Sewing the strappy dress: a word about bias.

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Whether you are sewing my new pattern or not, you will come across bias finish at some stage. I personally think bias finished edges are great – they are clean, durable, professional and oh so pretty.

However, this skill needs some time to master. One of the most important things about this type of finish is precision. The tape has to be of even width, it has to be correctly prepared and pressed. If you are lucky enough to have access to a decent selection of ready made bias bindings, then you are a lucky one. For those who are not quite so blessed, me included, there is a skill to be learned.

And so, bias. Preparing your own bias is a bit of a task.

When I sew a garment that required bias finish, this is where I start (after cutting out all the pieces, of course). I don’t hesitate to spend several hours on carefully measuring, cutting, stretching and pressing it, because I know it will pay off in the end.

And this is exactly what I did while sewing the Strappy dress, which uses bias two ways – for an inside bind on armscyes and as a plain bind for the neckline. Both of these techniques I am going to describe in this post.

Cutting and preparing bias

The steps included in bias preparation are:

  • cutting
  • joining
  • removing excess stretch
  • trimming to required width, and then
  • pressing into a final shape

The tools I use for this are a ruler, a square ruler and a bias tape maker, which I own in 3 sizes (an excellent investment, I must say!).

bias tape maker
Image source: clover_usa.com

But I’ll start with a simpler finish, the inside bind.

Inside bind is awesome. It is clean and invisible, it can be used on stretch fabrics and wovens and it replaces facings in many cases.

inside bind

With this finish what you have to pay attention to is the final width of your bind, and to be absolutely sure it is what you want and need, you need to sew a couple of samples.

I start with a simple bias strip, which I stretch to get rid of “play”. Have you heard this term before, play? Play is this jiggly, unpredictable movement of the fabric, and bias cut fabric has a lot of it. Of course, flexibility is exactly why we need bias in the first place, but when there is too much of it, you might end up with “roping” – this is when bias forms diagonal folds after it was stitched on, and a wobbly looking edge. I like my edges razor sharp.

To do the stretching, hold the bias in place with your fingers or pin it to the board and gently stretch it lengthwise, while pressing it with steam. A couple of goes will remove enough stretch for bias to start behaving, and will also make it narrower. But this is why we trim it to the required width later, remember? We did cut it wider for exactly this reason.

When bias behaves, trim it and then press it lengthwise to end up with a strip suitable for inside bind. In case of Strappy dress the final width is 1.5 cm (9/16”)

 

Old fashioned bias binding

An all time favourite, for sure, but requires a few more steps and a bit of precision stitching.
We begin with raw bias strips, which we need to join first.

“HA!- you say,- I  know how to do that!” – and sew it together vertically. Well, no. Although sometimes sewing bias together with a simple vertical seam is the only option, when you can, please sew it on diagonally. The reason for this is very simple – you avoid thickness of the seam, quadrupled, after you have attached your bias to the edge you are finishing.

And so, for this dress we cut the strip 4 cm (1 9/16”) wide and join it correctly (see the picture below). Then we steam stretch it (gently!) and trim it to 3 cm (1 3/16”) wide. After this, we use our fab bias bind maker #12 to fold and press the tape. Voila! It is ready to use.

Bias binding the edge

There are two ways to do it. One is to sew bias to the wrong side first and then finish it on the right side. This way your second row of stitching (the most visible one) will be sewn on the face of the garment and odd seam wobbles are less likely. It will also create a slight “lip”, which sometimes lowers the tone of the garment, in my opinion. It is great for aprons, for example, where the tone is low enough for you not to care.

The second way is to start sewing it from the face and then fold it to the wrong side of the garment. Then you use your graduated eyeball (and years of practice or just blind luck) and sew the “lip” barely covering the previous seam, which will create the finest, cleanest finish on the right side.

After finishing the neckline on the Strappy dress, you’ll end up with 0.6 cm (1/4”) wide bias edge and straps – narrow and elegant, just the way we like it.

 

One more thing the Strappy dress has is the decorative straps at the back.

Apart from stopping your dress from falling off your shoulders, they look pretty. And all pretty details must be executed perfectly, or whats the point, right?

To prepare these straps, we need prepared bias bind as for the bias bound neckline. We fold this bias lengthwise and sew it along the edge, joining it into a strap. Make sure you sew nice and close to the edge.

bias straps

After this, press the strap and use your decorative strap template provided with the pattern to trim it and then fold the edges as shown below. I use a piece of hard cardboard to achieve a nice firm edge – an old business card would do just fine. This folding will help you a lot while sewing the straps in place afterwards, believe me.

One last reminder – don’t forget that your second strap is a mirror image of the first one, ok?

That’s about all I wanted to say about bias this time. In my next post we start sewing the dress, in a meantime you can buy your copy of the pattern here.

 

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Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

A dressmaker of many years, I enjoy drafting patterns and create custom garments.

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