bias tape and piping tutorial
Tutorials

TUTORIAL: HOW TO MAKE BIAS TAPE & PIPING

Howdy folks! I know there are approximately eighty bajillion bias tape tutorials out there but I want to show you how to make your own piping for the Carolyn Pajamas and you can’t really have one without the other, alas.

I was in a bit of a rush when I made up my Carolyn samples so I didn’t actually make any of the piping I used in those garments; I lucked out and found some fairly drapey piping that was easy to work with. You can certainly use the store-bought cotton/poly stuff but keep in mind that it can be a) expensive b) stiff and tricky to sew around curves and c) limiting in terms of colours. Most of us have boxes, bags, cupboards, Rubbermaids, bunkers, panic rooms and closets stuffed with scraps so making your own bias tape and/or piping is a great way to use up the fabric you feel too guilty to throw away.

I also think adding piping to this project takes it to the next level, aesthetically speaking. And it’s not as hard as you think it is, so let’s do this.

TOOLS FOR MAKING PIPING

  • At least a half yard of contrasting fabric
  • A chalk pen
  • A quilting ruler
  • Pins
  • Thin cord for inside the piping. You can use a sturdy yarn in a pinch but you want something that has a profile and will hold it’s shape while you’re sewing it in.
  • A zipper or piping foot for your sewing machine

You can make bias tape with any woven fabric, but with Carolyn I am partial to lightweight cottons and silk. Silk is obviously a little bit more fiddly to work with, but it creates a really luxurious detail.

Start by truing the edges of your fabric. I just snip into the selvedge, rip along the crossgrain, and then press and steam to reduce distortion along the ripped edges. Cut off the selvedges of your fabric as well.

making bias tape

Fold the bottom corner of your fabric up and align it against the top edge so you make a big folded triangle.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Get your scissors in there and trim off this triangle. I hold my left hand flat on the fabric as I’m cutting to prevent it from shifting.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Now move that wedge to the left side of your fabric. You’re basically making a parallelogram. Remember algebra? Yeah, me either.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Pin the two straight edges right sides together and sew. Press the seam open.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

With your quilting ruler and chalk, draw lines parallel to the angled edge, equal distance apart. If you want the seam allowance of your piping to match the 5/8″ seam allowance of the pattern, you’ll need to experiment with a scrap of fabric and your piping cord to see how wide those lines should be. In this example I cut the strips 1 1/2″ wide.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Once all your lines are drawn, mark the seam allowance along the top and bottom edges. I marked 1/2″. This line helps you match everything up when you sew the edges together.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Now, with the right sides together, fold the fabric up. Match the end of the first strip with the second strip along the seam allowance. You want to cut one continuous line of fabric, so by doing this you are essentially creating a spiral.

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Try to match up all of your drawn lines along the entire seam. It feels a little awkward while you’re pinning but you will eventually pin the fabric into a tube. Sew along your pinned line until you have something like this:

making bias tape DIY tutorial

Press your seams flat, and start cutting along your chalk lines. You should be able to make one crazy long strip of bias tape. I made over 9 yards of bias tape using a half yard of fabric, so the yield is pretty good!

making bias tape DIY tutorial

MAKING PIPING

Now that you have your bias tape ready, you have two choices. If you don’t want to insert the cord, or prefer the look of flat piping, you can simply press this bias tape in half and use it along all of your seams. I think a 1/8″ exposed edge looks great with flat piping, but you can go a little wider. Just keep in mind that the wider it is, the trickier it is to sew along tight curves.

If you prefer the rounded edge of piping, there are two ways you can insert the cord in the tape.

SEWING PIPING USING A ZIPPER FOOT

Pop your zipper foot on your machine. Fold the bias tape over your cord and place it on your machine with cord to the left of the foot. Have your needle as far left as possible. Sew along the length.

sewing piping DIY tutorial

My problem with this method is that there is a limit to how close you can sew to the cord depending on the width of your zipper foot. Your exposed piped edge will be on the wider side, and since you can’t adjust needle position there is a chance you’ll see overlapping lines of stitching. But there’s a better way!

USING A PIPING FOOT

I made a few Carolyn muslins with a zipper foot and it was fine, but I was much happier when I bought a specialty piping foot. As you know, Bernina feet are expensive and I didn’t want to wait a week for one to arrive. Instead, I went to a sewing supply store and bought a cheap low-shank piping foot for around $5 to use on my old Singer. You can find a similar one on Amazon here. The key to this foot is making sure it has a wide opening for your needle so you can adjust your needle position a little. A foot with a small hole will work but won’t let you sew really close to the edge of your piping.

how to make piping tutorial

The channel in the foot holds the piping in place so you don’t have to fiddle much with it. It makes sewing much easier and faster. Just keep an eye on your fabric and seam allowance and try to sew the piping as consistently as possible.

And that’s it! In an hour or two you can make yards and yards of piping in whatever fabric you want. I’ll be back Monday to show you how to actually sew this stuff in!

  • Miriana

    I think you mean geometry (lines and angles) rather than algebra (a+b=c). But I’ll stick to maths – do Canadians say it without the ‘s’ or with it (aka properly – m ducking for cover) – and you stick to the beautiful patterns and very entertaining and informative (if not on the mathS front) blog posts

    • Angela

      LOL, another math lover! I can’t understand why my teenage kiddos don’t find it to be fascinating, I have more fun looking at their homework than they do!

    • Jen l

      triangles > trigonometry : )

      • Miriana

        Good point. Given my 5 year old knows about parallelograms, ‘shapes’ probably cover it.

        • Me and your five year old probably have the same math skills. My knowledge pretty much ended with long division.

  • Oh my goodness. I’ve been cutting two triangles off to make the parallelogram, weeping over the wastefulness of it all! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! (This is why I love seeing new tutorials even though there are so many out there.)

    • Hahahahhaa I love when you have those moments of clarity! Like when I realized I’d been using my seam ripper incorrectly for YEARS.

  • SBCC Patterns

    Anxiously awaiting the piping tutorial as I seem to collect them on Pinterest, but never follow through. I’m sure you have some better tips, especially for inserting on slippery fabrics. Piping looks so awesome when done right. I did it once and have been traumatized ever since- I had to sew industrial grade oil cloth piping into boat cushion covers. It was a hot, over-sized mess! (ah, the good ‘ole days as a poor art student looking for any sewing related job).

  • Lauren

    I’m wondering why you want to sew the piping so tightly next to the cord. Isn’t it better to have the piping stitching lines slightly away from the cord so the seam line goes in between the piping stitching line and the cord? That way they piping stitches don’t show on the finished garment. I’ve made piping before with a zipper foot, and I’m confused as to why the piping foot is better. A little lost here. Sorry.

    • No problem Lauren! It’s less of an issue with making the piping and more of an issue when you’re actually inserting it. I found with the zipper foot that the first pass was fine, but then when you went to sew the top layer to the already piped layer, because you couldn’t move the needle further to the left, you end up seeing the piped sewing line beneath in some areas. The zipper foot just doesn’t hold the piping securely so it’s hard to sew accurately as the piping foot. For the final pass, you also want to sew as close as possible to the piping so you have a nice thin edge. The piping foot gives you more control. You definitely don’t need a special foot – I was just much happier with the results when I got one.

      • Lauren

        Ah. So, you use the piping foot when sewing the seams on the garment to get a stitch closer to the cord. It all makes sense now. Good to know. I may need to get one of those piping feet now. 🙂 Thank you!

  • Man, I am so happy that I am not the only one who fell for that piece of orange floral fabric!

    • I bought it years ago at Fabricville and never used it! It’s a great fabric, but I tend to use it more for Ginger pocket linings.

  • Helene

    Yeah, but now how to we attach the piping to the pockets of View C on the Carolyn pyjamas?! My productive day of sewing came to a sad, confused halt. Maybe I’m just dumb.

    • You’re not dumb Helene! Take it easy on yourself lady! I have a post coming up tomorrow about how to sew it in. Hopefully that will clarify for you 😉

      • Helene

        Yay! For some reason I can’t get my head around it, even though I always find your patterns easy to follow. I bet I’ll go d’oh tomorrow!

  • Vicki

    I’m Confused as to what can be used for cord… Please help!
    Why yes, I never have made piping before…

    • No prob Vicki! You want something small in diameter but with a heft. A sturdy worsted weight yarn could work, but I found a lightweight cotton cord that was perfect. A decent notions store should have racks of cord to choose from..

  • Vicki

    Thank you!

  • Madeline Kamal

    I’m at the step where I’ve just marked the 1/2″ seam allowance lines along the top and bottom, and next I’m supposed to fold the fabric up and start matching lines. I am super confused, and I keep looking at the photo to try and figure it out, but I’m still stuck. Any further tips? Thank you!

    • Hi Madeline. You need to fold one corner up and match where your diagonal lines interect the 1/2″ marks on each end. You need to skip a row though, because if you don’t and just sew it together in a tube without offsetting those lines you’ll end up making a series of circles rather than one continuous spiral of fabric. It looks and feels weird when you’re sewing the long edges together because they don’t join in a straight seam, but rather spiral around each other, as you can see in the 4th from last photo. Hope that helps!

      • Madeline Kamal

        Thanks so much, I got it figured out! I finished the pants and am now working on the long sleeved top with piping. This pattern is beautiful and so well designed!!

  • mcb467

    This is so confusing 🙁 🙁 🙁 I cannot for the life of me get the strips to line up when I sew the two sides together. Have ripped out my stitches so many times.