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Oct 6, 2011

MPB Men's Boxers Sew-Along 4 - The Joy of Bias Tape!

One of the things I love about leading Sew-Alongs, friends, is that I learn new techniques along with you.  I've cut my own bias tape before, but I don't think I've ever used it to decorate the visible edge of a garment.  Today, I'm going to show you how to do it!

Your boxers pattern may not call for this kind of edge finish, but you can add it anyway, or use single fold bias tape for another garment in the future.

Our goals for today are:

1.  Cut bias strips (or tape) from our fashion fabric.

2.  Stitch bias tape onto boxer leg edge.

3.  Finish bias trim by stitching "in the ditch," and close side seams of our boxers.

1.  To cut my tape, I use a plastic triangle, one edge of which I line up with my selvage.  This ensures that I'm cutting my fashion fabric at a 45 degree angle, or along the true bias.

The fact that my fabric has a vertical stripe makes the process easier.  Can you use commercial bias tape?  In theory, yes, but the only tape I've ever seen is coarse cotton poly (Wright's) and much too stiff for a project like this.

There happens to be a binding strip pattern piece in my boxers pattern (actually for a tee shirt) but you certainly don't need a pattern to cut 1½" strips, just a ruler.

I measure each 1½" strip, and cut it out with a rotary cutter.  Since none of these is quite long enough for my project, I stitch a few together to make a longer piece of tape.

2.  Here are the McCall's 3438 directions for attaching the bias binding.  If you click on the pic, you can supersize it.

One step I do differently, is that I attach my binding in two steps, essentially as one would attach a waistband.  In the first step, I stitch the binding from the front of the boxers, right sides (of fabric) together, at approximately 1/4" from the edge.  The wider your seam allowance, the wider your binding will appear.

3.  I then fold the binding over the top of the edge, and fold it under on the inside (or wrong side) of the boxer leg, so that the edge of the folded-under binding edge is slightly lower than my first, outer edge.  The reason for this is that when we "stitch in the ditch" -- i.e., stitch in the crease directly under the binding fold on the boxers front -- we catch the folded-under binding on the inside.  Does that make sense?

Notice that the binding is a little narrower on the outside, and a little wider on the inside:

Notice, too, that there is no visible stitch line on the front of the binding.  I think this looks more elegant.

Apart from these steps, I stitch on the binding just as the directions say.  At a certain point, you're going to be encasing the second side of the boxer leg, and you'll be binding over both sides together.  If it helps, you can pin or baste the side seam edges first.  When you've completed that step, you'll want to topstitch the binding flat, as you would a flat-felled seam. 

Why reinvent the wheel?  -- here are the rest of the instructions for this step:

You may be wondering if I pre-press my binding.  I do not find it necessary to pre-press -- the bias tape folds evenly and I usually just eyeball it --  but pre-pressing could be helpful.  What I find most important is to check, as I stitch "in the ditch," to make sure that I am catching the folded-under bias tape on the inside of the boxers.

 I reinforce the point where the legs meet -- you can make a bar tack (satin stitch) with your zigzagger, or just stitch back and forth a few times, if you're using a straight stitch machine, like me.

Friends, tomorrow we insert our elastic waistband, and then we'll be done with our first pair of boxers!

I hope those of you sewing along are making good progress.  I see some projects turning up in our  Flickr group, and they look great.  You certainly don't have to model them.

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Technically this is a quilting "trick," but I use this method all the time when making bias tape (for some reason it's so much easier to me than mitering strips? I may be crazy.).

    The Dread Pirate Rodgers Continuous Bias Tape Method

  2. I love making and using bias tape that matches or contrasts with my garments, and I use the Dread Pirate's continuous method also!
    My application has always been a bit messy, and I think it's because I try to stitch on the edge rather than in the ditch. So now I have a new approach to try!

  3. I've also wondered why make bias tape like that? isn't is a lot of work? and isn't that why some hate makiin bias tape. I actually thought every one made biastape like I was taught - how ignorant of me - I know! Sorry! 'The barrel' way:
    Any reason why you choose to do it by cutting each strip one by one? Am I missing a point here?

  4. Yes, Nikki is right. This is a quilting trick but the underside is usually finished by hand and having just finished two quilts this way, it makes a big difference to the finished look. But a clever and nicer finish to a garment.
    Commercially, this is a two step process so it's cheaper to just attach a bias tape in one step. Most double fold bias tape when folded is usually slightly wider on one side which goes under the garment when sewing so when you are attaching it from the top it catches the underside.
    Stripes cut on the bias look great because they turn into diagonals that make a nice contrast to the finished product.

  5. I love bias binding - I've just made some funky coloured binding with a little gadget I bought from ebay, so much nicer than the scratchy bias tape you can buy pre-made.

  6. How did you bring the two side raw edges to form a side seam with your bias tape? More photos? You pressed the seam open before you bind the bias tape? Then how do you do the beginning lower opening back hem?

    1. Here's how I explained it in the post: "At a certain point, you're going to be encasing the second side of the boxer leg, and you'll be binding over both sides together. If it helps, you can pin or baste the side seam edges first. When you've completed that step, you'll want to topstitch the binding flat, as you would a flat-felled seam."

      If you click on the photos of the instructions, it may be clearer. Hope that helps -- this is from a few years ago so I don't have any more photos of the process.

  7. I always do it Yahaira's way....'bitter purl continuous bias binding' plugged into your search engine will give you the tutorial.
    Yards and yards of custom binding in about 20mins, once you get the technique.
    Not really suitable for a little bit of self-binding on boxers, but if you want yards at-the-ready of plains, florals and stripes, it's the way to go.
    Especially if you hate poly-cottons, like myself. I have miles of lovely cotton and linen bias in my stash, now.
    Sometimes I will spend a whole day making bias from scraps with this method, because it is sooo easy.
    All my dresses are bound or piped, now, and look so much better.


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