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Bias Tape

What the hell is bias tape and how will it help me make a better costume?

Bias tape is your friend. Lurking in the haberdashery section of your local fabric shop, it looks like shiny satin or dull cotton ribbon until you pull the roll out. Unspool a little bit, look at the wrong side and suddenly you're confronted with a funny folded bit of fabric. What sorcery is this? All shall be revealed.

Preliminary Technical Wizardry:

If you take a square of non-stretchy cloth such as linen, wool or your jeans and pull it left to right, it's pretty firm. If you pull it top to bottom, it's pretty firm. If you pull it at forty-five degrees, however, it stretches - this is called the bias - where the threads that make up the material go diagonally instead of vertically/horizontally. Bias tape (aka bias binding) exploits this property by being cut on the bias, meaning that you have a length of fabric that will stretch and bend round corners. The commonly available stuff is called "double fold" bias tape, because both raw edges are folded in towards the middle. This is crucial to your kitmaking success!

Yes, well, that's all very good. But how can I use it?

Here are three handy ways to use bias tape to make your kit better.

You will need:

  • Some bias tape. Go crazy. Buy five metres of the cheap stuff. 50p well spent. Get a matching or a contrasting colour to your garment.
  • Some thread in a matching colour to the tape.
  • A needle, or a sewing machine.
  • The iron (optional).

How to...

a) Make a nice curved neckline on your garment.

If you try and turn a curved edge under to sew a hem, you'll end up with an untidy finish. You can get round this by cutting things in squares and rectangles, but sooner or later you're going to need to sew a curved neckline or hem. With Bias Tape, no problem!

Step 1:
Hold your bias tape with the folds visible - ie wrong side up. Unfold one of the sides, so you can see the crease. The unfolded edge is going to be the side you sew to your neckline.

Step 2:
Place the bias tape face down on your fabric, right side to right side, with the unfolded edge lined up with the raw neckline of your garment. If you like, pin it around the neckline. It's easiest at first to put your pins running in the crease left by unfolding the one side of the tape.

Step 3:
Stitch in the ditch! Sew by machine or hand around the neckline of the garment, with your stitches sitting in the crease. Snip your bias tape to length.

Step 4: Turn the tape to the inside of the garment, hiding the seam. From the outside, you shouldn't see the tape at all, just the nice smooth curve of your neckline. Now, with machine or by hand, stitch through both the tape and the fabric, holding it in place as a narrow facing. (Note from Daisy who is a lot less good at sewing than Jude: 'facing' means a bit of fabric that's on the wrong side of your garment and can't be seen from the outside. Kind of like a lining I guess only not covering the whole inside. Clever sewing people use facings to make bits firmer e.g. in a bodice or to make things 'sit right'.) You'll have a neat band of stitches round the neck of your garment, but the hem will be turned with a lovely smooth curve. Hooray!

You can do this with your hems as well.

Or why not...:

b) Trim your cuffs

Bias tape works just like ribbon, except you can bend it around corners. You can make trim, or even designs on your garments. Go crazy! To trim the cuffs of a tunic:

Step 1:  Decide on where you want the trim to be. We placed ours an inch from the cuff of the tunic. Draw a nice neat line where you want it to go in marker pen or coloured pencil. Don't worry, you'll cover the line up with your trim.

Step 2: Pin your trim around the line.

Step 3: Stitch by hand or machine, 1/8 of an inch or so from the edge of the tape. Go all the way round. Then do it again 1/8 of an inch from the the other edge. Even if your cuffs are tapered, the lovely stretchiness of the tape will accomodate it.  Why not go nuts and do your hem as well? Or two layers of trim on your cuffs. Or what about a curved band an inch below the neckline of your tunic?

Or how about...

c) Binding the neckline of a cloak, leaving a bit extra for ties?

This one sounds a bit technical, but it's really, really easy.  First I want you to imagine the raw neckline of a circle cloak like the one in the No Excuses tutorial. What we're going to do, is encase it in a strip of bias tape, so you can see the tape on both the right side and the wrong side of the cloak. Then, extending from the front of the neckline where the fabric stops, the tape is going to extend out in two long strips to tie your cloak on. Got it?

Step 1: Measure your neckline. Then add about 70cm to that measurement, and cut a piece of tape the total length.

Step 2: Find the centre back of the neckline, and find the middle point of your length of tape.

Step 3: Starting at the centre back and the middle point of the tape, pin the two together, right side to right side with the neckline edge of the bias tape unfolded, just as described in the "neckline facing instructions" above. Stitch in the crease all the way around to the front edges.

Step 4: Now, instead of folding the tape all the way to the inside, fold it OVER the raw edge of the neckline so that it's encasing the raw edge of the fabric. You should be able to see half of the width of the tape both on the right side and the wrong side of the cloak. At this point it helps to go for the iron.

Step 5: Press the tape in place so it sits encasing the raw edge. Keep pressing as you go on to the ties, so that they fold neatly to half their width.

Step 6: Starting with one of the ties, sew through the folded tape all the way around, so that you have two long ties and a neatly bound neckline.

These are just a few ideas. Look online at what quilters do with bias tape to be properly inspired!

Hey... This sounds expensive!

But no!. It varies between 10p and £1 per metre, and it took less than 3 metres to do the trim on our shiny tunic. Why not buy four metres (40p!) and trim the bottom as well? I think the dull finish polycotton stuff looks most "period" for kit (you can get pure cotton, too, for the purists...) and (woohoo!) it's the cheapest, too. If you're super lazy, you can pay a few pence more per metre to get iron-on bias tape, which you just lay in place and fix with a hot iron. I'd still recommend sewing it in place for durability once you're happy with the position, but it should save bother with pins.