How to Pipe Seams & Embroider a Garment

In this blog post we'll show you how to get super professional results when piping seams and customising a garment with machine embroidery. Piping is a beautiful way to finish the seams of a garment adding an interesting extra bit of detail to really give it the wow factor. Combine piped seams with embroidery you've chosen to customise that garment perfectly and you have a truly original design in exactly the right colours to match your accessories. This is how the idea for this unique dress made by our very own Angela (co founder of Sew Essential) came to life. You see Angela has a bit of a shoe obsession and just couldn't resist these gorgeous green LK Bennett shoes, but had nothing to wear with them so she did what any respectable seamstress would do and made something.

LK Bennett Shoes

Angela knew she wanted to make a dress with piped seams and embroidered panels so needed to choose a design with suitable lines to show off the seams and position the panels. She chose McCalls pattern 6028 because the princess seams and contrast panels on views A and B ticked these boxes very nicely. The fact that pattern is a Palmer and Pletsch classic fit pattern was an added bonus because the fitting options, cup size options and instructions on how to tissue fit and adapt the pattern make it very easy to achieve a great fit. Clearly this is music to anyone's ears, but Angela said she thinks it is particularly useful for more mature figures where fitting problems can often be more of an issue. The construction of the dress was really very straightforward and it came together very well so it's time to talk about the interesting bits and how to get them just right.

How to Embroider a Garment

Cut the fabric pieces out before embroidering them so you can ensure the fabric pieces are cut on the grain or as directed by the pattern instructions.

Choose a suitable stabiliser for your fabric such as this lightweight fusible stabiliser, suitable for most dressmaking fabrics, and apply it to the entire panel to be embroidered.

Positioning the design accurately is absolutely crucial for professional results, therefore we recommend printing the design on paper, cutting it out and positioning it on the panel before embroidering remembering to allow for any seam allowances.

Once you have it in the correct position mark the vertical centre point and the horizontal centre point at each edge of the design onto the fabric using a chaco liner or something you are confident will brush/wash away.  Then use a ruler to join the points marked and create a cross in the middle, which you can use when lining the fabric up in the hoop on your machine.
If embroidering a mirrored design like Angela's remember you will need to flip the design when positioning it on the opposite side.

How to Pipe Seams

Bias binding is used to pipe seams since the fact it is cut on the bias enables the fabric to curve round any seams. When piping seams you can either make your own bias binding or another quick and easy alternative is using a ready made 12mm bias binding, which you simply press open.

12mm Bias Binding for Piping Seams

You will also need to use piping cord to sit inside the bias binding and create the raised piped effect. We used this polyester piping cord in size 00 (2mm), which doesn't need to be washed before use. If you choose to use a cotton piping cord be sure to wash it before use for pre shrinking.

Cut the bias binding and piping cord slightly longer than the seam you are going to pipe and you can trim any excess later.

Position the piping cord inside the wrong side of the binding. If you are a confident stitcher there is no need to pin the piping cord in place, but if you are a little unsure and want to make life easier for yourself you can pin it into place.

Positioning Piping Cord Inside Bias Binding for Piping Seams

It is possible to stitch the piping straight into the relevant seam, however, we recommend sewing the cord into the binding first. It is an extra step so a little more time consuming, but well worth the effort to achieve perfect results.

When stitching the cord into the piping and piping the seams it is easiest to use a piping foot. Many makes and models of modern sewing machines will have a piping foot available to buy such as the Husqvarna mini piping foot we used and we have a wide range to choose from in our sewing machine accessories section of our webshop (just check the compatibility charts for your specific machine). If you don't have a piping foot or don't wish to buy one you can use a zipper foot instead, but as with all specialist machine feet a piping foot really does make the job a stress free dream to do. Piping is also a lovely finish for necklines and armholes of your garments and can even be used on home dec projects such as cushion covers so it may well be a worthy investment.

When you sew the piping cord inside the bias binding your needle should be positioned about 1/8" or 3mm away from the opposite side of the piping cord. This is close enough to keep the piping cord in place, but far away enough that the stitching line won't be visible once the piping is inserted into the seams.

In this video Angela demonstrates sewing the piping cord into the bias binding using her Husqvarna mini piping foot.

For curved seams make small snips from the edge of the bias binding towards, but not through the stitching line. This will allow the piping to curve round the seams.

Clipping Bias Binding for Piping Curved Seams

For curved seams it is also a good idea to stitch the piping to the garment fabric before joining the seams to achieve best results and accuracy.

Position the piping on your garment fabric with the stitching line at the correct seam allowance for your pattern. In the image below the stitching line is 5/8" or 1.5cm away from the raw edge of the fabric since this is the seam allowance for that particular pattern.

Positioning Piping on a Garment for Piping Seams

Pin the piping in place and stitch over the original line of stitching using your piping foot or zipper foot again. If you are working on a curved seam slightly stretch the piping as you sew to help it lie flat once finished.

Pinning the Piping in Place for Piping Seams

If you are working on a straight seam it isn't necessary to sew the piping to the fabric before joining the seams, however, you can choose to do this if you aren't confident enough to jump straight to joining the seams.

Finally it is time to join the seams. Where the piping will cross a seam or is joined into another seam remove the last 5/8" or 1.5cm of the piping cord from within the bias strip to eliminate any bulk. If you miss this step you will have two lots of cord crossing each other. There is no need to worry about the piping cord moving since once the seams are sewn it will be encased in the garment.

Trimming the Piping Cord for Piping Curved Seams

So that's how you can take a simple garment to the next level and create the perfect match for your favourite accessories. I'm afraid Angela is a little camera shy so I can't show you the whole dress, but take my word for it, it's a beauty!

Have fun sewing!

Lucy and Angela

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