Friday, January 29, 2010

Technique and Product Review: Using the Simplicity Bias

Last month we talked about Understanding Bias Tape, how to make your own tape, and most importantly...how to sew on bias tape (both the cheating method and the proper method).
Today we're going to talk about the Simplicity Bias Tape Maker machine. It's a machine that folds and irons bias strips for you. Of course you still need to cut and sew the strips together. But it eliminates the need for you to stand next to the iron for a 1/2 hour, trying not to burn your fingers as you make bias tape. Hooray!

This Product Review includes:
* my personal review of the machine
* the pros and cons

* step-by-step photo instructions on how to use the machine.

As the brand states...it's simple.

Please Note: this machine was given to me by Simplicity for review, but I have done my best to provide an unbiased evaluation.
The Bias Tape Maker is made by Simplicity, the same company that makes all those patterns you see in the fabric shop. I've wondered about this machine for about a year now.
Is it worth the money?
Does it really save time when making bias tape?
Will I really use it all that much?
Let's find out!

In my opinion (and probably yours)...
Machines are only worth buying if you'll actually use them, especially if they cost about $100 (though you can buy it for less on Amazon).
* If you think you're only going to make bias tape once in your life, the $4 cheapy bias tape maker from the store is sufficient.
* If you think you'll make bias tape more frequently for quilt binding, clothing, home decor...then this machine is actually pretty cool.
* If you're still not sure what to use bias tape for, check out the pics in our tutorial HERE. You might surprise yourself at how often you use it!

Machine costs and discounts:
* You can often find the machine on sale at Joann Fabrics (sometimes packaged along with the Simplicity Rotary cutter and/or winder, in a buy-on-get-one-free deal).
* buy it on Amazon for only $65. Best deal I've seen yet!
Why make your own Bias Tape?
You'll find detailed info on that in our previous tutorial HERE. But basically...the beauty of making your own bias tape (vs. buying the stuff at the store) is that you can make it from any fabric, especially fabrics with a cute pattern. Most pre-packaged bias tape is sold in 3 yard bundles, in SOLID colors. But with a 1/2 yard of fabric you can easily make 9 yards of your own tape!

So let's do it, using the handy Simplicity Bias Tape Maker. Follow all the same steps in our tutorial HERE (for cutting strips and sewing them together).
Then with a long strip of bias-cut fabric, we're ready to make Bias Tape!
(Polka Dot fabric is from Joanns, on the wall with the quilting fabrics)
Enter the Bias Tape Maker.
Here's what the machine box looks like when closed:
It's actually smaller than I thought (from the online pictures I'd seen). It's about the size of a box of wet wipes. And it's pretty light too! I love that. Makes it easy to store in my work space and pull out when I'm ready to use it.

When you open it, it looks like this:
The winding wheel is on the right. And the ironing machine and tip are on the left. It's a very simple machine and nothing to be intimidated by.

There are various machine tips that attach to the machine
, for making different bias tape widths. Keep in mind that bias tape maker widths always refer to single fold tape. If you're making double fold tape (which is what I use most often), your finished tape will actually be half of the size stated on the package. So....If you want 1/2 inch double fold tape, you need a 1 inch bias tape maker tip. Good news: the machine comes with the 1 inch-wide tip! And you can buy the other widths separately. Check Amazon for the best prices.
The tip I'll probably use the most is the 1 1/4 inch wide tip on the left (the 1 inch tip is on the right):
It makes about 2/3 inch wide double fold bias tape, which is very similar to 1/2 inch wide. But I like having that little extra bit of wiggle room; it helps when wrapping the tape around the edge of a quilt or bulky fleece fabric.

Okay, let's set-up the machine.

Decide which tip you're using (make sure you decide this BEFORE cutting your fabric strips, so you know how wide to cut your fabric!) The tip snaps right into place on the machine. Like this:
Next, set up the winding wheel and bar.
This is the wheel:
Place the end of your long bias strip into the clip and start rolling the fabric around the wheel. It winds faster if you put the wheel into the machine and roll it (by hand). And if you have the Simplicity Winder (a separate machine), it goes ever faster! When you're done winding you'll have a big ole roll, ready to be folded and ironed by the machine (not you!)
NOTE: I wound a 1/2 yard of fabric strips around the wheel and it was a little tight, but still worked. If you plan to make very long strips of bias tape, you might start winding in the middle of your strip, run it through the machine, and when you get to the end...roll the other end around the wheel and start the process again.

Okay, now for the bar. Just pick it up out of the box, and position it down in the little groove. Done.
The bar helps the fabric flow smoothly into the machine tip.

Okay, feed the end of the fabric into the machine. If the end of the fabric is cut on an angle it goes in easily. Otherwise, use a seam ripper or something skinny to help pull the fabric through the hole.
Next you're going to feed it through the "iron". The machine iron is a hot plate on the bottom and a hot iron on top. As the fabric passes through, it's ironed on both sides!

First take the iron off by shifting it to the right, then pull the fabric over the plate, and place the iron back on. I've done this even when the machine was turned on and was hot and had no problems. Just make sure you don't touch the hot areas of the iron with your fingers.
And you're pretty much ready to go!
Of course you need to plug the machine in and turn it ON.
Then turn the black knob to the proper setting for your fabric. Just like a standard iron, the cotton/linen setting is going to be the hottest, while synthetic/manufactured fabrics will be very low heat. It's important to use the proper heat or you may melt your fabric.
When the machine is heated to the proper temperature, the green light pops on "ready!".
Then comes the really exciting part....
Hit the button that says "RUN".
And watch as your fabric feeds through the machine...and turns into bias tape! If you ever need to stop, just hit the RUN button again and it quickly stops.
Seriously ,I know it sounds dumb...but it's really cool.
You definitely know you're a sewing nerd when you get excited about yards and yards of freshly pressed bias tape!
Picture my face standing really close to this pile and just smiling!...happy that I'm not spending 30 minutes pulling yards of fabric through my own iron.
And in a few minutes, I have 9 yards of single fold bias tape!! Yipee!
By let's not stop there. What I really want is double fold tape.

Now I may be missing something, but here are two slight CONs with the machine. It's not very obvious how to re-feed the single fold tape in the machine in order to make double fold tape, which is a bummer since most of us use double-fold tape far more often than single fold tape. I've searched online for more info but no one spells it out for you. Yes, I may be the idiot here. So if anyone has info, please relay!
In the mean time, here's what I did....

I folded the end of my strip in half, took the iron off, and then sandwiched it under the iron.
I hit run and watched it come back through, ironed in half.

BUT....it wasn't as easy as it sounds. The "folded" tape seemed to shift on the feeding end as it went into the iron. So, I had to stand there and feed it with my hands to keep it all in place. I had to periodically stop the machine to adjust the fabric and then start it up again. It was still easier than doing it the other way, with my standard iron. But I sort of envisioned that I would wind the tape, hit Run, and (sort of) walk away--of course you should always supervise what's going on with the machine, but you know what I mean.

Also, even after running the double fold tape through the machine, the ironing wasn't as firm as I would like. I found that the tape came unfolded in spots (back to single fold tape), whereas bias tape made with my standard iron holds together better. This is likely due to the speed of the machine. There is only one speed and when using it for single fold tape, there is plenty of heat running through the iron and onto the tape. When running double fold, however, the tape really needs to sit under the iron for longer to get enough heat through both layers of fabric. I'm hoping that with the tape now wound around cardboard and sitting in my drawer, it may hold shape better for when I'm ready to use it.
But regardless, the tape was still easy to make and in little time I had 9 yards of double fold bias tape!
Hooray again! I cut the 9 yards of tape in half and wound it around two pieces of cardboard.
Now I have plenty of boyish bias tape ready for my next project AND to give away as a gift!
Okay, to sum it all up...

It's the Simplicity Bias Tape Maker
* sells for $65 (Amazon) up to $99 (Simplicity site and in most fabric shops)

PROS:
* Lightweight, small, and easy to store
* Saves time when ironing/folding bias tape (but not when cutting and sewing)
* Folds/irons fabric quickly
* Makes precise Single fold bias tape (not as precise when making double-fold tape)
* Very easy to use
* Comes with a 1-inch wide tip

CONS:
* Cost (when compared to the cheapy manual makers, which are about $4)
* Doesn't have a real double-fold feeder (unless I'm missing something)
* Ironing on double-fold tape could be more firm (tape seems to come unfolded at times)
* Tips must be purchased separately (though it comes with the 1 inch wide tip!)
* The widest tip is 1 1/4 inches, which means you can't make 1 inch wide double-fold bias tape...which is one of my favorite widths for blanket bindings.

Overall, am I happy with the machine and is it worth the money?
Yes!..for me.
I use bias tape all the time.

Is it right for you?
Ask yourself the questions at the top of this review again to determine how much you'll use the machine. But don't cut yourself short. Look around at your projects and see how often you really do use (or could use) bias tape. It's such a fun trim for all types of sewing projects!

If you're interested in my other product reviews, you'll find them here:
Tamron AF 18-270 Camera Zoom Lens
Silhouette SD Cutter
Valspar Paints

And if you'd like a chance to WIN YOUR OWN MACHINE...Click over to our Bias Tape Maker Giveaway HERE!

1 comment:

Ana @ Don't Fear the Ripper said...

Hi Dana, thank you for this thorough review! I am considering buying one of this when the stars align so I can use a ton of coupons at Joann's :). I have a question about the machine. How does it handle the bias tape seams? When I make tape myself, I find that the seams don't enter the tip "seamlessly", so to speak, as the fabric is thicker, folded, etc. I often have to stop ironing and help it through the tip. Did you encounter this problem with the bias tape maker? Thank you! Love your blog!