The Trouble with Curved Seams (and the solution, too!)

by Lisa on April 16, 2009

When I first began sewing clothing for my girls, successfully navigating curved seams was nearly impossible. Any pattern that required a sleeve quickly caused me to break out in a cold sweat! The same problems kept coming up: bunched fabric along the curved seam, uneven seam allowances, and shortened fabric lengths after sewing.

A little trial and error (and some patience!), made mastering curves easier and sewing a whole lot more fun. Here are some tips:

Practice really is necessary. If you’re new to sewing or are trying to master new techniques, scrap fabric will be your best friend. Grab some scraps and outline a few curves; some easy, some more ‘curvy’ to challenge yourself. Then, practice sewing along the curves to help master navigation around each curve.

Be absolutely sure the thread tension is appropriate for your fabric type.
Sometimes it is easier to get away with having improper thread tension than others. But when it comes to making curved seams, thread tension which is too tight can pucker and bunch fabric.

Be sure to cut seam allowances around the curve as evenly as possible.
This will help you line up the edge of your fabric better and ensure a smoother finished seam. If you have engraved guide marks on your needle plate, use them while sewing around the curve. Trying to guide fabric by ‘eyeballing’ it alone can actually entice you to sew crookedly. If you don’t have engraved guide marks on your sewing machine, use a straight edge and draw one on your needle plate with a pencil.

Don’t pull or push the fabric as you sew your curved seam.
Its second nature to want to ‘help’ the fabric along as we sew, but too putting too much resistance on the fabric as you sew a curve can cause the fabric pieces to become uneven. This is where practice comes in. Once you’ve sewn a few curves, you’ll be more included to let the fabric feed itself as you sew with gentle guidance around the curve.

Sew slowly!

Most of all, don’t give up!
A little practice goes a long way towards making it easier to create all those fun summer outfits and craft projects. Now, go sew something with a sleeve!


1 Jodieth 04.16.09 at 9:26 pm

I have been sewing for a long time. This is really good advice.
Also I would like to add that after sewing clipping your seams helps as well.
BUT be careful and not clip through your seam.

2 Linda Ransom 04.17.09 at 6:30 am

Spray starch and pressing the seam (the term setting the seam is often used) front and back before clipping and turning will also provide a more stable structure and a sharper turn. After pressing and clipping, turn and use the eraser end of a pencil traveling along the pressed edge to get a smooth turn. Press again from the top and also the bottom edge. Your home economics teacher was correct on this one…press, press, press.

3 Grace Hester 04.17.09 at 7:26 am

I am working on my first dress for my 4-year-old daughter and I am challenged by the step of sewing the bias tape to finish the edges around the armholes. They are puckering up and I have extra fabric bunching at the end of the sewing. Some things I have tried which have helped but are still not giving me the desired results:

1. Pinning the tape to the fabric and matching them at different pts so I do not get the end-bunching (minimal improvement)
2. Releasing the tension and stitch size significantly
3. Sewing slowly

Something else I am going to try is to cut snips in the bias tape on the inside so I can kind of overlap the snipped edges to make a curve. I am not sure if this is the right or recommended way to sew but I want to finish the dress!

4 Juanita 04.17.09 at 10:20 am

Excellent advise! Way back when I was a young single girl, I did a lot of sewing for myself. At that age, I didn’t do anything slowly–until I started setting in sleeves! The best advise is slow and steady, clip, press and do all this carefully or a lot of time will be spent ripping. Ripping is one thing I hate to do!

5 Courtney @ Sister To Sister 04.17.09 at 11:57 am

Thank you so much for the excellent advice Lisa! Curved seams can be really tricky, but you’ve given us some great ways to get through it! :)

6 Alicia 04.17.09 at 7:01 pm

One thing I learned years ago when I was doing 4-H projects, was that the patterns said to “stay stitch” the curved garment pieces. This still works for me to keep the shape. My daughter-in-law bought herself a dress last week and it was obvious that the curved seams were stretched way out. I’ll now have to unsew and reshape with steam and staystich the garment back to where it should be and then sew the facing back on.

7 Micnelle Cress 04.18.09 at 3:50 am

thanks for this excellent advise!

8 Andrea 04.21.09 at 6:50 am

Great tips. Also, using a short stitch length really helps.

9 Loretta 04.22.09 at 4:50 am

Great tips! It might also help to lift the fabric up off the faceplate as you sew around the curve. I learned this from Ruth McDowell, a fabulous quilting teacher.

10 cris 04.22.09 at 8:47 am

I just purchased a new machine and it has a walking foot. If you can get one of these they are perfect for this kind of stuff, especially the bias tape problem! It feeds both pieces of fabric into the machine evenly so tyou do not get the shifting and bunching . A great investment for anyone! I use mine all the time!

11 Jacki 05.05.09 at 9:06 pm

I Love everything about SWAK embroidery! I especially love the people who run the site :) . I love the cute patterns and the darling ideas that everyone shares. I am glad that I am not the only one who is an addict!

12 Kelly Brown 06.12.09 at 7:45 pm

Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting

13 Heather Flores 06.25.09 at 5:47 pm

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can anyone help! Would I be taking a “trade secret” if anyone were to share with me how to increase the size of a pattern?! I have so many gorgeous patterns that fit one daughter… but Alas! the other daughter has since outgrown… So many of the patterns I own (Yes, I feel I must single-handedly keep the site in business?!) end at a size 6… but my oldest is a size 8-10 now. She is tall and broad-shouldered… but only 4 and a half. Thanks for ANY help! Hugs! H

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