Pinking shears can significantly reduce, but not completely prevent, fraying of fabric. These specialized scissors with zigzag cutting edges make dozens of small cuts on the bias, or diagonal, of the fabric, discouraging fraying and unraveling. This method is effective on tightly woven fabrics, but loose weaves can unravel easily even with bias cuts. Other methods prevent fraying as well as pinking shears.
A serger, or overlock machine, is a specialized sewing machine that creates a durable edge on fabric using four or five separate threads that lock around the edge of the seam. This overlock stitch prevents fraying and allows movement in stretch fabrics. The serger cuts off the seam allowance as it sews, creating a finished seam in one simple step. Serged hems and seams are common on commercial knits.
Sewing supply centers carry professional products that prevent frayed fabric edges. These clear liquid sealants maintain a clean edge on fabric and hold threads and seams in place. They are easy to use, but can cause discoloration on some fabrics. Always test the product on a fabric scrap before applying it to a finished project.
Most sewing machines have a basic zigzag stitch that performs a similar function to pinking shears. Instead of cutting the fabric, it places tight stitches in a zigzag pattern along the edge of the fabric, creating a bias stitch that holds the weave in place to prevent fraying. A turned-up hem that hides the zigzagged edge with a traditional straight stitch is a common construction.
Some fabrics don't fray at all or fray very little, and don't require special treatment for cut edges. These fabrics might still have finished edges and seams for decorative purposes. Leave polar fleece and felt unfinished because of their strong, clean edges. Many knits don't fray, although they will roll if seams aren't finished. Other choices include suede, microsuede, velvet and vinyl.