TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How To Make Bias Tubes For Quilt Top Appliqué by Donna Hussain

The most common use for bias tubes when making quilt tops is for the appliqué of stems in floral bouquets. The tubes can also serve as window sills, chair legs, door frames, vines, fence posts, tree trunks, and lettering. I have also seen the tubes used to appliqué woven baskets, a jungle gym, the reins of a horse, and the rope of a swing. My favorite use of bias tubes is to sew interlacing designs on quilt tops. (See previous post, Interlacing Design for Quilt Borders)

Interlacing Design Using Bias Tubes

Although bias tubes can be purchased at most fabric stores the colors are limited and buyers generally have only one choice of tube width. Sewing your own bias tubes has many advantages. You can choose tube fabric from your stash to match the colors of your quilt. The cost of making tubes at home is minimal, and you have a variety of width options. In this article I describe the construction method I favor when sewing home-made bias tubes.

A bias tube begins with a strip of fabric that is cut on the bias. Why cut on the bias? Because bias strips stretch. In most quilting projects the fabric is cut on the straight of the grain to avoid stretching so that quilt blocks come out square. In bias tube appliqué stretching is an advantage. It allows you to appliqué the tubes in curves and circles without puckering. In addition, the threads on a bias cut do not unravel as they sometimes do when fabric is cut on the straight of the grain. So I favor tubes made from bias strips for straight-line appliqué as well as for curves.

A common method of making a bias tube is folding a strip of fabric with right sides together, then stitching the raw edges together. The sewn tube must then be turned inside out to hide the seam, often a struggle. I recommend an easier process for sewing the tubes, the use of bias bars available at most fabric and quilt stores. Bias bars are available in plastic and metal (your choice) and usually come in packets with at least three bars of different sizes ranging from 1/8” to 2” wide. For most of my projects, I favor the ¼” bar which makes a ¼” tube. The width of the bias bar you use determines the width of the tube you sew.

Metal Bias Bars

To make a bias tube, start with a square of fabric cut on the straight of the grain.

Align the 45 degree angle mark on your plastic ruler with the edge of the fabric. Use a rotary cutter to make a bias cut.

Measuring from the bias-cut edge, cut strips of fabric for use in making bias tubes. The strip width will depend on the width of the bias bar you are planning to use. Here is a helpful rule of thumb:

Strip width = (bias bar width x 2) + ½” (for seam allowances)

For example, if you are using a bias bar ¼” wide, cut 1 inch wide fabric strips.
( ¼” x 2) + ½” = 1”)

You are now ready to sew bias tubes from the fabric strips. Here are directions.

1. Fold each bias strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Press.

2. Raise your sewing machine needle to the up position. Place your bias bar in a folded, pressed fabric strip. Place the bar and strip under the presser foot aligning the fold with the outer edge of the foot. Adjust the needle position to the right of left as necessary to encase the bias bar snuggly. Once the needle position is set remove the bias bar. If you start sewing before the bias bar is removed from the folded fabric you risk breaking your needle.

(If your sewing machine does not have the feature of a movable needle position you can move the folded strip to the right or left of the presser-foot edge until the needle encases the bias bar snugly. Remove the bias bar. As you sew, try to keep the same distance from the fold to the edge of the presser foot.)

3. Sew the length of the folded strip keeping the fold aligned with the presser-foot edge. The use of lightweight thread will reduce seam bulk.

4. Re-insert the bias bar into the sewn tube. Trim the raw edges as close to the stitching as possible (1/8” or less).

5. Twist the seam to the middle of the bias bar. With the bar in the tube, press the seam allowance flat against the tube. Both metal and plastic bias bars can be safely pressed though the metal bars do get hot. Be careful.

6. Remove the bias bar and press the tube again, once with the seam side up, once with the seam side down.

When you are ready to appliqué a bias tube to your quilt top you have several options for hiding the two raw ends of the tubes. You can simply turn under a tube ends and stitch them in place. Or you can hide the end under another appliqué element such as a flower petal. Sometimes ends can be sewn into seams.

If you use bias tubes in innovative ways in your quilting, please leave a comment. I would like to hear from you. If you have photos of your work using bias tubes, leave the link so we can all come visit!

January 19, 2010

A reader asks "When you need an extra long piece of the bias strip & you are sewing them with wrong sides together, how do you connect the pieces to get a longer piece?"

When crossovers needed to hide the introduction of  a new tube segment are far apart (as illustrated below) an extra long bias tube may be necessary in order to sew an interlacing pattern. 

Quilt diagram

This extra long bias tube is made by joining two (or more) bias strips with a seam.  This joining must be prior to pressing the strip in half lengthwise in preparation for making a bias tube. Unfortunately this seam will create bulk that will reduce the tube’s flexibility for sewing curved designs but will work for straight line sewing.  I minimize the bulk by placing the two strips at right angles with right sides together, then machine stitch a diagonal seam.  Trim the seam.

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.



  1. Great tutorial! I've scheduled a link to this post to go live on my blog Saturday - National Quilting Day in the US! I hope it brings both of you a few extra clicks, Donna and Rachel.


  2. While reading this I had a brainstorm to make these for writing in cursive in my quilts. Thanks for the tutorial.

  3. Donna, Thank you for the great tutorial on using the bias bars! I have one question that I am not sure of... When you need an extra long piece of the bias strip & you are sewing them with wrong sides together, how do you connect the pieces to get a longer piece? Thank you again for sharing! Suzie

  4. Thank you so much Donna! I kind of thought that is what you would have to do…just like piecing binding for a quilt…but thought I had better ask just in case there is some nice “magic” way of doing it!!! Thank you again for taking the time to answer my question. I appreciate your thoughtfulness! Suzie


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