Sewing tips, Sewing tutorial

Piping & Cording Made Easy

In April 2019, I showed you how I make continuous bias strips and continuous bias tape. If you know how to make continuous bias strips, you can make your own piping. In this post, I’m going to show you how I make piping.

What is piping?

You may have seen piping and/or cording at your fabric store. They are cords/ropes wrapped in fabric with a “tail” that allows you to sew the piping into the seam allowance of your project. Often they are sold by the meter (yard). Piping and cording sizes are determined by the diameter of the cord/rope. Piping has a cord diameter of less than 6.4 mm (1/4”), while cording has a cord diameter of 6.4 mm to 12.5 mm (1/4” to 1/2”), it is (1/2”). For the purpose of this tutorial, I will use the term piping for both piping and cording.

Why make your own

My fabric store carries several solid colors of piping in one size. Your fabric store may have a greater selection of sizes, but the piping will still be limited to solid colors. The limited selection of pre-made piping is the primary reason for making your own. Going the DIY route, allows you to control the diameter of the cord/rope, stiffness of the cord/rope, width of the seam allowance, length of the piping, and the pattern of the fabric.

Here is a photo of same cords and ropes I purchased at my fabric store. They can all be used to make piping. Left to right: 2 mm (1/12”) diameter nylon covered cord, 4 mm cotton rope (1/16”) rope, 6 mm (1/4”) cotton rope, 8 mm (1/3”) piping cord, and 10 mm (1/2”) piping cord

5 cords/rope of different diameters with a ruler on top of them
2 mm cord, 4 mm rope, 6 mm rope, 8 mm piping cord & 10 mm piping cord
How to make piping

Let’s look at a cross-section of piping in more detail:

blue circle wita red outline and 2 horizontal red bars illustrating cross section of piping
Cross-section of piping

Piping has two components: the cord/rope (blue) and the fabric that covers it (red). Any cord/rope and fabric combination can be used to make piping. Keep in mind that cotton piping may shrink in the wash so it should be washed before using it for a project that you intend to wash.

Step 1 Determine Length

Regardless of whether you purchase your cord/rope from a fabric store, hardware store, or outdoor equipment store, the diameter should be specified. Keep in mind that different types of cords and ropes vary in stiffness. If the diameter of a cord/rope isn’t known, you can measure it with a ruler. The minimum length of cord/rope you need is the length of piping specified for your project.

The fabric that covers the cord/rope is cut on the bias to make it easier to shape the piping. The minimum length of bias-cut fabric you need equals the minimum length of your cord/rope.

Step 2 Determine Bias-cut Fabric Width

Piping fabric has two parts: the part that wraps around the cord and the flat part that we’ll sew into the seam of our projects. We can either use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of the cord/rope or calculate it as circumference C= π D where π ≈ 3.14 and D = diameter of the cord. The flat part (or tail) of the cording has two layers of fabric and their width is the seam allowance (SA).

The width of the bias-cut fabric is given by the formula W = ( π D) + (2 SA)

cross section of piping iwht diameter and seam allowance labelled
Piping cross-section with diameter & seam allowance labeled
Step 3 Calculate Fabric Area

Multiply the width and length of the fabric to determine the area. The below table provides examples of the fabric area calculations needed to create 100 cm (39.4”) of piping with a 1.25 cm (1/2”) seam allowance for several diameters of cord (1 mm = 0.1 cm).

Step 4 Make Continuous Bias Strip

Cut a square of fabric with the required area and mark the selvage edges. Cut the square along the bias. Sew the resulting triangles into a parallelogram. Mark cut lines parallel to the bias edges and spaced with the width of the bias strip. Number the bias strips and sew the ends together with an offset of one. Cut along the cut lines.

For a more detailed explanation of how to make continuous bias strips, see my blog post “Continuous Bias Strips Made Easy”.

Step 5 Sew Bias Strip Around Cord/rope

Center the cord/rope along the width of the bias strip and pin the fabric so that the long edges meet.

Cords along the center of bias tape (L) Cords pinned around bias tape (R)

Sew along the entire length of the bias strip, with your stitches as close to the cord/rope as possible. The goal is to sew near the cord/rope and not through the cord/rope.

Closeup of bias tape beign sewn around a cord to make piping
Closeup using a narrow zipper foot to sew bias tape to cord

Use either a zipper foot, narrow zipper foot, or cording foot.

left to right: zipper foot, narrow zipper foot & piping foot
Zipper foot, narrow zipper foot & piping foot

I find the straight sides of a narrow zipper foot easier and more accurate to use than a regular zipper foot. The cording foot seems to work best when the cord/rope is less than 3 mm (1/8”) in diameter.

That’s it! Your piping is now ready to use. Here’s a photo of the piping I made with the 5 different cords and ropes that I purchased.

piping of increasing size sew with a navy blue fabric with white dots
Piping made with 2 mm, 4 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm & 10 mm cord/rope
Tips For Using Piping

Piping can be used for a variety of tasks including finishing edges, adding contrast and adding texture. For best results baste the piping along one edge of your seam before sewing the seam.

Closeup showing piping being sewn to a single layer of fabric
Baste piping

When sewing corners, snip the tail of the piping at the corner before sewing. Ease the covered cord around the corner, pin in place, and then sew.

closeup of piping being sewn to a corner
Snip tail before sewing piping to corners

When sewing curves, snip the tail of the piping in several places before sewing. Ease the covered cord around the curve, pin in place, and then sew.

closeup of piping being sewn around a curve
Snip tail before sewing piping around curves

When overlapping the ends, leave at few centimeters (~1”) un-stitched at the ends so that you can overlap them by about 1 cm (1/2”). Next cut off a piece of the cord/rope so that the ends of the cord/rope line up, overlap the covering fabric, then stitch the cording in place.

Close up of piping ends being joined
Remove cord & overlap fabric

Similarly, when sewing seams across piping, cut the cord/rope at the seams to remove bulk

Once you know how to make continuous bias strips, piping is quick and easy to make. Why not make some for your next sewing project.

Have you used piping? Have you made piping? Comment below and/or pin me for later.


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