How To,  Sewing Tips,  Tutorials

Another Way to Finish Waist Seams on Dresses

When sewing a gathered skirt to a bodice, I find that these are the  two most common home-sewing-pattern  instruction methods for finishing the seam allowance:

  • 1. Clean-finish couture“: press skirt seam allowance up towards bodice, and press bodice lining seam allowance under (left), then enclose the waist  seam allowances with the bodice lining and slip-stitch by hand (center). Beautifully invisible outside (right), the smoothest and most comfortable inside (important for babies and for children with sensory issues)…. but time-consuming:


  • 2.Quick and dirty“: over-lock/zig-zag finish together all 3 seam allowance layers (skirt, bodice, bodice lining) (left), press up towards bodice lining (right):


…then top-stitch (left).  The finished appearance outside is fine, if more RTW than custom (right). The downside is the thickness (the waist now has 5 layers: gathered skirt , 2 bodice layers, 2 bodice lining layers)….plus the inside doesn’t look as “finished”, and it can be irritating for those with sensory issues:


  • 3. A variation is to cover the waist seam allowance with  bias-tape to make it more finished (left), but this adds more bulk (right) (less bulky if you use a nylon tricot binding like Seams Right):


I was thinking about this recently as I was sewing samples of “Felicity” (Bella Sunshine) and “Hummingbird” (Rabbit Rabbit).  Felicity is fully lined (skirt-and-bodice) so the seam-allowance finishing is a non-issue…but I wasn’t lining the skirt of my garment because I was using the pattern to sew a nightgown. Hummingbird  instructions call for a simple quick seam finish (as above), or else this nice clean-finished alternative:

  • 4. Press the bodice-lining waist seam allowance under (left) .  After stitching gathered skirt to bodice, press the skirt seam-allowance up, then enclose with bodice lining (right):


Machine edge-stitch or stitch-in-the-ditch from the outside (left ). It’s tricky to catch the bodice lining edge (right ), but easier if you hold the bodice lining edge in place with a fabric glue-stick or bonding tape:


A variation of this method is to stitch the right side of the gathered skirt to the right side of the bodice lining:

  • 5. Press the bodice outside waist seam allowance under (left). Stitch gathered skirt to bodice lining, press seam allowance up, enclose with outside bodice seam allowance, and machine edge-stitch from the outside (right).


Some people find it easier to control the stitching this way, and the outside appearance (left)  and inside appearance (right) are almost the same as the previous method, except that, as Jenn from Jennuine Design commented, it does create a little “lip” on the bottom edge, no matter how carefully you stitch:


However, as Dory’s father Charlie says in the new Pixar film “Finding Dory”…..“There’s always another way”.  Actress Ellen DeGeneres, the voice of Dory, explains: “There’s always another way — that’s a new message in this movie. And that is the truth. There’s always another way,” she said. “Don’t ever just, you know, put up with something or just say, ‘Well, that’s the way it is.’

Here is “another way” (borrowed from the garment industry) that I use all the time, especially for quick sew projects like sleepwear and costumes, since they don’t require hand-me-down quality:

  • 6. Finish the bottom edge of the bodice lining (over-lock or zig-zag). After stitching gathered skirt to bodice, and pressing waist seam-allowance up towards bodice, place lower-edge of bodice lining down over the waist seam (left). Secure in place with pins from the outside (center).  Edge-stitch lower edge of bodice from the outside, or stitch-in-the-ditch, pulling pins as you go (right):


Why I like this method: while edge-stitching the bodice from the outside, it’s easy to catch the bodice lining seam allowance  because  it’s wider (since it isn’t turned up).  The bodice lining seam allowance not folded up under the bodice means one less layer of fabric adding waistline bulk. If you stitch-in-the-ditch, the outside (left) looks pretty….even if you edge-stitch it’s fine. The inside (right) does not look as clean-finished as slip-stitching, but the waist seam-allowances are all enclosed. I find it a good compromise.


Here is a sample of my “Felicity/Hummingbird” mash-up, using this last method of finishing the waist seam-allowance.  On the outside (left) the bodice waist stitching is barely visible.  On the inside (right) the bodice lining encloses the  seam allowance, and because it’s not folded up, there is little bulk:


Which numbers are your favorite finishes?

Do you have “another way” of finishing waist seam allowances?

Which sewing steps do you wish had “another way“?




  • Bunny

    My fave is number one but you probably could have predicted that! I have also used your method, Number 6, and really like it. I was taught “reduce bulk whenever possible” and the 6 method does a great job of that.

  • Jennifer DeShazer

    I’m #4. I don’t care for the little “lip” #5 creates on the bodice. I have one other method I use in my Verona Dress pattern, which has a lined bodice and underskirt. The waist seam allowances are enclosed between the overskirt and underskirt, which then also creates a self-casing for the elastic at the back. My now 7-year old tells me it’s very comfortable.

  • knitbunnie

    I just learned another way – sew the bodice to the gathered skirt, then pinch together the sewn seam allowance and the seam allowance of the bodice lining, sort of pull the bodice halfway inside out, stitch the bodice lining to the bodice & skirt SA as far as the middle, so it’s now all in one seam, then do the same thing on the other side, again stitching from the side to the middle. It takes a little manipulation, but after you do it once, it makes sense, and it encloses all the edges pretty much like #1.

  • knitbunnie

    And I’ve also used Jennifer’s method which works absolutely great (I love her Verona dress!)- it’s kind of like doing a hotdog roll pillowcase. If I’m making a big enough size that I can roll the skirt, I definitely use her method, but on a short baby bodice, I do the way I described above.

  • JustGail

    @knitbunnie – when you say to pull the bodice halfway inside out, where are you pulling it through? When reading this, I’ve been thinking the side seams of bodice, lining and skirt are already done when attaching the skirt. In other words, attaching finished bodice to a finished skirt. So that would leave the arm scythe, which would need to be staystitched or interfaced to prevent stretching…

    or am I way off base and you are finishing the waist seams first, then doing all the side seams?

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