Heather Lou of Closet Case Files designs chic, modern sewing patterns and writes about sewing, personal style and creative entrepreneurship. She designed the Carolyn Pajamas, our Round Four Challenge in the Super Online Sewing Match.

Heather has a number of popular patterns in her shop, including the infamous Bombshell Swimsuit pattern. (It looks fantastic on everyone!) She recently released the comfy, 70’s inspired Sallie Jumpsuit & Maxidress pattern, which should really be called “Secret Pajamas.” Find more from Heather on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

We asked Heather for some Carolyn Pajamas tips, and she came through in a big way. Here is a detailed how-to for adding piping to your sewing. Piping adds extra interest to bags, clothing, home dec items and more, plus it’s actually really easy to make and sew!

I was super excited when Sew Mama Sew asked me if they could use the Carolyn Pajama pattern for their Super Online Sewing Match contest; I can’t wait to see the final entries. I love this pattern because it really lets the maker have fun with fabric, color and finishes, as you can see from the wide variety of interpretations in the Carolyn Pinterest gallery. It’s also a good pattern to learn or brush up on more intermediate skills like sewing a notched collar and working with piping. Piping is one of those things that I avoided when I first started sewing. It just seemed complicated and hard to handle, but like most new skills it really isn’t that hard to sew once you practice a little bit (this is why I love sewing; it’s constantly reminding me that the only thing standing in my own way is… me). Today I want to share a few tips with you, to make your own piping journey as pleasant as possible.

1. Making your own piping can be a little time consuming, but it’s less expensive and more personal than the store bought stuff, and it’s a great way to use up scraps. It’s as simple as making bias tape and wrapping it around a thin cord or piece of yarn. (I love using silk for extra luxury.) Check out this tutorial if you’d like to experiment with making your own.

Piping installed using a piping foot on the left, zipper foot on the right.

2. In order to sew piping, you need a zipper foot or a special piping foot. I prefer the piping foot since it has a small groove that holds the rounded edge in place, giving you a lot more control over your sewing. You can find a generic foot for most domestic machines here for less than $6. If you’re using a zipper foot you will have a slightly wider piped edge when your seam is completed, since can’t get as close to the rounded edge as you can with a piping foot.

3. To sew into place, I find it easiest to only pin the piping at the very beginning. This lets you control the piping as you are feeding it through the foot with a little more accuracy.

A piping foot with the needle in center position.

4. If you’re using a piping foot, leave the needle in the center position for the first pass. When you sew the corresponding pattern piece on top of the piping, move the needle over slightly to cover your first pass of stitching. With a zipper foot, you’ll need to keep the needle to the far left the entire time. Sew carefully on your second pass to ensure you are covering your original stitched line.

5. If you moved your needle position to the left, make sure your seam allowance stays at 5/8” while you’re sewing. It always helps to sew a test run and find the right mark on the face plate to measure the correct seam allowance.

6. When piping is being sewn in the round (like on the Carolyn cuffs, for example) simply butting your piping edges together creates a bulky and unattractive finish. About 1” before you reach the beginning, seam rip your piping so you can access the cord within, and cut it so that it matches up with the piping at the beginning of the stitched line. Wrap the remaining fabric around the start of the piping to create a seamless line.

7. The trickiest part of sewing piping is when you’re going around sharp curves. While you can pin it into place all the way around and notch the piping around the curves before you start sewing, I like to freehand it; this is made much easier with a piping foot. Use one pin to anchor the piping into place and begin sewing. When you approach a curve, shorten your stitch length. Sew slowly and carefully as you turn the curve, ensuring your piping stays in the groove of the foot, lining up your seam allowance on the face plate.

As you’re turning the curve, you’ll see that the flat part of the piping is not lying flat; it will want to flip up as it is forced around the curve. I find it helpful to leave my needle down, raise the foot and turn my work and prod
the piping into place with my fingers. Stop sewing and raise your foot as often as you need to. Turn the corner slowly and smoothly while guiding the piping into place with your left hand.

Once you’re done, the piping will be curling up. Simply clip it so that it lies flat.

Hopefully this is helpful on your next piping project! If you’d like a little more help making your Carolyn Pajamas, check out our posts on Sewing a Notched Collar and Sewing Knit Piping. Good luck to the challengers!


Sew ModernOur Round Four sponsor is Sew Modern, a hip fabric and sewing haven in Los Angeles featuring the latest designer fabricsclasses for kids & adults and a Gammil Vision 18-8 longarm quilting machine available for rent.  The online shop features all of the great fabrics they carry in store.  Be sure to check out the SALE section! They also carry every color of Robert Kaufman’s Kona cotton solids.