Aug 24, 2013

How to: Personalised Bunting!

I decided to make a birthday bunting for my daughter for her first birthday. Hopefully it'll last for many birthdays to come.

Without a pattern here's how we went about it.  This a long post and includes how I did this bunting, plus instructions for variations.

1. Chose a font

Tip: Keep it simple and sans serif. That is, pick one without tails on the letters, like Arial.  There are a lot of corners and extra bits in fonts like Georgia or Courier.)

On the computer, we used 100% zoom on the screen to view the letters, then folded some paper to an equivalent size and held it up to the wall to see how big it would feel.  Our letters are about 8cm wide and 12cm tall (about 3" x 5").

What to print
I chose to print "HAPPY BIRTHDAY KATE!" because the exclamation mark gave me letter groups of 5, 8 and 5 - nice and symmetrical.

All the letters were printed and cut out.

Reinforce skinny corners with tape. Label your vague letters.

2. Decided on a triangle size

The triangles don't have to be equilateral (sides all being the same length); they can be isosceles (two sides the same length). (Really, they can be square if you like - it's your bunting!)

Our triangles are 20cm wide and 25cm tall (26cm sides).

3. Made a template.

I wanted variety in my bunting, not uniformity.

Uniformity across the front and back of a bunting shows up most with linear patterns, so the template and fabric needs planning to achieve this.

For uniformity with patterns that run in several directions, make a diamond shaped template and align the pattern along the length.
For uniformity with patterns that run only one direction (such as words you'd like to be read from both sides), cut out two triangles, remembering to add any seam allowance.  Align the pattern with the top of your triangle.

If uniformity is unimportant, I recommend a kite shape because it has only one side seam to sew.
Mark your grain to run down the centre of the front triangle.

Remember to add a seam allowance around all the cutting edges.

A step I did later, but should be done now: Mark the space for the letters.  See Step 8 for a picture.
Left: The original template. Right: The kite-shaped template for cutting

4. Bought (more) fabric

When buying the fabric, you need to decide which way you want the pattern to hang and make sure you get enough fabric to fit as many templates as you want.

I wanted a lot of different bright colours and chose three patterns each of blue, green, red, pink, purple, orange and yellow - 21 colours.  My rule for this fabric that the patterns be one colour, maybe with some white.

A fat quarter gave me two kite shapes on the grain, rotated 90° (42 flags). This meant that I was sure to have my patterns varied between flags and across the front and back.

Trace the letters back-to-front
You will also need fabric & stiff interfacing for the letters. I used between 50-100cm of interfacing and two different white-patterned fat quarters.

5. Made the letters

I cut out the printed letters and traced them back-to-front onto interfacing.
I cut the interfacing into a convenient shape that evenly divided the letters into two lots, one for each white-patterned fabric.
Then I attached the interfacing to the fabric.

Once they were securely adhered, I cut out the letters along the traced lines.

Don't cut out the traced letters before you iron them - that's too much work!

6. Cut out the flags

Remember to arrange your template carefully if you care about the pattern directions.  Otherwise it's just important to align the grain with the length or top of a triangle so that it doesn't warp upon hanging or stretch when attached to the bias tape.
I recommend using a rotary cutter and, depending on how long your bunting will be, this would probably justify getting a cutter & mat if you're without.

If you are doing diamonds that will be flopped over the bias strip (one long seam, nice and easy) you might like to use pinking sheers or a decorative rotary blade to make the edges more interesting.

7. Arranged the colour order

To do this I arranged my fabrics in a colour wheel and collected them in a sort of skipping phrase - next colour, skip a colour, next colour, skip two colours, next colour, skip a colour, etc - to create variety.
Then I swapped fabrics so that stripy patterns were separated and so that there was no repetition in the sequence.
There's something soothing & satisfying about rainbows...

8. Placed the letters

I 'matched the middles'.  That is, I found the centre of the colour sequence and the centre of the words and pinned the letters (just one pin at this point) to their matching flags.
Then I laid out the whole thing to check the spelling and see the colour groupings.  I did a bit more shuffling so I was happy with the colours, although it meant the stronger, bolder colours (my favourites) were used for the words and the weaker ones ends up in the ends.
I used the template to centre the letters on each flag and carefully pinned their parts so that they wouldn't shift during sewing.
Using the template to mark the centre-top of each letter.

9. Sew the letters

I like to put my start/end point in an inside corner, should I have one.
For example, I began the A in the corner of the bar as you can see in the photos below.

I used a zigzag set on 3.5 wide and <0.5 long. (The stitch length was rotated off zero about a quarter turn.)

To create square corners on zigzag edgings
  1. Sew begond the end of the edge for about 2mm (no more than the width of your zigzag). 
  2. Lower the needle to the outside of the turn.  If it's turning left, lower it in the right; if it's turning right, lower it into the left.
  3. Raise the foot and rotate your fabric.
  4. Lower the foot and resume sewing.
This creates a square corner on your sewing line rather than a dint. (See the H in the third photo below.)

Stitched beyond the edge;
the needle lowered on the right, ready to turn to the left.
The needled lowered on the left; foot raised and fabric turned.
Some finished letters. I began with some nice easy ones - K, A, T & E!

10. Sewed the sides of the flags

You don't need to do this step if you've cut diamonds and plan to flop them over the bias strip.

For both two-triangle flags and kite shapes: Sew the side(s) of your flag with right sides facing (inside out).

Regardless of how you aligned your grain, be mindful to not stretch the edge when sewing.

11. Trimmed and pressed the flags

For kite shapes:  Trim the tips by snipping a long triangle off the end.  It doesn't need to be right up against the point, you just need to remove the bulk from the tip for turning out.

For two-triangle flags:  Carefully trim on both seam edges.

For trimming that was too close: A stop-fray liquid, or even a dab of glue, can help keep fraying at bay.  Apply this when the flag is inside out.

Turn out your flag and use something pointy to push out the tips.

Press your flag so that it lies symmetrically and flat.

For diamond shapes that will be hung over the bias strip:  Fold and press your diamonds in half with wrong sides together.  This step is important if your fold is not on the grain (maybe for pattern reasons) because it will help prevent stretching.

12. Prepared the bias tape

I used two packs of 5m x 12mm white bias tape.  It comes with the raw edges folded over and pressed.

To join two lengths of bias tape
  1. Open out the ends of the two strips of bias tape and press flat.
  2. Cross the ends so that they are perpendicular (90º to each other - one up/down, the other left-right).
  3. Sew across the widest part of that overlap.  Your sewing line should go through the two points where the fold lines cross and should be at 45º to the edges.
  4. Trim off excess tape.
  5. Press open the allowance and re-press the folds.
My apologies for not providing pictures.  This site does a nice job and begins with making your own bias tape.


13. Attached flags to bias tape

I began attaching my flags from the middle of the tape, starting with the middle of the words (between the T and H of birthday) and worked my way towards the start and then in the other direction, towards the end. This way, I knew the flags would be centred and I'd use the tape economically.
The middle of the tape was already marked by the join I'd made in Step 12.
It was also easier to seal the ends of tape as a finishing step rather than at the start.

For made flags:  Fold your bias tape in half, length wise.  Tuck the top of the flag into the fold of the bias tape.  Use a pin, if you like, to hold the start in place.  Sew along the length of the tape at an appropriate width.  For a 12mm bias tape, it's about 4-5mm from the fold, which should collect the back of the tape too.

For diamonds: (I would recommend pressing your bias tape in half, the way it will be sewn, so that it doesn't push itself out of the flag fold as you sew.)
Fold over your bias tape and tuck it into the fold of the diamond. Sew along the fold, catching the bias tape in the stitch.  The colour of the bias tape will be hidden.

How you space the flags is up to you.  I intended to put a bit of space between the words, but realised I wasn't sure of how much tape I had spare at the ends.  It's not that important with familiar phrases like 'Happy Birthday', though.
A gap of about 1cm to half an inch is sufficient.
I thought that if the flags were very close the bunting might become stiff and not drape easily.

14. Admire work
Check the back of your flags to see that both sides of the tape were stitched.  Re-do any sections that need to to avoid wear and tear from catching.  Use a needle to hide thread ends in the bias tape.

Hang your bunting somewhere obvious and remember to take a photo of it in action!

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