Piping in an alternative

I recently made my daughter a pair of joggers on which she fancied some bright pink piping. I had some satin bias binding the correct colour in my stash so decided to use that. Well what a faff that was. Using a stable and slippery fabric to produce piping on a lightweight loop back jersey caused me no end of problems. Not only is it difficult trying to keep the seams the same length, it is also difficult keeping the piping an even width throughout the seam. I definitely needed to find a better way to do this.

Pink satin non stretch binding on loop back jersey joggers

I spend quite a bit of time googling “sewing”, picking up hints and tips on ways to improve my techniques. Usually stuff is filed away in the brain for later use, but occasionally I catch something relevant to a problem I currently have and so it was the with the piping issue.

The way around the issue seems so simple when you are told, but not in a million years would I have thought of putting a rolled hem on to a piece of stretch interfacing using woolly nylon to create a stretch piping. Genius. Here is my take on how to use this amazing technique which hopefully will be a starting point for your own adventures in piping.

Fusible stretch interfacing is quite a strange thing and you need to have a play with it and your fabric to understand its properties before you use it in a garment. The main issue with it is it sometimes does not fully recover when it over stretches. This was something I needed to test before I created the piping for another pair of joggers for my daughter.

The interfacing I have has a good stretch along its length with minimal stretch along its width and maximum stretch on the cross grain. This may not be the same for all stretch interfacing so always check yours first. I decided to check if it made any difference if the strips were cut along the length or the width and I am happy with how both initially worked out, but soon found out there is a difference.

These are the two samples I created using length wise strips with green multi piping and width wise strips with black multi piping. The thread I have used for this is Guterman Bulky Lock 80 which was kindly gifted by @guetermann_creativ_uk for me to have a play with. Each strip has also been created using minimum, normal and maximum differential feed respectively, more on that later. Initially there does not appear to be any difference between them.

I then tested to see what would happen when the seam was stretched and that is where it became obvious that the direction of the cut and differential feed was important in the creation of the piping.

Both length wise and width wise samples when produced with minimum and normal differential feed had distorted and would not return to their pre-stretch state, even with a good steam. The samples created with maximum differential feed did not suffer with this issue as badly, though the width wise (less stretch) sample was the most resilient and showed hardly any distortion at all.

As to be expected the stretch on the width wise seam is less, but there is still sufficient there for wearing needs but with the added bonus of a built in seam tape to stop it stretching out of shape.

So now we know a width wise (less stretch) strip of stretch interfacing using maximum differential feed creates a good piping lets get in to the details.

A rolled hem is a great way to finish off a raw edge on lightweight or stretch fabric and is easy to do on your overlocker with a few setting changes. The edge will be rolled and then covered front and back by the upper looper thread

How a rolled hem is created on the over locker

On my Juki MO654-DE I remove the left hand needle, check the blade placement so I don’t leave too much fabric to roll, though this is something you could play with to produce a chunkier piping. Next, what I call the stitch finger but in my manual is referred to as the width selection, needs to be retracted. This will mean a narrower stitch/roll will be produced, but once again something that could be played with to see what happens.

You can just see where the stitch finger/width selector is positioned next to the needles on the left image

The lower looper is set to it’s maximum setting, this is so that it pulls the upper looper thread to the back creating the rolled hem. I will point out here that if the lower looper thread keeps snapping either, slightly reduce the tension setting or as I found, change the thread as it may be it is a bit dodgy and prone to snapping. Thread the machine, adding a bulky lock or Wooly nylon thread to your upper looper and a standard thread to the lower looper and needle.

The choice of colour of the other two threads is important as they will be slightly visible in the final seam. So, have a play with different colours, you may find that you can create some interesting effects.

Finally set the differential feed to maximum and your stitch length to its shortest length. Differential feed is where more or less fabric is fed under the foot for each cycle of the needle. On my Juki this is achieved by the front feed dogs being set further away from the needles so more fabric is moved with each cycle.

Left to right – Maximum/normal/minimum differential feed settings

I mentioned that my testing showed that using maximum differential feed created the most stable piping. My O level physics head thinks this is because extra fabric is being used in the piping which when stretched has sufficient give but not so much it is distorting the rolled hem, so it can return to its relaxed state. I could be right, I could be wrong, but that explanation works for me.

I like to cut a 2.5 cm wide strip of interfacing to create a 1.5 cm wide final piece. I find that this is wide enough to feed through easily with enough extra fabric being presented to the blade for a clean cut.

To help with the positioning of the interfacing when creating the piping, I use tape to mark 1.7 cm from the needle. There is a reason that I mark the line 1.7 cm and not 1.5 from the needle. This is because I do 2 passes of the rolled hem and the second pass narrows the strip by a further .2cm. I will explain in more detail later.

Tape marking 1.7 cm from the needle and a 2.5 cm strip of stretch interfacing

Create a rolled hem on the interfacing as normal, I always create mine with the fusible side down, holding on to the tail as the interfacing goes through the machine. The tail and strip can be very curly and can curl back under the needle and cause havoc.

One pass, unfortunately, does not give full coverage of the interfacing, so a second pass is needed. For the second pass I keep the stitch setting at the shortest stitch, but the stitch length could be increased to create a thinner piping. I also retract the blade, as no further trimming is needed.

I mentioned earlier that I would explain why I set the tape marking at 1.7 cm for a 1.5 cm tape and the reason is due to the second pass. In order to start with a 1.5 cm strip and finish with 1.5 cm strip, on the second pass you would need to place the needle in exactly the same place as on the first pass, believe me that is hard. In fact too hard to be bothered with. So, for the second pass the piping is fed under the foot just to the right of the needle, which on my machine works out as an extra 2mm added in to the rolled hem.

Feeding the piping through for the second pass just to the right of the needle mark on the foot

As with the first pass, I would hold the tails as the piping fed through as the second pass creates even more curling. Once the second pass is done the tape is ready to use in your project.

When the piping is finished it has a definite curl to it, which can cause some problems when trying to iron it on to your fabric. I have found the best way to get around this is to use pins to stab it on to the fabric on the ironing board. As the interfacing is 1.5 cm up to the piping, providing you have a 1.5 cm seam allowance of course, the tape can be attached to the edge of the fabric.

Piping positioned on to the fabric with pins keeping it in place
The piping attached with the 1.5 cm seam allowance

It is also important to select which piece of fabric to attach the piping to, because the front and back of the piping is different. As the seams are going to be overlocked and pressed to one side, I attach the piping to the fabric which will be laying flat, if the seam is being pressed to the back I would attach the piping to the front piece. However, harping back to the thread selection for the upper looper and needle thread this is where you could express some creativity.

The right and wrong sides of the piping (with the black lower looper and needle thread visible on the right)

You are now ready to sew the seam which I do on my overlocker with the piping foot. A quick and simple way to create the seam with the minimum of fuss.

So there you have it, stretch piping created using an overlocker. I hope this technique is useful for you and you find lots of ways to incorporate it in to your sewing.

The second pair of joggers made for my daughter using purple stretch piping
Piping added to the sleeve seams of a raglan top
Piping used to highlight the piecing on another top


6 thoughts on “Piping in an alternative

  1. This is absolutely brilliant! And I’m about to make my sons lots of joggers and hoddies so if I can source some stretch interfacing I will definitely give this a try. I’ve never used stretch interfacing so that will be a first for me too. Thank you so much for this Mercedes ❤

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    1. Isn’t it clever. I can’t remember where I got my stretch interfacing from, but I have 2 different lots which I obviously bought from different places. Hope you find some and have fun adding the piping to the joggers. X

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  2. Really useful having this info written into a blog that is easy to find. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I tried it from the original source you used but this is much easier to digest.

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