Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March of the Tools: Put THAT in Your Pipe

Piping makes everything better. There. I said it. I love the extra little touch that it adds to garments and bags and cushions and pretty much everything. I had shied away from the stuff before because I had no idea how I was supposed to insert it correctly. Then came the inevitable: someone asked me to put it on a bag. I have a ridiculously hard time saying no and I will make myself insane figuring something out instead of saying that teeny little word. Luckily, I had just read about something that would make this not only doable, but easy--a simple little doodad known as the piping foot.

On the top it looks almost like a regular foot. But when you turn it upside down you'll see that it has grooves underneath that will hold the piping cord and fabric in place as you sew:

 Please excuse my hideous cuticles.

There is another method where you can use your zipper foot and adjust your needle position, but this ended badly for me. I actually did a practice strip to show you just how bad I am at this method. Beware: it's about to get ugly:

Hopefully this horrible thing doesn't make you twitch too much.

I didn't even fudge this on purpose to try and make my point--it really came out this bad. Some stitches are through the cord, the fabric isn't even ANYwhere, and if you look at the left end you can see where my stitches aren't even because it fed oddly. If this method works for you I truly applaud you--it was way too fiddly for me.

Where was I? Piping feet do come in different sizes, but the one I have will fit up to a quarter inch cord. I use piping mostly on larger bags so this mid-sized cord does the job well. Once the fabric strip is ready and the cording nice and snug, you simply stick it under the left groove of the machine foot (you don't even have to adjust the needle!) and let it go. Sometimes I use pins, usually I don't.

See how nice and neat it turns out?

This piping went on this bag. To sew it on the edge you just place it where it will work with your seam allowance. If there is a slight difference it doesn't matter enough to me to spend the time adjusting everything, so I just match up the raw edges and let 'er rip again:

Not a necessary photo. I just like it. It's very sewy looking.

It goes on the bag nice and neat. To attach the yoke of the bag I matched up the raw edges again, felt for the piping to get it neatly under the foot, and went a third time around. The piping ends up nice and snug with nary a wobble.

Even with the extra bulk of the pleats and some fusible fleece there was no problem sewing it in.

This is one of my favorite machine feet (it ties with my ruffler). That is without a doubt one of the nerdiest sentences I have ever composed, but I know you get that kind of geekery :)  It makes a tedious little sewing job much easier and it can really have a big impact, especially in places where you need to break up the fabric just a wee bit. This little guy cost $10 and is worth every penny.

A few words about piping:

~ If you make your own piping you can really make an impact on your project. As with bias tapes, store bought piping comes in tons of colors, but very few sizes. With your own, you can choose your fabric instead of having to settle, and make whatever size(s) your piping foot will allow.

~ It seriously is fun to make piping with this foot. No lie. And easy. I had first try success with it (and that's rare for me).

~ You can use a straight grain cut or a bias grain cut, but I prefer bias cut. It's an extra step or two, but I like having that little bit of stretch assurance.

~A word of caution: I have experimented with a few different piping cords and there are definitely some that leave much to be desired. For instance, take the below:

It seems harmless, but don't be fooled.

It has a sheen to it, and is wrapped in a very very fine thread to hold it all together. It will hold every twist and kink in it, and doesn't always give smooth piping. It's not actually made of braided fibers as it looks; it's made of what looks and feels like a very lightweight craft interfacing rolled up. How do I know? Because when you cut it those tiny threads go woosh and you're left with this to wrangle with:

While it's interesting to watch it come apart of its own free will, it quickly turns to frustration when you try to tame that mess enough to get it inside the fabric.

Now, cotton piping cord feels like rope--it's made of cotton fibers braided together. It stays much more smooth and makes much nicer piping.

This stuff is a little pricier but you definitely get what you pay for.

And when you cut the end, it only does this:

A much more manageable thing to work with.

So run out and get one right now. I don't care if you're 100 miles from the nearest store or if it's three in the morning. Go. You'll be glad you did :)


  1. Thankyou..that's a whole bunch of good advice. I piped a cushion using my zipper foot and it worked out ok..but I can see that a proper piping foot would be a lot more even. Thank you for pointing out that cheap piping cord too...I will avoid it like the plague!

  2. Obrigada por compartilhar! Seu trabalho é muito lindo.
    Um dia quero costurar como você. será que consigo?

  3. I've wanted to get a piping foot for a long time but when I asked my dealer for one, she said Janome doesn't stock any. Can you believe that? So I have to use my adjustable zipper foot.

  4. i need to learn how to sew. pronto. looks like a cool technique!!!

  5. Well I didn't evern know such a thing existed ~ I lead such a sheltered life. Even though I didn't know I needed one I do now!
    Kandi x



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