What is it? What is it used for? What the heck does “bias” mean? And how can you make your own?
Let’s talk about it!
Have you walked by the zippers and threads in your fabric shop and wondered what all those cute packages of solid trim are? They’re bias tape, piping, and quilt bindings.
If you need a solid colored bias tape, the store bought stuff is convenient. But if you haven’t discovered already, it’s also very easy to make you own. And then the options are limitless…..and so much cuter.
With a few tools and an iron, a 1/2 yard of fabric is transformed into 9 yards of double-fold bias tape! It’s even cheaper than the pre-packaged stuff (which is typically 3 yards in length).
And when you’re ready to sew it on, jump to our next tutorial: How to Sew Bias Tape. We’ll show you the simple, shortcut method and the proper, never-fail method.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to that aisle in the fabric shop….
Inside all those pretty packages are some interesting trims:
* Bias tape usually comes in solid colors of polyester/cotton blended fabric, is 3 yards in length and varies in width and use.
* Quilt Binding is a fancy name for wide bias tape. It is sometimes made from polyester satin and ranges from 1 to 2 inches wide.
* Piping (sometimes called Welt Cord) is made by sewing rope-like cord inside of bias-cut strips (similar to making bias tape). It’s used as a trim on clothing and for home decor projects.
For this tutorial, however, we’ll focus mainly on Bias Tape. And now that we know what it looks like….what is it?
Bias tape is a type of trim and also a binding. It’s a long, continuous strip of fabric with neatly folded edges, making it ideal for finishing off hems and blankets and for adding a splash of color and contrast.
Bias tape comes in Single Fold or Double fold.
* Single fold is flat, with single edges folded over. It’s often used as a trim and sewn flat just as it is, such as parallel to a hem or with decorative stitching on the top.
* Double fold bias tape is single fold tape that has been folded again in the middle to create a sandwich. Note that the fold is actually slightly off-center, so that one side is wider than the other, by a fraction. This makes it easier to sew with and decreases the chance of sewing on the top of the binding and somehow missing the back of the binding with your stitching. That may sound confusing. Try it out and it will all make sense.
Double fold bias tape is the most common type used (and the kind I sew with most). It typically comes 1/2 inch and 1 inch wide–which is sometimes packaged as “quilt binding”.
Double-fold bias tape has a variety of uses, mostly as a binding over raw edges.
It can be used around arm holes and edges (yellow vest),
as a waistband and around leg holes (the perfect diaper cover).
Bias tape makes a wonderful Quilt Binding (Faux Chenille Blanket).
The leftover scraps come in handy for Scrappy Monster arms and legs.
It can bind handles (Baby Basket),
Carseat covers and canopies,
It neatly finishes-off raw edges (semi-homemade cover),
and makes a simple girl’s summer shirt (summer vacation dress pattern).
If you’re like me, you’ve been using bias tape more often than you’ve realized! So let’s talk about how to make your own. And to do that, let’s first understand what bias means.
Looking at a rectangle of fabric, one edge is the Cut Edge (where it was cut from the big bolt at the fabric shop). The other edge is the Selvage (or Selvedge in British English). This is the finished edge of the fabric, which doesn’t fray, and is often marked with the fabric designer’s name and color printing circle codes.
Both edges create fabric grain lines. The selvage is the lengthwise grain, while the cut edge (when it runs perpendicular to the selvage) is the crosswise grain.
The cut edge and the selvage typically make a 90 degree angle with each other. And the bias cuts a diagonal line in the middle of that, creating a bias grain! It makes a (2) 45 degree angles with the cut edge and the selvage.
When creating bias tape, all the fabric strips are cut on the bias rather than parallel to the fabric’s grain line.
So what’s so great about the bias?
Most woven fabrics (unless they have a bit of spandex blended in) have no stretch. This is the beauty of woven textiles. However, if you try to tug and stretch a piece of woven fabric along the bias, the fabric will give a little bit. It’s not that it “stretches” but it has some “ease” to it. Take a piece of fabric and try it out.
And why are bias-cut strips used for bias tape?
Well, if you’ve tried to ease woven fabric around a curve or created a casing around an armhole, you know that it’s hard to do. Binding tape made from bias-cut fabric eases and forms around curves easier than strips that are cut from the grain line. Another reason: when you cut strips parallel to the grain line or selvage, the binding has a tendency to pucker and doesn’t always lay flat (I’ve tried it). Thus, bias cut strips make the perfect binding or….bias tape.
Okay, still with me?
The background info is behind us now.
Let’s make bias tape!
Gather your fabrics.
* Fabrics with small prints work best since a large print won’t be very obvious on a skinny bias tape.
* You can make 9 yards of 1/2 inch, double-fold bias tape from a 1/2 yard of fabric.
I find that it’s easiest to cut the bias tape from 1 yard of fabric (so you have more surface area to cut longer strips of fabric). But I’ll show you how to do it with 1 yard and a 1/2 yard.
Fabrics to use:
* 100% cotton
* Cotton/Poly blend (I find this easiest to use)
* Satin (or Polyester Satin)
* Flannel, Corduroy, and cotton variations
Next, you’ll need a Bias Tape maker. Of course all things can be done the old-fashioned way and you can slowly iron the fabric edges over little by little. But for $3-$15, you can buy niffy tools that simplify the process. And if you’re a real bias tape enthusiast, Simplicity sells an electronic bias tape maker!…but I’ll tell you about that next month.
I have two bias tape makers: 1-inch wide and 2-inch wide. The widest maker available in most shops is a 1-inch. Online I found the 2-inch wide maker. It’s not as cheap as the others ($14) but I love having the wider option.
It’s important to remember that the width printed on the package is for single fold bias tape. So, a 1-inch wide bias tape maker actually makes 1/2 inch wide double-fold bias tape. The 2-inch wide maker will make 1-inch wide double-fold tape, which is great as a quilt binding.
At the back of the maker is where the fabric is inserted. Measure around this opening so you know exactly how wide your fabric strips need to be (2 inches for the 1-inch maker, and 3.75 for the 2-inch maker).
And now, let’s cut bias strips.
There are many ways to cut and sew bias tape. Other methods I’ve seen online involve sewing pieces of fabric together before cutting your strips….but no matter how many times I read the instructions I can’t wrap my brain around it. So, this method feels simplest to me. But each person learns differently. If my method is odd to you, check out these other tutorials on Whipstitch and Prudent Baby.
Bias Tape from 1 yard of fabric:
Okay, as I mentioned above, it’s easiest to get long bias strips from 1/2 yard of fabric that is cut from 1 yard (so that you have more surface area length for each strip). I’ll show you the 1 yard method first.
Fold the Selvage over to the cut edge of the fabric to create a 45 degree, or a bias cut. Cut along that fold with a pair of scissors. And voila, you have a triangle! If you have a super long cutting mat, you can start cutting bias strips now! But since most of us have a small cutting surface, fold the triangle in half, along the bias cut. This will allow you to cut more of the fabric at once on a smaller cutting mat.
And finally, fold the triangle down one more time, along the bias edge. Again the only purpose here is to make the fabric smaller and easier to cut. If you’re confused, go back up to the original triangle and just start cutting strips along the bias.
Okay, I’ll be making 1/2 inch wide double-fold bias tape, so I need to cut 2-inch wide strips. Remember that you’re cutting from the BIAS CUT EDGE.
Using a rotary cutter, quilting ruler, and cutting mat, continue cutting 2-inch wide strips till you get to the end of your fabric.
Now we’ll sew all the strips together. Some people find this part tedious but I think it comes together fairly quickly and seems easiest to me, compared to other methods.
Take two strips of fabric that have edges angled in the same direction and put the right sides of the fabric together.
Now I know your instinct is to line them up flush with each other but in a moment I’ll show you why that doesn’t work. You need each strip to over-hang a bit and make a 90 degree angle with each other. Try to be exact but don’t stress over it. Just eyeball as best as you can (the strips end up overhanging about 1/2 inch).
Here’s another look at it. A 90 degree angle:
Then sew the strips together using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Typically, the edge of your presser foot is a 1/4 inch allowance, which makes it even easier! Just line it up with your presser foot each time.
Now, had you lined the two strips up flush with each other, without the overhang, your strips would come out looking like this:
But with the overhang, the strips line up perfectly! Just snip off those fabric edges and you’re set!
Now don’t worry if your strips don’t line up exactly every time. No big deal. The edge is the part that will be folded under anyway, so it doesn’t need to be pristine. Just keep pressing forward.
Once your strips are all sewn together it’s time to for the folding fun. Stick the end of the long fabric strip into your bias tape maker. The angled edge will help it feed in easier. If you’re having a hard time getting it out the other end, use a seam ripper or other small object to stick down inside the maker and pull it along.
Then, with your iron on the proper setting for your fabric type, iron down the folded fabric that comes out of the maker.
It’s as simple as that! The small handle on the maker will help you pull with one hand as you iron with the other.
When you get to a spot where two strips were sewn together, just keep pulling and ironing and you shouldn’t have any problems. Keep going with this method till you get to the end of your strip. This will take a while, so listen to good music or turn on a show in the background.
Okay, at this point, you’ve created single fold bias tape. If that’s what you wanted, you’re done!
But for double-fold tape we need to iron it over one more time. Fold the tape in half, so that one side is just slightly wider than the other…about 1/16 of an inch….very small.
Iron all the way to the end of the strip and you’re done!
Yards and yards of beautiful bias tape!
It’s one of those simple tasks that makes you feel accomplished (like getting all the laundry in the washing machine—and eventually folding it)
To make 1-inch wide double-fold bias tape, use a full yard of fabric and cut strips that are 3.75 inches wide:
Pull it through the tape maker, iron it in half,
and you have beautiful single-fold or double-fold bias tape.
Making bias tape from a 1/2 yard of fabric:
The process is a bit more complicated (at least to me) but just read through it step by step.
Fold your fabric to get a 45º angle like we did above and cut the edge with your scissors.
Now to create longer strips of fabric place the cut triangle up on the right, next to your fabric. Those two pieces will be sewn together.
Now fold the bottom half of the fabric to create another bias edge and cut it with your scissors.
Place that triangle below on the left, next to the other piece of fabric (the stripes on the fabric helps match everything up).
Sew the 3 pieces together in those two spots, iron the seams, and now you have one long piece of fabric to cut your bias strips from.
Fold the fabric just as we did in the original directions so you can cut more layers at once, from the bias cut edge. If there’s any excess fabric that’s not wide enough to be a strip, just trim it off before you start cutting strips (like the photo below):
And now you’re ready to cut….2-inch wide strips:
Sew the strips together at the ends, feed them through the bias tape maker, iron, and you’re done again!
To keep your bias tape neat and orderly, wind it around a small piece of cardboard (two layers of old cereal boxes, 4 layers of cardstock, or scraps from an old shipping box all work great).
When you’re done,
Tuck the end under and it will stay put.
And you know what….homemade bias tape would make the perfect gift for a sewing friend!
Tie old ribbon scraps around each set and you’ve got special handmade gift. I’d love to receive something like this. It’s so much more fun to sew up a project with a stash of unique trims on-hand.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the tape.
If you’re ready to sew your trim on….jump to our next tutorial: How to Sew Bias Tape. We’ll show you the simple, cheating method and the proper, never-fail method. Enjoy!