Rebecca's Tips for Sewing In-Seam Rope Cord Trims

If you're looking for a quick decorating fix for your home, you can't beat decorative throw pillows.  Since pillows use so little fabric, they are a great place to splurge on fancy fabrics and trimmings without breaking the bank, and they are not difficult to sew. 

In the Samuel & Sons ad above, all of the top-applied ball fringe trims have been hand-stitched to the pillow covers, and that is absolutely the way any high-end drapery workroom would apply trims with a decorative header.  The rope cord trims, on the other hand, have a twill tape or knitted lip attached to the cord so that they can be sewn successfully by machine.  I don't do a lot of this type of sewing anymore, but I made an exception recently in order to deliver a set of throw pillows to one of my favorite design clients before the holidays when my drapery workroom was backed up.  I know a lot of home sewers have difficulty achieving professional results with decorative rope cord trim, so I thought I'd share a few tips and tricks of the trade.

Kravet Frontier fabric, Habaneros Colorway
When I'm making a throw pillow, I cut two squares of fabric to the size of my pillow insert plus 1", to give me 1/2" seam allowances on all four sides.  I round off my corners slightly using a corner template from M'Fay Patterns.  Next, I like to overcast the raw edges of my pillow top and bottom pieces on my serger, especially when I'm working with a difficult fabric like this one from Kravet -- it has an intentionally wrinkled, puckered surface, and the little motifs that appear to be embroidered are actually a jacquard weave, leaving long floating strands of thread all over the back side of the fabric.  Once the edges were overcast on the serger, this fabric was totally well behaved throughout the rest of the project.


Ruffled Rouche lip cord from Robert Allen
When you're selecting your decorative rope cord, you can save yourself a lot of headaches by avoiding those that are very stiff and/or large diameter.  Why?  Think about it.  You're going to use a zipper foot to try to sew as close to your cord as possible.  If your cord is a rigid 5/8" diameter cylinder and you're sewing it against the flat bed of your sewing machine, there is no way you can get your sewing machine needle to stitch right up against the cord because the cord rolls inward onto the lip in order to lie flat.  With that kind of cord, I just machine stitch as close as I can and then supplement with hand stitching from the right side (after turning the pillow right side out) to ensure the cord is hidden.  With the Ruffled Rouche cord trim I was using for this project, I was able to push it and smoosh it out of the way sufficiently that no additional hand sewing was necessary.

Now, 1/2" seam allowances are standard for home dec sewing, but the header on my rope cord was a lot narrower than 1/2". If I just lined up the cord lip with the edge of my pillow top, my seam allowance would be too small and my pillow cover would finish too large.  I attached the seam guage to my zipper foot, set at 1/2" from the needle, and used that as a guide for my pillow fabric.  Then I just smashed the rope cord trim up against the left side of my zipper foot as tightly as I could as I stitched the trim to the pillow front.  Oh, and I did use a longer stitch length for this, to reduce puckering. 

Cord Ends Unraveled and Woven Together, Ready for Stitching
I should also mention that, when I start sewing on a rope cord, I try to stop and start in an inconspicuous place, on the bottom of the pillow between the corner and the start of the zipper.  I leave the first few inches of trim loose as I begin stitching, and when I get all the way around the pillow I leave a few inches of trim loose to overlap the starting point.  I carefully unravel the trim at both ends and weave the two ends together (this is easier with some trims than with others), pulling the yarn tails into the seam allowances and flattening them as much as possible.  Then I simply stitch across the yarn tails to secure the cord join.
Stitching Across the Yarn Tails to Join the Cord Ends

After Securing the Joined Ends, Trim the Yarn Tails Even with the Seam Allowance
Ta da!  When this pillow was finished, it was impossible to tell where the cord join was.

A few more tips: After I sew the cording to the pillow top, I insert my invisible zipper and then I sew all the way around to secure the pillow front to the pillow back, right sides together.  Then I flip the pillow over and sew around the perimeter again from the opposite side -- this helps get even closer to the cord.

Unfortunately, I was rushing to get these pillows delivered to my client and I forgot to take pictures of the finished pillows once they were stuffed.

2 comments, opinions & scuttlebutt:

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Very well written instructions on a process that is difficult to describe and great photos! Would that special Bernina cord foot work on this? Great ideas!

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Jenny. I'm not sure which Bernina foot you're referring to, but I'm addicted to my footsie collection so unless it's new, it's probably one that I've tried!

Piping Foot #38 works only for very narrow cording, less than 1/4" diameter. I think that foot is best suited to fabric covered welt (although I always make that on my serger instead). I just noticed that the Bernina web site shows Foot #38 used to sew fringe trim, but they're doing it backwards in the picture (the fringe they are using is backwards; the header should be pointed towards the cut edge of the fabric).

The other foot that my Bernina dealer has recommended for sewing larger diameter decorative rope cord is Leather Roller Foot #55. Again, in the photo on the Bernina site, you can see that you have to sew with your fabric in backwards with this foot -- the entire bulk of your project needs to be to the RIGHT of the needle. This is mildly annoying when you're sewing rope cord on an 18" throw pillow, but it would be ridiculous to attempt to sew cord on a king size duvet this way!

IMO, a zipper foot is the best bet for sewing decorative rope cord with a Bernina.

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