Saturday, April 30, 2016

Technique: How I Bind My Quilts

A closeup of a quilt binding and an image of a finished quilt

When I started quilting, I knew that a hand-stitched binding was not for me. I didn’t have the patience for finishing a binding by hand—I wanted a faster route to a finished project!

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to machine-binding my quilts ... Attaching to the front and then the back, attaching to the back and then the front. Sewing a straight stitch, sewing a zigzag stitch. Stitching in the ditch, stitching so there’s visible thread on both sides of the binding. Using pins, using glue, using clips, etc.

I found a process that worked for me years ago, and I’ve stuck with it: I attach the binding to either side, the front or the back, and finish with a straight stitch and a visible line of bobbin thread.

This is what it looks like on the side I initially attach it to ...

The binding edge of a finished quilt shown from the back

And here’s the reverse ...

The binding edge of a finished quilt from the front

It’s not for everyone. I’m sure that thread line parallel to the binding, which appears on the back of this quilt, would drive some of you batty. Plus, this approach often requires different colors for the top thread and bobbin thread. I don’t mind tempting the tension gods (they tend to cooperate with me!), and I like this technique because it’s pretty forgiving.

What follows are more details on how I bind this way. It’s a high-level view of the process. If you want the nitty-gritty details—making your binding, mitering your corners, etc.—there are links at the end of this post to other tutorials.

1. Attach the binding to the front or back.

I use 2.5-inch width-of-fabric binding strips. (I know that bias binding would wear better over time, but I can’t be bothered to make it unless I’m working with a curved edge.) I determine which side to attach my binding to, picking the one that will better camouflage the line of stitching that runs parallel to the binding. (See the first pic above.) Then I sew my binding on that side, mitering the corners as I go.

2. Glue the corners.

The corners are the trickiest part of binding neatly, so to keep everything in place, I glue-baste mine. I start by pressing the binding at each of the corners from the side on which it’s attached. Next, I squeeze a thin line of washable school glue along the exposed corner, fold the binding over it, and use my iron to set the glue for 3 to 5 seconds. 

If the product doesn’t look nice, I slowly release the fabric with my finger, reglue it, and try again. After the glue is set, I still use a Wonder Clip on the corner for good measure.

The glue is nontoxic and will come out during the quilt’s first washing.

3. Press the binding.

With the corners ready to go, it’s time to press the binding. I like to set my stitches with my iron first; I think it makes the fabric more malleable and creates a crisper fold. Then I fold the binding away from the side I’m working on, and press again.

I do this for one of the four edges of the quilt and then proceed to the next step.

4. Clip the rest of that edge.

I used to glue-baste all around my binding, but it was messy and I didn’t think the results were worth the hassle. Now I like the precision I achieve by simply clipping the binding down before sewing.

I make sure to give myself wiggle room here. As you can see from the first picture in the post, I have less than an eighth of an inch of clearance, but if I take my time, this is enough and I rarely catch the other side of the binding in the seam accidentally.

5. Sew that edge.

I back-stitch at the beginning and end of that edge, and I pull the quilt off my machine to prepare the next one.

Here is the bound quilt! For more on this quilt, see this post.

Additional resources

When I first started quilting, I thought machine-binding was cheating. What would the quilt police say?! In the years since, I have displayed quilts at shows and received feedback from judges that my pretty and precise machine-binding was an asset. : )

In my mind, choosing how to bind your quilt is a matter of preference. Everyone does it a little differently, and perhaps by peering into my process, you might tweak your own protocol.

For more tutorials on binding, see:

* Karen’s Quilts, Crows, and Cardinals: The technique here of folding the start of the binding and placing a pin through the top layer of the end is how I join my binding ends. This tutorial is long but has lots of helpful pictures. Over time, this approach has become second nature. I’ve only ever followed it to do a flanged binding here.

* Red Pepper Quilts: I used to zigzag the raw edges of my binding as done in this tutorial. Now I can’t be bothered with that extra step.

* Jaybird Quilts: I follow this tutorial when I can get away with a single-fold binding.

* Stitched in Color: I’ve tried using a decorative zigzag stitch to finish off the binding, but I get less-than-stellar results.

[Updated March 3, 2021]

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  1. I don't care much for the quilt police or their opinion to be honest. I machine stitch my bindings and always have. I find they are sturdier that way and I like the look I get when I stitch to the front, press to the back and then stitch in the ditch on the front, catching the back at the same time. I have no desire to enter my quilts in shows anyhow - not that I don't admire those that do. Just not for me.

  2. I do my bindings the same way Izzy described but I often have varying amounts of binding caught by the stitches. Sometimes it's right on the edge and other times there's more. I like the way you do your and will give it a try on my next project...and I never thought of glue basting the corners...brilliant!

  3. I do like to hand bind, but I also like having machine binding as a skill in my toolbox. Both are equally valid ways for finishing a quilt in my opinion, and I hand bind much less frequently than I used to (pretty much only for show quilts these days). Becoming comfortable and confident with either technique takes time, and your tutorial is almost exactly how I machine bind. I think the extra line looks just fine (and I tend to have it shown my quilt backs).

  4. I've tried a few methods as well, also with different levels of success. If I do it on the machine I like to use the edgestitch foot, so the top stitches barely show, but then I sometimes don't catch the back of the binding and that's frustrating. I'll have to try the glue tip, thanks!

  5. LOVE machine binding. By the time I get to binding, I just want it finished. Don't enter a machine bound quilt into a show, the quilt police really critique that.

  6. As usual, you're more meticulous than I. :D I skip the pressing, glueing, and clipping - just fold it over as I topstitch. My lazy adaptation of Wasn't Quilt in a Day's tutorial. As for the Quilt Police -- ignore them!!! I knew a lady who told me I couldn't call myself a quilter since I didn't handbind. Pshdfh who has time for that? Think of all the love it could receive while the QP is making it perfect!

  7. Great post! I do both hand and machine sewn binding. For a quilt that is going to be used on a bed and washed frequently I always machine sew it down. I really like your idea of sewing either on the front or the back depending on which side will hide the stitching line better!

  8. This is how I bind my quilts. I cut my strips 2.5 inch. I sew to the back with about a 3/8 inch seam. When you pull it over to the front, the folded edge lies just on top of the line you just stitched. If you sew close to the folded edge on the front, the stitching on the back will hit in the ditch of where you attached the binding or very close to it. I'm happy with it.

  9. I can't machine bind to save my life! It ends up with wonky lines of stitching veering on and off the wonky binding on both sides. I hand bind and don't think it's less durable at all. I have no issue with machine binding and would do it if i could as it's quicker!

  10. I finished a quilt last night and tried all your tips...and it turned out great! The glue in the corners really is great - it helped keep them in place and they look so neat :-) Thanks!

    1. Yay! I'm glad you had success. Even if you don't use that trick with every quilt, it's nice to have another skill in your quilting toolbox. Options are a good thing! (P.S. I would love to respond to your comments directly, but you're a no-reply blogger. If you'd rather not change your status as such, drop me a note with your email!)

  11. I like this technique, and use it quite a bit. But I've never tried gluing the corners down and I think that will really help! Because if anything is going to slip and go wonky on me, it's the corners. Thanks for the tip!

  12. I always machine bind my quilts because like you I don't have the patience, but also because my fingers go numb with hand sewing ever since I was pregnant with my first son. Great idea to glue baste the corners! I've not yet warmed up to clips, so perhaps I should pull them back out again and give them a go.

  13. Great post! I have always hand stitched the back of my bindings down, but {must confess} sometimes it takes forever for me to get to that stage .. maybe I should try out your machine version!

  14. I agree binding is a personal preference. Do what you want, what you love! I love to hand stitch my bindings. I've tried machine stitching, it just never took with me! The quilt police need to lighten up, who are they to enforce right and wrong...IMO! Thanks for sharing your technique, I love seeing how others do their 'thing'!

  15. Do you use 2.5" strips? Thanks!


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