Photo of window pane fabric bias draped on a dress form

by Cynthia Anderson

Beautiful fabrics simply make garments more special. However, sometimes these beauties can sometimes be a challenge to sew with. Folkwear's 265 Afternoon Tea Dress and the 266 Greek Island Dress are two favorite sewing patterns that are perfect for using these beautiful, but challenging fabrics -  bias cuts, slinky silks, sheers, laces. 

The patterns, and many others, are perfect for using slippery silks or rayons, bias cuts, and for layering sheer and/or lacy fabrics to achieve a filmy, flowy, and romantic look. In this blog series you will learn tips and techniques on how to achieve success in sewing fabrics that can be tricky to work with.  Today we are focusing on bias cuts and bias binding.

Sewing on the Bias

Bias-cut dresses were first made famous by designer Madeleine Vionnet in the early decades of the 20th century, and nearly every fashion designer since then has used a fabric’s bias to create a fluid and sensuous effect. Bias is any diagonal direction on woven fabric, and is thus stretches more than the lengthwise or crosswise grain of the fabric. The "true" bias is along the 45- degree angle (see below) and has the most elasticity. This stretchy, flexible quality is what gives bias garments their sensuous drape.

Labeled photo of fabric grain

While any diagonal direction on woven fabric is considered "bias," the fabric's true bias is along the 45 degree angle.

Bias garments can also cling to the figure, so a looser fit at the waist and hips is often figured in at the cutting stage. Wider seam allowances provide extra room for fitting adjustments (so if you want to add a little extra to your seam allowances when working on the bias, consider that when cutting your fabric). Garments cut on the bias use up more fabric and require additional care in handling, fitting, and finishing, so be patient with yourself and the garment.

These tips can help you sew successfully on the bias.

Planning & Layout
• Bias-cut garments require more fabric. Large pieces, such as the front and back of a circle skirt, may not fit completely on the fabric width when you lay them out for cutting. You may have to split the pieces, add seam allowances, and stitch them together before proceeding with garment construction.

Photo of how to lay out Bias cut skirt on  narrow a fabric
When pattern pieces are laid out for a bias cut, they may not fit on the fabric width. Therefore, you may have to slash the pieces apart, cut the pieces out of the fabric separately (adding seam allowances to the slashed edges), and then sew the pieces together before proceeding with garment construction.

 

• If the pattern you've chosen does not provide required yardages for the bias cut, lay the pattern pieces out on a cutting surface as if you were laying them out on fabric. Keep the pieces between the imaginary selvages of a standard fabric width, such as 45” (115cm) or 60” (150cm). Then, measure the length the pattern pieces extend—this is the yardage you will need.

• If you are cutting the garment out of folded fabric and are nervous about keeping the bias correctly aligned on both layers, cut out the pattern pieces one at a time on a single layer of fabric. In this case, remember to flip one of the pattern pieces over so you'll have both left and right pieces where appropriate (for example, cut right front piece or right sleeve with printed side down against the fabric, and left front piece or left sleeve with printed side up).

•  As bias relaxes, it stretches along lengthy vertical seams, such as side seams, so you may want to add more generous seam allowances, up to 1 1/2” (4cm). The extra allowances also facilitate fitting adjustments, if needed later on.

Cutting & Marking
• When cutting out, keep the fabric on the cutting surface and try to prevent any extra yardage from hanging over the edges, because the weight of the fabric will cause the bias to stretch and the finished garment could be misshapen. You might want to prop up extra fabric on an adjacent table, stool, or countertop.

• If you're using a lightweight or slippery fabric, such as crepe de chine or georgette, place the fabric on top of tissue paper and pin the two together before cutting out the pattern. When assembling the garment, you can even stitch through both layers and then tear the tissue away. Some sewers make a fabric sandwich, with layers of tissue paper on both top and bottom.

• Because bias-cut fabric is so easily distorted, mark all notches and dots, and trace stitching lines (if desired) BEFORE moving the pattern pieces on the cutting surface.

• After cutting out the pattern pieces, hang them up by their top edges (e.g., sleeve cap, shoulders, waistlines) for one to three days, so the vertical seams can relax as much as possible before you begin stitching. The best way to do this is to baste the pattern pieces to a strip of scrap muslin or other fabric; attach the scrap fabric to a hanger with pins, tape, or clothespins. Before you start constructing the garment, replace the printed pattern on the cutout pieces and readjust markings if they have relaxed or stretched out of position.

Stitching
• Baste garment pieces together before stitching, to make sure they stay matched up correctly! You'll be amazed at how much the layers can shift if you don't baste first. To allow the seams to flex when you machine stitch them, baste short stretches of the seam at a time and leave long, unknotted thread tails hanging.

• Work on a flat surface as much as possible. Use a terry cloth towel on the sewing machine table to keep the bias fabric from slipping and sliding.

• Stitch opposite seams in opposite directions, to keep the bias from hanging or stretching unevenly from one side to the other. For example, stitch the left side seam from top to bottom, and the right side seam from bottom to top.

Making Bias Strips
Many of the 266 Greek Island Dress seams are finished with bias strips. And actually, many Folkwear patterns have bias finishes or use bias binding in the construction of garments.  You can purchase ready-made bias binding, but it comes in limited colors and fabric types. If you want your bias binding to match the garment perfectly, or contrast with it creatively, make your own—it’s easy.

• To make bias strips, fold corner of fabric over to form a square and cut off excess. The diagonal edge of the folded square is the true bias.

Photo of fabric square folded diagonally to create the true bias

• Open out the fabric square, using the crease line as a guide and draw out the strips. Cut the width of the bias strip according to the pattern instructions.

Photo of bias srips drawn on thrue bias of fabric square

• Cut diagonal strips of equal width, parallel to the bias.

Photo of bias strips cut from fabric square

• Stitch ends of the strips together if necessary to obtain desire length of strip.

Photo of strip ends stitched together to create longer bias strip
• Press seams open and clip the extra tips to form a continuous bias strip. The strip is ready to be sewn to garment as directed.
Photo of bias strip seam allowance pressed open and excess edges cut away
For a helpful YouTube video reference see How to Create Continuous Bias Binding.  This techniques is different than the one above and will help you make a lot of bias binding in a shorter amount of time.  

Finishing
• Bias doesn't unravel very much, so you can be light-handed with seam finishing. Overcasting or trimming seams with pinking shears may be enough. For edges that will show, such as necklines, use bias bindings to hide the raw edges and provide a decorative finish as well.


• Hang up bias-cut garments for at least one full day (and up to several days) before hemming, so the fabric can relax. The more drapey the fabric, the more the garment will stretch. Then, trim the hemline evenly before stitching it.

• Because bias continues to relax, the side seams may stretch over time. You may have to re-level the hem periodically during the life of the garment.

• Don't hang bias garments in your closet because they may continue to stretch. Instead, store them folded or rolled up in drawers or on shelves.

 

Yes, some beautiful and enticing fabrics have a tricky side. But that does not mean they have to get the best of you. Once you master a few simple tips and techniques you can easily tame unruly fabrics, conquer their fussy side, and enjoy the luxury feel and drape that every sewist deserves.

One of the pleasures of sewing is trying new things with confidence and we are always here to offer you guidance. If you have ever been inspired to make Folkwear's 265 Afternoon Tea Dress  (xs-3xl) and/or 266 Greek Island Dress (xs-xl), now is the perfect time. Each of these patterns are on sale through the month of April and both are available as a printed pattern or pdf version. Celebrate Spring, yourself, or a special occasion by making and wearing one of these beautifully flattering and comfortable dresses. Hope you find these tips helpful.