Sewing Tips: Cutting and sewing on the bias

Posted on Posted in Sewing Tips

Are you ready to take the plunge into the world of bias cut sewing? I think it’s one of those skills that many sewists put off learning for ever and ever isn’t it? But it’s not too difficult once you’re comfortable with a sewing machine – it just requires a little more care, and a little less haste (and absolutely no trying on as you go!), but the results are well worth the extra effort.








Let’s get the basics out of the way – what IS the bias?

It’s quite simply the diagonal to the woven threads of the fabric. You have threads going lengthways, and threads going widthways, and usually we cut pattern pieces lined up with the grainline (the lengthways threads). To cut on the bias, we rotate pattern pieces 45 degrees, so that the pattern is laid out diagonally.


How is it different to cutting with the grainline?

If you take a piece of woven fabric (without any elastic content) and pull it along the grainline or the cross grain, it doesn’t stretch, because the thread doesn’t stretch. But, if you pull it along the diagonal (the bias) it stretches. This is because there is movement between the angled threads, and we’re able to manipulate this movement to our advantage.


What can the bias do for me?

When we start building this movement into garment design we add a new fluidity to the fabric, as well as allowing a little bit of stretch in the ease and thus a very flattering fit.


How do I tame the bias?

OK, so I’ll admit, the beast DOES need to be tamed, but once that’s done you’ll have a gorgeous playful kitten that will love you forever. Kind of.


1 – The right fabric

This is so essential. If your fabric/kitten is too feral, you can’t tame it. The weave of the fabric needs to have enough integrity to withhold some stability once cut. Have you ever cut a V-neckline on a fine fabric and it’s just totally stretched out of shape, never to return? Imagine that for every edge of every pattern piece. Feral. Pick something with a close weave. Give it a tug along the diagonal. If is stretches forever, leave it alone. Even better, if you’ve already bought the fabric, cut the corner off. Give it a little stretch. Does it go back? There is no standard right/wrong fabric choice here as the quality of the fabric comes into play just as much, so it’s better to test it yourself than to assume that a certain type of fabric will always perform the same way.


2 – Cut it out

This is where it starts to get tricky but don’t worry – I’m here for you, and there’s a kitten at the end of this post. You can do this. If you’re really worried about it, grab yourself a can of spray starch (I find the M&S one works great!) and stiffen up your fabric before you begin to cut. Lining up the pattern pieces with the true bias (that magical 45 degree angle) is essential for the finished garment to hang correctly and not skew or twist. Rotary cutting is much easier than scissors for bias cutting, as you’re not playing with the fabric any more than you need to. Make sure your fabric is laid out straight, and get cutting!


3 – Between sewing stages

Be super careful to handle your pattern pieces gently, and as little as possible. Do not let them hang, and do not pick them up from one end. Treat them like sleeping kittens that you do not want to wake up. Gently does it.


4 – The sewing

As long as you listened carefully to step 3, this part will be just fine. Take it steady, handle the fabric as little as possible, do NOT pull it through the machine, and take your time.


5 – Before you hem

If you’ve found that your bias is quite stretchy, you may want to let your garment hang, on a mannequin or a hanger, once everything but the hem is sewn. Leave it overnight before evening out any wonky bits, and finishing off that beautiful new project.


And there you have it! See, it wasn’t so bad after all, right?


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