Binding . . A – Z

There are two things I’d like you to now before I start this blog post.

  1. If you’re happy with the way you’re attaching binding and finishing your quilts, don’t change a thing!
  2. I’m pretty much self-taught in all my quilting so my way is never the only way to do things and probably rarely is my way the best way to do things.  I’m simply sharing how I do it.

Still shots are included, along with videos.

1.  My binding strips are cut 2-1/2″.  I do not make bias binding unless I have a curved edge (which rarely happens).  The first step is to determine how many strips I need.  I add the length and width of the quilt and multiply that number times 2 and then add 15″ for the “tail” for joining the beginning and the end.  Then I divide that number by 37″ because once I cut the ends at an angle, I figure that’s about the length I will get from each strip.  Example:  A quilt is 80″ x 90″.   80 + 90 = 170 x 2 = 340 +15 = 355″.  Divide that by 37″ and the number is 9.59 strips so I would cut 10 strips.

2.  All the strips are lined up, with the right sides up.  I twist each strip about mid-way down the length so that both ends of each strip are lined up with the other strips, all right sides up.  One end of one strip is left out so it is not cut.  That’s the ending piece of the binding.

3.  I make sure the strips are all lined up nice and straight so that one long edge is right on a horizontal line of my cutting table.  Using my ruler, I line up a 45º line with a vertical line on my cutting table and cut all the strips, both ends except for one end of one strip, at a 45º angle.

4.  Those ends are joined, with the seam being a 45º angled seam.

5.  When those seams are pressed open, there’s a perfect flat join that’s hardly noticeable when the binding is pressed in half and attached to the quilt.

6.  Next, the binding is folded in half so that I have a long strip that’s 1-1/4″ wide.

I measure and mark my binding strip to fit the measurement my quilt is supposed to be.  Since I use Electric Quilt, and since I square my blocks before putting them into the quilt, I know exactly what size my finished top is going to be.  By the way, I never measure my quilt before adding borders.  I know what the measurements are because EQ tells me!  I do check the measurements of the quilt after quilting and I mark my binding to be the exact size it needs to be.  Starting at the middle of the bottom of the quilt, and leaving a tail about 12 – 15″ long, I pin the binding to the top, matching the marks from the bottom center to the corner.  Here’s the first binding video.  There’s a second video that talks about turning the corner with the binding.  There’s a third video (I was on a roll, huh?) where I show how I join the beginning and the ending of the binding.  And, finally, there’s an older video of where I show how I do the final binding work on the machine instead of by hand.

This method of adding binding, along with carefully measuring, cutting and sewing my borders give me real close to perfect edges on my quilts, with no wavy edges.

Flat Non-Waving Quilts – Part 3

Even if we do everything perfectly as far as piecing our tops and adding borders, the quilting itself can make or break a quilt in so many ways but specifically as far as whether the quilt will lay nice and flat.

I am not a hand quilter so I am not qualified to give advice or recommendations about hand quilting so I will discuss longarm quilting, and this will include short arm and mid-arm quilting also.

One of the main issues affecting the “lay” of the quilt is the tension.  If too much tension is placed on the backing or on the top, that pulls the quilt, stretching every part that can stretch.  Since the center is usually pieced and the borders, at least one of them, isn’t pieced, the more tension placed on the top, the more stretching will occur on those non-pieced borders.  The quilt is quilted and then when it’s taken off the machine, the borders are going to flare or ripple a bit.  Be very careful with the amount of tension you put on the backing and on the top!

Another issue can occur with loading the top.  Whether the top is loaded by zippers, pinning or floated, if the edges are pulled and not allowed to lay flat, the corners are going to get stretched and again cause rippling.

Finally, when adding the binding to a quilt, be careful that the quilt is flat with no rippling and that the binding is not being stretched while being sewn onto the quilt.

I love lots of different battings and it would be hard for me to tell you which one is my favorite.  Some I like for different quilts, some I like better today while tomorrow I might like a different one better.  But, the quilts with Warm & Natural batting always seem to lay much flatter than those with other battings.  There’s hardly ever a ripple when Warm & Natural batting is used.

If you’ve read through these past three posts, please don’t worry about making perfectly flat quilts.  Most, if not all, of the quilts most of us make are quilts going to love ones or to those in need and I doubt any one of those recipients might scrutinize your quilt to see if it is perfectly square, with no ripples.  The quilts are loved and appreciated as they are meant to be and no one is passing judgment!  And, if you are making quilts for competition or to be photographed for magazines or books . . and you’re looking to me for advice, you have a much larger problem than a flat quilt!  :)   I was simply responding to questions about how I make my quilts flat.  If your quilts are wavy and it bothers you, hopefully something I’ve written here will help you!

Flat Non-Waving Quilts – Part 2

There are several aspects of quilt making that must be done in order for a quilt to be flat and not have wavy edges.  In this post, I talked about how I cut my border strips.  The border strips must be cut straight and the borders must be the exact length as the fabric edge to which they’re being attached.  If you simply place a long, not measured strip of fabric onto your quilt and sew, then whack off the extra, and you’re getting good results, you’re very lucky.  That method doesn’t work for most of us.  There’s also more information on measuring and sewing borders in my newest book, 60 Pieced Borders.

Once your blocks are sewn together but before adding your borders, check your corners.

I find it easier to line the edge up with an inside line on the ruler (and not the outside edge).  If the edge needs to be trimmed, I then move the edge lines of the ruler to the edge lines of the top.

If you’ve been careful to measure and square up your blocks before sewing them into rows, there should not be any trimming that needs to be done at this point.  If there is, you may be trimming off points that matter (stars) so please be careful about cutting, sewing a quarter inch seam and pressing so that minimal trimming would be needed.

When adding non-pieced borders, I add the sides first, then the top and bottom strips.  Once these are pressed, I again check the corners and square them up if necessary.

By following these steps, when your top is done, it should be straight so that you don’t end up with one side that is 88″ and the opposite side being 87″ or 89″ (or worse)!

Flat Non-Waving Quilts – Part 1

Recently a reader asked me how I go about making quilts that are square (not “square” as in the sides being equal to the top and bottom but as in having nice square corners).   I’ll share how I do it in this post and in a couple more but please remember there are lots of ways to do everything and this is the way I do it.  Your way may be better so if there’s anything you do differently from how I do it, please describe your way in a comment below and we can all learn from each other.

Before getting into the details of making the quilt, I’ll talk about the fabric and batting used.  Typically, the fabrics from quilt shops, though maybe more expensive, are a better quality fabric than some of the fabrics from discount stores.  I am not saying you cannot make a beautiful, long lasting quilt from less expensive fabric and if it comes down to not being able to quilt because you cannot afford (or just won’t do it) quilt shop fabric, please don’t stop quilting and certainly don’t feel like your quilts are less worthy than the quilts made from quilt shop fabrics.  A good rule of thumb us to buy the best you can afford.  I’ll add to that . . stock up when there’s a sale!  No matter where you buy fabric, you want a good fabric that is woven evenly.  Fabric is made from “greige” goods.  Obviously, a lesser quality greige good is going to produce a lesser quality quilting fabric.  Fabric is obviously made of thread so another factor in how our fabric feels is the thread count and the thread weight.  Thread count is the number of threads per inch.  Think of the various threads you have in your studio.  Some are thicker than others.  Laying 30 thin threads next to each other and weaving with those will obviously produce a thinner fabric than if 30 heavier weight threads are used. Not knowing the facts completely, but simply sharing my thoughts, I’ll compare/contrast two different fabrics by Moda.  We all know that Moda is one of the premier quilt shop fabrics.

The top fabric, which appears to be lavender but is really pink, is Pieces from my Heart by Sandy Gervais for Moda.  The bottom yellow fabric is Marbles by Moda.  Marbles was once my favorite fabric.  I dreamed of having 10 yards of every color.  It is no longer my favorite . . not because it has changed but because my tastes have changed.  It may be hard to see in the photo but the yellow fabric has a finer thread and is a lighter weight fabric.  The Pieces from my Heart has a bit thicker, though certainly not thick, and this is the weight of fabric that I now love.  The Krystal fabrics by Michael Miller are in this same weight category, while the Dimples by Andover fall between the heavier and lighter weight fabrics.  I find that my borders lay flatter and tend to flare less when using the fabric that’s just a tad heavier than the Marble weight fabrics.

Without worrying about greige goods, thread count and weight, we can usually walk into the quilt shop and choose a fabric we like and get a great quality fabric.  Thank you quilt shops for providing us with this opportunity and while I’m at it, if you have a great quilt shop near you, thank those ladies who provide that service.  While the prices we pay for quilt shop fabric continues to go up, it’s because the shops are having to pay way more for the fabric, as well as probably everything else that goes into keeping those shop doors open (electricity, insurance, taxes, etc.).  The prices are going up because the quilt shops have no choice and most of the shops are probably making less per yard than they were a few years ago

The only way for us to know what we’re getting is to handle the fabric and wash the fabric.  Pre-washing or not will always bring up a good debate among quilters. I always pre-wash and here are the reasons:

  1. On rare occasions, twice that I can remember, I’ve had quilt shop fabrics come out of the dryer feeling like a flimsy piece of tissue.  I could see through it almost, and it was simply limp.  In a quilt, if there’s ever going to be a weak spot, a piece of fabric like this will be that weak spot.  I’d much rather know that before putting that piece into a quilt.
  2. Every now and then a fabric dye tends to run.  For the most part, one pass through the washer and dryer is all a fabric will need to wash away any excess dye but on rare occasions, fabrics need a little extra help to stop the running.  I’d rather know that too before putting the fabric into a quilt.
  3. Have you ever been in a big warehouse full of fabric?  Even though most of the bolts are wrapped in plastic, it’s often dusty in those warehouses.  Sometimes the fabric sits in shops for a good while before you buy it and take it home.  I prefer to wash away any foreign substance from the fabric before it goes into my stash.
  4. I just plain don’t like working with non-washed fabric!  I don’t like the feel of it and I think it lays flatter once it’s been washed and dried and the fibers are a bit tighter.

Back to having flat quilts . . when you’re piecing the quilt, be sure that your blocks are square before sewing them into your quilt.  When you sew a quilt together with blocks that aren’t completely square, you’re setting yourself up for a quilt that will not lay flat.  If you don’t already have one, invest in a good, square ruler.  I love the Creative Grids rulers and the squares that I use the most are the 12-1/2″ square, as well as the 16-1/2: square.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about adding the borders and squaring them up.