Piping Making Basics

by Cynthia Anderson

Making piping is not difficult, and piping can add lots of interest and dimension to your hand-sewn garments or homegoods.  In this blog post, I am going to show you the basics of making your own piping.  Several Folkwear garments can have piping added to them, and actually encourage sewist to do so (145 Chinese Pajamas, 242 Cowgirl Jacket503 Poiret Cocoon Coat, etc.).  I hope you will be inspired to try it after reading this post, or if you have, that you may pick up a tip or two.  

What you need for making your own piping:

  • Bias binding.  Steps to make your own are below.  Bias binding width will depend on your project. Commercially produced bias binding comes in different sizes typically ranging from 1/2-inch (13mm) to 5 1/2-inches (13cm). You can make or use bias tape any size you like depending on your project. You typically want bias binding (when folded in half) to be equal to or slightly less than the width of the seam allowance being used. 
  • Cording.  Cording comes in varying sizes in diameter ranging from 2mm (size 00), 3mm (size 1), 4mm (size 2), 5mm (size 3), 6mm (size 4), 7mm (size 5), and 8mm (size 6). The mm refers to the approximate finished size of the cord once it is covered in fabric. Of, course the final diameter of the piping depends on the weight or thickness of the fabric being used. For this reason the cording diameter measures slightly less than the measurement it is labeled.  Don't let this confuse you, purchase cording according to the proportion of your project. Use narrow cording for finer projects; thicker cording for bulkier projects. Most cording used for clothing is made of a twisted rope of soft cotton. The soft twist makes the piping more pliable to work with.

Making your own piping is not hard, but you do need to calculate how much your project requires. Believe me when I say there is nothing more frustrating than taking time to make piping and then not have enough. So, whether you make your own or use pre-made piping, be sure you have all you need plus a bit more. If making your own piping be sure to calculate and purchasing extra fabric yardage. 

Fabrics to Use for Piping
Ideally, piping should be cut on the bias, which allows for a bit of fabric stretch and give, enabling a smooth edging around curves and corners. For this reason light to mid-weight fabrics work best for garment making. If a fabric is too thick or stiff, it simply will not have a flexible “give” and will not lay nicely going around corners or curves. Heavy fabrics are used for piping on large projects like upholstery cushions. The thing to keep in mind, is application. For clothing, I particularly like to use fine cotton, linen, wool, and silk for the piping. I don't recommend using knit fabrics or fabrics that are loosely woven. My rule of thumb is to match the weight of the piping fabric to the weight of the fabric I am making the garment from. If you are unsure about what weight or fabric to use when making piping, take the time to experiment with different weights of fabrics to get an idea of how they behave.

Since a bias binding strip is the foundation for piping, have a look at Molly’s demonstration of how to make continuous bias binding or bias tape in this YouTube video.  To make piping you often need a very long strip of bias tape and this is an excellent way to make it as it all comes out as one long strip. 

Making Piping
If you used the continuous method to make bias tape you are probably all set with enough bias tape. Another way to make bias tape is to cut enough 2-inch (5cm) wide bias strips from a fabric of your choice to make the length you need, plus a tad more for extra measure.

Photo of making bias strips to make piping


If not doing the continuous bias tape method, pin and stitch the strips right sides together end to end to make one continuous strip.

Photo of bias strip ends sewn right side together

Trim to the extra fabric to create clean edge and press the seams open.

Phot od bias strip seam pressed open
Photo of bia strip with extra fabric at edge cut away

With either method of making bias tape, fold the bias strip wrong side together along the length, with a long piece of the cording sandwiched in between the fold.

Photo of cord sandwiched between fold of bias tape and pinned to hold


Tip: The cording should be longer than the bias tape.  Leave a bit of extra cord length at the ends of the piping until it is applied to your project to help keep the cord from pulling out.

Be sure to line up the long raw edges and pin or baste the fabric in place close to the cord. Machine baste the fold closed to help hold the cord in place and to make the final, more precise, machine stitching easier.

Photo of basting stitch to hold bias tape in place


Next, using a zipper foot, which will allow you to stitch closer to the cord, stitch through both layers of the folded fabric as close to the cord as possible, but not so close as to catch the cord in the stitching.  It helps to stitch close to the cord to ensure a good alignment when adding it to the seam allowance. 

Photo showing final stitching close to cord to create piping


Tip: Use a thread color that matches the fabric or that blends in well. You don't want to have visible stitching in the piping.

You are now ready to apply your handmade piping to your sewing project!