Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hand stitching a binding

Sewing down the binding is the last step in making a quilt, as far as I'm concerned. A label is an attachment to a finished quilt, and so is a hanging sleeve. When I've finished sewing the binding down, I have a finished product! This is why it's one of my favorite tasks in the whole process, even though it's relatively time-consuming.

Making the binding and attaching it to the quilt comes first. I found many, many instructions on the internet about how to do this, but not much about hand-sewing the binding. If you want to know how to make a binding and sew it on to the quilt, look for directions for attaching a continuous bias binding with mitered corners. You have to start with that to get the results that follow. In terms of other ways to sew down the binding, this link points to instructions that are very comprehensive. But I skip some steps. So I'm going to start sewing down a binding right now and take pictures as I go.

One difference between my way and other methods is that I usually don't sew down the little diagonal overlap at the corners. This might be a drawback if your quilt is being judged, but I have made many quilts, and the binding always stays put even when I run them through the washing machine.

I use a needle, thread, and scissors. I find it unnecessary to pin the binding down. If it helps, go ahead. I know people who do that, and it works for them. I don't press the binding flat before I start, either. I just wrap it around tightly as I go. I use a medium needle called a "sharp," thin but longer than a hand quilting needle, because the stitches don't really need to be that close together.

The Directions

(Instructions refer to the pictures below them.)

The binding is sewn down with a blind stitch. With the needle threaded and the thread knotted, start in the middle of one side. Pull the binding out flat with your left hand (that is, if you're right handed, otherwise these images are reversed). Poke the needle under the backing fabric a short distance away from the seam and come up just outside of the machine stitching.

Pull the thread just tight enough so that the knot is pulled under the backing fabric, but not so tight that it comes out the other end. Then fold the binding over tightly (use both hands to do this) and start by making a very small stitch on the edge of the binding.

Again tightly wrap the binding around, keeping the edge of the quilt flat. Take about a 3/8" stitch under the backing fabric. The needle should go into the fabric at the same place where the thread comes out of the binding, then straight up through the batting along the edge of the binding. Take another very small stitch just at the edge of the binding where the needle comes out and pull the whole thing tight. Repeat this step until you come to a corner or tie a knot. The goal is to hide the machine stitching, so the blind stitch should be on the side of the machine stitching towards the inside of the quilt.

Something that helps is to use the tip of the needle to pack the edge of the backing fabric tightly against the fold of the binding.

When you approach a corner, tuck the corner of the batting and backing as far into the binding as you can. The corner of the top, batting and backing fabric should not have to be folded at all.

Then fold over the rest of the binding for this edge and pull the binding for the next edge out flat.

Arrange to have the second-to-last stitch before the turn start right where the two machine stitched lines meet and come out just beyond the edge of the batting.

Now make one more stitch by poking the needle between the two layers of the binding, and with a small stitch, catch the point where the edge of the binding turns.

Make another small stitch in the same place, and before pulling it tight, thread the needle through the loop to make a little knot.

Turn the quilt and fold the binding of the new edge over. The first stitch will be a small stitch in place.

The next stitch should start in the same place. Proceed with the blind stitch.

By the way, that seam in the binding that you can see under the needle is a mistake. I should have figured out that a seam would end up right at the corner, and shifted the binding before I started sewing it on. But only a quilt judge would ever notice.

To tie a knot, make a small stitch in the same place where the thread comes out. Before pulling it tight, thread the needle through the loop. Repeat once more, then put the needle into the backing fabric in the same place, guide it through the batting and come out through the edge of the quilt. Carefully pull the thread tight and clip it close to the binding. The end should disappear back into the quilt.

Start again with a new piece of thread. The whole process takes a number of hours, depending on the size of the quilt. There are faster ways to do this, but this is how I do it, and at least one quilt judge has approved of my worksmanship. If these instructions are unclear or could be improved in any way, please leave a comment.