More about Bias Tape than You’ve Ever Wanted to Know….

Still talking about bias tape this week.  However, I promise this is my last words on the subject.

Another bias tape tool that I really like is bias bars.  These come in varying sizes. Some are made of metal and some are made of heat resistant plastic.

All kinds of bias bars

The bars usually come in sizes 1/8 inches, 3/16 inches, 1/4 inches, 3/8 inches and 1/2 inches and are 12-inches long.  The bias bars work a little differently than bias tape makers.  With these, you’re actually making a small tube, verses making tape.  To do this, you take the width of the bias bar and multiply it by 5.  So, if you’re using the ¼-inch bias bar, you’d cut your fabric strip 1 ¼-inches wide (1/4 x 5 = 1 ¼)

After you’ve cut the strip, you’re going to sew it into a long tube.  With the wrong sides of the fabric together, sew the strip together with as narrow a seam as you can.  Park yourself at the ironing board again (notice a theme here…) and insert the bias bar into the tube.

bias made with bars

It’s important that the seam be on the flat side of the bar, not on either side.    Press the fabric while the bar is in the tube, moving the bar down the strip as necessary, pressing the seam open (if you can) or to the side.  If the seam allowance underneath the tube looks a bit bulky, you can trim it a bit before pressing.

Here’s where some specific traits of the bars come into play.  The plastic bars are thicker, so if you don’t want the bias strips to lay completely flat, these may be just what you need.  The metal bars are thinner, hold heat better, and produce a somewhat flatter bias strip.  Neither of the bias tape made with either type of bars will be as flat as the bias made with the makers.  But personally, I like the somewhat raised effect.  Very little applique is completely flat, and the stems make from bias bars seem to look better than the kind made from bias tape makers. However, if the curves are tight, the kind made from the bias tape makers may be easier to work with.

So two gadgets you may want to have in your sewing box…bias tape makers  and bias bars…but what if this happens…what if you’re at a Sit-and-Sew, or Quilt Bee, or Quilt Retreat, or Quilt Class and you need bias tape?  You look through your tools only to discover you left your bias tape maker or bias bars at home!  Now what do you do?

You could ask to borrow one from a friend.  You could wait until you get home and make it.  Or you can use your pressing surface and two straight pins to make the bias tape right there!  Sound impossible?  Nope. It is not.  You can do it pretty quickly, too.  This will be the double-fold bias like the bias tape makers produce.

Here’s how this works…

First, cut your fabric strips double the width of the bias tape you need, just like you do when you use a bias tape maker.

Next, insert pins in your ironing surface as pictured.  The ends of the pins need to go into the ironing surface.

pin made tape 1

Fold your fabric strip in half and then fold the edges inward toward the middle.  Press a few inches of the strip and then begin to feed under both pins.

pin made tape 2

The edges will begin to fold into the center as you gently pull the fabric through, beneath the pins.  As with the bias tape maker, press as you go.  While this method isn’t fool proof (sometimes the fold on one side will become bigger than the other), it does work well if you don’t have access to bias bars or a bias tape maker.

All of this works really well except for the scenario when the bias tape needed is less than an eighth of an inch.  Now I know what you’re thinking – that’s really small.  It is and there are some applique patterns that will call for stems and tendrils that narrow.  At this point, some quilters will make the 1/4- inch bias tape and fold it double.  That can work, but if the stem or tendril is really curvy, that method gets bulky and difficult to handle, much less needle.  This is how I handle that situation.

First, I take a fabric marker and draw out my tiny stem.  Then I cut a strip of fabric on the bias, that is twice the width of the needed strip.  So, if my stem is a scant 1/16-inch, I cut it 1/8-inch wide.

tiny stem 2

Place the stem fabric, right side down, along the drawn line on the background fabric.  At this time, you can choose to sew the stem down by machine or by hand.  Personally, I think that it’s easier to sew it down by hand.  That narrow strip of bias for the stem can be difficult to feed under a pressure foot.

After that is sewn down, fold it over and press.  Then applique the other side using the needle turn technique.


There you go… this hasn’t been a “flashy” blog with lots of bells and whistles, but it’s some great basic information about a technique you’re going to run into if you applique a lot.  If you know several different ways to make bias, you have different methods to choose from depending on the look you want and the difficulty of the curves you have to make.

Throughout my years of quilting, I have found it extremely helpful to know more than one way to execute any technique.  The more “tools” you have in your quilting tool box, the better your quilts will look.  Bias tape may  be perfect for one quilt, but totally unsuited for another.  Instead of tiny stems driving you up a wall, you know how  to sew those things correctly the first time around.

Next week, we are beginning a two-part blog on binding — the last thing that’s sewn on before the quilt is done.  And like bias tape, there is more than one way to bind a quilt. Thanks for hanging with me this year as we’ve diligently reviewed the basics.  All of this will make a lot more sense next year, I promise.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!

Love and Stitches, Sherri and SamIMG_0483




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