Monday, 23 July 2012

Embrace the Bias!

I made this skirt to wear on a trip to Barcelona last year: 

It's a pretty straight forward style, but open it up to reveal:

All of the hems and facings are finished in a contrasting fabric. I always use a contrasting colour on the insides of my work, and extend this to the finishing of my hems. With the scraps of lining, I cut diagonal strips which are sewn on to skirt hems, sleeve hems, etc, to give a neat finish. This is when you have to embrace the bias!

So, what is bias? The 'true bias' of a fabric is 45 degrees to the selvedge (the woven edge of a fabric).

The tape measure is laid at 45 degrees - the 'true bias'

Due to the nature of woven fabric (which is made up of vertical and horizontal fibres) the diagonal has a natural stretch, as seen below:

Fabric stretched on the bias

This natural stretchi-ness means the fabric can mould around curves and any lines which aren't straight. It adds a slinkiness to outfits by clinging and draping around the body, and because of the bias, darts and seams can often be avoided. This was how the glamour of 1930's gowns was achieved:

Classic Jean Harlow - the bias cut clings around the hips and stomach without any darts, etc

Joan Crawford

Bias can also be used decoratively, especially with stripes:

Claudette Colbert in 'It Happened One Night' in bias cut blouse
I'm going to show you how to use bias in a slightly less glamorous, but very useful way - cutting bias binding (sometimes known as bias tape) to finish the insides of your garments. This will give your projects a neat and professional finish, and you'll never have to buy one of those little packets of bias binding ever again!

To be slightly less wasteful, I'm going to cut the strips on a diagonal, but not the 'true bias'. It won't matter, as there will still be a decent amount of stretch in the fabric:

Measuring tape on the diagonal of fabric

Next, cut the strips. I usually mark them out by making a chalk line, then measuring from this 4 cm or 1 1/2". Be careful not to stretch the fabric as you mark, otherwise the width won't be accurate.

Marking out diagonal strip

If you're cutting strips to face a hem, it's unlikely you'll be able to cut one strip for the whole hem. You'll need to join the strips at a diagonal in order to maintain the stretch.

2 pieces cut at an angle
Cut the 2 pieces to be joined at an angle (right sides up), then pin them together right sides facing and stitch:

Sttched together right sides facing

Wrong side, seam pressed open
Next, pin your binding to the section of you garment you want to finish, in this case the hem of a skirt. The binding is pinned right sides together to the hem and stitched:

Binding after being stitched

Then, iron the binding up and to the back of the hem:

Binding ironed up, away from the hem

Binding ironed to the back (wrong side) of the hem

Nearly done! Then I stitch thru all the layers, just under the binding.

Stitched just under the binding through all layers

Wrong side of finished binding

Finally, you can slip stitch through the binding to the body of the skirt, or top stitch, whichever you prefer.

This is my favourite way of finishing garments - it's neat and tidy, and it adds a bit of weight to a hem to help it hang better. 

Hope you all find this useful!


  1. I will definitely be trying this on my next project. Great post!

  2. I feel like I just received a lesson in geometry and history. You have great knowledge. Im very impresssed.


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