Tube to search for a video on threading my overlocker and found exactly the same one as was on a video supplied with the machine, but no use on a DVD player! After much faffing around I’ve found the problem and can use the overlocker again, but really do like the French seam finish so will be using that a lot more from now on. Thanks for a great site and very clear tutorial.

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  64. Why do you press the seam allowance open after the first stitching when you are going to put that seam back together to sew the second seam from the other side?

    • Jen says:

      The seam will fold over much more easily and directly on the stitching line if you press the seam open first as opposed to just folding without pressing. Makes for a nicer looking french seam

  65. Victoria says:

    Wow. I am an advanced beginner sewer and have been doing French seams on every top I make – except the first two when I looked at my raveling seams and cringed!! I never realized you could do this on sleeve insets. I’m sort of nervous to try, because I’m still at the stage where I struggle just to get the sleeve sewn in properly, let alone as a French seam.I am currently sewing Vogue 9029 – which tells you to do French seams on just about every seam – including the princess seams – but they don’t mention to do it on the armholes. But I am inspired to try after seeing your post. Thanks so much.

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  67. Like 100 other comments here, I have to say I have no idea why I never thought I could do a french seam on a curve. I think I conjured that in my own mind, since I am a self taught (books) seamstress for the most part & no one ever taught me how to do them in the first place. I have a serger, but seldom use it as I like french seams & had been doing those long before I knew what a serger was. I had always wanted to do them on sleeves, but thought I couldn’t for some reason. Instead I have been using other techniques (such a velvet stretch ribbon, which is beautiful on it’s own but a bit fussy to work with) to cover them. I mostly sew for babies & children & hate to leave any seam unfinished, both for durability & on babies, for softness. I will certainly try it, although I am still not convinced yet it will lay smooth on the tight curves of baby/children’s wear, but at least I can try a practice piece & see if I am wrong…it wouldn’t be the first time if it happens that I am wrong & it works fine. LOL Sometimes, like in this case, I am happy to be proven wrong & HOPE that I am wrong. 😉

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  69. Jude says:

    I am just making a scout for the first time and I want to French all the seams. I see that in your digital booklet you say that the neck and armhole seam allowances are 1/4 inch only. However for the french seam on the armhole, if I follow your instructions, this becomes a 1/2 seam. Do I need to make any adjustment to the pattern?

  70. Hi I’ve just done my first few French seams on a dress I’m making as I’m fed up of zigzagging everything. I’m in LOVE! So easy, neat and strong!

    I do have a question though. When talking with my mum(also a sewer) she said you shouldn’t French seqm armholes as you need give there.
    Is she right? I don’t want to end up doing it and it going wrong…

    • Jen says:

      It really depends on the armhole, as I said in the tutorial it’s not for all armholes though it would have been perhaps helpful to state when its useful and when it’s not 😉 A shirt sleeve or something with a flatter sleeve cap like the scout or an oversized button up shirt like the Archer should be no problem, traditionally many men’s shirts are flat felled which is similar, but something like a fitted shirt or dress with a high, tight armhole you wouldn’t want to French seam.

  71. lyghtly says:

    Since I read how to do French seam arm holes on your blog, I only do French seams now. One question. I know it must be possible to put in a side pocket with French seams but I’m lost . . . . . maybe you could do a tutorial for that. Thanks

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  73. Angela Ganci says:

    Great tutorial on French seams. I finally have the professional finish I wanted using rayon challis for a blouse. Looks fabulous!

  74. shoes15 says:

    Thank you for this tutorial. A question: How do you “remove tucks” if you have any? I have a ton and I am not sure how to prevent them or how to remove them if one sneaks in. Thanks.

    • Jen says:

      If one sneaks in you can simply undo about 1/2″ of stitching surrounding it and re-stitch while smoothing out the tuck. To prevent them you just have to stitch slowly and make sure not to catch any, which gets easier as you go. Make sure you’re using a sleeve with a relatively flat cap, this method doesn’t work that well for high, tight armholes because the curve is too great for the seam to sew or sit properly.

  75. annie says:

    Very helpful, I have not tries armholes with French seams.

    Not sure if anyone else caught this in other comments, but I believe you perhaps made a typing error above. When describing the breakdown of a 5/8″ seam you say to use a 3/8″ seam followed by a 1/4″ seam, but the should be reversed. The smaller one (1/4) comes first, so that it may be encompassed by the larger one (3/8) second. If it was done the way you describe there would be definite seam pokeys on the right side.

    I hate to nitpick but I’m saying this with hope it’ll save someone who is just learning .

    P.s. I adore your patterns, especially Moss and Scout. Great outfit! Oh and Linden…

    • Jen says:

      I see how it might look like an error but it’s actually not in this scenario since after the first seam you’ll trim the seam allowance down to about 1/8″

  76. Cecilia Thex says:

    Thanks for this tutorial. I always wanted to do something like this, but never took the time to figure it out. I am so happy to find your page and sign up.

  77. lyghtly says:

    I agree with Jen. I like the smaller 1/4″ to be the final seam – just because it is smaller – which means there will be a smaller seam pocket inside the garment.

  78. seams says:

    Thank you so much for a great tutorial. I have made my Scout Tee today with French seams all the way. Thank you 🙂

  79. kristy says:

    I keep getting the sleeve caught into the seam line, any tips or tricks? Ive done many sleeves but it seems my machine is too big or round. Im constantly catching the sleeve because its too small for my machine.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi! I don’t have any tips for this. I have run into this problem before and I just make sure to sew really slow and re-arrange the fabric every few stitches.

  80. karen hilinski says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. I really need to know how to french seam the back center seam of a skirt or dress when you have a row of buttons or a zipper on the center seam as well.

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