If you’ve ever found yourself shaking a fist at the sewing machine while working with bias-cut pieces, this article is for you.
First of all, what does “bias” mean in the quilting world? The cotton fabric that we use is woven out of tiny vertical and horizontal threads. This creates a lengthwise (with the selvege) and crosswise grain. (“Grain” referring to the vertical and horizontal weaves). Anytime you are cutting at an angle that is not vertical or horizontal (for instance, slicing a square on the diagonal or cutting out various odd- shaped template pieces) you are cutting on the bias.
The most common use of a bias-cut piece is making bias bindings. Since cutting on the bias creates a very stretchy piece of fabric, bias bindings are perfect for finishing circular quilts or scalloped borders. However, that same stretchiness can make you pull your hair out when you are trying to piece a block.
The biggest key to working with bias is to treat your bias-cut pieces with respect. When you are carrying them to the ironing board or machine, support them with your hand, and don’t just let them dangle by a corner. When you are sewing bias pieces, use more pins than usual, and be extra careful that you are not pulling the fabric through the machine.
When you are pressing your bias pieces, be sure to really “press” with the iron (press straight down, lift straight up, and repeat) rather than ironing (pushing and pulling the iron over the fabric.) This is one of the biggest ways bias-cut fabric gets distorted.
If you have to remove a seam from bias pieces, be extra-careful when ripping. Take out every two to three stitches with a seam ripper, and then pick out the individual threads by hand, rather then pulling the two pieces apart. This may take longer and be a bit tedious, but it will really cut down on the distortion to your pieces, and untilmately will result in a more precisely pieced quilt.
A great product that I love for reducing bias distortion is called Best Press. It is a very light-weight spray that does a great job of giving a little stiffness and body to fabric, without that “starched” feeling. It doesn’t leave residue on your fabric or iron and comes in several light scents. If you’re cutting squares on the diagonal to get triangles, spraying on some Best Press and pressing the sqaures first does wonders for reducing bias stretch. It’s also great to spray on any bias edges before pressing blocks. All in all it’s a great tool for working with bias.
So the next time you are working with bias-cut fabrics (or the first time, if you haven’t tried it yet!) remember these tips and you’ll come away with a great-looking quilt, and your sanity. Happy sewing!