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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #19 and pattern review

It is interesting to me that many Indie patterns are reviving an edge finishing technique that might of being more familiar to sewers of the 1950's than those who have stitched their way through the Big Four patterns in the decades since.

I am referring of course to bias binding.

At one stage, pre-serger, binding raw edges was a sturdy way to finish seam allowances, and for budget minded home sewers, a fabric thrifty way to make simple garments without facings.

Think of all those traditional aprons, single layer, finished with miles of seam bound edges:

On the finer side of dressmaking nicer garments have also used bias binding instead of facings, neck and armhole for instance, with the effect of finishing these edges elegantly with less bulk.

I have to detour here a bit too with my own statement of self-disclosure.

I hate many forms of facings, and never use them in my own sewing.

Too many, I feel are in the category of strange home sewing inventions that you just don't often see in well- made purchased clothing.

The top of the hit list for me are of course the notorious back neck facings that IMO plague so many home sewn garments, particularly blouses and shirts.

The thing to think about is what is the function of a back neck facing in these garments?

Basically to cover the raw edge of the back neck.

For this do you really need a kidney shaped piece of interfaced fabric that, because of turn of cloth, hardly ever fits to the shoulder seams you are told to tack it to?

Myself I never use them, either looking for shirts with yokes (the Negroni by Colette has a brilliant yoked treatment for a convertible collar shirt that totally dispenses with the need for back neck facings) or serging or binding the collar/neck edge along the back.

IMO yet again, this is a wonderful use of bias binding.

I also prefer to use binding in many necklines and armholes of sleeveless tops and dresses for the summer because eliminating all that extra fabric in facings just makes for a lighter, more comfortable garment.

And of course binding the seams around the armhole of an unlined jacket, or along the edge of a hem or the outer edge of a front facing adds a nice touch that will make you smile to yourself when you see them - a small and reoccurring pleasure that is worth the initial effort. I have just finished, almost, a mohair coat where I have done this and will post that soon.

I like binding. 

However there are a few things you should know that make applying it easier:

  1. Forget the stuff you buy in those little packets. I know it is tempting to have the stuff all thin and folded and easy but my best comparison is that this stuff is to sewing what instant mashed potatoes are to cooking (apologies in advance to anyone who was going to make those up for dinner tonight). Near enough is not good enough. The fabric in purchased binding tends to be a cheaper fabric than you would use to sew a garment, and is full of sizing (starch). 
  2. I always make my own bias from fabric (you can use strips of masking tape or painters tape laid on the fabric for a bias cutting guide) and use bias tape makers to help pressing the edges under.
  3. Take advantage of the curvability of bias fabric. If your binding is going to be attached to a curved edge get it to your ironing board and press it into that curved shape before you apply it to the garment. It will then go in so easily and you won't have any weird pulling, puckering or diagonal wrinkles to deal with when you are done.
  4. One of my rules is I never, never attach the binding, as most patterns say, by attaching the binding on the right side, wrapping it around to the back and topstitching from the right side and hopefully catching the unsewn edge of the binding on the wrong side. Instead I sew the binding, one raw edge right side of the binding to the wrong side of the fabric, then wrap it to the right side and edge stitch it in place. So much less stressful (and no turning it over and seeing you missed a spot) always nice and neat on the right side. Make sense?

A bias tape maker:

So I do use binding a lot and am interested in the number of new patterns that require it.

Patterns like this, the Lakeside pyjamas by Grainline that I made for my daughter-in-law's birthday.

I really like the shape of these for summer, and made them out of seersucker because it is the coolest fabric for hot weather because the ridges keep the fabric from sticking from to your body.

Here is my version:

The front, I had to shorten the straps about 3 inches, not sure what that was about, but I figured it should sit above and not below the boobs.
The back, overlapped for breeziness - these would be good menopausal nightwear but since DIL is about 20 years away from that I won't mention it
These seemed so tiny when I was making them, I felt I was making doll clothes, but they fit. To match the overlapped back these have sort of overlapped side seams like gym shorts.
Now a few of my own technical notes:

  1. Lovely pattern style wise and easy to sew, with one exception.
  2. Personally I would throw the binding instructions out the window (there is over seven yards of bound edges here). I was annoyed to no end to see this pattern described as for beginners with complicated instructions for applying narrow 1/4" seam binding. Listen by the time you wrap a 1/4" around to the wrong side there is not going to be much left and you certainly will have a tough time catching the wrong side from the right side. I suggest you use the technique described above and make your own 1 1/2 " binding so there is actually something to work with. All those poor beginners working quickly during nap time in tears.
  3. The instructions for putting the shorts together with a series of complicated start and stops of the binding at various stages should be thrown out the window and way past the driveway, IMO of course. Best bet is to just bind all the pieces and then overlap the side seam sections where they should go and top stitch them down. Easy and you will have all your nerves left at the end of the process.
Final verdict, great pattern but there are much easier ways to put them together than the instructions suggest.


Jill H said...

Thank you for this post. I can never get facings to sit properly and I usually end up using bias binding. I keep feeling like I should insert facing after facing after facing until I learn how to make them work properly, but then I think about how clean and easy it is to use bias binding and can never make myself go through the trouble of learning facings. I also srw bias binding like you do and wondered if I was missing something important by not sewing them the taught way.

ElleC said...

Fantastic post. Thank you so much.♥

Masking tape as a cutting guide is complete genius. You are now officially one of my sewing gods. When are you going to start writing your book? 8-D We need more of your infinite sewing wisdom, she said without irony.

Marianne said...

Yes! I much prefer using bias binding over facings too! I often apply it as you do, and sometimes I just sew it to the inside of the garment so it is not visible. I never thought to iron it into a curve before stitching so that's a new one for me to try. Are you aware of the method for making continuous binding? This method gives you quite a few joining seams, but it is great when you have just a small amount of fabric to make the binding. Here is one tutorial, although there are many.


Iris Montgomery said...

Thank you so much for this. As a beginner, you don't know what you don't know. I will now be more adventurous!

Carol in Denver said...

I'm older than you so that may be why I remember things differently. In the 1950s, it seemed to me that bias bindings were used in cheaper clothing and things such as the apron you show. In my opinion, better-made garments had facings. In general I now prefer bias bindings but sometimes a large, shaped facing is a design feature. The new Tessuti Helga blouse, for example, has a large, shaped back facing. Such a large facing can almost act as a yoke, providing a firm base from which the rest of the garment hangs.

Anonymous said...

As usual, genius insight, offered in a cordial manner. I love this pattern -- may make it for my daughter. Thanks, as always for your wisdom.

Marion said...

Interesting post. I had a flashback to the pre serger days of double fold hemming those interfaced facings.

Sharon said...

Much prefer bias binding for my neck and armhole edges but there are time a well drafted back facing does work a treat.

Annie said...

Oh my gosh, genius tip on the masking tape for a cutting guide. I hate my rotary cutter. It always slips at some point no matter how careful I am. My Kai scissors work much better for me but cutting 1" strips without a guide is pretty impossible. Problem solved!

If I put the bias tape on the outside and wrap in, I would usually end up hand stitching because as you note, there is no way to get a clean finish otherwise. If all the bias tape is getting folded to the inside, then it's a different story. Anyway, I guess I haven't used bias tape enough to think about what a dumb idea the conventional way is. Thanks for the tip.

patsijean said...

I use both types of finishing. I do love e some of that bias binding, however and discovered the perfect mething of attaching it, in one "swell foope" . I use an attachment like this one. I picked one example but an Amazon search of "bias binding foot" will get you an entire page. This food works great with self made double fold binding and the application looks good top and bottom.

Anne Frances said...

I agree with the comment above that bias would only have been used on cheaper ready-to wear in the 1950s when I learnt to sew 60 years ago!. A well made garment in those days would have no stitching showing unless it were saddle-stitching intended to be highly decorative, or around a zip- and a lot of dresses and skirts still had plackets not zips. My go-to sewing techniques book dates from 1962, and while it does suggest one can finish an armhole or neckline with a bias strip it instructs the sewer to finish it by hand sewing it on the inside "catching only the surface of two threads onto the needle so that no stitches show on the right side". No topstitching of hems either! I'm sure I read somewhere about sewing apprentices who had to make a black jacket using only white thread (apart, presumably from buttonholes)- and not one speck of the white should be visible on the right side. Times change but clearly some pattern makers stick to the old specifications. I do agree that there is little reason for a back-neck facing with a set in collar in an unlined garment, but it can be easier to construct a jacket with faced lapels if there is a back neck facing rather than carrying the lining right up to the collar. All very interesting!

SuzieB said...

Lucky daughter-in-law! Those are the cutest pj's. Your method of handling seam binding works really great on knits, too.

Anonymous said...

Nice details in your post, I agree that your own binding is a cut above the usually nasty stuff in packets.

Ginger said...

I've almost made those pjs several times but all that binding scared me. Thanks for the tips.

Annie Trish said...

Always enjoy reading your blog and especially interesting today. I used to think bias binding was taking the easier way but over the last several years found myself making wider bias binding and using it instead of facings. A friend has shown me how to make continuous bias binding. It is amazing how much bias can be gleaned this way from a relatively small piece leftover from a project.I was also interested to read your review of the pattern and am considering making it for one of my daughters who has had breast cancer and is on continuing medication which has basically sent her into menopause, so your comments on the design and fabric were especially useful.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading, I so enjoy making the shorts. The spaghetti strap blouse is cool too.

Thanks again