Monday, January 2, 2012

Machine Sewing a Binding

We’ve been going to a friend’s house for a New Year’s festivities every year since 2000. In 2002, our friend started making commemorative t-shirts for us every year. On January 1st last year, I decided that I would make a t-shirt quilt from all of our annual shirts to give as a gift to our friend this year. I actually completed the quilt early this summer, and was pretty proud of myself for being so ahead of the game. And then it sat. And sat. I didn’t quilt it until the week before Christmas. And I was sewing the binding on as late as 2 hours before the party on New Year’s Eve. Sigh.

Luckily, I can put a binding on pretty fast. I haven’t hand stitched a binding in ages. I just don’t have the time or patience for that anymore. I want the binding to be done ASAP, so I’ve been completely machine stitching my bindings for a while.

I decided to write up a tutorial to show you how I do it. I’m assuming that you already generally know how to do bindings, so my instructions don’t include the cutting of your binding or how to sew mitered corners. I can give you more info on that if you’re really interested. This tutorial is about how to machine finish the binding, and a pain-free way to measure at the end so that your binding is the perfect length.

I start out by sewing the binding onto the BACK of my quilt. Normally when you will be finishing your binding by hand stitching, you sew it to the FRONT of your quilt. But when machine finishing the binding, you will have a second line of stitching on your quilt just a hair away from the binding. I like to have that second line on the back so the front looks much cleaner.


Leave a rather large spot with no binding sewn. I like to have about a 10 inch gap, but it doesn’t have to be exact by any means. If your gap is too small, it can get difficult to maneuver. Trim the right binding tail so that it ends somewhere near the middle of the gap. Again, exactness is not necessary here.


Lay the left binding tail on your quilt, and lay the right binding tail on top of the left binding. Make a mark onto the left binding where the right binding ends. Make a second mark closer to the end of the binding tail that is equal to the width of your binding. I like hefty bindings, and I cut mine at 2 3/4 inches, so my second mark will be 2 3/4 inches away from my first mark.  Cut the binding on the second mark.

DSCF6699   DSCF6701b

So far, it’s been pretty easy. But here is where it gets easy to screw up, so put your attention hats on. Open both binding tails so that the right sides are against your quilt, wrong sides are facing you. In order to keep track of which direction everything needs to go, I usually put pins in at a 45 degree angle as a visual cue to myself.


Now fold the left binding down in the direction of the pin, and fold the right binding up. When you match the bindings up along the folds, your pins should be lined up. Open up the bindings so right sides are together, matching the red to red and yellow to yellow in my pic below.

I rarely pin when quilting, but this is a point where it’s absolutely necessary. It’s so easy to forget what goes where and what sides to sew once you get this back to your machine. I also like to mark corner to corner so I don’t sew the wrong corner to corner (I’ve done that my fair share already).  Now stitch on that line, but DON’T CUT anything yet.

DSCF6709b  DSCF6711

Open it up to make sure that you have sewn it right. When you open it with the wrong sides facing you, you should see a nice little square. Trim 1/4 inch from your stitching, and fold the binding wrong sides together. You will end up with the EXACT length of binding as you left in your gap. Almost like magic, right?
 DSCF6712  DSCF6714

Moving on to the next step, we need to fold the binding over to the front of the quilt and stitch.  I love using my Zip Bind Tool for securing the binding at this point. It’s much easier than those silver hair clip things that a lot of people use. You load all the clips into the top of the tool, shake it so one clip gets in the ready position, then press and slide the purple thing to basically shoot a clip into place. Just slide the clips off while you’re sewing, then reload your Zip Bind when you need to clip some more.

DSCF6715  DSCF6718

For sewing the binding, I use a joining foot. I think it’s a joining foot. I don’t really know what it’s called, but it works great for this purpose. It has an edge guide in the middle of the foot, which I place right up against the binding. I then put my needle position a smidge to the right & sew away.


Once the entire binding is on, the top of your quilt binding will look like the pic below. This is an extreme closeup, so your stitching won’t be quite as noticeable.


The back of your binding will be similar, but will have a stitch line right next to the binding instead of on top of the binding. I know you’re thinking “Gosh, Amy this looks fabulous! You’re amazing!” And you would be right. But there are spots in the quilt where the stitching goes a little farther away from the binding on the back, and even one spot where it is on top of the binding. It’s so hard to get it exactly perfect. That’s why I sew the binding on the back to begin with. I want the top of the quilt to look perfect, and I’m ok with letting the back be a tiny bit wonky in places. If your binding is a different color than your quilt back, you may want to use different color threads in the top and bobbin.


If you’re entering your quilt into shows and will be having the quilt police examine every inch, you definitely want to hand stitch your binding. But for utilitarian bed quilts or wall quilts, I like machine stitching the binding.  It’s so much faster, and it’s even more durable for frequent washings.
And the completed quilt modeled by my son…


I hope the tutorial was helpful! Let me know if you have questions.



  1. Great explanation, Amy. your pictures really help.