Seams, Stitches and Piping – Subtle Slipcover Details

Many of our customers have been requesting more custom details such as contrast piping for their IKEA slipcover, and we find this very endearing as it seems that people do like the advice we hand out. Just to refresh our memory a little:

Manstad Basic Fit Nomad Red
Manstad in Nomad Red with Contrast White Piping #throwback

A custom slipcover is not personalised until you’re able to add on what is uniquely “you”. Seams, stitches and piping will make your sofa ‘pop’. So don’t be afraid to explore the endless possibilities of what can be done for your sofa slipcover.

Difference between seam, stitch and piping

These 3 sewing terms may seem quite far apart, but they’re actually very much related to each other.

seam definition

As above, the seam is essentially a line created when 2 pieces of fabrics are sewn (stitched) together. There are actually different ways to create these seams, and piping is essentially the result of one of these seam types.

Types of Decorative Seams (and Stitching)

For starters, there are arguably 4 types of seams:

1. Plain Seams

The most common type of machine-sewn seam; basically 2 pieces of fabric (wrong side out) will be stitched along the dotted line as shown below:

Plain seam
Plain seam c/o Wikipedia

So what typically happens let’s say for a square cushion cover, is that all 4 sides will be stitched in that way (1 side with zipper of course) and once all’s done – it gets inverted/flipped to look something like this:

Plain seam result on cushion cover
Plain seam on cushion cover

2. French Seams (a.k.a. “Inverted Seams”)

A French seam is kind of like a seam enclosed within another seam (seam-ception!?), and is probably the only seam that is sewn between fabrics with the wrong sides facing each other first.

French seam
French seam c/o Wikipedia

The image above does not really do justice for sewing beginners (like myself), so do check out this video tutorial on how to sew a French seam.

Traditionally, the French seam is just a way to have a clean underside and lessen the chances of unraveling/fraying with the raw edges enclosed. Now, it can be used as a decorative detail for sofas when the entire seam gets inverted – one example would be the IKEA Kivik Sofa.

Kivik inverted seams close up
Kivik inverted seams close up

What used to be on the inside is reversed and flipped onto the outside to create an accent for the sofa – hence the French seam also being known as the “inverted seam”. However, it’s not exactly the most popular sofa feature at the moment and might just be an acquired taste.

3. Flat Seams

This is probably the most straightforward seam type to understand as it’s just intuitively combining 2 fabric pieces together, edge to edge like so:

Flat seam
Flat seam c/o Wikipedia

And yes, intuitively this would not be the most sturdy type of seam, especially if the fabrics are thin – that’s why this seam is only used for thicker materials or fabrics with selvage. Selvage is basically a stronger fabric that prevents unraveling/fraying.

Be sure not to mistake this for “flat-felled” seams – Flat-felled seams are most commonly found on jeans and are similar to the French seam where the raw edges are closed. The main difference (and benefit) is that the final result is completely flat on both sides. Check out the video tutorial here.

Or if you prefer a visual snippet, this image sums it up pretty nicely of how a flat-felled seam is sewn together.

flat felled seam
Flat-felled seam c/o backpacking.net

Usually you’ll also be able to see 2 parallel stitchings for the flat-felled seams instead of 1 for the French seam:

Flat Felled Seams on Jeans
Flat Felled Seams on Jeans

For decorative purposes, the flat-felled seams with double stitching can also give a classic sofa a more modernized and casual look like so:

Ektorp Denim Covers with double Stitching
Ektorp denim covers with contrast double stitching

It’s basically like your sofa wearing jeans – subtle, casual and not too flashy.

4. Lapped Seams

Finally, the lapped seams are used mostly for materials that don’t fray such as fleece, leather, suede, felt, etc. Also pretty straightforward and aptly defined – a lapped seam is created when one fabric goes over another and is top stitched. Because the material doesn’t fray, this single stitch is strong enough to hold the 2 pieces together and eliminates unnecessary bulk.

Aesthetically, it isn’t much to look at unless you do a double stitching – which doesn’t make it too far off from the Flat-felled seam with double stitching. As such, we won’t delve too deep into it here but you can visit this tutorial to get a better understanding here: http://gotosew.com/2013/06/guest-post-lapped-seam-tutorial/.

Piping, Cording and Welting

Okay, this is the part where it might get a little confusing – the words above all mean the same thing to us actually. “Welting” on the other hand, seems to have 2 definitions:

  1. After doing a bit of research online, the welt seam is basically the flat-felled seam
  2. The other meaning is the same as piping and cording

So with piping, cording or welting – these are basically made by combining 2 fabrics like a flat seam (refer to above) BUT, you sew a cord (wrapped around with fabric) in between the other 2 fabrics.

Confused? Check out the entire video tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jKFTqI7YKI

Piping and Cording Applications

We’ve seen contrast and standard piping options quite often (if you haven’t, check our contrast piping blogpost out), but there are a couple of other ways to personalise your covers using the same method.

Piping without a Cord inside

piping without cord inside
Pillow covers with “Cordless Piping”

Take away the actual cord from inside the piping and what do you get? The image above pretty much shows it off nicely on the pillow covers, kinda looks like giant dumplings. Maybe I’m just hungry.

Klippan Sofa Cover Rouge Indigo
Klippan Sofa Cover in Rouge Indigo and Cordless Piping

Here’s how cordless piping would look like on the entire sofa roughly – yummy? Too much? Let us know!

ribbon style cordless piping
Ribbon style cordless piping

Maybe we can make it a little bit more cutesy with some extra detail by creating a couple of folds onto the cordless piping. I think this looks really spot-on for some reason, not too shabby chic for my liking.

And there you have it, just a quick lesson on seams, stitching and piping and hopefully some ideas you could use for your upcoming custom slipcover project with us 🙂

For more ideas and inspiration, follow our Pinterest Board for seams and piping: https://www.pinterest.com/comfortworks/sewing-secrets/

Till next time, have a good one!

Other photo credits:
– Plain seam result of a square cushion cover: http://www.craftinessisnotoptional.com/2011/09/zippered-pillow-cover-tutorial.html
– Flat Felled Seams on Jeans: http://www.rgbstock.com/bigphoto/mGBRKEM/Jeans+texture

Article written by

A Search Marketing specialist for both physical and digital products, Chuck's also a passionate analyst who loves crunching numbers and big data. Out of the office, he's a tutor, guitarist, and a fitness enthusiast; A true Chuck of all trades.

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