How to Machine Sew Your Quilt Binding. (Without getting a line of machine sewing on the front of your quilt.)

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Two days before Christmas Day I started two quilts as gifts. I don’t make mini quilts, (can’t see the sense in it apart from doll quilts), so they were ample lap quilt size, only slightly smaller than single bed size. I started cutting the fabric on December 23, and by 8PM on December 24 both quilts were finished, photographed and wrapped up. It’s not that I’m some sort of quilting superwoman… the secret to my success was being able to machine sew the bindings. Instead of taking 4 – 5 hours to hand sew the binding on to the back of each individual quilt, (making 8 – 10 hours of work), the binding on both quilts was done in around an hour and a half.

Before I start, apologies for the drab colour on the binding. If I’d known I was going to do this tutorial, I might have made a screamingly pink quilt or something. Anyway, I hope you’ll get the idea regardless. Here goes!

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I make my own bindings: the traditional 2.5″ strip, ironed in half, then ironed in halves again to give the line that I quilt down. I attach the binding to the front of the quilt exactly as if I was going to handsew it to the back. So far, there’s no difference to the normal way of performing the binding step.

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Then here comes the big difference. You pin the backing down, exactly as you would if you were going to handsew, but with one major change. Instead of the pins being on the back side of the quilt, they’re on the front. This photo is taken from the front of the quilt. The pin is holding the binding down over the line of stitching on the back that you want to hide. Like so:

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Backing of the quilt. The following photo shows the original line of stitching that attaches the binding to the front of the quilt. I want to hide this line of stitching on the back of the quilt, for aesthetic reasons and to make sure that when I start to sew, every inch of the binding on the back is caught and held securely. So I make sure the pinned-down binding covers this stitching. It may take some flipping back and forth, but it’s essential that you get it right.

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The secret is in the pinning. If you take your time and make sure that the binding is pinned securely over the line of stitching, then when you flip the quilt over and start sewing, everything will be secure and you’ll have no dramas.

Once one side of the quilt is pinned down, flip the quilt over and set it up under your machine. You will now be sewing just inside the binding on the front side of your quilt.

The beauty of this method is that you can keep an eye on what the ‘proper’ side of your quilt will look like, while knowing that if you’ve done your pinning efficiently to cover the line of stitching on the backing, you’ll catch the binding on the back and it will all be secure. It’s worth taking time to get the pinning done properly. (Have I emphasised that enough?)

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I like clean, unfussy lines of stitching for my binding, so I position the sewing foot like so. I use the left side of the foot as my guide along the edge of the binding,(see above photo), so my line of stitching is barely inside the binding. To the casual eye, it looks no different to binding that has been handstitched, particularly if you take care to use thread that is so close in colour to the binding that it ‘disappears.’ The straighter the line of stitching, the less visible it is, so go slow!

Then sew slowly down the side of the quilt, removing the pins as you reach them.

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I always sew a little past the corners, because sometimes I’m lucky enough for the machine stitching to securely hold down the corners on the back side of the quilt so I don’t have to handsew them down. It depends on how the mitred corners are folded.

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The stitching on my quilt corners has a cross effect, but if you didn’t like that look there’d be nothing stopping you from stopping on the corner with your needle down, turning the quilt to face the next side and then calmly continuing down using a continuous line of stitching around the whole quilt. Sadly, I don’t have enough pins to pin up an entire quilt in one go, so I do one side at a time. (Yes, this photo is from a different quilt. I forgot to take pictures of the corners of the sister quilts and they’re both long gone.)

Once you finish, flip the quilt over and check how you went.

When I made my brother’s quilt a week or so before Christmas, I was a bit careless with my pinning on one side and so I had two small places where I had to handsew the binding edge to the backing, because it gaped. Oops. (Took me 5 minutes to fix it, which is still far quicker than handsewing the whole quilt!) I learned though, and there were no such problems with the sister quilts. I knew I didn’t have the time to muck around if I wanted to give them to the recipients on Christmas Day, so I was meticulous about my pinning.

The pinning is the key. Take your time and get that right. You certainly reap the benefits on saved time once you start sewing.

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Back side.

There’s a little ‘flap’ kind of effect because it’s impossible to exactly gauge precisely where your quilt binding edge is when you’re sewing on the other side of the quilt, but you know what? If it saves me 3 or 4 hours of sewing, I can live with that. The machine sewing makes the binding absolutely secure, which gives me a comfortable feeling that my quilt is (nearly) indestructible. Check your corners because there may be small sections that need to be hand stitched to make them secure. There may not… it varies from corner to corner. Then flip it back to the front and gaze in awe at your own cleverness:

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I love the clean, uncluttered look this technique gives to the front of the quilt. There’s no stitching line on the actual quilt top and everything is held firmly and securely. It saves me hours of time and I’ll never go back to the old way of sewing the binding. Life’s too short!

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10 Responses to How to Machine Sew Your Quilt Binding. (Without getting a line of machine sewing on the front of your quilt.)

  1. persiflage says:

    Oh Froggie, Froggie, this is arcane if ever I read it. The sort of stuff that puts minds like mine into wild bounce straight off mode.
    But well done. I am sure you know what you are doing. Superb competence abounds and exudes.
    I am going back to my new crochet project, in which the tension seems to be totally skewhiff (sp?, help, you are a teacher!) and I am trying to work out how much of what I have just done qualifies as a ‘pattern’.

  2. andi says:

    nice one froggy chick!!

  3. Kay says:

    You don’t use your walking foot to sew the binding? I always have, but maybe I don’t need to.

    This is essentially what I do when machine stitching my binding, but I “stitch in the ditch” on the front which just catches the binding on the back. Always have trouble with the corners though, so might give your “cross effect” a go. And you CANNOT over- emphasise the importance of accurate pinning!! It is essential!

    Oh, one more thing, I hadn’t tried ironing my binding first to give me a stitching line – brilliance! Will definitely be doing that next time.

    Happy New Year Frogdancer. I have enjoyed reading your blog (even if I have never commented before) and you have inspired me to try making my own soap. 🙂

  4. Urspo says:

    that was very helpful; I hope to remember where this is when it comes time for me to finish my first ‘real’ quilt – hopefully this year !

  5. Lorraine says:

    Just remind me again…..is pinning absolutely necessary????
    Well done…very clear tutorial…will be trying that on my next quilt to save some hand stitching time. Thanks!

  6. Scott says:

    See – I don’t think I’d make a good quilter – I’d be tempted to use a stapler.

  7. Ellen says:

    That was a great tutorial. I haven’t ever quilted – in fact it must be about 10 years since I last used a sewing machine – but your binding technique made perfect sense. So much quicker than all that sewing and surely much neater too. One of these days …

    The spearminty soap looks delightful – it reminded me of little baby cauliflowers.

    Happy New Year to you. Wishing you peace, good health and happiness, and of course, many new inventions.

  8. Amy says:

    This is a hugely helpful, amazingly well-done, tremendously brilliant post. Thank you. And happy new year to you and yours. xo

  9. Ayama says:

    Thank you so much for sharing how you sew bindings. Me thinks a few quilts will now be finally finished. Ugh to hand sewing bindings on large quilts.

  10. river says:

    The old “stitch in the ditch” technique.
    I used to do this on bindings for dresses and aprons. With practise and more precise pinning you can get the stitching on the front of the item precisely in that tiny ditch between item and binding AND have the sitching on the back side right at the edge of the binding eliminating that flap effect. Fiddly, but worth it if you’re doing clothing.

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