Piping and Cording

These terms are used interchangeably. Piping or cording is a strip of fabric wrapped around a cord and then inserted into a seam. It is an extra step that adds a special touch to the garment. Piping positioned between the panels of a skirt adds a defining line that accents the design. At the waist and the neck it adds a touch of style and helps stabilize these areas. Fabric for piping can be the same as the garment for an understated effect. Or it may be of contrasting color and even a different fabric. The fabric is usually cut on the bias to go around curves gracefully, but if it is intended for straight seams, such as between the panels or along the hem of a skirt, it should be cut on the straight of grain. Straight of grain piping is less likely to stretch.

Packaged piping is made of light cotton in a limited range of colors. It tends to shrink and bleed. Preshrink purchased trim by removing the plastic wrapping, then wind some thread around the trim and cardboard. Place it, cardboard and all, in a glass dish. Cover with water, add a drop of soap and microwave until steaming. Pour the water off, if there is dye in the water, repeat the process. After the excess dye is out, squeeze out the water, set the trim aside and let it air dry. Unwind it from the cardboard and press with lots of steam. Do not pull on the trim while pressing. When dealing with trims we have a tendency to grab and pull them tight and straight. That stretches out all of the work done to shrink them. When stitching piping to fabric the trim must be a little longer than the fabric. Ease the trim as it is sewn, don’t tug on it. Whether purchased or self made all trims must be treated gently.

To make piping first determine the size of the cord wanted for the garment.  The choice of size depends on the fabric and the effect wanted. Any smooth cord can be used for cording, be aware of the stiffness of the cord, washing/shrinking and the effect of pressing with a hot iron. Shrink the cord in hot water and the dryer before encasing it in fabric. To determine the width of the fabric strips needed take a scrap of the fabric that will be used for the cording, wrap it around the cord and stitch close to the cord encasing it snugly. Then measureinch from the stitching and cut. Take out the stitching and measure the resulting width. Cut the strips this width joining them, if needed, to obtain the desired length. Fold the strip in half length wise, right side out, around the cording. Keep the cut edges even being careful not to stretch the cord or the fabric. Stitch near the cord, but not tight against it, using  the longest basting stitch. 

Most stitching instructions to make piping use a zipper foot, but there is a much easier way. A special foot ‘Pearls N’ Piping’ is available for all sewing machines. This foot bridges over the cord and keeps it in position during sewing. By changing the needle position the stitches can be adjusted closer to the cord. This small investment in a new foot will more than pay for itself in reduced frustration and improved appearance. Creative Feet ®  ( www.creativefeet.com )  makes three presser feet that are guaranteed to fit on any machine. The instructions are very clear and the DVD is excellent. These feet must have been designed with square dancers in mind. Please check them out. This is an outstanding product that will make sewing easier.

Before inserting the piping set the stitch length to 4 mm or 8 spi. These seams will be sewn at least twice. Shorter stitches will cause the seam to pucker. Most people sew with a short stitch length to make the seam ‘stronger’. If excess pressure is put on a seam something will have to give. Should the stitches pop and the seam open, to be easily repaired later? - or - Should the stitches hold and the fabric rip, which can not be repaired? Short stitches also make it more difficult to take out seams for alterations. Garment sewing should never be less than 2.5 mm and 3-3.5 mm is better. The sewing will go faster at these stitch lengths.

Inserting piping in a seam is a two step process. First sew it to one side of the seam by aligning the raw edge of the trim with the raw edge of the garment seam allowance. For this step use a contrasting color of thread in the bobbin, it will not be seen in the finished garment. Place the tunnel of the foot over the cord. Keep the stitching line near the cord but not tight against it. Second, pin the other half of the seam in place, right sides together. Change to the correct bobbin thread color and sew on the side with the contrasting bobbin thread showing. Make this last row of stitching closer to the cord than the other stitching by moving the needle position so that the cord is snugly encased. Use the piping foot for all of this sewing.

The piping foot can also be used to do the topstitching. Open the fabric and press the seam allowances to one side.  Position the piping foot over the cording on the right side of the fabric and adjust the needle position so that it sews through the seam allowance. Topstitching will keep the seam allowance flat through repeated washing. The needle will be going through 5 layers of fabric. A topstitching needle may be needed at this point to get the best stitch quality.

At the ends of the piped seam pull out ¾ inch of the cord and clip it off. Then work the cord back inside the fabric. By trimming the ends out of the cord they will not be sewn into the crossing seams. This reduces the bulk and stress where the seams cross.

These techniques take a little time, but they will upgrade the ensemble and showcase your skills. Enjoy the accomplishment and compliments.