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Exploring the Flat Fell Seam

My first attempt at a flat-fell seam fell, well, a little flat.

The seams of most jeans and men's dress shirts are often felled, as it makes for a sturdy finish, with all raw edges enclosed, even on the inside. Here's a familiar example.

Flat fell seams on jeans

This seemed like a gorgeously romantic notion to me when I tackled adjusting a tent-like secondhand men's shirt into a slim-fit summer shirt. Needless to say, it didn't go quite according to plan.

I unpicked the sleeves and took in the side seams, and then had the challenge of resetting the sleeves in the round, using a flat-fell seam.

Here's how a flat-fell seam, or felled seam, works:

  1. Sew up the edges, wrong sides together, so that the seam allowance shows on the outside of the garment. (This appears counter-intuitive, but just wait and see.)

    Step 1
  2. Trim down one side of the seam allowance.

    Step 2
  3. Fold the longer seam allowance over the shorter one. This effectively hides the raw edge of the short seam allowance.

    Step 3
  4. Fold the seam sandwich to the side and pin in place.

    Step 4

Now, sew carefully along the edge of the fold, producing a beautiful flat-fell seam.

Ah-ha! But the devil is always in the details.

The biggest challenge was that the edges of my fabric were a little bit tatty and old, and as I was adjusting a pre-existing shirt, I only had so much fabric to work with. Add to that the fact that a sleeve seam is curved, and I wasn't exactly giving myself the easiest time for a first attempt!

There were, however, bits that worked well. I managed to get quite a neat flat-fell seam on the front of the shirt, adjacent to the breast pocket.

Seam on front sleeve

And then there were bits that didn't work so well. The seam on the back of the shirt sleeve was a little too bobbly.

Wobbly back seam

But all that said, it's a totally wearable shirt.

Nick in his modified shirt

And I'm not scared off flat-fell seams yet, I'll just get back to basics next time and work from scratch!