In the pictures above, you can see the huge difference between a puckered seam and a well made seam, in the same fabric.
This issue started bothering me when I sewed my first evening dress. It was made of satin, and even though I was using the wrong side, the puckered seam was too obvious. I tried to resew it, iron it, stretch. Nothing. I even thought of sewing weights on the hem to stretch the seam. I was desperate.
I told a friend about it and she reminded me of a technique we used in college: press with a hot iron and then with a piece of wood or marble. I had forgotten it, and also didn’t think it would be so important. I tried anyway, and the result was great. Since then, I do it on every seam.
Even though this technique does wonders, it still is not enough to solve every pucker problem. I found out, after a lot of research and experimentation, that there are other important steps to a beautiful seam.
- Cut out the selvedge before sewing, because they are usually tighter than the rest of the fabric;
- Adjust the tension on your sewing machine. If the threads are too tensioned (usually the top thread), the seam will be puckered anyway. Which leads us to..
- Keep your machine maintenance up to date. A professional can clean and oil your machine in areas you can’t reach, replace broken or worn out parts, and adjust tension and timing;
- Use the right needle size – from 8 to 11 for light fabrics, from 12 to 14 for medium fabrics. For satin, I use size 11. If the needle is too thick, it opens big holes in the fabric, which will pucker the weave;
- The stitch length must also be adequate to the fabric you’re sewing. I use a 1 – 2mm stitch for lighter fabrics.
- Sew while stretching the fabric (if the seam is on grain), pulling from the front and the back at the same time. Be careful to apply the same strength with both hands, so you won’t interfere with the sewing machine feed.
- When you’re sewing a light evening fabric – satin, chiffon, musseline, etc – don’t backstitch by machine, because the fabric puckers when we do that. To secure the beginnings and ends of every seam, pull both threads to on side and knot them together;
- After sewing, press the seam with the iron, and then press with a piece of wood or stone. Always use a pressing cloth between the fabric and the iron.
- Press the seam allowances open from the wrong side. Again, press with the stone or wood too.
- Now repeat from the right side. It’s done!
Here’s a picture of the front of a musseline circle skirt I made. I can barely see the center front seam. Can you?