Reap What You Sew
Do your own upholstery, Part III: Piping
Do you own upholstery, part III: Piping
If you’ve followed us though the first two parts, chances are you know how to stitch something other than your fingers together. If you’re just joining us and are interested in doing your own trim work, you will need the previous two parts of the story. In the July issue, trimmer and instructor Jerry Glasgow explained how to set up a sewing machine and in the August issue he showed how to join materials with the basic seam styles.
Now it’s time for one of the tasks most people find somewhat intimidating: Piping, aka cording or welting. If you’re not familiar, piping is that, well … pipe-shaped bit of material often seen along the edges of panels between the topping and the side panels of the seat in many cars and on most furniture. It can strengthen corners but for the most part it’s an ornamental detail. But it’s a detail used so often that we’ve sort of come to expect seeing it on upholstery jobs. In fact, I don’t know if I’d call a tuck-androll job complete without piping separating the flat panels from the pleated panels.
While we’re not going to call piping difficult, we will admit that it takes a little more practice and perhaps a touch more technique than the other tasks we’ve shown. After all, you’re sewing three things together through (usually) four layers. In our estimation, it deserves an entry of its own.
And that’s exactly what we’ll do.
The task requires welt cord, usually hollow. You’ve seen miles of the stuff if you’ve ever been to an indoor car show (promoters use it as the “rope” between stanchions to keep spectators
away from cars since it’s cheap and unobtrusive). It comes in 1/32-inch increments from 3/32 to 6/32, although 5/32 inch is probably the most familiar.
Piping requires a special foot and naturally there’s a debate about it. Officially it requires a cording foot. A cording foot is usually a regular foot with one side elevated to accommodate the thick cord/piping. But there’s another type of cording foot that’s basically half a regular foot. In fact many trimmers make their own cording feet by grinding the side off a conventional foot where the cording will pass (basically the elevated part in a conventional cording foot). The thing to take away from both styles is that they let the needle get as close as possible to the welt cord. You can take any number of ways to get there. In fact, some zipper feet work. If there’s anything close to a rule, it’s to make it so the needle is closest to the left edge of the foot since you’ll do most of your work to the left of the needle.
Master piping, and honestly it’s not terribly hard, and you’re well on your way to trimming like a pro. It just takes practice. Lots and lots of practice, and maybe a stitched fingertip once in a while, if you’re lucky.
■ Here’s how the welt lines up with the main panel. Note how the stitch comes close to the welt cord and somewhat snugly captures the cording. The cording shouldn’t move around inside the material.
■ Cut a piece of fabric wide enough to wrap around the welt cord and create a “tail” the width of your favorite seam allowance (remember that one?).
■ Here’s how the welt lines up with the main panel. Note how the stitch comes close to the welt cord. Don’t get discouraged if the material doesn’t fit the cord snugly. This is only the start.■ Now flip over the assembly and lay it on top of another piece of fabric so the finished sides face each other and the piping is between them. This is the part that takes some finesse: Get the stitch as close to the cord as possible—as in get this stitch line inboard of the first stitch line (the black stitch is the bottom stitch from the first step).
■ Here’s what we mean by getting the second stitch line (orange) inboard of the first stitch line (black). Tighter is better.
■ Flip the panel back over and this is hopefully what you see. The first stitch can be pretty loose on the welt cord but so long as the second stitch is very tight to it, the piping will come out super tight around the welt cord. This is something to aspire to and it may take some practice. ■ But take care to not cut too far. This cut extends beyond the stitch line and that will expose the cording and really weaken the piping.
■ As shown last month, boxing panels will merely curl when forced to follow a radius. Piping won’t. Cut reliefs in it along the radius to make it better conform to the shape.