Yes you CAN make continuous bias tape without using scissors!
Previously I’ve written about the most efficient method of laying out fabric for making your own homemade bias tape, with the fewest annoying seams; this time I’m sharing a trick that makes it even faster: using your handy-dandy ROTARY CUTTER instead of scissors! Now, you’ve probably seen many sewing tips (and videos) online, showing the 2 basic methods of making bias binding….what my fellow F.I.T. alumnus Liesl Gibson calls the “Traditional Method” and the “Continuous Method”…and as she explains, they both have drawbacks:
- “Traditional Method”: ROTARY-cut bias strips and then stitch the strips together one by one to make a continuous strip (the sewing is time-consuming, it’s so much simpler to stitch one long line than many tiny ones)
- “Continuous Method”: Stitch fabric into a tube, then SCISSOR-cut a long continuous strip (scissor cutting is tedious and gives me carpal tunnel). Liesl explains the drawback : “the strips need to be cut entirely by hand, so you can’t use a rotary cutter” . There is a hack that let’s you slide a very small cutting board inside the tube and then ROTARY cut, however it’s awkward to keep manipulating the cutting board as you rotary-cut small sections at a time.
Left: “Traditional Method”, Right: “Continuous Method”:
I was determined to figure out a way to use a rotary cutter while the fabric is still flat on a large cutting board, but still use the “Continuous Method”. After plenty of brainstorming, I’ve got it!
Aside from your fabric and rotary cutter, here’s what you’ll need:
- a large cutting board (mine is 24″ x 36″)
- ruler or straight-edge (a 6″ x 24″ clear quilting ruler is the best!)
- pencil, or chalk, or water-soluble fabric pen
- a few straight pins
- sewing machine and thread
- iron and ironing board (plus a sleeve-board or other insert like a fabric bolt)
- optional: Downy “wrinkle release” is very helpful
- and to press the bias into folded tape, it’s great to have the Clover bias-tape maker tool:
(What you will NOT need: scissors!)
Going back to my previous post, I like to use a 44″ by 22″ (that’s 5/8 of a yard) piece of cotton fabric, cut into a parallelogram like this:
I’ll review how to cut this parallelogram in a minute. The reason that I prefer using a parallelogram instead of let’s say a square, is that it creates the longest bias strip yardage with the fewest connector seams. I realize that the most popular method on the web for cutting fabric to make bias tape uses a square cut into 2 triangles to create a small parallelogram:
However the result is many MANY seams. So instead I use a larger piece of fabric and actually cut away the triangles and use them for other projects.
Ready to see my “Aha!” method of cutting and sewing continuous bias tape using a rotary cutter?
Step 1: Rip a 22″ long piece of 44″ wide cotton fabric, do NOT press it yet as the weave needs to be pulled into the correct grain, otherwise the bias tape will ripple. (Fabric gets pulled off-grain slightly in the fabric-finishing process.) I’ll be using Robert Kaufman’s “Kona” cotton broadcloth, which has a lot of body and behaves well as bias tape. It may seem silly to make basic white bias tape, but the resulting quality handles so much better in sewing than pre-made tape that it’s worth it to me for special projects.
Step 2: True the grain-lines of the fabric by stretching “against” the acute-angled corners. First check the corners of your fabric against the grid-lines of your cutting board to see how far off-grain the fabric is:
A spritz of water can help mold the fabric, since fabric is weaker when wet. A softening agent such as Downy “wrinkle release” is even better. This product is essentially water, fabric softener, plus alcohol as a drying agent, so you can make it at home:
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon fabric softener
- 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol
Spritz and pull the entire piece of fabric until it’s completely trued and fits squarely into the grid of your cutting board.
Step 3: When your fabric is trued to right angles (the bias will then be accurately 45 degrees) press the fabric. Next flip over 2 opposite corner pieces (as in this photo), and cut off the triangles. Don’t panic, you can use these for small projects. By not using them, your bias tape will be so much nicer with long distances between the connector seams.
I cut off the triangles using a rotary cutter placed next to the edge of the bias line, trimming off just a tiny slice:
Step 4: On the “wrong” side of the fabric, mark your bias grain cutting lines, using a straight-edge and pencil, chalk, or disappearing fabric-ink. A clear quilting ruler is the easiest thing to use because you can see through it….I like to stick Post-Its on top of the ruler to indicate the width I’m measuring. I’ll be using the Clover 3/4″ tool, which uses 1 and 1/ 2″ wide fabric strips. Starting at the left edge and measuring in 1 and 1/2″, I pencil in the first line, then slide the ruler 1 and 1/2″ to the right to pencil in the next line…and continue until the entire fabric piece has been filled in with parallel lines :
Step 5: Use your rotary cutter to slice the strips, starting and stopping about 2″ from the fabric edges. Do NOT slice all the way through the entire fabric piece! What you want is a parallelogram with slashes, NOT a bunch of bias strips :
Step 6: Pin the fabric into a “tube” for stitching. Line up the straight-grain edges for stitching: start by folding up the bottom straight edge of your parallelogram, up to the top straight edge. (It took me 2 photos while standing on my tippy toes atop a step-stool over my cutting board to show this….sorry for the mash-up!):
Now slide the upper layer over to the left:
….until the first pencil lines meet:
There should be a triangle of fabric sticking out on both ends; this ensures that after stitching along the top edge that you will end up with a single long bias strip, NOT a series of bias loops.
Upper left corner (left photo), upper right corner (right photo):
Pin the fabric layers together 1/2″ down from the top straight edge, where the pencil lines intersect. You will be stitching across the top edge with a 1/2″ seam allowance:
Step 7: Stitch the straight-grain edge layers together, 1/2″ from the top edge, removing the pins as you go. I like to machine-baste-stitch this first, then check to see if the pencil lines truly match up, and correct if necessary:
Step 8: Press seam allowance open. Since the fabric is now stitched into a tube, it is easier to press if you slip the tube over a long thin object such as a sleeve board, or a fabric bolt, or even a rolled-up bath towel. The pencil marks should line up like this (again a mash-up of 2 photos taken from a step-stool….I’m really short):
Step 9: Trim the seam allowance to 1/4″. Then on a cutting board, rotary-cut through the final pencil lines:
And “ta-dah!” You should now have a single long fabric strip cut on true bias! This is 9 yards of tape with only 10 seams:
Step 11: Press your bias strip edges under to make bias sewing tape, using the Clover bias tape maker:
You now have soft, flexible bias tape that will handle curves like a champ and enhance, rather than take away from, the beauty of your sewing projects!
This is SO much softer and more flexible than pre-made bias tape:
The pre-made stuff is fine for utilitarian projects such as edging fitted sheets, but when you want a fine finish, creating custom-made bias tape is the way to go.
And here is my finished sewing project…yes the baby bib was cut from the discarded fabric triangles. See how smooth and non-rippling the bias tape is?
Please let me know if any of the steps are not clear. This is a real “hands-on” project, and makes better sense when you actually do it. Happy sewing!
You can save this sewing tip from my Pinterest board to yours!