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How close to the edge of my bias should I sew?

Thank my crazy-fabulous students over at the college for this one – they’ve got a knack for asking those incredibly important, basic questions that you stop thinking about after a while. Things like, “What’s the best way to cut so I don’t get these weird edges?” or “How close to the edge of this should I sew?” I remember asking my mom forever ago: How close should I be to the edge of my bias tape?

stitches at edge of bias
Bias should be sewn 1-2 stitches away from the folded edge.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s just great, missa…. Show off. That’s fine.

Well…. Fair point. Here’s the deal:

1) If you’re more than about 1/8″ from the edge of the bias tape, you’re start to get a weird flippy “lip” that will eventually wibble and wobble all over the place, and it looks a mess.

2) Depending on the width of your bias tape, you might only have 1/8″ of folded-under edge to play with. Stitch farther from your edge than that, and the hole folded-under bit can flop out in the wash. Ugh! I’ve ruined many the costume piece with that mistake.

3) If you’re bias-binding an edge, then the closer you are to the fold of your bias tape the farther you are from the edge you’re binding and the more secure your binding will be.

Ok. So, assuming you haven’t been sewing for the last decade or two (and, ye gods, when did I edge up on the two decade mark???), here’s a couple tricks:

1) Don’t watch the needle. Your eyes will cross every time. Most sewing machine feet have a center guide marked on them. Watch that instead. (If your machine’s foot doesn’t have this guide, you can fix it with a Sharpie.)

2) Put the center guide on the edge of the bias tape. Now move the needle position over one step towards the bias. Sew with the guide running right along the edge of the bias, and presto-change-o, the needle is just hitting the bias.

3) Keep your ears open – the sound of the needle going through the bias is different to the sound of the needle going through just the fabric. (If tone-deaf girl over here can tell, you probably can too! Especially if you don’t change your needles very often, the bias will give you a more defined thunk as the needle pushes through. Bias normally ends up with a tighter weave than you’d expect, because it get’s stretched/compressed slightly as it’s made.*)

4) Still flummoxed? Switch over to your zipper foot. It’s designed to help you sew right next to an edge.

If you’ve been sewing a while and you’ve hit the My Seams Are Generally Straight(tm) point of your career, here’s the next set of trick:

It’s all in your hands. I always¬†generally have the index finger of my right hand on the very edge of my bias, but also touching the foot of the sewing machine. That way I can feel immediately if there’s any weirdness coming up. If the bias isn’t pinned down (and, really, who pins?), I hold the bias loosely between my thumb and the first knuckle on my middle finger, with the index finger right at the edge as before.

Keep a small amount of tension on the bias tape, and it can’t play near as many little reindeer games with you.

On the industrial machine, I tend to like to keep my hands a little farther from the foot. This is because I’m a great big ‘fraidy cat. ;)


*N.B. Technically, this means you should be switching to a smaller sized needle. I just find it kind of convenient to be able to hear when I miss a stitch so I can stop sewing and re-align things…. It has absolutely nothing to do with me being a lazy seamstress. Nope, nossir, nothing at all…

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