French All Your Seams


If you’ve been following along for a while, you may remember this post, but I’ve been getting a lot of French seam questions lately so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to resurrect this tutorial from the blog archives and set it free a second time. 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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31 Responses to French All Your Seams

  1. amaryllislog says:

    We thank you so much for this tutorial on sleeve/armhole. So helpful to see how you made your French seams step by step.

  2. BeanButtons says:

    I love this tutorial, all my seams are done this way now.

  3. maddie says:

    Jen, I recently referred to this tutorial when I was making a lace bodysuit. Thanks again!

  4. Barbara J says:

    I’ve used your tutorial to french seam the arm hole and side seam for my Scout Tee Wovens and it really gives a neat finish. My question is can I still use the french seam finishing method for a side seam that has about a 3″ side slits instead of a regular open seam?

  5. Thank you for this tutorial, I missed it the first time. I like to do French seams (we call them “coutures anglaises”) on my sleeves and side seams, but for some reason,whenever I tried to do it on my armholes, something always went wrong (I Hong Kong finish them, now), so I’m glad to see it can be done after all!

    Aside from the possible bulk, what prevents you from doing French seams on mid-to-heavier fabrics ? I love to use them on trousers, but I’m not that experienced…

  6. Nini~ says:

    Wow…that actually made sense to me! Thank you! I must try it myself!!

  7. Nina says:

    I haven’t tried this out yet because I can’t figure out how French seaming the armholes combines with the need to clip the curved seam allowance to let your sleeve hang properly – in fact I’m never sure how to combine that curve-clipping with any sort of seam finish… How does it work?

  8. Lindsay says:

    So weird that you posted this today! I literally made my first scout tee yesterday, and randomly decide to French all my seams as I was making it out of leftover white broderie anglaise!

    Nailed it.

  9. Sandra says:

    That’s a great tutorial, I’ve been afraid to try French seams but you just explained it so well. I too am curious about the clipping with curved seam allowances?

  10. Thank you for sharing this tutorial!! I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for this evening that links to it:

  11. Jessica says:

    Could you trim seam allowances before you press open? I find that faster. (And to Sandra and Nina – I find that if I trim my seam allowances down to 1/4″ or 1/8″, I don’t need to notch them)

  12. Jessica says:

    Oh! PS! I made my first Moss mini over the weekend – in a moss-colored twill – and LOVE it!!! Fits pretty much straight-up with no mods! It’s awesomesauce and I’m totally stoked to finally have a versatile, well-designed mini in my closet :-). Thank you!!

  13. senjiva says:

    Funny I should see this post just now. I woke up this morning mentally calculating the French seams I’ll need to do on a formal gown this afternoon. I rarely do French seams anymore, but it’s good to be reminded.

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  16. ellebougies says:

    I used this tutorial to put together my first Scout. It came together perfectly. Thank you. 🙂

  17. Thank you, I didn’t realise you needed to press the seam open before enclosing it and I always assumed you couldn’t french seam sleeves in, must try that.

  18. Annette Griffin says:

    I’m a real novice, but it doesn’t stop me buying fabric! It was only after I’d bought some gorgeous Liberty chiffon ( or georgette??) that it dawned on me I’d have to do French seams….. Thank you – now there’s hope it will make it from stash to wardrobe!

  19. I never really thought about using French seams for sleeves! Tanks so much for the tutorial!
    I was also wondering if there is a way to do French seams if you’re not sure where exactly your stitching line will be; that is, if you suspect you might have to take in or let out the seam. Is that an option or do you have to fit the garment first?

  20. Henriette says:

    Hi, I’m french and in my language, we say “coutures anglaises” “english seams”, funny isn’t it ?
    This tutorial is very usefull, thank you so much !

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  22. Katrina Wright says:

    My mum uses French seams, and I thought it was hard to do, until I saw your tutorial, I will be doing this more often, thank you.

  23. Davina Wolf says:

    Thanks for the clear demonstration. I just made a robe with French seams but didn’t know how to do the armholes or to trim the first stitching to 1/8 inch. Looking forward to doing these even better next time!

  24. Linda says:

    This is probably the best French seam tutorial I’ve come across. Love how simple and clear you’ve made it. I hope you won’t mind if I schedule it to share the link on our social media.

  25. Oh My God I’m so newbie with all those sewing terms…
    English turns difficult when it comes to sewing languange
    Sigh… I really want to try this
    Especially with other comments saying how clear your tutorial is

    • Jen says:

      Unfortunately I don’t speak any other languages so I’m not sure I’d be much help. I think if you search around there are some sites that have translations but unfortunately I’m not able to check for you at the moment.

  26. Virginia says:

    I know this is completely unrelated to seaming techniques, but this fabric looks exactly like one I saw in ‘Kimono’ by Liza Dalby today, except that was a traditional Ikat woven before they had contact with the western world. Just thought you might find that interesting. 🙂

  27. SuAnn Bell says:

    Hello, thank you so much for this tutorial! Would you please explain what “grade the seam allowance down to 1/8th” is? After you have made the first stitch at 1/4″, then do you stitch over that at 1/8th?

    Gathering stitches- is that like a basting stitch? I would like to understand this step.

    I am relatively new to sewing and would love to learn these tricks you have outlined!

    Thank you again.

    • Jen says:

      Grading a seam is basically trimming it down. So you’d sew the first seam, cut the seam allowance down to 1/8″, then sew the second seam. Gathering stitches are stitches set at a wide stitch length that are meant to help gather fabric and then be removed once the permanent stitching is in place. Hope that helps!

  28. Ekaterina says:


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