Bias tape 101
Bias tape is a very useful tool when sewing, but leaves a lot of people confused. What's the difference between bias tape and a simple strip of fabric? What can you use it for? Can you make it yourself?
Let's take a look.
(Image source) [ID: three spools of bias tape wound around a piece of white cardboard. The three tapes are made out of a white fabric with orange, blue, and green flowers, a pink fabric with blue and red flowers, and a white fabric with red diagonal stripes.]
What is bias tape:
Bias tape is a strip of fabric that's been cut on the bias of the fabric, then folded so it's easy to work with. You can both buy commercial bias tape or make it yourself.
Bias tape has many uses, including binding necklines and armholes, making drawstrings and straps, used as trims, casings, hemming, binding edges, finishing seams, appliqué,...
What makes bias tape different from just plain old strips of fabric?
There are two types of fabrics, generally speaking: woven and knit. Woven fabrics consist of threads that criss-cross each other, while knit fabrics have threads that loop into each other. Knit fabrics are stretchy, but woven fabrics aren't.
(Image source) [ID: woven versus knit: threads that criss-cross each other versus threads that loop into each other.]
There's one way to get a little stretch into projects using woven fabric: cutting your pattern pieces on the bias of your fabric. This means aligning your pieces in such a way that they follow the diagonal direction of your fabric (a 45° angle), rather than the straight grain.
(Image source) [ID: a diagram with a blue square representing a piece of woven fabric. A diagonal line shows the bias grain. The sides of the square show the width/weft thread, the selvedge edge, and the length/warp thread of the fabric. Text: "sewguide.com".]
Fabric cut on the bias will stretch more than fabric cut on the straight grain. It will also drape better and be less prone to fraying. The downside is you'll need a lot more fabric to make a bias-cut garment than a straight-cut garment.
Bias tape will have all of these advantages over strips of fabric that have been cut on the straight grain of the fabric.
(Image source) [ID: a diagram of a blue rectangle representing a piece of fabric, with its selvage edges and width denoted on the sides. A bodice pattern is laid out three times on the fabric: once on the straight grain, once on the diagonal/bias grain, and once on the crosswise/off grain. Text: "sewguide.com".]
How to make bias tape:
As I've mentioned, you can buy commercial bias tape in most craft stores. These are great if you need quick access to tape, or if you're daunted by the prospect of making it yourself.
Making your own bias tape is useful if you want your tape to match the fabric you're working with, an advantage you'll never have with store-bought bias tape. Bias tape is also a good stash buster: the climate impact of bias tape you've made from leftover fabric scraps is lower than bias tape that was commercially made and shipped to a store, as you're reusing pre-existing material rather than buying something new.
If you only need a little bias tape, the easiest way to make it is to start by drawing a line at a 45° angle on your fabric. Mark adjacent lines running parallel to your original line on your fabric for the width of tape you need.
Cut your fabric on your marked lines, then join the ends together to create longe strips. Don't just sew them together in a straight line, as this will take away some of the bias stretch. Place one end of a strip on top of another at a 90° angle, right sides together. Draw a line between the two points where the strips cross, then sew along that line with a backstitch. Iron your seam, and cut away the excess fabric.
(Image source) [ID: six photo's showing how to make bias tape by cutting diagonal lines out of fabric, then sewing the resulting separate strips together at a 45° angle.]
(Image source) [ID: close-up of a diagonal seam where two strips of bias tape have been joined. The seam has been pressed open and the excess fabric cut away. Text: "Press open seam. www.treasurie.com."]
If you need a lot of bias tape, joining all of your separate pieces is a lot of work. An easier method to accomplish this is the continuous bias tape method. This method is a little too complex for me be able to explain it properly, but both Sew Guide and Treasurie have good tutorials on how to do it.
(Image source) [ID: a photo of a continuous strip of bias tape made from blue fabric with white polkadots, followed by text ("Continous bias tape. www.treasurie.com.", following by an 8 picture diagram showing how to make continuous bias tape by creating a fabric tube and cutting it into strips.]
How to fold bias tape:
You now have a length of bias tape, but how do you use it? Isn't it supposed to be folded?
While there are different techniques to start sewing with the bias tape you've created, you'll have an easier time using it once you've folded it. Three common methods to fold your bias tape are the single bias tape, the single fold bias tape, and the double fold bias tape.
(Image source) [ID: three close-up's on a piece of green bias tape folded in different ways: a double fold bias tape (edges folded inwards, then folded in half), a single fold bias tape (edges folded inwards), and a single bias tape (tape folded in half).]
The easiest way to fold your bias tape is to use a bias tape maker. These little gadgets will fold your tape for you.
(Image source) [ID: a strip of green fabric is pulled through a metal bias tape maker. The unfolded end is fed into one end and comes out with its edges folded inwards at the other end, where it's ironed in place with an iron. Text: "Pull and press. www.treasurie.com."]
If you don't have a bias tape maker, you'll have to fold and iron your tape yourself.
Single bias tape: fold your tape at the centre with its wrong sides facing each other, then iron it. You're done.
Single fold bias tape: fold your tape at the centre with its wrong sides facing each other, then iron it. Open up your tape again, then fold the edges towards the centre crease you've just created, and iron them. You're done.
Double fold bias tape: fold your tape at the centre with its wrong sides facing each other, then iron it. Open up your tape again, then fold the edges towards the centre crease you've just created, and iron them. Now re-fold your tape at the centre and iron it again. You're done.
(Image source) [ID: two pictures of a strip of blue fabric with white polkadots being ironed into bias tape. The first picture shows how the strip is folded in half and pressed. The second picture shows how the ironed strip is opened up again and the edges pressed towards the centre crease of the strip, meeting at the centre.]
You now know what bias tape is and how to make it yourself! Once you've gone through all of the steps above, you'll have a length of tape that's ready to use however you want.
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