Monday, 22 May 2017

The Genius Behind the Bias Cut

Out-of-print (OOP) Vogue 8887 has become more than sewing a pair of trousers. It's an act of slow sewing. I just want to sit and reflect how beautiful the bias cut fabric looks as it's being sewn. Who knew a simple wool could look so exquisite when cut on the bias?  

When I first found this pattern (circa 2013) I had no ideal that all of the pieces (jacket, skirt, top, and trousers) were cut on the bias. The placement of the plaid on the orange and yellow jacket should have been a clue. Other than that, there was no mention of it anywhere on the pattern envelope. Maybe that was intentional on Vogue's part? Bias cut garments seem to have a reputation. 

Madeleine Vionnet

They are nostalgically admired and associated with the creative artistry of Madeleine Vionnet's work in the early 20th century and sometimes feared in our modern sewing spaces. It doesn't help when modern sewing books refer to sewing bias-cut garments as "challenging." Nothing like reinforcing the fear of the bias. So what is the bias?  

Bias refers to the grain of the fabric. According to Madeleine Vionnet, there are actually three grains found in a piece of fabric: the crossgrain, lengthwise grain and the bias. Yet some resources argue that the bias is "not technically a grain."  

Photo credit:  Threads Magazine

Cutting a garment on the bias is all about finding the true bias. The true bias refers to a 45 degree angle from lengthwise and crossgrains. And this is where slow sewing plays a key part in bias cut garments. Before you can locate the true bias you have to prepare the fabric for locating the crossgrain by either tearing on the crossgrain or pulling a thread and cutting across the open space left by the missing pulled thread. Now the fabric can be laid out so the crosswise and lengthwise grains are at perfect right angles. This will help to find a fabric's true bias. 

If you understand the qualities that bias cut garments offer and take your time to find the true bias you will have greater control of this fabric cut and it is worth it in the end. Bias hangs thinner and longer giving a slimmer look than straight and crossgrain cut fabric, it doesn't ravel or wrinkle and it drapes softly over the body. And there you have the genius behind the bias cut. But there are some pointers to take note of that I couldn't find mentioned on the Vogue instruction sheets that came with OOP Vogue 8887.  This could be why this pattern is rated as "average" which Vogue Patterns defines as:
These patterns are perfect if you have more time to sew, and more experience sewing. Look for challenging designer techniques, tailoring, unique construction details. Expect more fitting and inner construction. Find more variety in fabrics from the stretchiest knits to synthetic leathers and suedes. 
Considering that all of the patterns are for bias cut garments, I'm surprised that this pattern is not rated advanced. Now, don't let me scare you off of sewing bias cut trousers because they are divine. Right now they are hanging until tomorrow when I'll finish off the hem. But there was some useful and insightful information that I found in some of my sewing books.  

All of my resources mention that you should stretch bias cut fabric as you sew although there were various methods. Vogue Sewing suggests stretching the fabric slightly as you stitch over tissue paper so that the finished edge will hang correctly. This is to prevent puckering. The Sewtionary echoes suggestions to stretch the fabric slightly and even suggests that bias seams can be stitched with a narrow zigzag stitch. Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing offered the most comprehensive instructions on machine sewing a bias seam. Unlike the previously mentioned resources it instructs that the fabric be stretched "as much as possible without using force[!]" What I really appreciated with these instructions is that Roberta Carr took the time to explain why things are done a certain way making it all make sense to me rather than just reading instructions. I really do recommend this book if you can find it. The instructions also differ in that it suggests stitching five to ten inches, stop, then lift the press foot in order to let the fabric settle to help maintain the grain. So what did I do?  

I took all the suggestions in consideration and used my walking foot to construct most of the seams (exception: installing the zipper). I did stretch slightly as I sewed and stitched for short distances, stopped, raised the presser foot and repeated the process. 
Another important piece of information I want to pass along is that bias garments should not be hung during construction. I often put unfinished work on my mannequin or draped over the edge of a chair or table but with this project, I took care to lay the unfinished pieces flat on the cutting table.  

Right now my trousers are almost finished but there is one important step that all of my resources agree on. Completed bias garments should hang for twenty-four hours before hemming. And that is where I'm at, admiring the genius behind the bias cut as the trousers hang in preparation of the final step.  

Happy Sewing!  


Carr, Roberta.  Couture:  The Art of Fine Sewing.  Palmer/Pletsch Publishing, 1993.  

Kennett, Frances.  Secrets of the Couturiers.  Exeter Books, 1984. 

Levine, Betsy (ed.).  Great Sewn Clothes:  From Threads Magazine.  The Taunton Press, 1991.  

Musheno, Elizabeth J. (ed.).  The Vogue Sewing Book.  Butterick Publishing, 1975.  

St. Germaine, Tasia.  The Sewtionary:  An A to Z Guide to 101 Sewing Techniques & Definitions.  KP Craft, 2014. 

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