This page is
meant to explain and illustrate some fundamentals of sewing and clothing
construction that can be used in both military and civilian garments. Sources
and definitions of period fabrics and patterns are found in the
Seams: Seams are meant to join two pieces of fabric together. Your choice of the type of seam construction you use will determine the overall look and durability of your garment. The stitching is also a determining factor but is being covered in another section. All sewing is based on practical considerations - while the end result may be frivolous, the techniques and considerations you have in deciding how to proceed are quite basic and specific: how do you want the garment to drape? Does it make any difference if the stitching shows or is protected? How hard will the wear be on the garment overall and certain areas in particular? After sewing awhile, this becomes an automatic decision when you get started but, initially, you should think about your intent and choose techniques that will achieve it.
The most basic seam is unfinished and made by placing the right sides of two pieces of fabric together and running a line of stitching at your preferred depth. After completing the stitching, it can be pressed to one side or opened on the inside of the garment. Unless you have a particular reason to do otherwise, it's best to press it opened as that provides the ultimate protection to the stitching in this instance.
The edges of your fabric are not protected from fraying in this technique unless you fully line your garment. The seamings below have developed over time to give you a finish to the fabric edges that will make them smoother and more durable than you would get with a basic seam. (Comfort is also a consideration - if you have a rough fabric that will be rubbing on a pressure point on your body, you will probably like to finish it or line it to avoid irritation. The strength of the choice will also be of comfort value if you have any doubts as to how a stressed area will hold up under abrupt movements. No matter who well an item fits, it can be caught on something or pulled at the wrong time allowing for some discussion of your undergarment choices - a situation that is usually not sought after.)
Self-Bound Flat-Felled French Seam Topstitched
A self -bound seam will provide a finished seam without the bulk of a separate binding and will not show on the outside of the garment. In this case you would begin as for a basic seam with the right sides of your fabric together. Sew your seam as designated in your pattern (usually 1/2" deep) and trim one side to 1/8". Fold the full size seam allowance over twice over the trimmed piece to enclose the raw edges and stitch on the garment inside on the seam allowance near the original seam. Press flat to one side.
A flat-felled seam is the type you would find on a lot of modern casual shirts and jeans. You begin with the wrong sides of your fabric together, sew your seam and press to one side. Trim one side of your seam to 1/8" to 1/4" (preferably on the side that will have the least friction). Fold the wider seam allowance in half, put it over the cut edge and sew the folded edge to the fabric of the garment which will have 2 parallel lines of stitching showing on the outside of the garment.
A french-seam is traditionally used for fine fabrics and undergarments. It allows a double seam that is not visible from the outside and also works well for shirts. You would start with the wrong sides of the fabric together and sew a seam about 1/3 the width of your seam allowance from the raw edges. Press the seam to one side first and then fold over so the raw edge is inside the pieces of fabric. Sew another seam at the depth the original seam allowance would have given and then press on the outside so your seam with the encapsulated raw edge is on the inside.
A top-stitched seam is a refinement of the basic seam. To help preserve the edges from fraying, the raw edges of the seam on the inside are turned under and stitches to itself.