May 26, 2012

Best machine binding!

I love the look of a hand-stitched binding as the finish to a quilt, and I enjoy doing the stitching as a kind of final good-bye to a quilt, having this last chance to slowly pass the whole quilt through my hands.  Unfortunately, my love of hand-sewing eventually led to repetitive-motion injury to my right hand.  I can reduce the pain through exercises prescribed by a physical therapist, but I have also had to radically reduce the time I spend hand sewing. With the time limited, my priorities are appliqué and hand-quilting, with binding in 3rd place.  So, I've been on the search for a method of machine binding that is relatively easy to do, that doesn't stiffen the binding with too much thread, and that looks satisfactory to my eye.  I've finally came up with a method that combines elements from a few different sources.  I think this is it!  I'm giving a tutorial here, and then at the end, I've put links to the other methods I've tried--both to acknowledge and thank those I've learned from and to have them there as options for others who may prefer something else.

The photo at the top shows the binding both from the front (top of photo) and the back (below, the plain tan fabric).  The basic method is this:  the double-fold binding is sewn to the back of the quilt, flipped over, and then stitched down with a straight stitch, with top thread matching the binding fabric (here, rusty red) and bobbin thread matching the back (here, tan).  Here are further details:

Sew the double-fold binding onto the back of the quilt.  I cut the binding at 2-1/2" and then fold in half.  I sew the binding on using the width of my general purpose foot, which is between 1/4" and 3/8" (seems overly precise to call it 5/16).
When you get about 3/8" (or whatever your seam measures) from the corner, sew an angle to the corner of the quilt.  This is a new tip I just learned from Mary Beth Clark, who learned it from Wanda Hanson.  Thanks Wanda!  It really helps make the corner come to a nice point.
After you've sewn the binding on all around, press the binding out away from the back.

Then at each corner, fold the miter under and press in the line on the back side.

Pull the binding around to the front (teal fabric is the front), and stitch down with a straight stitch.  Choose a top thread that blends with the binding and a bottom thread that blends with the fabric on the back.
Stitch quite close to the edge.  This will insure that the stitching on the back side falls in the backing, not on the binding itself.  You'll probably be able to feel with your finger as you sew that the stitching line is over the small hump of the binding on the back.
This photo (like the one at the top of the post) compares the resulting stitching on the back with that on the front.  Choosing different threads to match binding and backing is key.  It's a little trickier to keep the bottom thread off the binding when turning the mitered corner on the machine.  Three of my corners looked like this, a little off on the back (double-click on the photo for a closer view):

 But one of the corners was great on the back!  I think with more practice, I'll be able to do better on the corners.

A detail about beginning and ending the top-stitching:  I didn't want this spot visible, so I left long threads at the beginning and ending, and buried them in the quilt with a needle.  See below for links to tutorials on how to sink the threads.

As long as we're looking at this table runner, here's a view of the quilting stitch, a sashiko-style pattern I recently saw in the NQA quarterly (Mary DeRay, "Mocha Latte," The Quilting Quarterly, Spring 2012, pp. 36-37).  It's a really nice, simple stitch for a vertical space, and easily changeable in size along the wedge.

And here's the finished table runner:

Machine binding where you sew binding on the top, fold under, pin, and sew in the ditch from the top: (including a full tutorial on all binding steps).  Two other tutorials of a very similar method: and I love the look of this method, and when these quilters do it (Melody Johnson, Rita of Red Pepper Quilts, Marny Buck and Jill Guffy), it comes out great.  But to get it to work at all for me, I had to spend a good deal of time with the pinning, and I still had trouble getting the back of the binding to look consistently good.  So--looks great from the front, but time consuming, and I wasn't happy with the back.  So, I kept looking.

Machine binding where you sew binding on the bottom, and then use a decorative stitch on the top  What I've outlined above is very close to this--except that I uses a straight stitch rather than the button hole stitch used by Pat Sloan (plus I added in a couple of other small tips).  I much prefer the look of the straight stitch--not as obvious as the decorative stitch--and it also keeps the binding more flexible.  Below is a little sample showing a zig-zag stitch on the top and a button hole stitch on the right edge, towards the bottom.  (Double-click for better view.)

Also, the first time I saw machine binding was in a workshop with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.  Their method uses single-fold binding, which I don't like as much as double-fold, and the one time I tried it, I had trouble getting it to look good at all.  Of course, all of Bill and Weeks' bindings are beautiful when they do it!

And as I was searching the web to try to find the tutorial that mentioned ironing the binding and miter so I could acknowledge it (can't find it), I came across this tutorial that shows back to front machine binding with a straight stitch!  I'm kind of relieved to know someone else is doing this--it must be O.K. :-)

Two methods of burying threads in the quilt.  I use mostly the first method, but the second one when the tails are short:


  1. I have to admit that I didn't read all your instructions because I'm not a quilter. But I was impressed with how well you documented your instructions with pictures. And it was nice to see my finished runner even before I show up at your house tomorrow! See you soon!

    Love, Cookie

  2. This is a great posting! I have referred to it many times.