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August 11, 2022

For a newbie quilter (or even a seasoned one), the idea of bias edges can be scary. They stretch! They can distort! They can make your quilt top wavy! None of those things sound fun, especially when you are spending blood, sweat, and tears (and money) on making a quilt. 

But don't worry, several of my patterns have bias edges so I'm going to share what works for me when I make those kinds of quilts. 

First thing first. What is a bias edge? 

Here is the simplest way I can explain it (if you want to get technical, here is a good blog post). Fabric has a lengthwise grain and a crosswise grain that goes perpendicular. This makes up the straight grain of the fabric. If you cut the fabric selvage to selvage, that is a straight grain cut. If you cut the fabric diagonally across the straight grain (like you would to make a triangle), that is the bias edge. 

The bias edge has considerably more stretch than the straight grain. Which is great if you're making garments, bags, things with curves, etc. If you're making a quilt, it can be...fussy. 

Tips: 

4 Tips for Working with Bias Edges

1. STARCH your fabric. My friend, starch is your best friend here. Whether you prewash your fabrics or not (I don't, for the record), starch them if you're going to be working with bias edges. Starch adds stiffness and structure to the fabric making it easier to work with.

My process: I lay down a shower curtain liner, place the fabric top and spray generously with starch. I use the the cheap stuff you can find in the grocery store, but there is quilting specific starch like Best Press that I have heard good things about. 

Once the fabric has dried, iron with a hot iron over a pressing board (which gives me better results than an ironing board).

Sometimes, if I'm working with wovens (like Warp and Weft from Ruby Star Society) I'll repeat the process twice, but that is not usually necessary. 

4 Tips for Working with Bias Edges

2. PRESS don't iron. This is an important one.

Whether you press your seams open or to the side, make sure you are pressing (setting the iron down on the seam and then lifting it up) instead of ironing (dragging the iron across the seams). The heat plus pressure from the iron can pull the fabric slightly out of shape. 

4 Tips for Working with Bias Edges

3. Handle pieces GENTLY. The more we handle the bias cut pieces, the more distorted they can become, and it's not always obvious until trying to sew it to another piece. 

If possible, I'll wait and cut the triangles (like for Deltille or Hurrication) until I've reached the step where I need to sew them. If I do cut everything at once (because I want to take a picture for Instagram), I'll leave them stacked on my cutting table until I'm ready to use them. I avoid playing with them and moving them around for pictures as much as I can. 

When sewing, I am careful not to push or pull the fabric through the machine and just guide it while the feed dogs to the work. Honestly, this is true for any piecing, but a good reminder for working with bias edges. 

4 Tips for Working with Bias Edges

4. PIN as needed. Full disclosure, I rarely use pins. 

That being said, I will always use pins when sewing long seams with bias edges to keep things from shifting and pulling as the weight of the quilt increases. If you have the space, larger work surfaces to the left of your sewing machine and behind your sewing machine can help hold the weight of the quilt as it's going through the machine. 

That's it! Bias edges really aren't as intimidating as they are made out to be. It just takes a little more care and a little practice, and you'll be just fine!