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How to machine bind a quilt

I'm a lazy quilter; through and through. So when it comes to binding, there is no WAY I would be caught dead hand-stitching the binding onto the back of a quilt. It's just not gonna happen. But that doesn't mean I don't still want to make it look nice. So how do you get your machine binding (front and back) to look great? Here's my step-by-step process. Binding doesn't need to be the part you dread anymore.


The approach

If you're not at all familiar with machine binding, there's a couple of ways this can go. The method I use is (1) attaching the binding to the front of the quilt, (2) flipping it to the back, and (3) attaching it to the back by stitching in the ditch from the front. This ensures that my front always looks good, no matter what, and I'm going to show you some easy ways to make sure it looks great on the back too with the help of my secret weapon: the stitch in the ditch foot. Easy peasy!

Preparing your binding strips

To get machine binding to work well, it's important to have your binding wide enough so you can make sure you catch the binding when you stitch from the front. You're not going to be able to see the back while you're sewing, so if it's just a slim margin of fabric, you can end up in a situation where you have sections of binding that aren't sewn and have to be fixed after the fact.

I like 2-1/2" wide binding strips when I'm sewing any quilt with an extra lofty batting, double batting, or thick backing (such as Luxe Cuddle minky). This gives the binding enough girth to wrap about that extra thick edge.

For regular-thickness quilts (cotton or 80/20 blend batting and a cotton or flannel back) I sometimes use 2-1/4" wide binding strips. This gives much less overhang on the back which looks nicer, but you do have to be careful to make sure you catch the binding as you're sewing. More typically, I will still use 2-1/2" strips just because I can quickly cut those with a Stripology ruler without any fancy alignment and never have to worry about making sure the binding gets caught on the back. Again, LAZY quilter.

Aside from the width, I prepare my binding just like I normally would. I join my strips on the diagonal, press seams open, and then fold in half wrong sides together.

The process

Step 1: Attach your binding to the front with a generous 1/4" seam. You can even go up to a 3/8" seam if you like. Sometimes I do that so that I don't have quite so much excess on the back when I'm using 2-1/2" binding on a thin quilt). Align the raw edges of your binding to the raw edges of your quilt. For best results, use a walking foot and throw on a grippy quilting glove (I like Machingers) to help wrestle the bulk of the quilt under the foot. This process should look the same as it normally does. I'll do a mitered or curved corner, depending on the quilt, and join my binding strips together to form a continuous loop once I've worked my way around the entire quilt.

If you need a refresher on how to do that, check out the last section on this page.

Step 2: Fold the binding to the back and iron the corners. Since we're not going to be able to see the back while we're sewing, it's extra important that you get those mitered corners set well before you begin stitching. I do this by pressing and clipping. On a relatively large quilt, I really only bother pressing the corners, but if you want it to look extra nice, you can press the whole thing. You can also use a washable school glue stick or washable Elmer's glue to glue baste your binding in place before you start stitching. The washable part ensures that all that glue comes out after the quilt's first laundering. However, I usually don't bother with this unless it's a particularly important quilt.

First, flip the binding away from the front of the quilt and press. I do this about 8" on either side of the corner.

Next, fold the binding over the raw edge. As you do this, make sure the fold is right at the raw edge (not extended beyond it creating an air pocket in your binding. Also, verify that the binding is folded beyond the stitching line left from attaching your binding to the front of the quilt.

Once you have it where you want it, give the binding a good press and then clip in place with some binding clips (Wonder Clips). The crease from the pressing will help keep everything in place as you sew from the front even when the clips are removed.

Once you have several inches on either side of the corner pressed and clipped, fold the mitered corner adjusting the positioning until your miter lines up well. Press it good with steam and then clip as before.

I'll repeat that process for all 4 corners and then fold over the rest of the binding, clipping every 10" or so. I'm not too worried about the sides because I tend to adjust as I go, but again, if you're particularly worried about it, just press the sides in addition to the corners.

Step 3: Stitch in the ditch. This is where I pull out my secret weapon: my stitch in the ditch presser foot. I was lucky enough to have one of these come with my machine. It happens to be just a standard foot, not a walking foot, but if you didn't get one with your machine, it is a very worthwhile purchase. If you can, look for one that attaches to the bottom of your walking foot like this one. Although if they don't make a walking foot version for your machine, these generic snap-on feet will also do the trick.

The stitch in the ditch foot has a metal guide right down the center of the foot. That guide locks into the crease where the binding attaches to the front of the quilt (the ditch) and basically turns your ditch into a little train track that will naturally cause your needle to want to stay right in the ditch. It is possible to push your needle out of that ditch by manhandling your quilt too much. However, as long as you're just guiding your quilt through the feed dogs (rather than tugging), your machine will naturally want to stay in the ditch keeping your stitching nice and straight and neat without much effort.

Once you have your stitch in the ditch foot attached and your needle positioned correctly (most of the time this is just directly down the center), drop the 'ditch' guide right in the crease of your binding and start stitching. Make sure you backstitch at the start and stop. Wearing a grippy quilting glove will help with this part too.

Choose a top thread that matches the front of the quilt and a bobbin thread that matches the binding because you WILL see the stitching on the binding on the back. NOTE: These may not be the same color and that's perfectly fine as long as your tension is halfway decent.

When you get to the corner, stitch in the ditch until your needle is directly at the corner. Put your needle down and raise your presser foot so that you can pivot the quilt 90 degrees and continue stitching on the next side. Repeat this process until you get all the way around the quilt.

That's it! Your binding is attached and you can barely see the stitches on the front. Of course, you will want to check the back and make sure you haven't missed any areas. If you have, just un-pick that section, repress, and restitch that section from the front.

It's super fast and you'll love it! With the stitch in the ditch presser foot, your binding will be super neat and professional, while only taking a fraction of the time to attach.


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