Monday, March 23, 2015

Navigating Notions: Making Your Own Bias Tape

Bias tape is one of the most versatile notions:  it can invisibly finish a seam, it can bind layers of fabric together in a matching color, or it can bring your piece to the next level with a contrasting color or pattern.  It can be as little as 1/4" wide or as big as 2" wide, single fold or double fold, woven or knit...there is a lot of options!  But if you're only relying on premade bias tape, you don't have as many options.  Once you learn how easy it is to make your own, the possibilities are endless!

For example, here's our staff member Claire in her crane dress!  This fabric is part of a collection, and she used a coordinating fabric for self-made bias tape on the neckline and armscyes of her Laurel Dress by Colette Patterns.

And here's Lauren in her Rope Belledone by Deer & Doe (pattern available in store).  By making her own bias tape, she was able to choose the exact color she wanted to complement the rattie fabric.

So without further ado, let's learn how to make our own!  We know a lot of sewists are intimidated by this, but we promise, it's easy!  We used a solid cotton in this demo, but part of the fun of making your own bias tape is experimenting with different fabrics.

First off, you'll want to iron your fabric.  You can see here the crease from the cotton being folded in half and rolled on the bolt.  Before we start cutting strips to make into bias tape, we want a clean, pressed foundation.

Now we will start cutting our strips.  The Clover Bias Tape Maker we're using comes with this instruction sheet.  Since we're using a 1/2" bias tape maker, we will be cutting 1" strips.

You can see here that the edge of our fabric was not cut very straight—not sure what happened there!  We cut a nice straight edge so that the ends of our strips were not so jagged.

Now we will cut our strips.  Make sure they're on the bias!  By cutting at this 45° angle, rather than along the warp (parallel to the selvedge) or the weft (perpendicular to the selvedge), the strips will be able to stretch, so that the bias tape can curve along necklines, armscyes, hems, and more.  Our Omnigrid ruler has a nice 45° angle marking that we held along the bottom edge.

Using our rotary cutter and a self-healing mat, we cut along the edge of the acrylic ruler.  If your fabric is not off grain and has a nice straight edge perpendicular to the selvedge, you should ideally have a triangle like this.

Continuing to use our rotary cutter and ruler, we cut lots of 1" strips.

You'll notice that not all your strips are the same length.  As you can see below, the longest strip will be along this arrow, but don't worry—it's normal to have different length strips.  The more fabric you have to work with, the longer the longest strip will be.   This piece was only 1/2 a yard, which is plenty if you're just using it for bias tape.

Once you've cut your strips, it's time to piece them together to make one long strip.  If you know exactly how much finished bias tape you need, you can do the math and figure out how many strips you need to cut.  (To be honest, we usually just guess and cut a few more extra strips than we think we'll need.  There's always a need for more bias tape!)  The best way to piece bias tape together is at an angle, which is how packaged bias tape is almost always assembled.  To do this, place two strips at a 90° angle with the right sides together.  This is especially important if you're using a patterned fabric!

The picture above shows the seam line you will eventually sew.  It's best to use a matching color thread.  Below is a shot of us sewing the strips together.  Since this is a solid color cotton, there isn't a right side, but if there were, the pieces should be right sides together.  In other words, the strip layered on top would be wrong side facing up, and the strip on the bottom would be right side facing up.  We've tried to make that clear in the picture below.

Next you'll want to trim and press the seam open.  (The picture below shows the seam pressed, but not trimmed for clarity.)  You'll be able to see more clearly why we sew the strips together on an angle, rather than straight across.  This way, when the strip is folded into bias tape, the bulk of this seam is distributed more evenly.  If the seam was straight across, the bulk of the seam would be in one place, and you'd have a lumpy bit of bias tape when it was eventually sewed into a project.

Now for the magic part!  Here's a closer look at a 1/2" bias tape maker.  There is wider side with a slot that we've shown close up.  The fabric is fed from this end and comes out the other.

Watching the fabric strip come out perfectly folded is always exciting for us!

The last step is to press the folded bias tape when it comes out the smaller end.  We usually push the hinged wire part of the maker back against the flat strip and pull the bias tape maker from there to avoid the steam coming from the iron.

And ta-da!  You've made your own bias tape!  If you look carefully, you can see in this close up shot of our finished product how the warp and weft threads are not straight across, but at a 45° angle, making this a true bias tape.

Bias tape can be used to in all your sewing projects, from garments to quilts to embellishments.  Once you're learned how easy it is to make your own, you've opened up new opportunities for your future creations!

If you want some more individualized assistance, check out our #314 Easy Bindings and Facings Class with Barbara Beccio.  For your first few tries making bias tape, any of our #101 Beginnings and Beyond teachers would be happy to help.  Or try our #250 Sew & Fit Labs and get three hours of help for your personal projects!

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions about bias tape making or our sewing classes.  Stay tuned to see what we eventually used this bias tape for!  Have you ever made your own bias tape?  We'd love to see your finished products!

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