Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pinless machine-finished binding

As anyone acquainted with my quilting knows, my motto is, “If it can be sewn by machine, it will be.” I used to love hand sewing, and spent hours doing tiny cross stitch while playing Scrabble with my mother and grandmother, traveling on the plane, or cozied next to my husband as he watched sports on TV, but now my hand is subject to fatigue from more than 30 minutes or so of needle-holding, and sewing with a machine is ever so much faster.

I’ve been doing my bindings completely by machine for almost four years, and let’s see, I’ve been quilting for almost four years, so you see how biased I am about using my machine for binding. Last year I went to a workshop where I learned about binding using fusible thread. The teacher said that she has submitted her quilts to shows and won prizes, so she feels the judges have no bias against bindings finished by machine. Her technique was much like mine, but since I see no need to use fu$ible thread, I haven’t tried it.

Here is what I do for no-pin, machine-finished, double-fold binding:

1. Cut the binding 1/8” wider than the usual recommendation.

2. Cut the binding on the straight of the grain – eliminates stretching the binding that creates waves of fabric ahead of the foot.

3. Sew the binding to the BACK of the quilt.

4. On the back side, press binding toward edge with hot dry iron (don’t want steam or spray since wetness lets the fabric stretch).

5. On the front side, fold the binding so the overlaps the sewn line and press.

6. Press the mitered corners in the direction I will be sewing – second side overlaps first side, etc.

7. Find a stitching pattern and width that pleases me. I have a little stack of experiments I’ve done that I can easily refer to. When I find a combination I like, I write the stitch width and length with ballpoint pen right on the sample fabric. I’ve used the herringbone pattern the most.

8. Stitch away, a scant 1/8” from the edge of the fold so that any little wanderings I do will not run off the binding and into the border in back.

9. The foot tends to push the binding fabric slightly to my right, so I use the tip of my seam ripper (not sharp) to keep the binding where it is supposed to be. I think Eleanor Burns has a little pointy thing she uses for such tasks.

10. The biggest hurdle, and it’s not that much of one, is turning the mitered corner. As I approach the corner, I try to make sure the fabric for the next side is overlapping and ready to be sewn. But if I don’t do it soon enough, no biggie. In that case, I stop the machine, lift the foot, and fold in the overlapping corner, lower the needle into the overlapped fabric and turn the corner.

11. Most of the time the next side is not lined up exactly where I want it, so I adjust the needle so that it’s barely into the binding fabric, and (foot still up) move the fabric so that the needle pulls the binding into place. Lower the needle and take one manual stitch. Then I continue on peacefully in the zone until the next corner.

Do you finish your bindings by machine? Do you do anything differently? Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

If you are new to this technique, I recommend trying it on smaller projects first – potholders and placemats, for example. My earlier pieces didn’t look very good on the back because some of my stitches wandered into the border, but with practice and experimentation, the bindings look just as good on the back as on the front.

Here are some bindings that I have done by machine:

1. Blind hem stitch done on the edge of the binding with monofilament. I didn’t like the puckery look on the front or the way most of the stitching on the back was into the border instead of on the binding. All this is caused by sewing on the very edge of the binding.

2. Herringbone stitch pattern done on plain fabric. The stitching is very obvious, which means if (if, what do I mean, IF?) I make a mistake, the mistake will be obvious.

3. Herringbone stitch on patterned fabric. Mistakes are disguised.

4. 3-step zigzag.

5. Triple zigzag showing a mitered corner.

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