How to trace a pattern

How to trace a pattern

Recently I received an email from someone who had purchased Beatrix in print from a shop and had accidentally cut her pattern pieces out and then discovered that there were pattern pieces printed on the back side of the sheet. I felt terrible, of course (and we have instructions to trace on the pattern sheets for this very reason), but it reminded me that most people don’t trace their patterns, either because they don’t know how, or don’t think it’s important. And although I talk about tracing quite a bit on this blog (in the Luna Pantsalong, the Beatrixalong, and in one of my most popular posts, Making Clothes for me, lessons learned), I didn’t have a dedicated tracing post until now.

So, this post is for all of you who haven’t yet discovered the beauty of tracing your pattern pieces. I never, ever cut into my pattern pieces anymore, no matter what type of sewing pattern I am using. Here’s why I trace and how I do it!

Why trace your pattern pieces?

It may seem tedious, an additional step of prep before sewing a piece of clothing, so why do it at all? It’s true, it takes extra time to trace your pattern pieces, but here are some of the reasons to trace your pattern rather than cut into it:

  • Tracing allows you to keep the original pattern pieces intact, which is especially nice if they are printed on a delicate paper such as tissue, or if they are printed in such a way that the pattern pieces overlap (this is common in sewing books that include pattern sheets).
  • Tracing allows you to use a pattern multiple times in more than one size.
  • Tracing allows you to blend between sizes if you are more than one size (a smaller bust size than hip size, for example).
  • Tracing is absolutely essential if you need to make a significant adjustment, such as a bust adjustment or adding a dart, to a pattern.
  • Even for a PDF pattern, tracing saves paper and ink, not to mention the extra time it takes to tape it together if you need another size or view.
  • Tracing allows you to roll or fold the (usually very large) pattern pages up and put them away so you have more room to work. The tracings are easy to fold up and store, and are smaller and easier to deal with as you cut and sew (just make sure you’ve transferred all of the markings from the pattern before you put them away).

Cutting into a pattern presumes that you will only ever need one size, ever. While that is possibly true for you, it’s not been the case for me. Each pattern maker has their own unique sizing and I’ve made one size of a pattern only to discover that I’d prefer a size larger or smaller. I’ve also gone up and down through a handful of sizes over the past decade for a number of reasons (OK, mostly having kids), and every time I slide up or down a size, I’m glad I didn’t cut up my original pattern. This is especially true when the pattern I’m working with is a paper (printed) pattern, a tissue pattern, or a large-format copy shop pattern sheet.

In summary, tracing a pattern allows you to keep the printed pattern intact for making different sizes or views in the future or in case you need to make any fit adjustments.

What is Swedish Tracing Paper? 

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

My tracing paper of choice is Swedish Tracing Paper, shown above, which is 29″ wide and comes in a 10-yard roll. This has become more readily available at shops that sell garment fabric, so check your favorite retailer and support small businesses, please! I’ve also purchased it at WAWAK and Amazon.

A good substitute is Pellon 830 interfacing (shown below) but it’s a little thicker than STP, and usually more expensive if you calculate the price per square inch. I also prefer the 29″ width of STP, which I find easier to work with than the wider Pellon.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

The main reason I prefer either of these options over basic (and usually cheaper) tracing paper is that it’s much more sturdy and less likely to tear, making it much more useful long-term. It’s about as strong as a dryer sheet, if that gives you an idea, which means it’s pretty hard to tear. If you’ve ever worked with a tissue paper pattern you know how easily those patterns can tear, so having a tracing that is more sturdy than the pattern you started with to me is a clear advantage.

In addition, swedish tracing paper is lightweight, easy to fold up and store, presses beautifully with an iron if it gets wrinkled, and can even be basted or pinned together if you want to do a quick “tissue fitting” (putting the pattern pieces up to your body to see how the pattern will fit).

How to trace a pattern

Here’s Jess to help me show you how to trace!

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

You will need:

  • The pattern you want to trace
  • Swedish tracing paper or Pellon 830
  • Straight edge and pencil
  • Pattern weights or other items to weigh down your tracing paper and keep it in place while tracing (we’ll be using coffee mugs in this tutorial. Campy-like.)

Step 1. Lay out your pattern on a large flat surface. We’re using Beatrix here.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Step 2. Place the tracing paper over the pattern piece you want to trace

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Step 3. Place pattern weights or other objects over the tracing paper so it won’t move around while you trace.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Step 4. Trace around the outline of the pattern piece. Use a pencil and a straight edge, and choose the size line you need using the key given on the pattern.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Go slowly and trace carefully. You want your lines to be nice and clear.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Add notches or markings along the outer edge. You can add these as you go, or after you’ve finished the outline of the piece.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

 

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Step 5. Add additional markings and labels

The grainline arrow is one of the most critical pieces of information on a pattern piece (the vertical portion of a fold arrow functions as a grainline as well). Add fold arrows, cutting lines, hem lines, darts, dots, and any other additional markings such as pocket placement lines that are present on the pattern piece. You don’t want to have to go back to your original pattern sheet once you’ve put it away because you forgot to add an important marking.

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Then add the name of the pattern, the size you traced (you would not believe how many times I have forgotten to do this and then wondered later what size a tracing was), and the pattern piece name and cutting indication (like “cut 2 interfacing” or “cut 2 on the fold”). Now your pattern piece is ready to use!

How to trace a pattern with swedish tracing paper

Staystitching is Important

staystitching

Attention, everyone, this is a sewing PSA. Staystitching is a garment-sewing technique that is really important. I am sharing this with you because when I started sewing, many years ago, I did not know what staystitching was, but even if I had, I probably would have skipped it. Now that I am older and wiser, I want to share this nugget of wisdom with you.

If you’ve ever sewn one of my women’s patterns (specifically for woven fabrics, such as Ruby, Beatrix, or Gemma), you may have noticed a step that instructs you to staystitch, followed by the words “IMPORTANT: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.” I’m guessing most people ignore this, mostly because if I didn’t know better, I probably would.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom taught me how to sew, but knowing how stubborn and headstrong I was as a child,* I doubt once she communicated the fundamentals to me that I spent much time listening to any further details. Details like: be careful about skipping steps that might initially seem unnecessary, because you may regret it.

In addition, my younger sister Elli took a 4-H sewing class from a very strict and anal retentive seamstress, and her experience left a strong impression on me. I remember the jumper she was working on taking her the better part of a year to complete, which seemed like utter torture to me. It made sewing seem so un-fun. As a result, I took an alternate approach with a more carefree sewing attitude: skip all but the most essential steps, and see what happens. In some cases, I discovered it didn’t really matter that much (three rows of gathering stitches vs. two or even in some cases — GASP — ONE.), but in other cases, I’ve discovered that taking a little extra time to add a seam finish or in this case, staystitch, can make a big difference.

*I can picture my mom thinking, “Just as a child…?” as she reads this.

So…what IS staystitching?
Staystitching is a line of stitching added to the edge of a piece of fabric (often along a curved edge such as a neckline or an armhole, but not always) that stabilizes the fabric so that it won’t stretch out while it’s being sewn. Additionally, if you’re making a piece of clothing, staystitching prevents the edges from stretching out if you try it on to check fit. The staystitching lines in the photo below are around the armholes and neckline of my chambray Gemma tank.

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How and when do you staystitch?
To staystitch an edge, sew along the edge of the fabric, about 1/8″ away from the edge, using a normal straight stitch. Earlier patterns of mine said “using a regular length or slightly shorter than normal length stitch,” but I’ve since decided that a shorter stitch actually stretches out the fabric too much, so I now recommend a regular length stitch such as 2.5-3 mm.

As for when to staystitch, I think there are two schools of thought. The stricter approach is to staystitch edges after you cut out your fabric pieces, but before you do any sewing. I feel this is only necessary when sewing with a really unstable or slippery fabric. The other approach, which I prefer, is to staystitch any curved edges such as necklines or armholes after shoulder or side seams are sewn, but before facings or bindings or sleeves are attached. I take this more moderate/less strict approach because in most cases, woven fabrics are stable enough to sew some of the seams before staystitching without stretching out the garment significantly. Additionally, staystitching goes much faster when you can do a whole armhole in one go, instead of, say, having to staystitch the front armhole separately from the back armhole due to the shoulder seams having not yet been sewn.

That said, I can appreciate that some sewists would disagree and say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I almost always favor the quick and easy sew, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice good construction technique.

I’ve probably utterly confused some of you, and if that’s the case, my recommendation would be just to try staystitching the next time you sew a piece of clothing. It definitely make more sense if you’ve got the garment in front of you, to be sure.

So, what say ye? Are you a Die-hard Staystitch-er? Or do you play it fast and loose and skip it? Have I convinced anyone to change your short-cutting ways?

How to use a copy shop file

how to use a copyshop file

All of my PDF sewing patterns for women’s garments are now available in print-at-home and large-scale format for printing at a copy shop. I haven’t seen much discussion or explanation about copy shop files in the blogosphere, so I thought I’d provide some information about what copy shop files are and why we use them, and I’ll give you some pointers about how to go about getting them printed if you’re new to this! Also, if you’ve purchased a pattern from me in the past and would like a copy shop file, I’ll let you know how to go about getting one.

General copy shop info

My digital patterns have always included pattern pieces that are formatted in “tiles” so that you can print the pattern pieces on a regular household printer, then tape them together to assemble the pattern pieces. A copy shop file, on the other hand, is formatted so that the pattern pieces are all on one giant page. The file must be sent to a print shop to print the pieces at full size, so you end up with a wide-format piece of paper with all the pattern pieces on it, like the one shown above.

Most pattern designers who include copy shop files with their digital patterns include two different copy shop files: one for 36″-wide paper (used in the US) and one for A0 paper (used everywhere else in the world), which is 84.1 cm by 118.9 cm.

Pros and Cons

There are plenty of advantages to a copy shop file! Most people prefer not having to tape pattern pages together, so a copy shop file is an obvious choice for someone who wants a digital pattern that isn’t available in print. Some people don’t have home printers, and even if you do, with a copy shop file you don’t have to use up your own paper, ink, and tape. Printing at a copy shop can also be quicker than ordering a print pattern and waiting for it to come in the mail. And for pattern designers, it’s nice to be able to offer a large-format option without having to invest thousands of dollars into printing a paper pattern. Finally, I think copy shop files are easier to store: you just fold or roll up the sheet and store it like you would a roll of wrapping paper for future use.

The disadvantages to copy shop files are mostly related to the extra cost and inconvenience. It’s probably going to cost at least $10 (and in some cases, over $20, especially for complex patterns that have many pieces) to get an adult-sized sewing pattern printed at a copy shop, so you have to factor that in when considering how much you will spend on a digital pattern. If you have to add an extra $10 or $15, that definitely bumps up the cost. You also need to factor in the additional time it will take to send your file to the copy shop, and then go pick it up when it’s ready.

Overall, however, I think it’s pretty clear that a copy shop file is nicer and easier to store than a print at home pattern.

How to get it printed

Here’s a screenshot of what my download page looks like:

Made by Rae download page

If you’re going to use one of my copy shop pattern files, you’ll need to download both of the files shown above at home. The print-at-home file (top, image above) contains the sewing instructions, which you’ll need even though you won’t print the pattern pieces at home. Print the instructions at home, or follow them from a tablet of computer while you’re sewing.

Do a little research first

To get copy shop pattern pieces printed, it pays to do a little research in your area for local print shops. Do a web search, then call around or check their websites to find out what their rates are. You can also usually email them a file and ask for an estimate before you commit to printing it. I go to Kollosos, a locally-owned print shop near my studio in downtown Ann Arbor. Their rates are reasonable, so it costs me about 50% less than the big copy center chain (rhymes with Gingkos) to get a pattern printed there. I would strongly encourage you to search around first for the mom and pop shop rather than the big chains; chances are good you’ll find a much cheaper option.

You’ll probably have a choice about paper and print quality, so be specific: ask them to print it at 100% scale, in black and white (color will cost bunches more) and on the cheapest paper they have. Once they’ve opened the file, they should be able to tell you exactly how much it will cost before you get it printed.

Let me reiterate: look for the locally-owned print shops!! There is a very good chance you’ll get a better price than at a national chain.

Ready to print?

Depending on the business, you’ll have an option to email or upload the file to a print shop’s website. Or you can save the file to a flash drive and deliver it in person. Remind them that you need the file printed at 100%.

All my patterns are for personal use only, and are marked with my copyright information.  If a printer tells you they can’t print a file because of my copyright, you can draw their attention to the note on the file where I’ve indicated that it’s ok for them to print a copy of the file for your personal use.

CHECK SCALE: Most importantly, before you take it home, make sure to measure the scale box on the copy shop printout with a ruler to check the scale before you use it; copy shop employees make mistakes too!!!

Trace, don’t cut!

Once you get your pattern printed, use it the same way you would use any pattern. I always just trace the size(s) I need so that I never have to cut into the printout. To store my copy shop printouts, I roll them up like posters, label them and keep them standing up in a box in my studio. An alternative would be to fold them up and file them with your tracings and instructions that go along with the pattern.

Learn more about how I organize my patterns here.

Finally, if you purchased one or more of my women’s (PLEASE NOTE: I only have women’s copy shop files available at this time!) patterns before the copy shop files were available and you would like the large-format files, please use my contact page or email me at rae(dot)made(at)gmail(dot)com with a proof of purchase (this could be the order number, the order confirmation email, or forward your receipt or download email) so we can look it up and send you a fresh download link that includes the copy shop files.

Blush + bronze

I bought some dusty-blush colored rayon tencel twill from IndieSew a couple months ago (it’s out of stock now, womp womp) and immediately started seeing the color everywhere. I think blush is a great color for fall, especially you pair it with bronze.

Array

images via

Blush also looks amazing with burgundy. Oh! and also, emerald green!! Whaaat. I’m officially obsessed.

sidenote: am now on the hunt for a bronze-brown cable knit sweater.

Bias Binding Tutorial (french method)

bias binding french

This is the third and final tutorial in my bias binding series. Many of my women’s sewing patterns, including the Gemma tank shown in this post, use bias binding to finish the neckline and armholes. There are so many ways to attach bias binding! Here are the methods I have shared so far:

  • Traditional Method – my preferred technique and found in the sewing instructions for Gemma, Ruby, and Josephine
  • Topstitch Method – another great technique, easier than traditional, and the reverse of traditional

This third tutorial will show you another fantastic bias binding technique called the “french method,” which creates a lovely invisible finish. This involves folding the bias binding in half, attaching it to the outside of the garment, flipping it completely to the inside, and stitching it down from the inside. This method is wonderful because you won’t see the binding at all when it’s finished, which can look very sharp and professional!

You will need: 
1.25″ wide bias binding* (see my handy tutorial to make your own)
a garment with an unfinished neckline and/or armholes
iron + ironing surface
(optional) clear quilter’s ruler
your sewing machine

*also called bias tape or bias strips

Before you begin:
Since this method involves folding the seam allowance and bias binding all the way to the inside of the garment, the armholes and neckline will end up 1/4″ wider, and the shoulders 1/2″ narrower than they would using the other binding methods. If you’re ok with those changes, proceed to Step 1. If you’d rather preserve the same proportions, add 1/4″ seam allowance to your pattern pieces along all the neck and armhole lines. Do this by marking dots 1/4″ away from the pattern piece edges, then connecting the dots to make a new cutting line. This is shown in red on the front and back pattern pieces of Gemma here:

add seam allowance

Step 1. Press binding in half lengthwise
Using your iron, press the bias binding in half lengthwise with wrong sides facing.

Step 2. Make sure you have enough
Place binding loosely around the neckline and armholes before pinning. Since the binding will not be visible from the outside, it is not essential to make sure the seams in the binding are strategically placed.

Step 3. Staystitch
If you haven’t already, staystitch the neckline and armholes. Use a regular stitch to sew around the openings 1/8″ away from the edge. This will prevent the edges from stretching out when you add the binding.

Step. Pin binding to neckline/armhole.
Instead of overlapping the ends of the bias binding as in the other tutorials, I’m going to show you how to sew the two ends of the bias binding together before sewing it to the neckline. This results in an even smoother finish. With garment right side out, pin binding to neckline with raw edges aligned. Begin 1/2″ before one shoulder seam.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Pin all the way around, and allow the end of the bias binding to extend past the starting shoulder seam. With chalk or disappearing fabric marker, mark both ends of the bias binding at the shoulder seam line.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Trim the end of the bias binding 1/2″ past the shoulder seam. If necessary, remove the pins on either side of the shoulder seam. Unfold the ends of the bias binding and pin them with right sides together and seam marks facing.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Stitch the two ends together with a 1/2″ seam allowance.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Open up the seam you just made and finger press to smooth.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Fold the binding back in half and pin to neckline. See how the seam lines right up with the shoulder?

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Step 5. Press in place
It helps to give your bindings a quick press after pinning to encourage them to curve along the neck or armhole opening.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Step 6. Sew!
Sew the binding to the neckline using a scant (that means just a hair under) 1/4″ seam allowance. For my machine, this is not the same as where the edge of my presser foot is, so I have to keep a close eye on the marks on the throatplate to make sure I don’t go over 1/4”. It’s really important to go slow, keep the edges even, and not go over 1/4″.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Continue sewing around the entire neckline or armhole.

made by rae french binding

Step 7. Press binding to inside of garment.
Press binding up, away from garment (not shown). Flip binding all the way to the inside of the garment and press, allowing the the outer fabric to roll slightly to the inside for a nice clean look. With the 1.25″-wide bias tape folded in half as shown, the binding should be sufficiently wide to cover the seam allowance. If you’re using narrower bias tape, or have trouble hiding the seam allowance, you may need to grade the seam allowances to 1/8″ before pressing.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Step 8. Pin binding to inside of garment
Turn the garment inside out and pin the binding all the way around. If you’d like to add a tag to the back of your neckline, now is the time to pin it into place.

Tip: Pin with the pins pointing clockwise; this will make it easy to pull them out as you sew!

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Step 9. Edgestitch
Stitching from the inside of the garment and removing the pins carefully as you sew, sew along the folded edge of the binding.

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

Step 10. Press
Give your binding a final press, step back, and admire!

Made By Rae | French Binding Tutorial

A note about thread color: I used white thread for this tutorial so that you can see the progress of each step. Choose a thread that matches the garment to make this method’s stitches virtually invisible.

made by rae | french bias binding

Want to see another example of this method in action? Check out Jess’ Rayon Gemma top; it looks amazing!

bias binding tutorials made by rae

Bias Binding Tutorial (topstitch method)

bias binding topstitch

This is the second tutorial in my bias binding series. Many of my women’s sewing patterns, including the Gemma tank shown in this post, use bias binding to finish the neckline and armholes. There are so many ways to attach bias binding, so I thought it would be great to share a few of my favorites! The first tutorial outlined my preferred technique, the “traditional method,” which is used in the sewing pattern instructions for Gemma, Ruby, and Josephine.

This second method I’m calling the “topstitch method,” and it involves attaching the bias to the inside of the garment, flipping it to the outside, and topstitching along the folded edge to finish it (so basically the reverse of the traditional method). This method is great because it’s a bit easier than the traditional method, so it’s nice if you’re a beginner just learning to sew with bias. You have more control over your folded edge as you sew it down because it’s on top, so you don’t have to worry whether you’ve managed the catch the edge of the binding on the inside or not.

So why isn’t this one my favorite? I have a few reasons: I don’t love that the stitches are visible (just a personal preference), I find it a bit harder to get this one to look smooth (with careful pinning and pressing, though, this is hardly noticeable), and I just love how the traditional method looks with rayon and lightweight fabrics. But don’t worry, this one is still great!! Many people prefer this one, and you may too!

You will need: 
1.25″ wide bias binding* (see my handy tutorial to make your own)
a garment with an unfinished neckline and/or armholes
iron + ironing surface
(optional) clear quilter’s ruler
your sewing machine

*also called bias tape or bias strips

Step 1. Press 1/4″ under along one edge of your binding
Using your iron, carefully press 1/4″ towards the wrong side along one long edge of your bias binding. If you’re new to using bias binding, you may want to have a clear ruler handy to help you figure out how wide 1/4″ is. This is something that goes slow at first, but will go faster and faster once you get the hang of it. You can see the bias binding in the photo below has one edge folded under by 1/4.”

Step 2. Make sure you have enough
Take your garment and make sure you have enough length to go all the way around your neckline and/or armholes. (Note: for this tutorial, I will use the neckline.) Notice that I’m also checking to see where the seams in my bias will land on the neckline. This is important; since this binding is visible from the outside, you want to try to position your bias binding so that the seams don’t land in the very middle of the neckline. I often trim the binding before I begin so the seams will land where I want them to.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 3. Staystitch
If you haven’t already, staystitch the neckline and armholes. Use a regular stitch to sew around the openings 1/8″ away from the edge. This will prevent the edges from stretching out when you add the binding.

Step 4. Fold under the starting end
Take your binding and fold the end of the bias binding 1/4″ toward the wrong side. Turn your garment inside-out, and place the folded end of the binding at one of the shoulder seams. Make sure the right side of the binding is facing the wrong side of the garment. Note that the folded edge you pressed in Step 1 is on the left side, and the unfolded edge is on the right. If you are binding an armhole, use the side seam as a starting point.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 5. Sew!
Keeping the edge of the garment lined up with the edge of the bias binding, sew them together using a scant (that means just a hair under) 1/4″ seam allowance. For my machine, this is not the same as where the edge of my presser foot is, so I have to keep a close eye on the marks on the throatplate to make sure I don’t go over 1/4.” It’s really important to go slow, keep the edges even, and not go over 1/4.” I don’t pin, and I don’t try to stretch the bias out as I sew; maybe just a tiny bit to get the bias nice and even with the curve of the neckline. If you feel more comfortable pinning, that’s fine…I just haven’t found pinning to work any better than just going for it.

Note: if you’d like to add a tag to the back of a neckline, you need to put it in now (not pictured)! Pin it in place before you start sewing, then remove the pin and sew it to the neckline along with the binding when you get to it.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Continue sewing around the entire neckline or armhole.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 6. Overlap the ends and trim
When you get to the point you started at, continue sewing until your stitches overlap the folded portion you began with by about 1/4″. Backstitch to secure your stitches, then trim the end so that it’s even with the edge of the folded portion.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 7. Press binding away from garment
Press the binding and seam allowances upward, away from the garment. Be careful not to un-press the folded edge. Notice that there are two lines of stitches; the top one is the staystitching, and the bottom one is the binding seam.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 8. Pin binding to outside of garment
Turn the garment right side out and fold the binding to the outside of the garment so that it just covers the seam you just sewed. Pin all the way around, and tuck the overlapped ends together at the shoulder to reduce bulk.

Tip: Pin with the pins pointing clockwise when viewed from the outside; this will make it easy to pull them out as you sew!

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 9. Topstitch
Stitching from the outside of the garment and removing the pins carefully as you sew, sew along the folded edge of the binding. 

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

Step 10. Press
Give your binding a final press, step back, and admire!

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

A note about thread color: I used white thread for this tutorial so that you can see the progress of each step. Choose a thread that matches the binding to make this method’s stitches blend in.

Bias Binding Tutorial | part 3

A note about those ends: In this case, the ends of the bias binding are simply overlapped and stitched down. In the next tutorial, I’ll show you how to join the ends before attaching the binding so you’ll get an even smoother finish. Ready to sew up a level? You can try it with this technique, too!

made by rae | topstitch bias binding

Want to see another example of this topstitch method in action? Check out Jess’s linen Gemma with yellow binding; it looks fantastic!

bias binding tutorials made by rae

Bias Binding Tutorial (traditional method)

bias binding traditional

I’ve been excited to share a few bias binding tutorials with you ever since I released my Gemma tank sewing pattern (which also happens to be the tank shown in these pictures)!

Gemma is a Presto Pattern and my goal was to keep the instructions short and sweet, so including three different ways to bind the arms and necklines in the pattern seemed like too much. BUT…I also wanted to emphasize that you don’t have to do it the way the pattern suggests…it’s nice to have options, right? It probably comes as no surprise that experienced garment makers have their personal preferences when it comes to binding; I know I definitely do!

This first tutorial shows my preferred and default method for binding an edge with bias strips. I’m calling it the “traditional method,” because it’s a classic binding technique. This method involves attaching the bias to the outside of the garment, flipping it to the inside, and stitching in the ditch from the outside to finish it. If that made no sense whatsoever, don’t worry, the step-by-step is coming right up…

You will need: 
1.25″ wide bias binding* (see my handy tutorial to make your own)
a garment with an unfinished neckline and/or armholes
iron + ironing surface
(optional) clear quilter’s ruler
your sewing machine

*also called bias tape or bias strips

Step 1. Press 1/4″ under along one edge of your binding
Using your iron, carefully press 1/4″ towards the wrong side along one long edge of your bias binding. If you’re new to using bias binding, you may want to have a clear ruler handy to help you figure out how wide 1/4″ is. This is something that goes slow at first, but will go faster and faster once you get the hang of it. You can see the bias binding in the photo below has one edge folded under by 1/4.”

Step 2. Make sure you have enough
Take your garment and make sure you have enough length to go all the way around your neckline and/or armholes. (Note: for this tutorial, I will use the neckline.) Notice that I’m also checking to see where the seams in my bias will land on the neckline. This is important; since this binding is visible from the outside, you want to try to position your bias binding so that the seams don’t land in the very middle of the neckline. I often trim the binding before I begin so the seams will land where I want them to.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 3. Staystitch
If you haven’t already, staystitch the neckline and armholes. Use a regular stitch to sew around the openings 1/8″ away from the edge. This will prevent the edges from stretching out when you add the binding.

Step 4. Fold under the starting end
Take your binding and fold the end of the bias binding 1/4″ toward the wrong side, and place it at one of the shoulder seams. Note that the folded edge you pressed in Step 1 is on the left side, and the unfolded edge is on the right. If you are binding an armhole, use the side seam as a starting point.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 5. Sew!
Keeping the edge of the garment lined up with the edge of the bias binding, sew them, right sides together, together using a scant (that means just a hair under) 1/4″ seam allowance. For my machine, this is not the same as where the edge of my presser foot is, so I have to keep a close eye on the marks on the throatplate to make sure I don’t go over 1/4.” It’s really important to go slow, keep the edges even, and not go over 1/4.” I don’t pin, and I don’t try to stretch the bias out as I sew; maybe just a tiny bit to get the bias nice and even with the curve of the neckline. If you feel more comfortable pinning, that’s fine…I just haven’t found pinning to work any better than just going for it.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Continue sewing around the entire neckline or armhole.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 6. Overlap the ends and trim
When you get to the point you started at, continue sewing until your stitches overlap the folded portion you began with by about 1/4″. Backstitch to secure your stitches…

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Then trim the end so that it’s even with the edge of the folded portion.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 7. Press binding away from garment
Press the binding and seam allowances upward, away from the garment. Be careful not to un-press (is that even a word??) the folded edge. Notice that there are two lines of stitches; the top one is the staystitching, and the bottom one is the binding seam.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 8. Pin binding to inside of garment
Fold the binding into the garment so that it just covers the seam you just sewed. Pinning from the outside of the garment, secure the folded edge of the binding by catching it with the pins just below the edge of the binding seam. Tip: Pin with the pins pointing clockwise when viewed from the outside; this will make it easy to pull them out as you sew!

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Tuck the overlapped ends together at the shoulder to reduce bulk.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Add a tag to the back of your neckline if you want. Aren’t these little logo tags cute?? Beth at Custom Labels 4U made these for me; their woven tags are fantastic quality and the colors are spot-on!

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 9. Stitch in the ditch
Stitching from the outside of the garment and removing the pins carefully as you sew, stitch in the ditch of the neckline seam, catching the folded edge of the bias binding underneath. This step takes some practice and patience! I sometimes gently push the binding just a tiny bit to the right before it goes under the presser foot so that when the binding relaxes back, the stitches will barely be visible.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

Step 10. Press
Give your binding a final press, step back, and admire!

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

A note about thread color: I used white thread for this tutorial so that you can see the progress of each step. Choose a thread that matches the garment to make this method’s stitches virtually invisible.

A note about those ends: In this case, the ends of the bias binding are simply overlapped and stitched down. In a later tutorial, I’ll show you how to join the ends before attaching the binding so you’ll get an even smoother finish.

Made By Rae Standard Bias Binding

bias binding tutorials made by rae

How to make bias binding

how to make bias binding

Making your own bias binding is something that is so easy to do! A number of my sewing patterns, including Washi, Ruby, Josephine, and my most recent pattern, Gemma, use bias binding to finish the armholes or neckline. It’s very common to find bias binding used in sewing patterns for garments. Bias binding also comes in handy when it comes to making your own piping, for instance if you want to make a little backpack!

While you can definitely buy pre-made binding at the store (more on that later), I think bias binding looks so much nicer when you make your own. Here’s how!

You will need:
fabric scraps or a fat quarter of fabric
rotary cutter and mat
2″-wide quilter’s ruler (or wider!)

Step 1. Press your fabric
I find it easiest just to use the leftover scraps after I’ve cut out a pattern. After cutting out the pattern pieces for a given garment, select the biggest scraps and press them flat. If you have a fat quarter of fabric designated for your bias binding, press it flat.

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Step 2. Cut your bias strips
Place your ruler diagonal to the fabric grain at a 45 degree angle. Most cutting mats have diagonal lines to help you with this, but it’s ok to eyeball it too! Cut a straight diagonal line down the center of the scrap/piece of fabric at its widest point. This will give you the longest possible strips from your scrap of fabric. Then line up one of the diagonal edges with the 1.25″ mark on your ruler, and cut again, to create a 1.25″ wide strip:

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Then repeat…

bias strip cutting

Continue cutting the strips until they get too short to be useful; I usually prefer to use strips that are at least a foot (12″) long; you can see below that I stopped cutting when my strips measured about 11.” Then I repeat with the other half of the scrap.

binding tutorials

Because you are cutting diagonally, these strips are called “bias strips,” and they are stretchy and flexible for putting a nice finish on curved areas like necklines and armholes. Finally, trim the ends of your strips so they’re all square.

Step 3. Connect the strips together
Overlap the ends of two strips at a 90-degree angle and sew from corner to corner of the overlapping section. The pink line is the stitching line. Remember to sew all your strips right sides together. This is especially important if you’re connecting more than two strips — make sure all the seams are on the same side!

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

If the ends of your strips are angled (this happens when you use a perfectly rectangular scrap of fabric, such as a fat quarter), you can overlap the pieces as pictured below, so that you have a 1/4″ seam allowance, instead. The pink line is the stitching line.

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Continue piecing the strips you cut together until you have the length that you need for your pattern or project.

bias binding

After you’ve sewn the strips together, open the strips up so they look like this:

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Step 4. Clip seam allowances
Trim the seam allowances so they are not wider than the strip itself, and clip corners to 1/4″.

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Step 5. Press seams open.

Made By Rae | how to cut bias strips

Now you’re ready to fold, press, and sew according to your pattern’s instructions!

Finally, a note about pre-packaged bias binding: if you prefer, you can purchase pre-made bias binding already cut, pieced, and folded at most fabric stores. Most of the time the bias binding is either single- or double-fold, which means it’s been pre-folded and pressed before it’s packaged. If you prefer to go this route, you’ll want to find either 1/2″-wide single fold, or 1/4″-wide double fold bias; either can be substituted for 1.25″-wide (unfolded) bias binding used in my sewing patterns (and shown in this tutorial).

I definitely prefer making my own bias binding because I don’t tend to like the colors or quality of store-bought bias binding as much as my own, but I definitely understand the appeal. Sometimes it’s nice just to have it made for you!

Ruby with poms

I realize my need to add pom poms to things I make is becoming borderline obsessive. I haven’t found a support group yet, so it is going to be ADD POMS TO ALL THE THINGS YEEHAW until someone stages an intervention. Just so you know.

Array

Latest Pom Victim: this white double gauze Ruby top (pattern: Ruby Dress and Top).

Array

The fabric is a solid white double gauze that I picked up at Pink Castle here in Ann Arbor. Every time I make a piece of clothing with solid fabric I wonder why I don’t do it more. Solid pieces are the connector blocks in my handmade wardrobe. I’ve just made a chambray tank that is serving a similar purpose that I’ll post soon. Solid fabrics may be less exciting to look at than crazy prints, but they sure are practical.

Array

Array

As for adding poms to this Ruby, since the weave was pretty loose, I opted to stitch the trim on by hand after I lined the yoke.

Array

By the way, this top is another piece of my Spring/Summer Handmade Wardrobe that I posted about here. Stay tuned for more!

PS. Want to see everything I’ve ever made that has pom poms on it? You got it.

Bonsai Bag / Bianca with poms / Geranium with poms / Clementine Geranium with poms / Pom Pom scarf (that’s even a tutorial!) / Pom pom scarf for Clementine / shorts with pom poms / Orange Washi with poms