Edge finishing with bias (Part 1 of a 2 Part series)

If you buy a modern sewing pattern, odds are good that it will include a facing pattern piece for a neckline or, if the garment is sleeveless, for the armhole. In the SCA I see people use facings to finish off necklines especially for tunics.

I, personally, am not a fan of this kind of facing. Often they flip to the outside, or result in a bulky looking edge. So today I want to offer up an alternative: bias binding. Now, from what I’ve read, you don’t see actual bias-cut strips used in extant medieval clothing, so in my next post I’ll talk about the use of ribbon, tape, and straight-grain strips. But self-fabric bias is easy and produces a nice finish for any type of garment, so I want to let you know about it.

Before we talk about the bias strip itself, let’s consider the problem it’s solving. In any circle or curve, the inside edge is shorter than the outside edge. This means that if when you fold the edge of, say, circular neckline to the inside, the wider the fold the more the neckline will buckle and bunch. This makes sense, because you’re trying to make a shorter edge match a longer distance. Sewing a second piece of fabric allows you to minimize that difference in distance by using a seam allowance that’s small. (In truth, this is the case for any kind of facing.)

With that in mind, the thinner the bias tape strip, the easier it will be to work with. My recommendation is to use a 1/4 seam allowance. True bias (cut at 45 deg) will have the most stretch, but you don’t need to cut that. You can look at your fabric leftovers and cut at the angle that will let you get the necessary strip length. In the following pictures I sewed the strip on right side to right side, then turned the strip to the inside and then used a hem stitch to make the stitches show as little as possible on the outside.

This is how bias looks on the inside.
This is how it looks on the outside.

There’s another way to use bias binding, and that’s to cover an edge that’s too thick to fold. In the SCA I think this is more common for 16th C clothes. This time you can either sew the tape on the right side and then fold the tape up and over the edge and hand stick on the inside catching only the inner layer of fabric. (Note: there is a technique to machine sew bias from the outside called stitch-in-the-ditch but I don’t recommend it in this case.)

Another way is to fold up your bias, place it over the edge, and sew through all the layers at once. Believe me, I love to use my machine, but you’ll have an easier time and get better looking results if you do this by hand.

Binding on a 16th c kirtle.

There’s a good online class on bias finishing called Sewing on the Edge on Craftsy.com but I think Craftsy May be called Blueprint now.

I hope you find this technique useful. Part 2 won’t be until next Saturday at the earliest since I’ll be on the Road next week.

2 thoughts on “Edge finishing with bias (Part 1 of a 2 Part series)

  1. Bias/tape facings are the BEST. Also, they are documentable pretty far back; a straight-grain self-tape facing was used on the shirt of Louis IX (13th c.), which has a triangular neckline. I thought this was pretty counter-intuitive -I’d only ever used bias- but when I tried it I found that the straight grain tape kept the neckline from stretching out of shape. I do a lot of my hems with a tape facing, and it makes them hang well, keep their shape, and shred less.

    Liked by 1 person

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