How to make and use piping, sewing piping tutorial

Piping is a narrow, folded in half strip of fabric (usually with a cord inside) inserted into a seam. Anyone can make and use piping – all you need is a little patience.

This simple embellishment can completely change the nature of your project. It is used when making clothes, bags, covers, pillows, tablecloths, and many other items. The piping is mainly a decorative element, but can also reinforce and stiffen the seam.

What materials can be used to make piping

Pipings can be created out of woven fabric, knits and other materials. Every piping stiffens the seam a little, so when choosing the material, you should take this aspect into consideration. Flat piping made out of thin, knitted fabric will be the softest and the most flexible. I like to use this type of piping in clothes worn close to the body – blouses, dresses or skirts. Woven piping with a cord inside will be stiffer – I choose this kind of trim when sewing e.g. outer garments or pillows, where additional stabilization will not be a problem.

In bags and cases very often a specific kind of piping is used – plastic keder, which is made of soft PVC. Plastic keder is durable and strongly stiffens the seam – it works like a whalebone, keeping the shape of sewn items. Plastic keder usually is used without any additional treatment, but it can also be wrapped in fabric – to better match its appearance to the sewn item.

Although plastic keder is a great product, it’s not intended to be sewn on domestic sewing machines. However, there is another product that you can use in your bags instead – PVC cord. This is something similar to the standard piping cord, but it’s just a little bit more rigid. It doesn’t flatten under pressure, which is good, when sewing several layers of fabric (you can feel it easily through the fabric).

Piping cord, plastic keder and PVC cord. Both standard cord and PVC cord are avaible in various sizes (diameters).

Depending on the chosen material and your preferences – cut the strip of fabric for the piping: diagonally (at a 45-degree angle to the selvage), widthwise or lengthwise. Woven fabrics are usually cut on the bias, to take advantage of the fabric plasticity in this direction. Knitted fabric can be cut in any of these directions – depending on the desired effect (like fabric pattern).

You can use a continous bias making technique to create piping in a more efficient way.

Flat piping

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To make a flat piping, cut a strip of fabric which width equals:

2x seam allowances + 2x width of visible section

Typically, the flat piping protrudes from the seam approximately 2-5 mm (1/16″-3/16″) – visible section.

Piping (with a cord)

For the piping, cut a fabric strip with a width equal to:

2x seam allowances + cord circumference

You can measure the cord circumference with your tailor’s tape or calculate it (diameter of the cord x 3,14)

Fold the strip of fabric in half (wrong side inside). If you’re making piping with a cord, place the cord inside of the fold, then sew the strip to hold the cord in place. When making bags, pillows or other accessories, instead of sewing, you can use double sided fusible interfacing e.g Vlieseline Vliesofix-Bondaweb or Pellon Wonder Under.

Sewing the piping

Useful sewing machine presser feet

To sew the flat piping you don’t need any special presser foot – you can use the standard one. To sew the piping with a cord you can use a dedicated piping foot that has a groove to accommodate the cord and hold it in place during sewing. Zipper foot can be useful, although some types of zipper presser feet will be good only when sewing smaller cords. The best feet to sew a thick cord are the ones with a flat side (without any protruding pieces) – that will allow you to sew directly along the cord.

Piping presser foot, zipper foot, and 2 in 1 – zipper and standard foot.

Attaching the piping

Piping is sewn between 2 layers of fabric that are placed right sides together. The piping should be laid with the cord or folded edge facing inside, and with the raw edge matching the edges of your bag or clothing pieces.

However, sewing piping most often starts with attaching the piping to one of the pieces (on its right side) – sewing with a little smaller seam allowances (this will only be an auxiliary stitching). Line up the piping with the raw edge of your fabric piece. Fabric strip cut on the bias allows for shaping the piping along curved edges, but you can additionally clip the tape if you need to (within the seam allowances). Clip the piping at the corners, but be careful not to go over the sewing line.

Finishing techniques

If you’re attaching piping to a section, which beginning and end will be sewn into another piece, then your piping ends will be secured in those crossing seams. When using thicker cord or PVC cord, you can guide the ends of the piping outside earlier, about 2 cm (3/4″) from the top and bottom edges. When using a domestic sewing machine, it is best to trim the cord at the ends, to avoid bulk in the seams. d

When your piping creates a loop, you can finish it simply by guiding the ends off the edge (you can overlap the edges but it’s not necessary). It’s best to place the ending in straight, but least visible section.

When using pvc cord, the following technique will be more adequate:

1. Sew the piping, leaving its ends loose (about 5-10 cm / 2-4″). Your piping should be longer than the circumference you’re attaching it into. Unstitch one end of the piping, trim the cord at the crossing point of the ends (the cord should create a full loop).
2. Fold the fabric on the unstitched and unfolded end of the piping – you can fold it diagonally or straight.
3. Place the other end of the piping onto the folded end and wrap it with fabric.
4. Sew the remaining section to hold the ends in place.

Of course, there are more ways to deal with the subject, but these are the most popular ones.

When you have your piping attached to one piece, all you need to do is to lay the other piece on the top of it (right sides together), and sew all the layers. This time sew with accurate seam allowances.

And the finished piping looks like this:

What’s your favourite method for applying piping? Do you know any tips and tricks that help with the process? 🙂


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