July 23, 2011

Machine Binding Tutorial

Since I started blogging a little over a year ago, several of you have noticed that I completely machine-sew my binding, and you've asked for tips and/or instructions.  I've been meaning to put together a tutorial since Christmas, but didn't get a kick in the pants to actually do it until I was contacted by AcquQuilt last month.

I know you've probably seen this program going around the blogosphere, but I was asked if I wanted to receive a Go! Baby Cutter and three cutting dies of my choice to write tutorials for. I've been curious for a while about how well these cutters actually work, but I'll be honest and say that I was hesitant to buy one because of the cost. When the rep from AcquQuilt contacted me, I was ecstatic because not only would I be receiving a cutter and dies, but one of you lucky readers will be as well! I'm very selective about the content on my blog, and I've been very open in the past about my entire drive for blogging; I'm a self-taught quilter and have learned almost everything I know via the internet. My goal is to provide the same kind of free services and teaching materials that I benefited from when I first started quilting. Therefore, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to provide not only one, but three different tutorials for you, and offer someone the chance to win a machine that they might not otherwise have the chance to own.

So let it begin! For my 1/2" binding, I'll be using their 2.5" Strip Cutter to cut my fabric for this project. Even though 1/2" binding should only technically require 2" strips, in reality you need some extra fabric to allow for all the folds and wrapping it around the fat batting.

First off, I measured the dimensions of the die (6" x 24") to figure out what size I needed to cut my fabric. The quilt I was making (Blueberry Hill) required five 44" strips for the binding, so I would have to cut a total of 6 since the die cuts two pieces per layer of fabric. I wanted to do as little pre-cutting as possible, so I multiplied the width of the die by three and cut one big 18" piece.

Then I folded my fabric together selvage to selvage to give me a piece 22" long (the die is 24" long, so I had room to play with), and after that I folded the fabric accordion style to create 3 layers of fabric and narrow the width down to about 6". The folds on the end won't matter because they'll be chopped off when I run my fabric through the machine. Even cooler, the die only cuts along the long edge, and not the short edges...so what that means is the folds on the short edge won't be cut, and I'll be able to unfold them when I'm finished for a long 44" piece.

After I had my fabric folded and centered on the die, I gently covered it with the cutting mat so my fabric wouldn't shift.

And now comes the fun part! Cranking this baby through the cutting machine!

Voila! All I had to do now was peel away the scraps to reveal my six glorious strips!

Once you have your strips ready, you'll need to start attaching them. Line up the ends of two strips, right sides together, at a 90 degree angle. Pin, and then mark a 45 degree line diagonally across the top strip. Make sure your line looks just like mine, because if you make your diagonal using the other two corners, your strip won't fold out correctly after you sew them together. Trust me on this. Just copy the photo below exactly :)

Sew directly on top of the line you just drew.

Trim off the excess fabric. I usually cut a smaller seam allowance than normal, because 1/4" is a bit bulky for binding.

Unfold your pieces and press the seam.

Repeat for remaining strips until you have one mega-strip.

Start folding your strip in half and press the seam as you work your way down the strip.

Then on one side only, fold the raw edge in to meet the center seam you just pressed.

Your binding should look like this when you're finished.

Lay your binding right side down along one edge of your quilt, leaving about an 8" tail. The end needs to be loose so that you'll have enough slack to attach the ends of the binding once you've worked your way around the quilt. Also, the side of the binding with two folds should face the inside of the quilt. You don't need a 1/2" guide on the outside because you can use your sewing foot for that.

Using either your foot or the sewing plate on your machine as a guide, sew a 1/2" seam.

When you reach the corner, stop sewing exactly 1/2" away from the edge.

Now, fold your binding back as seen below. It should jut out and hang off of your quilt. Finger press the seam.

Now, leaving the diagonal fold you just made intact, fold the binding strip back down toward the quilt, making sure your new fold lines up with the edge of the quilt.

If you lift up the top fold you just made, the binding should look a little something like this...

Start pinning the binding along the 2nd edge of your quilt.

Starting from the very edge of the corner, sew 1/2" seam down this side as well. You have to start from the raw edge this time, or else the mitered corner won't be anchored down when you fold the lining back.

Repeat for remainder of quilt. When you've worked your way around all four sides, here's how you'll attach the two loose ends. Fold one end up toward the inside of the quilt, and one end down toward the outside of the quilt. Make sure you pull each end taught so that everything is lying perfectly flat. If there's any slack at either end, you're binding will bunch up and crease when you try and sew down the ends.

Your binding should look like the photo below. Press the diagonal seam you've just made.

Here's another picture in case you need a better visual...

Now here's the tricky part. You know how you pressed that diagonal seam up above? Well now you need to pin the two ends together so that they line up along that fold. I usually slide my fingers under the folds, pinch the opening shut, and then lift the excess fabric that's flapping about straight up in the air.  Then being careful not to stab my fingers that are pinching the opening together (not always successful), I slide two pins in to hold the fabric in place.

Then you'll need to pull the loose part of the binding out and away from the quilt, and sew down that diagonal fold. This will attach your ends at a diagonal (rather than a vertical) seam, which greatly reduces bulk and wear on your fabric.

Once you've sewn your seam, trim down to about 1/8" seam allowance (as I mentioned earlier, 1/4" seams are a little bulky for a binding this narrow).

Now here's my favorite part! Seriously! - I enjoy machine sewing the back. Most of the difficulty in machine sewing the back of a binding is 1) Making it look nice & decorative, and 2) Lining your stitches up with the binding on the front, because when you flip it over, you don't want it to look like a drunken man sewed a random stitch down the middle of your binding.

So here's what I do. I flip my binding over toward the back of the quilt. Remember how we pressed that extra fold on one side of the binding only? Well this fold tells you where to tuck the fabric under on the back side of your quilt, and it's also going to be the inside edge of your binding.

You see that blue seam running straight underneath the binding? That is the seam you created when you sewed the binding to the top of the quilt. If you line up the back fold of your binding so that it barely covers that front seam and sew down it, your stitches will line up along the bottom of the binding on the front AND back of your quilt. 

I actually don't pin or clip the back of the binding down before I start sewing. I find it easier to fold it down as I go so that I can perfectly line up, and don't have to worry about pins/clips shifting as I man-handle the quilt under the machine. I also suggest you use a thread that blends in very well with the color of the binding.

Using a small zig zag stitch, secure the back of your binding. The bottom of your zig zag stitch should be sewn almost directly on top of that straight stitch from the front. (I use a 2.5 zig zag stitch, because smaller stitches are less visible if your seam gets a little wonky in places, plus the denser stitching holds your binding more securely and is less likely to pop..but you don't wanna go too small with your stitch because then it will take forever to sew the whole thing).

When you reach a corner, all you need to do is lift your presser foot and pivot the quilt. There's no need to cut and start a new seam.

You might want to sew a little bit and see how you're doing. If you've done it right, the zig zag should appear like this on the front...

Don't worry if your stitching is a tiny bit off, because that's to be expected. And besides, if you used a thread that blends, it will be hard to tell anyway.

And here's another helpful tip...whenever I start getting all Type A about minor flaws like the binding stitch not being perfectly lined up in places, I have to remind myself that no one I give a quilt to is going to stare at my binding, inch by inch, noting the places where my seams are a hair off. Repeat that to yourself if you get frustrated because it doesn't look 100% perfect on the front. As long as your seams aren't running down the middle of your binding on the front, or hanging 1/4" or more below, it's fine :)

Feel free to post questions in the comments! And if you need more pictures in certain spots to clarify, I'll be happy to provide them :)


This is great! Thanks for sharing this. I machine bind, too but I never thought of using a zig zag to cover the stitch from the front. Thank you!

Excellent! I have been looking for a tutorial like this for awhile now. This is very well written and I will DEFINITELY try it out soon!

Great tutorial thanks for sharing! :)

Oh, see, you're awesome once again!! LOVE this!! Thank you! Here I come Bottled Rainbows binding that's been sitting there pinned forever :)

thank-you...I have a huge quilt that the binding needs to be hand sewn down...and has for oh about 8 months...looks like I will give this a whirl. the quilt is to use on my porch swing so if it is wonky nobody will notice at all and I will be able to practice this great technique.

Thanks a lot for this tutorial. Clear and simple.

I can't wait to try this! but I am a little nervous about how the front zig-zag will turn out :) This might be a silly question but is there a particular reason why you don't sew the straight stitch to the back and then do the front with zig-zag?

wow, this looks so complicated! but the fabric is cute :)

I like the use of the zig zag stitches on the back.

Neat idea. I've always done a traditional double fold binding finished by hand. I can get a king done by the end of a movie, as long as there's no subtitles and it's not that interesting a film! But I can see that the zig zag could add an interesting textural element to a quilt.

Thanks for an awesome tutorial! I will have to try this on my next quilt!

Great minds think alike;) We do our binding very similar.

I usually machine bind my quilts, too, but I've never used a zig zag. I will try it next time. Thanks for the great tutorial!

Great tutorial - I usually hand bind to the back, but need to try this method to save time! Thanks

Great tutorial & I'll probably use it. Not really a criticism, but I'd rather have seen our next installment of the DWR on time, rather than something you're getting paid for...just saying.

I didn't realize there was a strip dye, but that is awesome! It's so time consuming to cut strips for binding, and I'm sure binding goes much quicker with the cutter. Thanks for sharing the tutorial, K!

Thanks for the tutorial. I keep thinking about machine binding, but then get scared and hand sew the back as usual. I swear my next quilt I am going to try this!

This tutorial was posted on the day I was planning to make my first binding on the project - I think I don't need to say I followed your instructions :)

Oh, I don't know if you are interested in blog awards, but I've nominated you to One Lovely Blog Award.

Keep up the good work :)

Joanna (Tutinella)

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