Tutorial: Add Piping to a Bag

I know I’ve been really quiet around here lately as far as posting my own finished projects (finishing up my book this month, whew!), but I just finished a bag that I used piping on. I’m loving it more and more. Before last month, I wouldn’t touch piping on a bag with a ten foot pole. But giving it a go a couple of times, I’m finding that it’s both easy and very beautiful on a bag, making it look more finished. So I thought I’d pop in with a quick tutorial on adding piping to a bag. You can add it to any bag, even if it isn’t called out in the pattern.

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Crimson and Clover Train Case, this case made by my pattern tester, Terry Druga

14So, to start, you will need:

  • 1-1/2″ wide strips cut on the bias (that is, cut on a 45 degree angle – most quilting rulers have this measurement on them). The strips, combined, need to equal the area that you want to cover
  • 5/32″ cotton cording, as long as the area that you want to cover
  • Pellon Wonder Under paper-backed fusible web tape (or you can use Wonder Under yardage and cut 1/2″ strips)
  • Prepared and interfaced fabric for your bag (the front and back of the bag, or the side panels of the bag – for my example, I am applying the piping to the front and back of the bag)

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1. First, you will want to assemble your bias strips. Because I am sewing a bag that has a 1/2″ seam allowance, I have already done the measurements with the 5/32″ cotton cording, and you will need 1-1/2″ wide strips. If you already know to make your own bias tape, you can skip the first two steps. Because you cut the fabric on the bias (so that it has a slight stretch), you cannot just sew the strips end to end. So here I am aligning the strips, right sides together, at a 90 degree angle. You can see by my stitching that I am sewing with a 1/4″ seam allowance at an angle.

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2. After sewing the two strips, trim the seam allowance to 1/4″. Continue piecing strips in this manner until you have the length you need (for my example, the sides and the bottom of my bag is the area that I want to cover; I measured that and it comes out to 24″. Feel free to make longer strips, it is always better to have more than what you need. I’ve pieced two 24″ bias strips to cover the front and back of my bag).

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3. With your iron, fuse the Wonder Under strip to the WRONG SIDE of the top half of your bias tape. The bumpy/tacky side should go face down. Give it a good fuse (several seconds on each segment).

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4. Remove the paper from the Wonder Under (I use my finger to pry free at one corner). VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure that the Wonder Under is completely cooled before completing this step. If you’re in a rush and don’t let it cool, it will be very difficult to pull the paper cleanly away from the fabric.

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5. Lay the cotton cording in the center of the bias tape, then gently fold the long ends of the bias so that the fabric is wrong sides together, making sure to match up both long edges. Using your iron, start at one end and iron slowly, pressing the tip of your iron right against the cotton cording so that it is very snug in the middle of the bias tape.

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6. This is what your piping should look like after it’s been ironed. The adhesive from the Wonder Under will hold the cording in place.

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7. Now take out the fabric piece that you would like to apply the piping to. In my case, I have already interfaced this owl fabric. I would like my piping to clear the seam allowance at the top, and so I have pinned it so that the last 1/2″ at the top left corner and the last 1/2″ at the top right corner have the piping veering off the edge of the fabric.

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8. Sew the piping in place using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Because my cording is already snug inside the bias tape, there is no need to sew any closer. This is more or less a basting stitch to temporarily hold the piping in place until the rest of the bag is assembled. I used my regular sewing machine foot for this step.

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9. In the next step, I will be sewing the front and back of the bag to the side panel as directed in the pattern. Because I’m using a 1/2″ seam allowance and my bias and cording math have already been done for me (by me, lol), all you need to do to get a nice and tight piping is follow that seam allowance. Some sewing machines come with a piping foot, but because my bags use interfacing (in this case, Soft and Stable), I wouldn’t be able to feel the piping through the interfacing even if I did have a piping foot.

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10. This photo is the front of the bag from the previous step (right) and the side panel that I am attaching the bag to. See the piping wedged in between?

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11. And here’s what the piping looks like when the side panel has been added to the bag. Nice and smooth, right? Unfortunately, I can’t show you the finished bag right now, but this is part of it. The beauty of using this method is that the piping looks clean and you can’t see the basting stitches (before I tried the Wonder Under, I was basting the cording in place with my zipper foot, as close to the cording as I could get. Sometimes that results in visible cording stitches in the finished bag).

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So in my bag example above, I applied the piping to the sides and bottom, leaving the top free. But what if you want to sew continuous binding all the way around a bag panel? I have seen some tutorials that have you cross the piping over itself, but I’m not too keen on that crossover (even if it’s placed strategically at the bottom of the bag). My patterns that use this method (the Rockstar Bag and the Crimson and Clover Train Cases) have exact measurements so that you’ll be able to apply the piping with no hassle, but if you are adding the piping to a different bag pattern, I suggest you reference this binding tutorial by Sharon Schamber. Of course, we are not dealing with quilt binding here, but just watch at around 14:00, and you’ll see how she attaches the beginning and end of her binding. The same principle will be used for the piping.

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I hope this has been helpful if you have been wanting to try out some binding! I don’t know why I waited so long – but some of my pattern testers encouraged me to try glue or fusible tape, and so I finally did.

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