How to Use Bias Tape
Once, a very long time ago, I decided to take the sleeves off a beloved dress to make it more summer-appropriate. I was new to garment sewing and had never heard of bias tape or binding. In my mind, a double rolled hem around that armhole seemed practical. I set to work on those armholes with my trusty steam iron by my side.
Disaster ensued. Not only is a double rolled hem next to impossible to press into a very curved armhole, the final product was a wonky, wavy armhole that didn’t lay flat against my skin. My beloved dress became unwearable.
Don’t let this happen to you, use bias tape.
What is bias tape exactly? Bias tape (sometimes called bias binding) is a very long strip of fabric that is cut on the bias (or diagonally on the fabric, usually) to maximize stretch. This ensures that the bias tape will stretch nicely around the curved seams of your armhole.
Bias tape or binding can either be purchased pre-made, or you can make your own. In this tutorial we will show you how to sew store-bought, double-fold bias tape into your armholes. This tutorial can also be used for neckholes, and shirt and dress hems too!
1. Start by pressing the center fold your double-fold bias tape flat. Press several feet of your bias tape, but keep it attached to cardboard it was packaged with. We will cut the bias tape to length later after it is sewed into the armhole to make sure we maximize the amount we use.
2. Next press one edge of your double fold bias top flat.
3. Starting at the armpit seam of your armhole, position your bias tape so that 1” of the bias tape extends beyond the seam. The raw edges of your bias tape and fabric should be aligned with right sides together.
4. Continue to pin your bias tape around the circumference of your armhole pinning every 2” or so. Stretch the bias tape just slightly as you pin so that is eases around the armhole curves.
5. Once fully pinned, trim your bias tape so that 1” of your bias tape end extends beyond the seam. You should have two bias tape tails about the same length.
6. Align the bias tape tails so that the seam of the bias tape is centered over the armpit seam of the armhole. Place a pin perpendicular through both layers of bias tape (but not through the shirt or dress fabric) where the bias tape tails meet and sit flat against the fabric.
7. Begin sewing the bias tape to the shirt about 1” forward of the armpit/bias tape seam. Be sure to backstitch. Use a ⅜” seam allowance so that your stitch travels down the original crease you ironed out in step 2. Remove your pins as you sew.
8. Sew around the entire armhole, taking it slow if this is your first time using bias tape. Stop about 1” from the armpit seam and backstitch. The pin holding the bias tape tails together should remain.
9. Remove your shirt from under your presser foot and snip your threads. Pull the bias tape tails away from the fabric and sew a vertical stitch down the short length of your bias tape where the pin was located. Backstitch once up the entire length of the bias tape. Make sure you are not sewing any part of the shirt or dress fabric when doing this.
10. Trim your bias tape tails to ¼”. Lay the bias tape flat against fabric and pin.
11. Stitch the unsewn portion of the bias tape to the shirt fabric using the same seam allowance. Your armpit seam and bias tape seam should align.
12. Press the bias tape away from the fabric, making sure your seam allowance is also pressed away from the inside of the shirt.
Right side out view:
Wrong side out view:
13. On the right side of the bias tape, stitch ⅛” from seam. This is called understitching. Understitching allows for a nice crisp armhole that lays flat and hides all of the bias tape inside of the armhole. We recommend understitching every time you sew with bias tape, otherwise your bias tape may peek out from your armhole if you don’t press well. If you use a contrasting color of bias tape this can make for an unsightly armhole.
14. Now turn your garment inside out, press your bias tape into the inside of the garment and pin every 2”.
15. Secure the bias tape into the garment by sewing on the bias tape with a ⅛” seam allowance from the inside edge starting at the armpit seam.
16. Turn your garment right side out and press your armholes. Put on that shirt and enjoy your crisp arm and neckholes finished with bias tape!
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