Bound Edges That Give Your Sewing The Edge
Many garment sewers believe bias binding is only for quilters. Quite frankly, some of these binding feet look rather daunting when you first meet them. With some you really do need a couple of practice goes before you start using them on your sewing. Once you’ve mastered them you’ll wonder why you didn’t use them sooner. Let’s take a look at probably the simplest, cheapest and most versatile of the bias binding feet.
This one fits many machines and takes double folded tape with finished widths between about ¼” and 1”. Don’t forget if you end up with a width of ¼” the tape before folding is 1”. A 1” finished binding starts out at 4” wide. For this foot you need folded tape. You can either make your own or use bought bias tape. You may need to attach a shank to your machine to use this foot if, like with Bernina, the standard feet have a long shank attached.
Tip: If you use dark colored tape you’ve bought cut a small piece off before you start, pour boiling water over it and check it doesn’t bleed. The better-quality ones generally don’t but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Some sewers like to steam their tape before they use it to ensure any risk of shrinking is also eliminated.
You can cut tapes yourself – on the bias.
Why on the bias? Cutting on the bias gives the tape that bit of stretch it needs to go around curves and gives the finished garment a slightly softer edge.
Whether you buy or make bias binding one thing you should never do is iron (backwards and forwards) your tape killing this stretch as you go. If you make tape press it by putting the iron down and lifting it, not pushing it. Garment sewers sometimes like to curve their tape by using the iron to press the curve in where they’re planning to sew round sharp curves. I have to admit I’ve never done this and never really found it to be necessary.
Can you cut bias tape on the grain? The simple answer is ‘No’. However, if you have a one-way stretch fabric and some firmer knits you can cut strips in the direction of the stretch. They’re not quite as easy to work with as bias strips and tend to ripple a bit if you’re not careful.
Some may be asking why bother with a binding foot when you can put binding on without? The answer is simple. Once you’ve mastered the foot you’ll see you simply can’t get such a smooth result with the old method of sewing one side on first, folding it over and then sewing near the edge of the side you fold over. You tend to get rippling because it’s almost impossible on narrower bindings to keep the tape flowing absolutely evenly with the sewn side. You also risk your stitching line slipping off the edge as you sew. The stitching on the inside can look a bit messy. Using the foot, you get a row of even stitching on both sides of the tape.
The adjustable bias binder
Red arrow points to the bias width adjustment wheel
Blue arrow points to the screw used to adjust the position of the foot on the machine
When you start using this foot and often at other times, it’s simply easier to get the binding into the foot before you attach the foot to your machine.
If you wind the bias width adjustment wheel forwards you widen the gap for the tape.
- Get your tape into the foot making sure the two sides are in their grooves leaving the space in the middle free for the fabric you’re planning to edge.
- Attach the foot to the machine.
- Give the wheel one more turn backwards to ensure your tape is firmly held against the left edges of the foot so it can’t move whilst you’re sewing.
- Make sure your tape extends to the back under the foot.
- Check where your needle will come down into the tape.
- If necessary – this is the fiddly bit – release the screw at the back of the foot and move the foot in or out until it’s in the position you need it to be in. If you always sew on the same machine you’ll probably not need to do this very often. If you have a modern machine you probably won’t do it at all because you can use the lever or knob to adjust the position of the needle instead of messing with the foot. If you do use this screw make sure you tighten it again before you start sewing otherwise you’ll have a mess or maybe even a broken needle.
- Sew a couple of stitches into the binding under the foot and check if the stitching line is going to be where you want it.
- Put the fabric you’re binding into the foot. Push it in until it sits just in front of the needle.
- Start sewing – slowly at first until you get the hang of it.
The advantage of using bought pre-folded bias is it does tend to be a bit crisper – starched feeling – which means it’s easier to get it into the foot and it flows well. When you cut your own – often necessary because you want to use patterned or matching fabric – spray starch can help to firm up your binding if it seems rather soft and floppy.
Single fold binding
You can also use this foot for single fold binding
I made this quilted edge-to-edge jacket and decided it would have a cleaner finish if I bound the front edges and sleeves with this wool braid. The braid was intended to be folded so it went into the binder without any trouble. I also fiddled about a bit to ensure the start and end of the binding was folded in and sewn straight away with the binding. Amazing what you can do with your tweezers and a long pin! I used to sew things like this by hand but doing it like this, despite the extra time to fiddle the beginning and end in, took less than 5 mins.
You can also add knit or stretch bindings with this foot. They can be single or double fold. By holding them behind and in front of the foot you can make a clean job of them, although I have to say double folded stretch binding is generally easier on a coverlock machine.
A holder for my Brother sewing feet
I bought a set of sewing feet for my Brother machine which came in a box with the name of the feet on the underside of the box. The box has landed on the floor a couple of times and also been tipped out by my granddaughters so I decided it was time I did something about it. I’d make a holder and label the positions of the feet so I could find what I wanted quickly and they wouldn’t keep falling out.
I took an bit of cotton fabric I had and cut it into strips for the pockets. I edged these with single fold elastic and attached it with the adjustable bias foot making sure there was a bit of tension that would eventually hold my feet in their pockets. I then attached the pocket strips to the base fabric and sewed the pockets into the strips.
Then I took my Brother P-Cube tape machine and made iron-on labels for each row which I then fixed to the base fabric above the pockets. A bit tricky because of the elasticated binding on the pockets.
Then I cut a bit of thin wadding to fit the size of the holder and the main fabric for the outside.
I quickly embroidered the outside and then went to my serger.
To make things easier I serged round the whole thing to hold the pocket layer, wadding and outside together and give it a firmer edge to help the binder.
Binding with a coverlock
I set up my coverlock for two-thread chain stitch. Check your machine instructions for how to do this as they’re all a bit different and before you start attaching the binder test that the stitch is running well because you don’t want to get the binder on and positioned and find the machine needs re-threading or adjusting. Then get the right binder attachment for the width of the tape. These binders take flat bias tape – not folded and you need a different one for each tape width.
I bought a set of these in the internet – the set of 4 cost less than the price of one original – and use them on my Baby lock machine. I’ve compared them with an original one and have to honestly say I don’t see much difference. Before you buy any binder attachments make sure they’ll fit your machine. All machine manufacturers have produced binders for their machines but some are really expensive!
Important: The tape must be the right width for the attachment. For my project I used tape that was 3” wide, which gave me a finished width of ¾”. If your tape is ‘slightly’ wider, that’s fine and in the case of some soft tapes almost makes life easier. Never narrower!
Cut a V shape at the beginning of your tape to help you thread it into the foot. Use tweezers, a long pin or whatever helps you get it in. I had to press folded bias binding flat as I wanted to use this pink satin band.
The wrong side of the tape must be facing you as you push it in.
Make sure your tape is folding into the holders on the attachment – as you pull it between the two lips where the tape will come out to go under the foot you should now see the tape folded in 4.
Again, try this out – before you attach the foot to the machine. It sounds complicated but once you’ve done it a couple of times you’ll find it’s really not so difficult.
Fix the foot to your machine – don’t tighten the screws yet.
I have to say that I prefer to use the curve foot on my Baby lock as it’s a bit shorter than the standard foot and I seem to be able to position the bias foot better with it. This is where the trial-and-error bit starts.
You need to line the extruder edge of the binder up with the foot so that the line of stitching will be where you want it. The marks on your foot help with this. I have my needle in the C2 coverlock needle holder.
The exact position of the binder attachment is all important here. 1 mm either way can make a big difference. Depending on your machine, it really is trial and error until you find out what works best for you. Once you do, note the mark on your foot you need to align the binder attachment with.
Pull the binding under the foot and look where your needle will land. It’s better when you start with this not to be too adventurous and move slightly to the right rather than be right on the edge and risk slipping off as you sew.
Once you’re happy the binder is positioned so it will feed the binding where you want it under the foot, tighten the binder holding screws and sew a short test strip. Still happy?
Now put your sewing into the binder in the gap between your binding. These feet will take a reasonable thickness without much problem which is why quilters love them.
The same as with the small binder on your sewing machine – push the fabric up to the front edge of the foot, lower the presser foot and sew slowly. If – like with my machine – you have a speed regulator on your machine kill the speed until you get the hang of this.
This is superb for sewing knits. You can also use it with 2 needles – even 3 – which gives a nice finish to your work without killing the elasticity you need for knit garments.
One thing you can’t do with this foot is to go around square corners. You can either do it the way I did on this holder – by leaving a bit at each end on two sides that you simply fold to the wrong side and sew down, or don’t sew to the end and leave a bit that you can trim, fold under and sew by hand or on your machine. Any attempt to sew around the corner is simply just not worth the trouble. You can simplify things by cutting rounded corners because – if you’re careful – you might need the help of a pin or tweezers to make sure everything stays where it should – you can get around those and make a good job of it.
Remember if you are sewing round something in one piece – never start at a corner, always start in the middle of one of the edges. You can cut the binding and feed it in leaving yourself a bit to fold in and sew down or you can use your tweezers and a long pin to fold the binding before it gets to the end and sew it down – generally by removing the attachment to give you space to fold the bias under.
This might all sound a bit complicated – but I can assure you – with a bit of practice and sometimes patience – you can do it. If you have folded bias you want to use on the coverlock that’s OK, you just need to press it flat before you start, otherwise it’ll fold where you don’t want it to.
Have a go and if you have any questions. don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.