Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trouser seam finish: to hand overcast or not?

Hi, readers! Kids are delivered to respective educational institutions after demanding double attention yesterday, and I finally got some time to share with you! Yay!

This U.F.O. celebration worked so far, my cape is finished! Now, I could not make up my mind which project to tackle next - that's always my problem. I wish I had a wardrobe full of beautiful hand-made clothes, but, alas...

So, at the end, I settled with my Clovers. Remember, it was a bonus project for Colette Fall Palette Challenge. Hmmm... So far, I have been working on bonus projects only, not on the planned ones. But, on the other hand, I do need an extra pair or two of trousers, so here we go.

The muslin was done long ago, fabric cut, pants underlined. What slowed me down is the decision on how to finish the seams. You know me, I love to use couture techniques - so, my initial thought was to hand overcast the seams. Crazy, right?

I checked David Page Coffin's Making Trousers for Men & Women: A Multimedia Sewing Workshop - he has a great chapter at the beginning 'Learning from Custom and Ready-to-Wear Garments'. And, of course, what I found there? YSL couture pants from Claire Shaeffer's collection!!! Naturally, all seam allowances were hand overcast... But I just wasn't ready for hand overcasting some five yards of seams with winter approaching soon.... I thought, those YSL pants are vintage - do they really still hand overcast? The answer is, most likely, yes, readers... (I've seen it in documentaries - but I tried to suppress it) So, I was still looking for faster solution. I feel really, really guilty about it!

Let me explain, readers! Hand overcasting considerably reduces bulk and stiffness of the seam edge, which is, obviously, an advantage as it won't show through on lighter weight fabrics, or leave an impression after pressing. However, my trousers, are made of medium-weight stretch tweed, and are underlined, so bulk is a relative issue. Stiffness, maybe.

I went further and paid a mandatory visit to The Cutter & Tailor forum for some advice. I mean who would know better than a bunch of best custom tailors?! There was a discussion on seam finishes, and I finally found what I was looking for.

Is sewing too trivial for a suspense moment, readers?.. Ta-da-da-DAM!

...Anyway,.. I decided to go for serging {Did I say the s* word?} Sorry!.. well, yes, s*rging! However, I used fine silk thread instead of the bulkier polyester. It made soo much difference. It's not as pure (forgive me) as hand overcasting, but it is only tiny little bit bulky and only somewhat stiff.

Of course, it took me several samples to adjust the tension - the thread was breaking all the time. At the end, I got it. Here is the proof:

well, the face side is not that visible, but what's more important is that it's not bulky or stiff.
To conclude, I just wanted to say that I would have chosen hand overcasting the pants if I had more time. Purist or not, to me it seems to be a better finish!

Now, back to you, readers! How do you finish pant seams? What are the pros and cons of your method?


  1. I have to admit, after hand overcasting all the seam allowances created by my dozens of seams in my wedding gown, I hope I never hand overcast anything again. :-) I will pink stable fabrics when I care about bulk, overcast with the sewing machine or zigzag if necessary, and serge everything I can just as soon as I get a serger. I will continue to catch-stitch everything I can though, I <3 catch-stitching. The other thing is that drycleaners (all but the uber-uber expensive) generally won't take clothes that don't have machine finished seam allowances (at least in my experience). So I'm going to machine finish all my dry-cleanables.

  2. great post, marina, and the s-word seems an acceptable compromise. i've been so lazy on a skirt i am making right now, you would be embarrassed on my behalf...zig-zagged and clipped edges only!


  3. @IowaHoodlum: I had no idea dry cleaners don't take hand-finished clothes!!! Thanks for telling me! I will check with mine... oh-oh

  4. I'm usually all about the hand work, but I can tell you without hesitation that you made the right decision.

    I took a class at FIT, Tailoring I, a couple of years ago. (Registration is open; I think it meets on Saturdays starting at the end of January.) We spent 15 weeks making one high-end pair of trousers. That's right, one pair of trousers. The project required considerable amounts of hand sewing: I top stitched the pockets, the fly, parts of the besom (welt) pockets, and learned how to do a mezzaluna (D) tack on either side of the pockets.

    The teacher gave us the option of hand finishing the leg seams so of course I had to do it. Hand overcasting is hard, and goes very slowly. Even the teacher said it would go slowly, and usually they zip through everything and act as if you should be able to as well.

    I looked up techniques online, including sewing manuals from the early 20th Century on vintagesewing.info, which were written when people really needed to know how to sew. They said that forming the overcast stitch required some practice.

    I chalked a guideline. The line kept rubbing out.

    I used "Tiger" tape. It wouldn't stay put.

    Threads published a tip by a reader suggesting that you stitch by machine, remove the thread, and use the holes as guides. That seemed counter to the spirit of the exercise, as well as risking damage to the seam allowances.

    To make matters worse, I used the wrong thread, a glazed "basting" thread from the Atlanta Thread Company, instead of cotton basting thread.

    I did improve, but considering the time I put into it they still didn't look as nice as I thought they should have. (I was delusional. Guess what, apprenticing starting in childhood, or at least sewing for 30 years does help. Significantly.) I started a second pair and Merrowed (the term for the industrial overcasting machine) the seam allowances. That went much better. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from the first pair, that those pants are my contribution to the UFO category.

    This summer, I tried it again on a simple dress. In fact, for practice and as an experiment, I sewed the entire thing by hand, with the exception of the stay stitching. (I used the back stitch on the seams.) More improvement, but I have a long way to go.

    Hand stitching that is visible is much more demanding than machine stitching. If you don't look at lots of excellent examples, you don't even know what "perfect" hand stitching is supposed to look like. It's perfect in its imperfections. I want to do more tailoring and couture, so I'm trying to get good at it. Hand sewing is supposed to produce a lighter and more elastic effect.

    Bottom line: It's great to be a purist, but if I can't pull off the workmanship right now, it will actually look better if I use a machine. Good machine sewing is better than mediocre hand sewing. It does hurt (a little) to go to all that trouble and still have it look only so-so. But it requires experience. Prep alone won't do it. Merely sewing slowly and meticulously alone won't do it.

  5. I am new to sewing so forgive me if my opinions don't jive!

    In my mind serging is done by a serger and lately I've not really favoured that method. I am now more inclined to use the overcast stitch on my regular sewing machine.

    I am only just now learning to construct a toile for a pair of pants. Once I get to the stage of working on real fabrics, if it is underlined like yours I would machine overcast it. If it is a single layer then I would opt for Hong Kong finish with either a store bought or self made satin/silk bias tape.

    I am not a stranger to hand stitching but I feel that hand overcasting is just not practical for everyday garments that are destined for the washing machine! And from IowaHoodlum's comment even some dry cleaners won't touch it.

  6. I just wanted to reaffirm all that other colleagues have said in this post. Overcasting by hand is slow and the final product has many maintenance problems. In addition to overlock with machine is much faster and more durable.

  7. I only use overcasting on jacket seams to give a slim effect.. overlockers are faster but making a bulge . For your trousers overlocker could do the trick quite well.



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