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Honestly, I hardly know anyone who hand overcasts nowadays. Do you?

But the sewing nerd I am I could not resist making a case for it. You may say that hand overcasting takes ages, and that it is much easier to serge or zigzag the edges, or use Hong Kong finish, or anything else.

Yes, hand overcasting ain’t a shortcut, but I could give you a reason or two why it is extensively used in couture:

First, provides a smooth, flat seam finish
It doesn’t add bulk, or stiffness.
It is soft and flexible
Finally, you are in control of fabric: no stretching, no puckering, no gathering…

Are you convinced? Then, use hand overcasting anywhere you need minimum bulk and stiffness.

To get started you’ll need a small needle (Sharps (general hand-sewing needles) No. 9 (34.9 mm.) or No. 10 (33.3) are the right sizes) and fine cotton or silk thread.

Often, when you try hand overcasting for the first time, you may find that it doesn’t look as tidy as a machine stitch. Well, obviously, your overcasting will get more beautiful with some practice! My advice is to start with less slippery fabrics and make a sample using a couple of different threads. Pressing after your edge is overcast will also improve the appearance of the stitch as well as help blend the thread and the fabric.

I first used hand overcasting on a silk charmeuse blouse (Burda 9/2010, #110). The fabric was slippery but I had no choice – my sewing machine was broken and I wanted to have that blouse finished before I got a new machine. Once I pressed the seams and put on the blouse, I have become a convert to hand overcasting and couture sewing in general!

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Fragment of the blouse.

Usually, hand overcasting is done on individual seam allowances by taking evenly spaced slanted stitches that wrap over the seam edge. Right-handers work from right to left, or away from the body (whatever is more comfortable). The direction is opposite for left-handed sewers. Insert the needle from under the edge, 1/16” to 1/8” (1,5 mm to 3 mm) deep. Take deeper stitches for fabrics that ravel more and decrease the space between the stitches.

When I was looking for some guides to make hand overcasting, I came across four ways to do it:

-The traditional way – where you neatly trim the raw edges and overcast as described above.

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-You will also find examples where the edge is trimmed with pinking shears, providing a guide for hand-overcasting. I am personally not a big fan of this method, because the edge does ravel after a while and looks untidy. In addition, you won’t be able to change the distance between stitches

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-You could also make a straight stitch approximately 1/4" from the raw edge and then trim to 1/8” to the stitching line. This method also provides a very accurate guide for hand-overcasting with very little bulk. However, the machine stitching line will stiffen the seam allowance edge.

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-This one is for fabrics that ravel really badly, work another row in opposite direction – a technique called “cross your hand”

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So, that’s all you need to know to start hand-overcasting! My final advice is: light some incense sticks, turn on some calming music and overcast away. And make sure your family checks in with you after a while.

~Marina

Marina von Koenig is a couture enthusiast documenting her learning experiences on her blog, Frabjous Couture.

24 Comments

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    Nov 17, 2011, 02.14 PMby lclausewitz

    Having started from historic costuming, I have a tendency to pick hand overcasting as my default finish when I can’t think of anything else. When the fabric isn’t very stiff, though, I often turn the edges in first and then overcast them together for a little bit of extra sturdiness.

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    Nov 12, 2011, 02.07 AMby emperorny67

    Ordinary people donot pay that kind of job but if you sew for rich and famous they pay whatever is worthy, but also you have to be famous as a designer

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    Nov 9, 2011, 04.43 PMby darlenec

    Thank you very much for the article. This is very helpful and instructive.

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    Nov 8, 2011, 11.14 PMby fauvettetky

    Well this is one of the explanation when you find that couture is expensive..! Hands take much more time than machines and they must be paid for their time.

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    Nov 8, 2011, 11.07 PMby fauvettetky

    Ah! the finishing I was made to do after my sister had done all the cutting and sewing with the machine. I thought that yes the couture finish was the more time consuming but then the only way to have a gorgeous piece of clothing. Well I may try again and feel this taste of luxury …

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    Nov 8, 2011, 04.58 AMby piecesofanarnia

    i LOVE sewing nerds

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    Nov 7, 2011, 11.08 AMby katexxxxxx

    I hand overcast if the fabric, style, the date of the garment (with historic costumes), or the customer wants it. It’s time-consuming, so costs more than machine methods, which is why it isn’t done so much these days except on couture garments. It does give a beautiful finish.

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    Nov 6, 2011, 05.18 PMby FashionSewingBlog

    Hi Marina, My mother used to overcast many of the clothes she made for me and sister. She taught me the technique many, many, many years ago – that long in fact I’ve almost forgetten how it’s done.

    I guess overcasting was used less and less, especially with the advent of the overlocker / serger. Although a great invention for the fashion sewer, I can certainly identify times when I can see these older techniques being of some use.

    As with everything today – it’s all about finding the time.

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    Nov 5, 2011, 11.08 AMby fuzzyg

    I still hand-overcast occasionally, especially if I only have a small bit to stabilize that’s not worth re-threading the serger over. In very sheer fabric it’d be better than serging because of less bulk, indeed. Only I almost never use very sheer fabric :-).

    Still, I’ve absolutely never come across any fabric fraying so much that it needed an extra line of stitching. That’s what overcasting does, prevent fraying, so if your fabric still frays after you’ve done it, it’s because you haven’t done it properly, not done the stitches deep or close enough for instance.

    As to overcasting after pinking, it’s totally absurd. Pinking is a method of preventing fraying that works well in some fabric, primarily tightly-woven natural fabrics with some grab, preferably over the grainline so that the little teeth are each on the bias. It works great on its own when used appropriately. And overcasting over it would only give you stitches too far apart to do any good, rather than appropriately-spaced ones. If you realized you’d messed up with the pinking, it’d actually be better to cut off the teeth before overcasting.

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    Nov 4, 2011, 11.29 PMby cuada

    I have bad memories of hand over casting an eight panel, full length skirt that I made for my sister when I was about fourteen! It made me save harder for an overlocker !

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    Nov 4, 2011, 11.19 AMby serendipity

    What collection is this dress from? It’s beautiful. Great post, btw.

    1 Reply
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      Nov 4, 2011, 04.08 PMby themisslinds

      Valentino couture – fall 2011

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    Nov 3, 2011, 06.13 PMby harrietbazley

    I hand-finished every seam on my A-line skirt and the seams for the pieced-together panels of my 1940s skirt – I vote for run-and-fell seams or a French seam when hand-sewing every time! (Bulk and stifness are a problem, though, which is why I couldn’t use a run-and-fell finish on the twill skirt fabric….)

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    Nov 3, 2011, 03.08 PMby marlorcor

    Such a lovely idea! I am a huge fan of incorporating couture techniques into our creations. It makes them so much more high-quality, so much more special. I’m majoring in apparel design and construction, and everything I make for school has to be done on these huge industrial machines- there’s no personal touches, really. Although working like that has taught me a lot, it’s also made me appreciate even more how much hand-sewing adds to a garment.

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    Nov 3, 2011, 11.56 AMby pnhart

    I often find that on delicate work the hand overcast is far quicker than all the extra time I might spend trying to polish a machine finish.

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    Nov 3, 2011, 10.57 AMby iin

    I hand overcast alot, i think depend on what fabric .thx

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    Nov 3, 2011, 05.58 AMby Mary Carroll

    I love to include hand work in my projects, but I have to admit that I cannot envision doing this technique on a large scale. Perhaps on a blouse???

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    Nov 3, 2011, 03.13 AMby lijun

    I hand overcast too! But I am using thicker needle and yarn wool to “cross your hand” on all my edges, so that it will look like a fine thin roll of wool edges, and tucks in all the ravelling of the fabrics.

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    Nov 2, 2011, 09.45 PMby euma

    Thanks for sharing, my mother has a serger but I’ll try these techniques because I’m really curious about the differences you pointed out with machine overcasts.

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    Nov 2, 2011, 08.57 PMby nouvellegamine

    hmmmm, there does seem to have a zen appeal to hand overcasting. i think it would depend on the fabric.

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    Nov 2, 2011, 08.49 PMby monikago

    Thanks for the various techniques for overcasting. Still getting used to my serger so that hand-sewing comes in handy.

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    Nov 2, 2011, 08.21 PMby Luiza Grooks

    i don’t have nerves for hand stiching at all :/ i wish i could change my mind!

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    Nov 2, 2011, 08.06 PMby suzysewing

    I have never hand overcast but will definitely do it one day. Will mark this article to help me.

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    Nov 2, 2011, 07.28 PMby boppygreen

    Nice article. I hand overcast a lot, especially on delicate fabrics or doll clothes. I personally find hand sewing to be soothing and I like the control I have over the fabric.

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