There are different ways to finish the cut edges of a project. If you want your project to be good looking on the inside and you do not want a bulky seam, you need to finish the raw edges of a seam inside your garment. It not only gives a more professional look but also strengthens the seam line and keeps the edges from fraying. Depending on your fabric, the project and the purpose of the garment, you can choose a different finish.
With a serger you can trim the raw edge a litte and enclose it inside a thread casing. A serger is a great machine but it is not the easiest machine to handle. The threading and getting the stitch tension right, can be a nightmare. I own a serger. It’s a Juki MO-654DE and for the moment I only have 2 colors of threads, black and a very light grey. Just the other day I was trying to get the stitches right for a picture for this post. It literally took me 3 to 4 hours and some extra grey hair. Really!! With the help of manuals, forum discussions and youtube, I managed to get the result you can see in the pictures. These edges are serged with 3 threads. I won’t touch the threads on my serger for a year and only use dark fabric from now on :-))
Not everyone has the budget and the space to buy or store a serger. Personally, I change the threads as little as possible. So when I have a small project and I don’t want to use black or grey thread for my finishing, I switch to my overcast foot on my regular sewing machine, my Brother Innovis 10.
Along with an overcast stitch, the overcast foot creates a serger-like finish, without cutting the extra fabric that the serger does. If you don’t have an overcast setting on your machine, you can use a zigzag stitch. The overcast stitch has a neater appearance than the zigzag stitch.
Of course there are other ways of finishing your edges:
- Cut them with pinking shears
- Edge stitch the seam, topstitching
- Stitch a simple zigzag on the edge
- Hemming: turn & stitch: double fold the seam, the edges are completely hidden
- Add bias tap to the edges, bound seams
- Sew a French seam (want to know how? The link to a good tutorial is at the bottom of this post)
If you are looking for a neat finish and don’t want to spend money on a serger, I advise you to look into the overcast foot. I use it a lot, and I have a serger :-)
The Overcast Foot
With an overcast foot you can stitch right at the edge and finish the edges with stitches similar to a serger. This is practically impossible with a standard foot. The overcast foot has a small bridge (a pin, a bar or a prong) in the stitching area of the foot. The needle goes over this bridge and the right swing of the needle goes just off the fabric. The stitches go around the edge but they will stay nice and flat. This bridge controls the stitch and holds the stitches just right so the edge of your fabric doesn’t curl in, bunches up or puckers. The extension at the front guides the edge of the fabric.
The overcast foot is also called an overedge foot or an overlock foot and together with the overcast, overlock or overedge stitches, there is the act of overlocking (= finishing the edges with an overcast foot). Sometimes you get this presser foot with your machine. If not, we have a universal overcast presser foot in our store. You can purchase it separately And it’s also one of the feet in the 32 pcs Ultimate Presser Foot Set, number 28.
It’s a snap-on foot, this means you can snap it on and off your presser foot holder with a little button in the back. The snap on feet fit most low shank sewing machines. If not, you can check out our 3 different adapters. The changes are really high that this foot fits your machine. To check if our snap on feet fit your sewing machine, check out this post about high and low shank machines.
An overcast stitch is a zigzag stitch with more structure. My machine has 2 options, stitches 5 and 6, for thin to medium weight fabrics and stretch fabrics. That covers a lot.
I’ve listed these 9 different overcast stitches. Look in your manual to check which ones your machine has.
1. An overcast stitch for heavyweight knit or stretch fabrics
2. An overcast stitch for sportswear and stretch knit fabrics. This one sews the seam and finishes the edges in one step.
3. A slant overcast stitch to sew a seam and seam finish simultaneously
4 & 7. An overcast stitch for attaching ribbons or other flat trims. This one is called a slant overcast reversed stitch.
5 & 6. Two slant overcast stitches, they can be used to sew a seam and raw edge simultaneously. These stitches can also be used to attach ribbing and neck and sleeve edges.
8. An Overcast stitch that is mainly used as a decorative stitch
9. A multi-stitch overcast stitch for serging seams or sewing seam finishes.
What all these stitches have in common is that the tips of the “pyramids” or the “legs” go all the way out to the edge of the fabric to enclose everything beautifully and the inner straight stitch gives your seams more strength. As a general rule, those stitches that move only forward are better for light-medium weight fabrics, whereas those that move back and forwards are better suited to medium - heavy weight fabrics. You might want to experiment to see what works best with your machine.
If your machine doesn’t have one of these specialty stitches, you can also use a regular zigzag stitch. And of course you can choose an overcast stitch with a regular presser foot, but staying on the edge is difficult and the fabric tends to curl or bunch up. Another option is to sew the stitches away from the edge and cut the excess fabric afterwards.
Results With A Regular Presser Foot
Results with an overcast foot
Sewing With The Overcast Foot
Finishing the edges is easier before sewing the seam itself, but you can also complete both seam allowances at the same time, after you’ve stitched the seam.
As the overcast foot doesn’t cut off the fabrics edge, you need to trim your seam to a ¼” or ⅝” allowance or the seam width you need before you start sewing.
Pick a thread color that closely matches your fabric as an overlocking stitch is more visible than a straight stitch and it has to blend in.
If you need some visual support for the steps, look at my video. The link is at the top of this post.
1. Remove Your Regular Presser Foot.
- For most low shank sewing machines: snap off your foot of the presser foot holder
- For screw-on machines, Pfaff, Husqvarna Viking and Bernina: screw off or clip off your presser foot (holder)
2. Attach The Overcast Foot
- For most low shank sewing machines: snap on the overcast foot
- For screw-on machines, Pfaff, Husqvarna Viking: screw on the low shank adapter and snap on the overcast foot.
- For Bernina: attach the Bernina adapter, screw on the low shank adapter and snap on the overcast foot.
3. Choose an overcast stitch (see above for more information about the stitches)
4. Place the fabric underneath the foot, put the threads on the right hand side of the bridge and align the edge up against the guide - If you are sewing a curved seam, stop every few stitches to pivot slightly and realign the edge of the fabric. It’ll take longer to complete your seam, but the results are worth it.
5. Hand crank first to make sure the needle passes the bridge, left and right. Your zigzag has to be wide enough. If all is good, you can start sewing!
6. When you are finished, do not pull your fabric to the left or the right to cut the threads or your stitches will be damaged. The last few stitches are wrapped around the little bridge of the foot, so first pull the fabric towards the back to free those stitches and then cut.
Different Types Of Fabrics
With knit fabrics you can use an overcast stitch without stitching a seam and finish your edges at the same time. Your edge will have some stretch without loosing strength.
Overlocking lightweight fabrics, such as chiffon, batiste, voile or organza can be difficult. If the fabric is really thin, it’ll get pulled into the feed dogs, which will chew it up. One solution is to overlock your seam allowances together and press them to one side. Another is to strengthen your seam with spray starch or seam tape. And as a third option you could try to stabilize your fabric with paper or tissue paper under your fabric and tear it away after you’ve finished the seam.
If you never tried the overcast foot in your sewing box or you just discovered overlocking, I hope you give it a try and let me know how it went. If you’re stuck or have any questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And do share your projects in our Facebook group or on Instagram with the #madamsew hashtag and inspire others!
And above all... Enjoy your sewing time!
Sewing enthusiast and sewing blogger/vlogger for Madam Sew
I share all my projects on Instagram @an_madamsew