How to Sew Bunting

“Bunting” is apparently what those little triangular flags hanging in a line are called, like you would see at a swim meet or maybe a carnival. Apparently they are all the rage, and since there’s nothing I like better than fitting in and doing what the crowd is doing, I thought I would make some.

This is bunting. Picture from flyingcolours.org.

This is bunting. Picture from flyingcolours.org.

There are plenty of tutorials out there for “easy” “no-sew” bunting, but who wants to do that if you can do it the hard way? This tutorial is for sewing a lot of bunting in such a way that all the seams are hidden, and you can see both the front and backs of the flags. It is good quality bunting that you could probably sell on Etsy or give to your friends who were bunting-less.

In order to decide what kind of bunting to make, I browsed Pinterest and formed strong opinions on everybody else’s work before lifting a finger. This is how all good projects start.

I realized that I liked bunting where:

  • The edges are sewn under, because it feels finished and professional
  • A wide variety of colors and patterns are used, bringing out other features in the room
  • The bunting can be draped across the center of the room, meaning that the backs of the triangles must also have fabric
  • The triangles have a bit of space between them.

Of course, none of this may be important to you, but it was to me, and thus will be incorporated into my bunting tutorial.

This is not what I would call a “difficult” sewing project. It is all straight lines, and is pretty forgiving if you can’t cut a straight line or match corners well. It packs up well, if you like to bring your projects elsewhere to work on, and it doesn’t require a lot of steps or materials. But it did take much longer than expected. This tutorial is aimed toward someone with low to medium sewing experience, as an experienced sewer (seamstress? Sewperson?) will likely be able to look at them and figure it out on their own.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

For this project, you will need:

  • Several quarter-yards of fabric of your choice. Each quarter-yard will make about five triangles, including backs, so do your math if you know how long of a strip of bunting you want. Fat quarters, as sold pre-cut in fabric stores, will also work, but you will have to cut it in half first to match my cutting diagram below.
  • Several yards of double-fold bias tape. How many yards you need will depend on how much fabric you want to incorporate. I used, on average, about a yard of bias tape per quarter-yard cut of material. The exact width of the bias tape doesn’t matter. I used a very narrow bias tape, because that’s what I had on hand. A wider tape will allow for more error in sewing, but will also be more obvious on the finished product. Choose a color that coordinates with all of your chosen fabrics.
  • Sewing machine, with needle, etc
  • Thread that matches the bias tape
  • Iron and ironing board
  • A pointy thing, like a fat knitting needle or the ends of your sewing scissors
  • Sharp fabric scissors
  • A good piece of cardstock paper (optional)
Pictured: Ten dfferent 1/4 yards of fabric, pins, thread, scissors. On my way to a friend's house to work on this project!

Pictured: Ten dfferent 1/4 yards of fabric, pins, thread, scissors. On my way to a friend’s house to work on this project!

The fun part of this is shopping for fabric. Maybe you already have a lot of scrap fabric lying around and you want to use that. That’s great! I wanted new fabric, so I went into the fabric store and chose a nice selection of fabrics that didn’t exactly¬†match, but I felt worked well together. It was a mix of floral print, pinstripes, monsters, and machinery. All of the fabric was from the quilting section.

I got a 1/4 yard each of ten different fabrics.

Note: Some fabrics will have a definite up/down axis. For example, music is only readable right-side up. My method of cutting the fabric means that some of the triangles will feature the fabric upside-down. You can choose to only buy non-directional prints, or decide that it doesn’t matter to you, or deliberately place the “upside-down” prints on the back side of the bunting, or you can buy twice as much of the directional fabric to make sure that all your triangles will only have right-side up prints on them. It’s up to you. My husband, who had no opinion on bunting whatsoever, had a very strong opinion about the music fabric being right-side up. These things can matter to people.

Step 2: Cutting your Triangles

Since buying a quarter yard of fabric comes in a nice, folded-over strip, it’s easy to cut a number of triangles out of it.

Lay your fabric out, folded over once (as it would be on the bolt) and decide how wide you want your isosceles triangles. You will get about three right-side up triangles and two upside-down triangles from this configuration. See the diagram. Because the fabric is folded over, this will yield ten pieces of fabric, or five triangles with both a front and a back.

Diagram: Layout for cutting ten triangles from a quarter yard of fabric. When the fabric is folded over as shown, the cuts would go through both pieces of fabric. Fat quarters (which are sold as squares instead of strips) will need to be cut in half first to approximate the layout shown here.

Diagram: Layout for cutting ten triangles from a quarter yard of fabric. When the fabric is folded over as shown, the cuts would go through both pieces of fabric. Fat quarters (which are sold as squares instead of strips) will need to be cut in half first to approximate the layout shown here.

Note: If you are using your own fabric scraps, you just have to decide how big you can make your triangles on your own.

Once you decide, use your piece of cardstock to make a pattern for all the future triangles.

Cut out all your triangles.

Note: I am not the world’s greatest fabric measurer/cutter. I get sloppy with my edges. Many of my triangles mysteriously did not end up with the same angle. In fact, I had to fudge a few of the triangles just to make them fit the fabric. (If you are using the full quarter yard, that probably won’t be a problem; I chose to cut a square off the end of each of my fabrics for another project, so I had slightly less to work with.) ¬†That’s ok. This is a forgiving project. Just roll with it.

Step 3: Sew the Front and Back of Your Triangles Together

Now you can start sewing! Take two triangles of the same fabric, and match them front-to-front. Try to line them up as well as you can, but if you are sloppy like me, just do the best you can.

This fabric may not look like it is wrong-side-out, but it is. Trust me.

This fabric may not look like it is wrong-side-out, but it is. Trust me.

Sew them together along the two longer edges of the triangle, leaving them open at the top. If your triangles are slightly uneven, be sure to sew within the edges of the smaller triangle so as not to leave gaps. When you are finished with this step, the triangles will look as though they are inside-out. They are. This is good.

A whole stack of inside-out triangles, just sewn.

A whole stack of inside-out triangles, just sewn.

Do this for all of your triangles. When you are done, you will have a nice stack of inside-out triangles.

Step 4: Turn your Triangles Right-side Out and Iron

Next, turn the triangles right-side out. This is why you’ve left the top side open. They will be a bit lumpy. Use your pointy object to get the tip of the triangle right-side-out.

A pointy object, such as this wide knitting needle, can help get the tip of the triangle right-side out.

A pointy object, such as this wide knitting needle, can help get the tip of the triangle right-side out.

Then, iron the triangle so it is flat, keeping the sewn edges on the sides.

Ironing each triangle turns it from a lump piece of fabric to a double-sided triangle with no visible seams.

Ironing each triangle turns it from a lump piece of fabric to a double-sided triangle with no visible seams.

Again, don’t worry too much if the open edge of your triangle doesn’t line up perfectly. We’ll be trimming this off in the next step. For now, just set it in the stack of finished triangles.

It takes a while to turn each triangle right-side out and iron it, but you can feel so much closer to a finished project.

It takes a while to turn each triangle right-side out and iron it, but you can feel so much closer to a finished project.

Do this for all of your triangles. When you are done, you will have a nicely pressed stack of right-side-out triangles.

Step 5: Trim the Triangles and Sew on Bias Tape

Now is when it really comes together!

First of all, sort your triangles in the order you want them on the bunting. I had ten different fabrics that I wanted to cycle through in a regular pattern. I also had opinions about which fabric went well next to other fabrics. It’s up to you. However you decide to sort them, stack them in the order that you’d like them to go. If you have a preferred “front” to your triangles (maybe a better cut of fabric, or a right-side-up pattern), make sure these are all facing the same direction.

Lookit all my pretty triangles! These are sorted in the order that I want to sew them.

Lookit all my pretty triangles! These are sorted in the order that I want to sew them.

Take your double-fold bias tape and position it in the sewing machine so that the open edge facing left. This is where you will be inserting the triangles as you go. Think of the bias tape as a trough in which your flag triangles will nestle.

Sew the bias tape closed for several inches. This will be eventually closed in a loop, allowing you to hang the bunting from hooks when you’re done.

After you’ve sewn for several inches, pause your sewing without picking up the presser foot. Pick up your first triangle. Before sewing anything, use a sharp pair of fabric scissors and trim the top (open) edge of the triangle so that it is trim and even. This will make it waaaaay easier to sew into the bias tape. At this point, it’s ok if there are slight differences in height between the triangles. What matters is that all the sloppiness gets trimmed off the top edge.

By trimming the top (open) edge so that it is even, you remove all evidence of sloppy cutting or sewing in previous steps. Huzzah!

By trimming the top (open) edge so that it is even, you remove all evidence of sloppy cutting or sewing in previous steps. Huzzah!

Once the open edge of the triangle is nice and trim, insert it into the open edge of the bias tape. Continue sewing the bias tape edge together, this time with the triangle sandwiched between the two layers of bias tape. This makes all the open edges of the fabric disappear into a nice, professional-looking seam.

Careful. At this point, each stitch needs to go through the top of the bias tape, both layers of the triangle, AND the bottom of the bias tape. The narrower the bias tape, the more careful you will have to be to make sure everything is lined up.

Careful. At this point, each stitch needs to go through the top of the bias tape, both layers of the triangle, AND the bottom of the bias tape. The narrower the bias tape, the more careful you will have to be to make sure everything is lined up.

If you want a little space between your triangles, continue sewing past the corner of the triangle by an inch or two. Then, repeat the trim/insert/sew process with the next triangle in your stack, all without picking up the presser foot or cutting the thread.

Once you finish a triangle, continue sewing on the bias tape to give yourself space between triangles, if you like.

Once you finish a triangle, continue sewing on the bias tape to give yourself space between triangles, if you like.

After all your triangles are sewn, sew several more inches past the last triangle on the bias tape. Cut it to length. As a finishing touch, loop around the ends of the bias tape and sew them in place to create loops on both ends to hang the bunting from.

Finish the bunting by sewing the end of the bias tape back on itself in a loop, for hanging.

Finish the bunting by sewing the end of the bias tape back on itself in a loop, for hanging.

Ta da!

Step 6: Hang and Enjoy!

I would recommend small Command hooks to hang your bunting about the room. You can also hang it from drapery rods, or edges of furniture, or lighting fixtures, if you want. It is very light, so you can hang it about. I would not recommend hanging it within reach of small children who are likely to hang on it, though.

Here are all the fabrics I used for my bunting. No real theme, but heavy on the mint, teal, rose, and cream, with small prints with a whimsical or old-fashioned feel.

Here are all the fabrics I used for my bunting. No real theme, but heavy on the mint, teal, rose, and cream, with small prints with a whimsical or old-fashioned feel.

Think of all the different ways you can use your bunting!

Bunting is festive! See how it dresses up this unfinished room.

Bunting is festive! See how it dresses up this unfinished room.

Hang it over windows as a valance, strung back and forth across a wall as a large accent piece, or across the middle of a room for festive flair. Hanging it across a high ceiling brings the space down to human height. Hanging it across a low ceiling brings it down to kid-height. It can dress up the upper areas of a kid’s room where many of the decorations may be in the lower half. It can lend an air of old-fashioned festivity. Plus, it seems to be trendy right now, so there’s that.

Although we still need to get some hooks for the wall, you can see how the little pops of color can bring out other colors in the room, like the browns, teals, and creams, tying the whole theme together.

Although we still need to get some hooks for the wall, you can see how the little pops of color can bring out other colors in the room, like the browns, teals, and creams, tying the whole theme together.

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