Piping is one of my favorite notions to add a special touch to a garment. I’ve used it very often in the past years, and thought it would be nice to list up all the tips and tricks I learnt from my successes and failures in a tutorial.
PART I: Sewing with piping
1. Preshrink your piping
Piping is made from fabric, and so, it can shrink. If you pre-wash your fabric but not your piping, it can shrink, and you will end up with ugly little wrinkles along your piping. No, not all piping will shrink; it depends on the brand you use. But if you’re not sure, you’re better off safe than sorry, right?
You don’t necessarily have to really wash it, actually. Just putting it in a bowl of warm water for a bit works just as well. It’s the first thing I do when I come home with some newly bought piping. In a rush? You can also steam the piping instead. But make sure not to iron it flat, because your zipper foot will not be able to ‘feel’ the cording and ‘follow’ it if it’s too flat.
2. Never stretch your piping
Never pull your piping to make it longer, or because you want to check out how much it stretches. When your piping returns to its normal, ‘un-stretched’ state after you have sewn it on your garment, you’ll end up with wrinkles in your fabric.
3. Stitch your piping on in three steps
(1.) First, stitch your piping to the right side of one layer of fabric. Stitch right into the stitching line. (2.) Then, pin the other layer of fabric on top of it. (3.) Turn the piece around, so that you can see the stitches you made in step one. Stitch a (tiny) fraction to the left of them.
(4.) Take a look at the result. If too much of the seam allowance of the piping is still visible, now is the time to add an extra stitch line, closer to the cording. Also check any corners and curved areas well, and see if you need to add some extra stitches anywhere.
4. Mind your seam allowance
Patterns come with a certain seam allowance. If you’re using piping, you have to position it in such a way that the distance between the edge of the fabric, and the stitch line which is in the piping, equals the pattern’s seam allowance.
Making your own piping? Think ahead and create piping which has the same seam allowance as your pattern has, so that you can just align both edges when you stitch.
5. Clip seam allowance before your stitch corners/curves
In order to achieve pretty corners and curves, clip the seam allowance in that area before you stitch. Setting your stitch length a bit smaller also makes stitches the corners easier.
6. Go for perfect overlaps
Does your piping go all the way around your project? There’s a simple way to achieve a neat finish where beginning and end meet.
At the beginning, keep roughly the first 1.5 cm (half inch) unstitched. Stitch your piping all the way around, until you end up again where you started. Then, (1.) cut off the piping so you have about a 2 cm (3/4″) overlap. (2.) Next, open the end of the piping, and cut off the cording so that the end just meets the beginning of the cord. (3.) Next, fold the overlapping part to the wrong side by about 1 cm (3/8″) and (4.) fold it around the beginning. Stitch.
There are a lot of online tutorials which show a quicker method (this one). But the result is far less pretty and professional than the one you’ll achieve with the method described above. Investing a few extra minutes is really worth it.
7. Remove cording in the seams
In order to get nice, flat seams, I always remove the cording at the beginning and end of the piping. For instance, if my seam allowance is 1 cm (3/8″) wide, I remove a good centimeter (3/8″) from the cording, so it is not caught in the seam.
First, put a pin through the cording at about 5 cm (2″) from the end. Then, pull out the end, and cut off the part which will end up in the seam allowance. Wiggle the fabric around a bit, so that the end of the cord gets back in place. Remove the pin, and you’re done.
This is also a very important step to take if you have a (hidden) zipper running through your piping.
PART II: Making your own piping (how to)
8. Use fabric which is cut on the bias
Piping is nothing more than a strip of fabric, folded and stitched around a piece of cord. The strip of fabric needs to be cut on the bias, as this will give much prettier curves and corners.
Don’t believe me? I actually did a little experiment because I was curious myself as to how much of a difference it would make. On the left is the piping I made from bias cut fabric. On the right is the piping I made from the same fabric, but cut on the grain. Yowza! Not only is there a massive difference in what the piping itself looks like; as you can see the piping on the right also messes up the fabric which it is stitched to…
If you need to stitch different pieces of bias tape together, do it the right way. Put two strips with right sides together at a 90° angle, and stitch diagonally. Reduce the seam allowance, and press the seam open.
Are you working with an unstable fabric (like silk, satin, viscose, …) it can be useful to first stabilize it with spray-on starch.
9. Pre-shrink your cord
Yes, cotton cord can shrink too! If your cording shrinks, the fabric strip around it will get all wrinkly. So make sure to wash or soak (and dry) your cording (or steam it) before you turn it into piping. The same applies to the fabric, of course (see tip 1).
10. Pick the right seam allowance
If you use the same seam allowance as your pattern, you can just align the edges when you sew the piping onto the fabric. As explained in step 4, the seam allowance is the distance between the stitches and the raw edge of the piping. So this is how wide your strip of fabric should be:
How much “extra” is needed, depends on how thick your cord is. It will generally be between 0.7 and 1 cm (between 1/4″ and 3/8″).
11. Use a (regular/hidden) zipper foot
Making the piping is easy: just fold the fabric strip in half with the cord in between, and stitch along the cord with your (regular or hidden) zipper foot. Crank up your stitch length a bit; this will make it easier to undo stitches if necessary.
So that’s about it. Kind of unfortunate that I came up with that 11th tip; “Ten Tricks & Tips” would have sounded so much better 😉 Well I guess it’s my ode to Eleven from the brilliant Stranger Things then (hey is that piping on her peter pan collar? What a coincidence. Or how straaaaaange?).