Thursday, April 1, 2010

How-to: Make Your own Piping

Piping -- cording that runs along a seam between two fabrics -- adds such a nice finished look to everything from upholstery projects to purses to pajamas. And while you can buy piping with other notions like bias tape (which you can also make) and zippers, it's really simple to make your own. The bonus of custom piping is, well, it's custom. I've been working on a reupholstery project for the nursery (details next week), and as much as I loved the look of this Swanky Swell Daydream fabric with the blue corduroy, I knew something was missing. A while ago, we were at a thrift store and I nabbed a couple of men's shirts with the idea of using them somehow in the nursery (no specific ideas, though). While painstakingly measuring and remeasuring, then adding (and readding) fractions to make sure I had enough fabric, I glanced over at the ugly red (or orange?) checked shirt draped over the crib and knew it was just the right accent for this project.

Enter piping. It's really quite simple -- cut some bias strips, sew in some cording and voila! You have piping.

How to Make Your own Piping

Materials needed
piping cord, whatever diameter you prefer (upholstery = big, clothing = small) and in enough length for your project
fabric for piping - you'll be cutting on the bias (45-degree angle to the edges), so you'll need to make sure you have enough to get good long strips
a sewing machine with a zipper/piping foot

Time spent: about 45 minutes, including time for fixing mistakes

Step 1: Cut your fabric strips.

This is a bit complicated to explain, so hang with me. Measure your piece along the edges to be piped to find out how much piping you need. Mine needed four strips, 27 inches long, (including 1 inch or so seam allowance). Lay out your fabric straight onto a cutting mat. Take a tape measure and measure the bias length of your fabric -- lay it at a 45-degree angle from selvedge to selvedge. This will tell you the maximum length your strips can be. It's possible to sew shorter fabric strips together to make up a longer strip if needed (and with piping for clothing, you'll have to do this), but if possible try to cut your strips in one piece so you don't have seams in your piping, especially if you're using a patterned fabric. My shirt had just enough fabric in the back to squeeze out four strips (by the way, I cut the shirt apart at all the seams so I was working with a nice flat piece of fabric).

Ok, have you measured and know how much you need? Good. Cut out your strips along the bias, making sure they're wide enough to wrap around your piping cord and leave a generous seam allowance -- 2-inch strips are good, but check before you cut!

Cutting mats will have the bias line marked -- if you don't have a cutting mat, the bias runs diagonal to the warp and weft of the fabric at a 45-degree line. It's the stretchiest part of the fabric. The reason you cut the strips on the bias for piping is so the piping is flexible and goes smoothly around curves and corners.

Step 2: Insert cord and pin.
Pretty self-explanatory, right? I was really trying to make the shirt fabric go as far as possible, so I skimped a bit on the strip width -- you want a little more flap than I show here. Anyway, lay your strip out wrong-side up and place the cord down the center. Leaving a little tail of cord hanging out of the edges, cut the cord to the right length.

Fold the fabric over the cord, centering the cord. Pin along the length of the fabric. *I know your mother/grandmother/best friend/home ec teacher taught you to pin perpendicular to the seam line, and that's a really good thing to do -- if you forget to take a pin out, and your needle hits it, it can really screw up the balance of your machine. BUT if you're confident enough in your ability to take pins out as you sew -- and you have to sew slowly for this -- you can pin along the seam line (as pictured) instead. It's a bit easier to pin this way with that fat piping cord in the way.


Step 3: Sew the piping in.
Use your zipper/piping foot -- it'll look something like the above picture. This foot allows you to sew really close to the edge of something bumpy, like a fat piece of cord or a zipper. The tricky thing with this foot is to make sure the needle is in the right place so it comes down on the side of the foot, not smack in the center (where it will break. Trust me).
See how the needle's set to come down on the right side of the foot, right next to the cording? You want to squish the cord as close as you can to the foot so the seam is nice and tight. Take out this pin before you start sewing! Also, you'll need to go slowly -- you'll probably have to stop often to keep the piping tight, especially if (like me) you cut your strips a bit too narrow and you're worried about seam allowance. To make this easier, look to see if your machine has a needle-down setting -- this means it'll always stop with the needle down in the fabric instead of up. It looks like this on my machine:

See that little red dot? That means it's set to needle down. Ready? Start sewing!

This is what it looks like when you cut your bias strips too narrow. It's super hard to pull the fabric over to keep the cord tight against the presser foot. Cut wide strips if you can.

Sew up these babies, and before you know it, you'll have a nice pile of piping!
Is it red? Is it orange? I still don't know. It looks red up close and orange from a distance.

Step 4: Use the piping!
Take the two pieces of fabric along whose seams you want the piping to run. To attach the piping to your project, lay out one piece right-side up. Place the piping on top, with the cording to the inside and raw edges aligned. Baste the piping to the fabric.

Grab your other piece of fabric and place it right-side down on top of the piping and other fabric -- just like you would if you were sewing these two pieces together without the piping. It's a piping sandwich, with all raw edges even.

Pin and sew. It's really really important to keep that presser foot as close as possible to the bump of the piping. You want your piping to sit nice and tight in the seam. Seam it up just like you normally would. Turn it right-side out so you can check to make sure your piping is neat and tight, then you can trim the edges.

*If you have to use two or more strips of piping along one seam, you need to make sure you curve the raw ends of the piping down into the seam allowance. You'll sew over the part that's curved down so you trap the raw ends into the seam allowance. I really wish I had a picture of this so I could explain exactly what I mean, but I didn't need to use two strips of piping in one seam for this project.

That's it -- you're finished! Hooray!


  1. I cannot sew, so therefore you gals that can that is just awesome . I would not even try to take a class at this point, LOL !! im still packing and getting things ready .

  2. Great tutorial! I've dreamt of making my own bias tape ... and now I have a new dream. :)

  3. thanks! you can do it -- it's not an impossible dream :)

  4. This is great fabric. Spotting it on a men's shirt that is just awesome. Thanks for the tutorial!


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