Adding piping to a sleeveless bodice

So I’d mentioned in my Flora dress post that I was going to share how I piped the bodice.   I need to get it right up front – I am not an expert!  There are probably other better ways to do this, but it worked for me – & maybe if you know of a better way you can share in the comments?  Because adding piping to the faux wrap top is an added detail that takes the Flora, or any sleeveless bodice methinks, to the next level, and highlights its pretty front, especially, if like me, you are using a patterned fabric.

Piped Flora bodice
I made my piping out of satin bias binding and piping cord, bought at my local haberdashery. You could make your own bias however.

I think I must have bought about 4m of both, as I piped the armholes and the neck edge. So make your bodice up according to the instructions.   If it’s the Flora, I’d recommend using stay tape on the neckline as shown in the sewalong.

Stay tape neck edge

Now you need to work on the piping once you have sewn the shoulder seams. Prepare your piping as follows:

1. Press open the bias binding if you are using bought bias binding

Piping a bodice
2. Now fold the bias in half and press

3. Open out the bias binding and Lay the piping cord in the fold

Piping a bodice making piping
4. Fold the bias in half with the cord in the fold and then pin close to the cord, trapping it in the fold

Piping a bodice
5. With your zip foot, sew along the pin line, securing the piping cord as close to the fold as possible. I always leave a bit of cord hanging out both ends just in case movement whilst sewing or later on means that the bias stretches a bit in relation to the cord. I’d much rather have extra cord, as opposed to not enough.

Piping a bodice
Your piping!!
6. On the right side of your bodice, I find it helpful to mark the stitching line, the seam allowance. I am lazy and run a line of long machine basting stitches with the. 1.5cm seam marker on the throat plate, but you could mark it by hand, with a ruler.

Piping a bodice
7. Next pin the piping to the bodice right sides up. You are aiming to pin the piping with the cord on the inside of the seam line and with the ‘seam allowance’ of the piping, ie the bias edges, pointing towards the edges of your bodice.

Piping a bodice
You are pinning the piping in a continuous line around the neckline, and also around each arm hole. Try to position the piping so that you pin as close to the cord as possible and that this pinned line, cuts through your 1.5cm seam line marked at 6. Above.

Piping a bodice

8. For added security and accuracy I then hand baste the piping to the seam line, trying to get as close to the piping cord as possible and trying to make sure that I am still keeping on top of the 1.5cm seam line of the bodice front / sleeve line.

Piping a bodice

Now this basting is really useful as a marker for the next step!
9. Pin the lining to the bodice, right sides together, with the piping sandwiched in between. Flip the bodice over so that you are looking at the shell rather than the lining and move your pins so that you can sew with the bodice shell on top. And look! You have your basting stitches to use as a sewing guide to make sure you get really close to the piping cord.

Piping a bodice
10. Use your zip foot to sew really close to the piping cord. I have a setting on my machine that allows me to move my needle position around to get close and it’s something I make use of for piping!

So, you sew your lining to the bodice shell capturing the piping in between. Open out your bodice and lining as normal and you should see the most awesome sight of a piped bodice! Give yourself a woop wooop and press. And enjoy.

And now the armhole edges

Now the armholes are sewn in the same way, but make sure you leave some piping extending beyond the bodice front and back to give yourself some extra to join up when you complete the side seams. AND possibly it’s a good idea not to sew the piping all the way to the edge of the fabric, but to start sewing 1.5cm in from the edge so that you are leaving a longish piece extending over the seam allowance, un-stitched. I’m guessing this could help, but did not do it myself- I ended up unpicking some of this seam later on as you will see below.

So how do we get a nice finished piped seam when it goes around in a circle like an armhole?
You could just line up your piping and stitch it as a seam, but the trouble with this approach is that it’s not very polished and there is opportunity for piping to fray. The neatest option finishes the piped circular seam almost as if the cord inside is being swallowed up inside a ontinuous (but joined) tube of piping.   If you like to think of it in DIY or is it plumbing terms, consider it to be a “Male/ Female joint”  – if you can bear it.  Or think of it as if the cord ends up being the distance of the armhole circle and the piping needs to be a longer joined tube to overlap itself neatly with the cord safely hidden inside.

Ok so not easy to describe. Even harder to do!! Here’s how I attempted to do it. Maybe there’s a better way- if so I am all ears and eyes – please leave details in the comments!

So, you are about to sew your side seams, lining and bodice. Without piping you would perform this in one simple straight seam. With piping I took it in two: sewing the bodice and the lining, making sure the piping was facing the right way ( ie the cord needs to be positioned so that it is facing towards the bodice shell.  And leaving a small gap between the side seams around the area of the piping.

Piping a bodice

I stopped sewing (but did backstitch to secure the seams) around the piping for my two separated side seams on lining & shell.

Now it’s about handling the piping and first of all working out the finished size of the circle that you want the piping to form- this involves a bit of trial and error to identify where you would join the circle, and for the edges to meet at the side seam. You are not joining it up at this stage, just working out sizes and from there you can work out what’s spare ….bear with me ….
Piping a bodice
So you have an idea of how big your finished circle needs to be, maybe you’ve marked both pieces of piping with pins where you think the join would be. You may need to unpick a small bit of the seam you’ve already made that secures the piping to the armhole and lining….

Trim your piping on one side at this join mark, but leave a good 1.5cm of the other side of the piping.

Piping a bodice - completing a piped circle
This shows the piping being trimmed very close to the join mark.

Piping a bodice - completing a piped circleThis shows the side that is cut with an extra 1.5cm of piping to the mark.

Now it’s time to get rid of some excess cord. For this, first of all grab some of the cord from inside the piping on the piece you’ve cut snug to the join mark and pull a bit extra from the inside, maybe 2-3 mm and trim the cord (not the bias ) off. On the other side you also want to grab some of the cord and trim it so that you do not have any more than is needed to butt against the other side and form a nice complete circle when you join your seam.
What you’re doing, is getting rid of some of the extra bulk made by the cord – but not cutting the bias binding.  You need this !

Piping a bodice - completing a piped circle

Now with the side that you cut 1.5cm longer than your join mark, fold some of the excess bias binding to the inside of the tube so that it forms to make a neat edge – this is the outside tube & will be on show.  Push it over the top of the other end of the piping – hopefully making a nice joined up circle with the join positioned above the side seam of your bodice.
I secured this new circle of piping with hand stitches.

Now reconfigure your lining, and bodice to machine over some of the gaps – eg underneath the piping on the armhole seam – you may need to use your zip foot- and where you are unable to get in with your machine- a few well placed hand stitches should do.

Piping a bodiceThe pink stitching is new stitching, securing the piping at the side seam.  

Piping a bodiceThat’s what it looks like on the outside.  The thread I used was coral, & looks a bit messy on the blue background – but it serves to show what it turns out like better.  And I’m not a perfect sewster!

Wow, that was complicated to explain, and I may have confused you loads. Which is uber sad if that is so, as I had the best of intentions.  Did it help, or did it scare you too much?

flora 5

As I said, I am not an expert, just trying hard to get a neat finish.  Is there a definitive approach for joining piping?  Have I taken the long way?  What is the holy grail of piping a complete circle?  I bet there’s a Threads article somewhere lurking, isn’t there?

I’m exhausted.  Time for a cuppa!  Cheerio for now 🙂

3 thoughts on “Adding piping to a sleeveless bodice

  1. Kbenco

    I love this, it really finishes off the edges so nicely. You’ve explained this beautifully, I like the photos of finishing the sleeve binding in particular.

    Your cord may be very well behaved, but I’ve had some disasters when in hot washing children’s clothes, the piping cord sometimes shrinks, which makes it very annoying if the cord is caught in any seams. Having learnt by weeping, I always pull a few centimetres of cord out of the piping after I’ve sewn it to an edge, then stretch out the sewn piping again so there is a tiny flat spot before the crossing seam line. Its unnoticeable in wear, but means the piping doesn’t bunch up on me in the wash!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *