A better way to sew linings and facings

dominant_seams_erinOn Friday I mentioned that sewing certain seams annoys me. I never wrote about it because I’m too picky but based on a vote (2 for, none opposed, that’s democracy for you), we’ll discuss it. Note: this entry has a lot of photos so be patient if it loads slower than usual.

Erin Whitney calls these dominant seams. At right is a sketch I borrowed from her site (larger view) illustrating the concept.

She says dominant seams through the inseam and side seam are good for enhanced range of motion and that dominant seams through the crotch and armhole are better for tailored garments. She’s likely right about both. I don’t think it matters in sportswear and as such, I’m likely to favor inseam and side seam dominance because it’s less costly. My pet peeve is poor design of seam dominance with facings or sleeveless tops with full linings. I don’t like how hardly anyone does it. For the record, you aren’t wrong if you do it differently than I do. The example I’ll use here is a sleeveless top with a full lining but it could just as easily be a facing. Actually, the effect is worse at the side seam with a facing because it’s too short to be anchored and it can flip up if it’s not tacked.

Note: In all views, side A is the left side of the garment and side B is on the right. I will sew side A the way I don’t like. Side B is sewn the way I prefer to do it.

Below, the lining and shell of side A are joined and sewn edge to edge. By the way, the front is a fold piece, it was too large to put the whole thing here. The back takes a zipper so just ignore that for the purposes of this exercise.


Below, side B is shown. It is critical to note the lining and shell are not joined edge to edge.


Below is the full view. The ends of stitch lines are circled.


Below, I’ve joined side A at the shoulder. It can be finished in one pass. The last seam sewn is dominant meaning the shoulder of side A is dominant. On the right, the shoulder seam of B is joined. Side B is a two step process. Once the shoulder is sewn, you have to go back and finish sewing off the neckline and armhole (not shown).


Below is a finished view of what these look like now that the garment has been turned.


For the side seams (below) it’s lather, rinse and repeat.


Again, side B is an additional step to finish it off.


Below I’ve shown the side seams side by side.


At this point I’ve pressed the sample and am now comparing the finished look of the shoulder line. Guess which I like better? I swear I didn’t create that bump on the left; that’s the shoulder seam rolling and taking over the show.


Below is a side by side comparison of the armholes. Other than that the results speak for themselves, side A is less forgiving if you fail to match the armhole and necklines of the front and back when you join them at the shoulder -easy enough to do since sewing that little tube is a pain in the patootie. Since the seam doesn’t lie flat (unless you bang it), the edge flips up and you can see the mismatch (as mine is). On side B, you have to deliberately turn the edge up or keen it from the side view to attempt to discern the mismatch -if there is one and it’s less likely there will be because this is a lot easier to sew than side A’s shoulder tube.


Anyway, that’s the lesson for today. In summary, I would amend Erin’s article to say I prefer the finish of side B for all outside edges in better goods. I haven’t quantified the cost of the two steps as opposed to one so this may be a luxury for some of you depending on your price points. I would think a bridge or designer line should be sewn like side B but that’s just my opinion.

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  1. LisaB says:

    I’m glad I voted!

    Kathleen, this is really interesting info and proves once again that I need to analyze more what I’m doing and why instead of simply repeating the same thing I’ve always done. This particular sewing order is something I’ve never thought about before, but the difference is clear. Please stop thinking you are too picky!

  2. Erin says:

    Nice! Thanks so much for taking that further. I’m totally in love with the internet right now (and all of the wonderful and intelligent and generous people on it). It’s so great that I can take a little tidbit of information from sewing class, throw it out there and see what bounces back. I’m thinking of a dress I made a little while ago that REALLY could have benefited from this information…maybe time to break out the seam ripper…

  3. Eva says:

    Very helpful! I knew there had to be an industrial way to those super flat seams. Eliminating the pretty hand of home look is great! Thank you. Why not publish more of these?

  4. Eric H says:

    Eva, I’m guessing that more of these are not getting published because (1) it is clearly very time-consuming, and (2) it doesn’t pay like her day job. You could always encourage her by hitting the Make a Donation button on the home page!

  5. Esther says:

    I don’t have time now, but maybe in a few days if you remind me. I do a variation of version B, but it has fewer steps and looks as good. I don’t know why anyone would do version A, even in budget clothing.

  6. Clara Rico says:

    What is the difference between method B and with the partial seams and sewing the shoulder seams first then the neck and arm seams. In other words, why are they partial seams?

  7. Patricia K. says:

    Excellent instruction, as always! I’ve been doing a variation of this that includes understitching. I sew the fronts to backs at shoulder seams on both lining and garment. Then I align the two at shoulder seams, RST of course, stitch around the neckline, trim, clip and then understitch it. Then I trim off an eight of an inch from the armhole at the tube like part of the shoulders, turn the two pieces back RST, align shoulder seams and stitch the armhole. I trim, clip, turn and understitch that as far as I can which is usually 1 to 2 inches from the shoulder seam. Then i sew the side seams. What I will now do differently is leave that inch open on the underarm seam, stitch side seams of lining and garment separately then flip, realign and stitch that little bit together. This is great post, thank you Kathleen. I’ll be making a donation later today.

  8. Tricia says:

    This is brilliant! Thank you so much; I’ve always been bothered by the way this looks if I follow directions to do “side A”, I’ve always assumed it was my fault.

  9. dosfashionistas says:

    I use a varient when sewing pants that seems to get the best of both methods. I sew the two inseams first. then the crotch seam in one while the side seams are still open. The zipper can now be addressed while the pant is open and flat. Side seams are sewn last and finish work done.

    I really appreciate postings like this one. It is very useful to rethink assembly methods and learn new ones. I have not ever tried leaving the seams partly sewn on linings and I will now.

  10. Kaaren Hoback says:

    The gap between quality and quick, cheap ‘n dirty continues to widen. Jane Q might not recognize the difference if her primary interest is fast fashion and disposable. Those seeking quality and willing to pay for it have to look harder for it. The market place continues to dumb down the consumer to accept less and pay for instant gratification. There is a lot of recent press on consumers looking for both quality and fit. Maybe a revolution of sorts is in its infancy.

    Seems a designer hitting her price point, while maintaining a reasonable level of quality, ought to be a standout at the point of purchase. It is not necessarily the most creative, or far out designs that sell best- the purchaser may not even be able to define ‘ it’ but can see/feel the differences and vote her choice with her wallet.

    Little things may still count i.e. a proper seam, buttonhole or zipper finish and consistent fit.

  11. Cheryl says:

    Side B ends up looking the same as if the facing were set in like a sleeve. I’m wondering now whether it would functionally be the same? Any idea?

  12. Lisa Shoemaker says:

    Did you do the shoulder for side A by laying the back inside the front? I’ve never done it that way. Also, May I ask why you stitched the neck and armholes twice on side B? I usually stitch the shoulders first, lay it open and press the seams open, then stitch around the neckline and armholes.

  13. Christelle says:

    I’ve been wanting to ask you if have any books you recommend on REAL production sewing methods. Not the fake home sewing type. Thanks for this post. Very interesting!

  14. LizPf says:

    As an intermediate home sew-er with perfectionistic tendencies, I’m so glad i discovered your blog, Kathleen!

    I always wondered why sleeves on sportswear were set “the easy way”, with the side seam sewn last, and why “fashion” clothes had the armscye sewn last. After reading about dominant seams, now I know.

    Kathleen, if you ever write a book for home sew-ers, I will be one of the first in line to buy it.

  15. agna says:

    Thank you so much! I read your post, made a mock-up and I now I get it. Afterwards, it turned out that I’d seen this method in Bunka’s design textbook, the blouses and dresses part, but never actually grasped it. Thanks again.

  16. Nita says:

    I’ve always felt that it’s worth the time/effort to do something the best way WHEN it actually makes a difference, and it’s obvious here that the “B” method is better. It’s worth it! Thanks for posting this.

  17. CJ says:

    Hello. I’m kinda new to making clothes and after thinking that one of the jackets I am making for a costume could use a lining, I stumbled on your website. I loved reading through your tutorials :) This one especially cleared up some things but I do have one question. When doing the side seam on B, did you start the armhole seam, stop, do the side seam, stop, and then go back to the armhole seam? Is that how it’s different from seam A? (other than being in a different order of course)

  18. Toni-Maree says:

    Hi Kathleen, I just wanted to enquire quickly.
    I know when sewing tailored garments, you should sew the sleeve into a tube because of the dominant seam. Is there another reason?
    I am asking because I thought about sewing in the sleeves flat, leaving one inch unsewn like in your sample B, then sewing the side seam, and sleeve seam, finally going back to the armhole seam and closing the gap, making it the dominant seam.
    Would this work? I am sewing a toddler size blazer.

  19. Kathleen says:

    T-M: Doing it as you describe is best for casual items and sportswear. More tailored construction (single needle like the blazer) is probably better done in the round. Usually it isn’t possible to do otherwise because blazers, suitcoats, sportcoats etc, have a two piece sleeve but I’m guessing your jacket is different.

    CJ: (sorry, didn’t see your comment until now)

    When doing the side seam on B, did you start the armhole seam, stop, do the side seam, stop, and then go back to the armhole seam? Is that how it’s different from seam A?


  20. Kim says:

    Thank you! But I am so confused on A…if you machine sewed in one pass the shoulders on side A, how could you turn the garment? Or did you sew the shell shoulder and the then the lining shoulder? I know Im missing something but it is driving me crazy.

    I guess I do a version C…I sew the front/back shell shoulders. Then I sew the front/back lining shoulders. Then I put the shell and lining, right sides facing, sew up the sides and neckline. Then turn the garment. Which does involve passint the back sides thru the narrow shoulder pass. Is this wrong? Tnx!

  21. Kathleen says:

    I think the confusion is because I was showing two methods on the same bodice. If I’d created two samples, it’d be clearer. It was also confusing because you were supposed to pretend the back was joined with a zipper (that is in the text). I should probably re-do this one.

    I think you’re doing method B. No, wait, method A! I don’t know. How you are turning it if you’ve sewn the sides and neckline?

    If you’re happy with how it’s coming out, it’s not wrong.

  22. Bonnie says:

    I made a lined sleeveless shell using this method, and it turned out beautifully. I cut a duplicate shell out of the lining material, then followed your instructions for the neck and shoulder seams. I pulled the back sections through the shoulders, then inserted an invisible zipper in the center back and sewed the remaining neck edge and center back seams of the fabric and lining. Next I sewed the side seams using your method but leaving about 5″ open in the left side lining seam. I cut 5/8″ from the bottom of the lining and joined the bottom of the fabric and lining, then pulled everything through the opening in the lining side seam and stitched shut the opening. After ironing, I have a beautiful lined shell with no hand stitching. Thanks for the great instruction.

  23. Sofía says:

    I’m trying to visualize and compare method B with the method I use and cannot see the difference… I first sew the shoulder seams of the shell and the lining separately and then join the shell & lining necklines and follow with the armhole seams. Do I get the same result if I do this? Does anyone note the difference?

  24. Sofía says:

    Ok! I think I’m visualizing it better. My bulk problem is when it comes to the side seam… maybe i get the same result as method B with the shoulder seam but not with the side seam.

  25. Gisele Theriault says:

    I’m a home sewer accustomed to using purchased patterns. I’ve been trying really hard to understand this posting. I get the principle of the last seam being sewn being the dominant seam.

    You stop at step 1 on the “B” view then skip to the finished product without stating what step 2 is.

    What I don’t understand is why not simply sew the shoulder seams first, then sew the neck and armholes?

    Everyone else gets it so I understand if you can’t explain further.

    Thanks in advance if you do.

  26. Dianne Dobson says:


    I have looked at this over and over and cannot figure out how you turn the garment right side out.

    I have sewed it exactly how you did but I’m confused on the finishing. Can you please explain what I am missing?


  27. Kelli Cheales says:

    These instructions are fabulous and the result sensational. I have started to make dresses for my two granddaughters. To get a professional look these instructions have made sewing easier and value to my outfits. Thank you

  28. Bonnie says:

    I’m awfully late to the party, but this is fabulous!!! I’m a home sewer who is working, working, working on my “finesse” skills. This is the sort of thing that will take my sewing up a notch. I’m sorry I didn’t see it two days ago as I was sewing an interlined Jon-Jon for my dear grandson. For love, I will gladly go the extra minute or mile. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  29. PepperReed says:

    Thanks for explaining this! I have a number of vintage patterns (particularly 20s and 30s) that have you sew the side seams last and I always wondered why they did it in that order. Thanks!

  30. Katie M says:

    I find your explanation very confusing, but interesting. I don’t understand why anyone would join a shoulder seam using the method shown in A. I have made loads of sleeveless tops (I live in the tropics) and I use this method:

    1. Join the shoulder seams for both the blouse and the facing.
    2. Lay the facing on top of the blouse (right sides together) and sew around the neckline (which I then under stitch).
    3. Sew around the armholes.
    4. Pull the back sections through the shoulder to turn the blouse.
    5. Sew the side seam (match up the seam where armhole facing meets blouse, sew from edge of facing, all the way down to the hem).
    6. Finish the centre back according to your pattern (I usually make a roleau loop and add a button).

    I’ve never had a problem with the shoulder or underarm seam. I do tack the facing under the arm to make sure it doesn’t flip up when I’m putting on a blouse.

  31. Evelyne says:

    I cannot tell you how much your tutorials mean to me. I graduated college with a degree in fashion design and was never taught seam dominance or commercial sewing. To say that you have answered so many questions (and soothed many of my sewing frustrations), is an understatement. I really wish I could afford to book a class, but for now I’m saving to buy your book. Thank you so much for this website and all of the knowledge that you post on it.

  32. Avatar photo

    If I was taught seam dominance in school, I forgot it and figured it out on my own (again, a nod to Erin who reminded me to write about it) so I wouldn’t be upset that you didn’t learn it either. Commercial sewing instruction in school is often catch as catch can as teachers can only teach what they learned and since none of them worked in factories as pattern makers and then line stitchers, would not know. They do the best they can, using books written by others -who also never worked in production :). But it IS okay. You have to start somewhere and if all they manage to accomplish is to inspire a love of craft and a desire for students to grow through self-instruction, they have done an excellent job -in my opinion.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. Maybe we’ll meet at one of our apparel manufacturing boot camps some day.

  33. Chloe says:

    I am new to sewing (just started a sewing course) and look for ways to make my garments more professional looking and less home made. New to sewing your photos are a little confusing mainly because of the skipped steps. Would you be able to do a video? If there is one can you send the link?


  34. Barbara says:

    I can’t believe I – nor apparently not too many others – ever thought of this. The logic in it is truly profound!!! Thanks so much for sharing – and putting yourself out to do so!!!! Best and “stay safe” wishes!

  35. Draper says:

    Why wouldn’t you sew the shoulder seams of the fashion and the lining together first, then do the neckline and armscye? Leave the side seams open and close the vest that way… You’ve made this so hard on yourself

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