Ah, the wonders of bias tape! Perfectly coordinated clean edges flowing smoothly around curves and adding that perfect finished touch. What is it that makes bias tape such an ideal alternative to a turned hem, and how can you make your own so that it is truly a perfect pairing with your project? Read on, my sewing friend, because homemade bias tape may just become one of your new favorite things!
First of all, let's take a moment to get technical. What IS bias tape exactly?
The first thing to understand is that fabric can generally be divided into two very basic types. Knit fabric, which is constructed with a single thread looped continuously together, and woven fabric, which is created by weaving two threads perpendicular to each other in an over-under-over-under configuration (called grainlines). To learn more about the differences be sure to check out the post Wovens, Knits, and Sewing them Together.
Bias tape is not "tape" at all (at least, not if you immediately thing of something sticky). It is a binding created from woven fabrics, and it is special. Woven fabrics have little to no stretch either down the length of the fabric or from selvage to selvage. However, because the threads of fabric interlock in a tiny grid, the fabric DOES have some stretch if you tug it at a 45'degree angle, and that angle on the fabric is call the "bias". Bias tape is strips of fabric that have been cut at 45'degrees to the grainlines and have had the edges turned and pressed to make a clean neat fold on one or both sides.
Curved edges are notoriously difficult to hem by the traditional method of turning the edge under. In addition to being used as a decorative finish on straight edges, the true beauty of bias tape is that the stretch in the fabric makes it ideal for finishing the edges of curves. Bias tape can be used either as either a facing (turned fully under the hem) or a decorative wrapped binding (wrapping over the edge).
Bias tape can be purchased in stores in a rainbow of different colors. This saves a bit of time and effort...but isn't nearly as satisfying as making your own! Making your own bias tape means that you can use woven fabric that perfectly coordinates with your project. Plus, you can use printed fabric, which is something you rarely find pre-made!
There are plenty of blog posts out there already that show you how to use a new square or rectangular piece of fabric to cut your bias tape. Some will even show you how to fold the fabric in such a way to make a continuous piece to save splicing short lengths of bias together. If you want a lot of bias in one color or print, I recommend checking out how to do that. Be warned though that you might be surprised by how much bias you end up with!
Unless I need a LOT of bias tape, most of the time, I make my bias tape from the leftover fabric AFTER I've cut out all the other pieces I need for a project. It is really surprising how much bias you can get from a relatively small piece of fabric! This usually means that I use several small lengths of bias pieced together, but once you know how to do this smoothly, it is very worth it!
I'm going to show you how I cut bias from a scrap piece of fabric because that's usually the way I do it. If you are using leftovers, like I am, you might be dealing with some oddly shaped pieces. That's okay! As long as you can find the grainlines, you'll be able to find the bias and that's the first thing you need to do. It is easiest to find the bias if you have a selvage to guide you as the selvage always runs down the length of the fabric (the "lengthwise grain"). If you don't have a selvage, you may be able to see the grainlines by looking very closely at the fabric to see the directions that the individual threads are woven together. If you still aren't sure, find a loose thread along the raw edge and tug on it... you may even be able to pull it all the way out of the fabric. That is the grainline.
Once you know the direction of the grainlines, place your straight edge so that it is 45'degrees to the grain. If you have a quilting ruler, they usually have handy angled guide lines to help you. Cut a straight line down the longest length that you can along that 45'degree angle. (If you aren't using a cutting mat and rotary cutter, you will want to draw the angle on your fabric with a fabric pen or chalk before cutting it with scissors).
Since shorter cuts are usually easier to keep straight and steady, you should next fold the fabric in half along the cut bias edge. If you would rather work only one layer of fabric at a time though, you can certainly just continue cutting longer strips without folding it first.
Now you'll be cutting your first bias strip.
First, you need to decide how wide you would like your bias strips to be. This really just depends on the project that you are working on. The smaller the project or the more curved the edge that you intend to attach the bias to, the narrower the bias you will want. The main thing to keep in mind is that whatever you want the finished width of the bias to be, you'll need to multiply by 4. So, if you want a very narrow 1/4" trim, you need to cut the bias strip at 1" wide. If you are using the bias to hem something larger, like a skirt, you will want it wider. For a hem, I recommend at least 1/2" wide... which means cutting the strips at 2". My personal preference is to go a little wider even, so I usually choose to cut my bias in 2.5"-3" strips. Two things to keep in mind are that a wide bias is not suitable to a tight curve, and the narrower the bias the more challenging to sew it on later.
One quick side note... there are bias tape maker tools that you can buy. The simplest and least costly bias makers are basically curled metal triangles that you feed the bias strip into on one side, and then slide the bias maker down the strip, forcing the fabric to curl in on itself. At the same time and with your other hand, you iron the folds into crisp creases, thus creating the bias tape. The reason I mention these bias makers before moving on to the next step is that they come in specific sizes, and the size of the bias maker will dictate how wide you will have to cut your bias strips.
I have one of these handy little devices... but since I don't usually make a lot of bias at a time, I tend to skip the bias maker. There are some other great tutorials online that show how to use a Bias Maker, so I'm going to show you the method I usually use... all it requires is an iron and some patience.
But first we need to get those strips finished!
Once you've cut the first strip off, move your ruler over and measure the next one. How many you will need will depend on the project you are working on and the size of the fabric you are cutting from. Once you cut a strip off, measure it so you know how much more you will need. Believe me, it's easy to get carried away at this step and end up cutting way more strips than you actually need! Cut just a little more than the pattern requires to give you enough extra to piece the strips together, and remember that you can always cut another piece if you don't quite have enough..
Now you should have some separate strips of bias that just need to be pieced together.
To do this, the first thing you need to do is prepare the short ends. The key thing here is that we want to reduce as much bulk in the seams as possible. To do this, the short ends of each bias strip need to be cut on a 45'degree angle (there's that number again... at least it's easy to remember!). The other thing is that the angle needs to be the SAME on both pieces... so when you cut them, make sure that both strips are right side up. If not, the next step won't work.
To piece these two strips together, place them right sides together. Line them up along the 45'degree angle, BUT (and this is really important) the corners of each piece need to stick out a little on each side. The amount that they are stick out will determine the width of the seam you will make. Generally, I use 1/4" because it's easy to remember.
Stitch the two pieces together along the angle. Since the amount that the two pieces stuck out on each side was 1/4", that means that the seam allowance would be 1/4".
Now these two pieces are attached together. Press the seam flat, opening up the seam allowance on either side. If the two pieces are slightly off, that's okay; a little misalignment will be hidden on the inside once we get the bias tape folded and pressed.
To continue, first snip off the little tips on either side of the seams.
Then fold the strip in half along the length, and press firmly. (Or, if you are using a bias maker, follow the instructions for using that now). Those of you who are using your reliable old iron, like me, fold and press.
Now, if you've been wondering why we had to attach these strips together on an angle, this is why...
If the two pieces had been seamed together at a 90'degree right angle, when you fold it, those seams would be directly on top of one another. This makes it unnecessarily bulky and would make a noticeable bump at each seam when you attach it to your project. No one wants that! By seaming the pieces together on an angle, there is a little bit of overlap closest to the center fold, but most of the seam goes off in opposite directions, reducing the bulk significantly.
The next step is to open the center fold, and fold the strip again on the top and the bottom edges, so that they meet in the middle. Again, fold and press. And fold and press. Repetitive, but not difficult.
Once both sides have been folded and pressed to the center, fold the strip in half again and press one last time. This encloses the raw edges of the bias strip on the inside... and that completes your custom homemade bias tape!
I always feel a great sense of satisfaction when I make bias tape. There is just something clean and pretty about how it looks when finished!
I do want to share with you a couple other resources with more details about bias tape. These great blogs show some ideas of where you can use it, how to use the bias tape maker I mentioned, and how you might want to cut bias from a larger square or rectangular piece of fabric rather than the scrap piece I've shown you here.
Making Bias Tape - by Dana from Made Everyday
Six Bias Tape Tutorials - by Oliver & S
The next project using bias tape on my list is the soon-to-be released Kluane Dress & Peplum... this is one of those projects for which bias tape is perfect for finishing the hem of the half circle skirt!