What is Seam Allowance – Sewing Basics

Are you new to the sewing world and are confused about the term “Seam Allowance?” What does it mean? Why is it important? And how do you do it? This video will tackle these questions to make sewing less of a mystery. If you’ve already tried tackling a sewing pattern or you’re doing a sewing project in a class, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase seam allowance. But what exactly does it mean? First, a seam allowance is connected to the term “seam”, which is the sewing of two fabrics together. The technical definition of a seam allowance is, “The amount of fabric allowed for seams in joining sections of a garment or other article together. ” To make this clearer, let’s look at an example. I’ve sewn two fabrics together to create a seam.

Where my stitches are is the stitch line, also referred to as the seam line. The distance between my seam line and the raw edge of my fabric is the seam allowance. If I were to measure this, my sewing gauge shows the distance is ⅝” so we would say this is a ⅝” seam allowance. But why do we have even have a seam allowance? Why can’t we just stitch directly on the edge of our fabric? There are a few reasons a seam allowance is important. First of all, it’s not practical to sew on the edge of the fabric. It’s not as easy as it looks, maybe your two fabrics are not lined up exactly so you don’t realize you’re not catching the fabric in the back, or if you have a fabric that frays, you may eventually fray your stitch line right off.

Secondly, with garment sewing, the seam allowance gives the sewer wiggle room in terms of making alterations. Maybe your garment fits perfectly except it’s a little tight in the bust line area. In this particular area, you have the room to sew a smaller seam allowance, instead of a ⅝” you do a 1/4” seam allowance. Hopefully, you’re convinced that a seam allowance is necessary, but will your project always have seam allowances? Yes! Regardless, if your making teddy bears, clothes, or quilting there will always be a seam allowance. The seam allowance size will vary from project to project.

For example, quilting will typically have a seam allowance of ¼” while garments traditionally have a seam allowance of ⅝”. How do you find out what your seam allowance is for a particular project? It should always state in the project directions so read through them carefully. Professional pattern pieces are usually created with these am allowance included so you don’t have to add it to the pattern before cutting it out. If you’re drafting your own patterns, you can choose what you want your seam allowance to be. So now you know what it is, why we have it and how to find it.

But how do you make sure you sew your seams with the correct seam allowance? If you’ve looked at the metal plate below your presser foot, you’ve probably noticed lines and measurements engraved on it. These lines are to help with seam allowances so we’re not sewing our seams blind. On my plate, I can see the ⅝” line here. If your plate is not clear enough, you can also use a sewing gauge and measure from the needle to find the correct line.

 If you’re having trouble reading or seeing your line while sewing, place a piece of painter’s tape on the line and this should make it really easy. If you keep the raw edge of the fabric always lined up with the correct mark, then you will end up with a perfectly straight and accurate seam allowance. I wanted to show how I pullout stitches since I find it super easy and quick. So you need to pick enough stitches to get a little tail that you can hold onto. And then you carefully pull that thread – similarly to how you’d gather fabric. And this is super easy with light weight fabric, but since my fabric is on the medium is weight, I’m just doing a section at a time, and then cutting that so I can move onto the next section. And again, pick enough so you have a little tail, pull on that tail carefully and kind a gather the fabric. I find this goes really fast – much better than using a stitch ripper. And rise and repeat until all your stitches are out.

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