Nothing says vintage sewing to me than edge (or seam) finishing techniques! While the actual techniques have changed very little through the decades, our preferred techniques for ensuring strong seams has changed mostly due to modern technology. The best way to learn what seam finishings were popular in each decade is to pick up a pattern and take a look at the instructions. Recommended seam finishing techniques are included in most vintage patterns from the 1930s through to the 1950s. It starts to drop off in instructions in the 1960s, which is of no surprise given that the first home overlock or serger machines were available to home sewists around 1964 (though they had been around in industrial sewing since the 1880s!).
Here's a few examples from some of my patterns on popular seam finishings through the decades.
In the 1930s we start to see a reference to 'pinking' seams using pinking shears (and this pattern says 'or by machine'). Pinking machines were available for home use at the end of the 19th century and was a simple hand cranked machine that you could run your fabric through to get a scalloped ('pinked') effect on the edges. Check out this blog post for some photos of antique pinking machines. Singer also introduced a sewing machine pinking attachment. Susan from Spare Time (for Sewing) gives a great tutorial on using the pinking attachment. While pinking scissors were originally patented in 1893, they were not widely used in home sewing until the patent of new and improved pinking shears by Samuel Briskman from Brooklyn who also started the Pinking Shears Corporation. From the mid 1930s we start to see pinking as one of the top four recommended seam finishing techniques on vintage patterns lasting all the way through the 1950s and it's still a seam finish used regularly today.
We see the same techniques listed in the instructions of 1950's patterns with a few exceptions including the introduction of french seams. French seams have been around for ages and are listed as a technique in sewing books from earlier decades but I've never noticed it in sewing directions until the 1950s (like in the Weldons pattern above).
Here are some illustrations of popular edge finishes from my 1943 Minature Fashions: Simplicity Sewing Book:
Here are some really great tutorials, often with step-by-step pictures, on various seam finishes:
- Turned and stitched seam finishes and bound edges seam finishes tutorial from Tasia who blogs over at Sewaholic
- The Coletterie blog did a whole series on seam finishes including a great bias bound seam finishes tutorials in two parts (part 1 and part 2)
- A fantastic four-part series from Sunni over at a Fashionable Stitch on seam finishes (Basic seam finishes, Self Finished Seams Part 1, Self Finished Seams Part 2, Decorative Seams Part 1 and Decorative Seams Part 2).
What's your preferred technique? Have you come across any unique seams finishes in vintage patterns?