Designer Touch: Adding Piping to the Clothes You Sew

piping tutorial on the McCall Pattern Company blogPiping is a chic and affordable way to take your garments to the next level. When I was originally planning this shirtdress I wasn’t thinking of adding any kind of trim to it, but Carlos Correa, Vogue Patterns designer, convinced me to try piping in a contrasting color. He was right (as usual!), because the piping really makes this dress. Take a look at how a little piping wows up these two designer pieces:

Etro silk blouse with velvet piping. (Net-a-Porter)
Etro silk blouse with velvet piping. (Net-a-Porter)
Barbara Bui blazer with piping. (Net-a-Porter)
Barbara Bui blazer with leather piping. (Net-a-Porter)

What I also love about piping is that it’s really affordable, as trims go. All you need is some cord and generally about a half yard or so of contrasting fabric. And making it is easy. Here are the basic components and steps to creating and adding your own piping:

Cord: How thick/round you want your cording to be is up to you, though generally the smaller sizes of cording will look and work best. I usually buy my cording at Jo-Ann Fabrics in the home decor section, and I always get the smallest width available (1/8″). Preshrink the cord first if it’s all cotton.

Fabric to cover your cord: Make your piping pop by choosing a lightweight, contrast fabric. If your garment is a solid color, then try piping in a small print or stripe. Take the time to play with different options before you commit.

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A test swatch I made first to determine width of my bias strips.

Bias strips: Chances are you’ll want to add piping around curves, like collars, pockets, princess seams, armholes, etc. In that case, cut the fabric strips to cover your cord on the bias. The give in a bias cut will keep the fabric covering the cord smooth and free of puckers. If you’re only piping straight seams or edges, then you can cut on the grain.

To determine the bias strip width measurement, you can use the formula of width of cord (1/8″, for example) plus two 5/8″ seam allowances. Important: Before you go cutting your strips to a calculated width, snip a small test bias strip first and make a sample piping. Here’s a tutorial from Dritz on cutting and joining bias strips.

McCall Pattern Company Blog
Your piping’s seam allowance size should match the size of your garment’s seam allowances. In most cases this will be 5/8″. This is a photo from Oliver + S showing a 1/2″ seam allowance for sewing children’s clothes.

Sewing machine foot: You are so lucky if you already own a piping foot or cording foot. Having a special foot definitely makes this easier, and one day I may actually invest in this foot for my Bernina 350PE. You can use a regular foot or zipper foot, however, as I did to make the piping for this dress. Just stitch as close as possible to the cord, stitching slowly and stopping often to make sure the cord remains centered in the strip.

Applying piping to your garment: The piping goes on the right side of the garment, with the seam allowance edge of the piping lining up with the edge of the garment. Pin in place. Stitch to the left of the piping stitching, close to the cord:

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Position your machine’s needle as necessary to stitch close to the cord. Photo from Oliver + S blog.

When it comes to corners and curves, clipping your piping’s seam allowance helps. Plus, stitch slowly in these areas and turn your machine’s wheel manually for even greater control.

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Don’t forget to clip at corners and curves. This will help your piping curve and bend as necessary.

The bonus to working with contrast piping is that the thread you use to apply it will stand out from your fashion fabric and be very visible. So, when you’re making a collar or placket and you have to join two pieces of your garment together (like the top and bottom of a collar), it’s easy to see the stitching where you attached the piping—then just stitch on top of or inside the piping stitching. 

Piping a shirt or shirtdress: Adding piping to a shirtdress or shirt placket is straightforward. Simply add your piping to the edges of your shirt (right side of fabric), stitching at the 5/8″ seamline, before you add the placket piece. Attach the placket piece as directed, then fold and baste the placket in place as directed. Instead of slipstitching the placket in place, you can machine-stitch the placket in place by stitching in the ditch between the piping and the placket.

Other places to pipe include the collar, armholes, cuffs, and sash or belt.

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Want more on how to add piping to garments? We’ve got a great article from Vogue Patterns Magazine that tells you how to make and apply piping. Download it here:

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Click on the link that says Piping Article and it will begin downloading. (In exchange for providing us your email we may add you to our newsletter mailing list, which you are free to opt out of at any time.)

The August/September issue of Threads magazine also has a helpful article on piping; plus there’s this tutorial from Oliver + S with lots of visuals.

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REMINDER! Our Shirtdress Sew-Along Facebook group is still open if you’d like to join it. Don’t worry, participants are at various stages of their shirtdress construction so you don’t need to rush to catch up. Or, you can just lurk if you like! [8/22/16 update: This group is now closed as the sew-along is officially over. All shirtdress construction information and tips are located on this blog.]

And don’t forget—shirtdress sew-along participants are eligible to win an Oliso smart iron and some other cool sewing goodies. Detail here about the giveaway (scroll down to end of post).

We’ve been sewing since 1863.

5 comments
  1. Hi Meg, Love your helpful posts! Found out from experience that choosing a piping fabric should consider how much friction the area is likely to receive. A cotton print will not hold up well if it’s subject to friction or lots of washing and drying. A blend or synthetic may keep its color and fresh look longer.

  2. Meg, your shirtdress is stunning and the piping is such a beautiful accent. Thanks for the piping tutorial, I used to use lots of piping and need to do it again. Thanks again for your great posts.

  3. Beautiful dress! How interest that the piping along the placket is actually stitched onto the 5/8 inch seamline and not the placket itself! Looks great!

  4. Great post! Thank you.

  5. You can get much the same effect with a folded binding — i.e., non-corded piping. Sometimes you may care to have a less-dimensional accent. (Sometimes you don’t have cording to hand, and it is 2 a.m., and you have to finish quickly to make a hard deadline.) The binding does not have to be bias if you are applying it only to a straight edge.

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