Finishing an armhole with bias tape

Finished bias tape armholeWondering how to finish the armhole of your sleeveless garment?  Bias tape!  I am in awe of its magical powers, seriously.  I used this tutorial over at Amanda’s Adventures in Sewing to finish the armholes of my red polka dot dress, and it worked fabulously.  Thanks Amanda!  (BTW, her blog is filled with amazing handmade garments – go check it out!)  This was my first attempt at using bias tape  and my first time finishing armholes, so needless to say, it was a bit of an adventure.  However, I’m happy to report that it was a success.  Awesome!  Here’s what I did:

After making my own bias tape from leftover fabric, I pinned it around the armhole, being careful to ease it around sharp curves as smoothly as I could (see bottom portion of the photo below).  I used a lot of pins to keep the tape in place and to evenly distribute any puckers, hoping not to have any puckers at all once I sewed the tape in place.  I started at the bottom of the armhole so that I could hide the seam in the underarm area.  When pinning, I wanted the open edge of the bias tape (toward the edge of the armhole) to lie about 1/8 of an inch beyond the sewing line, taking into account the seam allowance built into the pattern, which was about 5/8 of an inch in this case.

Bias tape pinned to raw edgeAt this point, I didn’t secure the ends of the bias tape.  I just left about 3/4 of an inch on each end and folded in about 1/4 inch, leaving the ends loose for now.  Below you can see the bottom of the armhole opened up with the bias tape smoothly (or as smooth as I could get it!) curved around it.  See how nicely the tape curves?  Bias is an amazing thing!

Close-up of bottom curve of armholeThen I went to the sewing machine and sewed on the tape with about 1/8 of an inch seam allowance.  You can see from the photo below just how close I’m sewing to the edge of the tape.  The closer you get, the flatter your armhole will lie once it’s finished.  Be bold and go for it!

Sewing bias tape to armholeI started sewing in the underarm and worked my way around, backstitching at the beginning and end, and stopping about 1/2 inch short of the ends of the tape.  Then I took a minute to insert one folded end of the tape inside the other, position the “seam” exactly how I wanted it, and take a deep breath.  The seam is the trickiest part.  I sewed the ends in place separately just to make sure I had everything right.  Phew!  You can see the finished results below, with the bias tape seam toward the bottom right of the photo.  Not bad at all.  : )  You can also see how the puckers disappeared from the sharp curve in the bottom left.  Behold the magic of bias tape!

Close-up of sewn bias tapeThe next step was to trim the excess fabric as close to the seam as you feel comfortable.  The less fabric, the flatter the armhole will lie, remember?  I kept telling myself this as I bravely hacked off all but  1/8 of an inch or so, cutting the fabric relatively flush with the edge of the bias tape.  How liberating!  Things were really starting to look nice at this point.

Excess fabric trimmed close to bias tapeI flipped the bias tape toward the inside of the armhole and pinned it in place, being careful to position the seam slightly inside the armhole as opposed to right on the edge.  This way the bias tape shouldn’t show at all on the outside of the finished garment.  Again, I used a lot of pins.  I love the security of a ton of pins!  I started and ended my seam in the underarm and sewed about 1/4 inch in from the edge.

Bias tape pinned to interior of dress

And voila!  A professional-looking bias tape armhole!  The fact that this came out so well pretty much blew my mind, especially since it was my very first attempt.  I have a new-found respect for bias tape and its amazing curviness.  The armhole lies flat with no puckers or awkwardness whatsoever.  Amazing!!!  I did the same thing on the other armhole, and it came out just as nicely.  : )

Bias tape sewn in placeBehold the flatness and great fit of this armhole.  Between the bias tape technique, the darts I put in the shoulder, and my lengthening of the pattern to accommodate my delightfully broad shoulders, this armhole came out pretty damn well.  : )  I love it!

Finished armhole - view from the backAnd what do we have here?  A beautifully-finished armhole that isn’t digging into my armpit!  What a concept!  This is the true beauty of making my own clothes: an armhole that I can actually move around in like a normal human being with regular-sized shoulders.  Amazing.

Finished armhole - view from the frontOverall, this armhole experience makes me want to make all my own clothes for the rest of my life.  If only I didn’t have to work, ha!  Also, using bias tape wasn’t nearly as fiddly as I thought it would be (although it was a little fiddly).  It was manageable for me, and I’m a total beginner, so there you have it.

Yay for properly fitting and professional-looking armholes!  : )

Next up: fitting the mid-section of this dress.  I’m not sure how I’m going to do this without a dress form, so we’ll see how long it takes me to get around to it.  I might just have to reel in an unsuspecting friend to help me with this one!

6 thoughts on “Finishing an armhole with bias tape

  1. Whenever I try making a bias tape armhole, the underarm gapes out. I tried it with several different sizes, but don’t know what I’m doing wrong

    • It’s hard to tell without a picture, but I’d recommend: (1) make sure you trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch or less (i.e., really small) so that the armhole will turn well and lay flat, and (2) try to pull the bias tape a bit when you’re pinning it around the underarm curve. Giving it a gentle tug will help it “curl up” when it’s turned to the inside, which will hopefully help your finished armhole lay flat.

      There are a bunch of other tutorials on this method out there – try Googling it and see what you can find! I’m not an expert. 🙂

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