Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Binding a quilt before the quilting is finished - why?

RoseMary left a comment in which she said she had never heard of binding a quilt before the quilting is finished. She wanted to know how and why this is done so I thought I would answer her question in today's post. I first wrote about how I quilt my quilts on April 23, 2013. I called it machine quilting on a domestic machine my way!

I’m a great believer in doing what works for you. When it comes to machine quilting what I usually do is a little different from how others do it but it works really well for me. Once my quilt top is ready to be quilted I have two goals. First, I want to get rid of the excess batting and backing  as soon as possible because they just get in my way AND second when I am finished quilting I want to be done! So here's what I do!

Step 1:  You need a well prepared quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting and backing). I pin baste my quilt sandwich making sure everything is smooth and flat. I like to lightly spray starch and press both the top and the back before pin basting.  To baste my quilt I clamp the quilt back to a table making sure it is flat, taut and smooth. In the picture below you can see I use office clips to clamp it to the table. You can read more about clamping and sandwiching the quit here.  I pin baste making sure my pins are spaced roughly every 4". I also try to ensure that the pins are not on the major seam lines because I will stitch in the ditch and if the pins are on those seams they will be in my way and slow down the quilting.

Step 2: Once this is done I like to use a technique described in Harriet Hargrave’s book “Heirloom Machine Quilting”. I stitch in the ditch on all the major seams. 

While Harriet uses her walking foot I prefer to use my darning foot (free motion quilting foot) and I anchor all the major seam lines vertical and horizontal excluding the border.If there is sashing I stitch both sides of the sashing, vertically and horizontally. If the blocks are pieced without sashing then I just stitch the seams. I generally use Bottom Line thread in a colour that blends well with the colours in the quilt top or I use invisible thread. I don't use a walking foot because it doesn't give me freedom of motion. 

When I make a quilt if something isn't perfect AND I can't live with it I fix it. If something isn't perfect and I CAN live with it I leave it. This means there are sometimes little wobbles in the quilt top. If I use a darning foot to stitch in the ditch I can work around them because I am free to move in any direction. This picture is a little wobble and I'll be able to stitch in the ditch around the wobble rather than through the wobble. 

Once I've quilted the seam lines, if there are borders I ditch quilt the border seams. My last step is to quilt the borders.

Step 3: Once the border is quilted I can bind the quilt. I've never seen anyone else do it this way but once everything is anchored with stitch in the ditch the quilt is stabilized I can quilt the border and bind the quilt. Importantly I never bind the quilt before the border is quilted.

Step 4: I now go back and quilt the rest of the quilt. Most of the pin basting is still in place because I don’t remove the pins until I am ready to quilt in that area so between the stitch in the ditch and the pins everything is stabilized. In the following picture you can see the ditch quilting (horizontal and vertical) on the back of the quilt.

My current quilt 81 has a large center panel with stars and hexagon flowers appliqued. There are no seams lines so instead what I did was quilt around each of the appliques starting in the center and working out to the edges of the first border. The quilt sandwich is layered so that it is flat and smooth and it was well pinned. There was no shifting and I'll be able to go back and quilt the background later.

I quilted around the inner edge of the striped border and then the outer edge. From there I again quilted around the stars and the hexagon flowers and the applique baskets in the four corners.

The diamonds in the outer border were quilted and now I am quilting the outside edges of the quilt so that the quilt can be bound. I'm almost ready to bind this quilt!

This method works well for me because I get to quilt the border earlier which means I can remove the excess batting and backing. This makes the quilt a little smaller and lighter which means it is easier to move under the sewing machine. Also I don’t get the extra batting or backing caught in the quilting! I hate when that happens and I have to remove the quilting in order to free the excess fabric! So there you have it - machine quilting my way on a domestic sewing machine!

Until I post again, happy sewing!
Karen H


  1. Thanks Karen for an interesting tutorial. I am going to try this method!

  2. I was always tempted to do that but never tried it. You are right, completely quilting the border prior to binding is mandatory. My problem is, I usually don't have a border !

  3. I agree very interesting tutorial and technique I have never heard of this before either. always learn new things from you-hugs

  4. My quilt group does doll quilts as charity projects. They make great places to try new things. I'm going to have to make up a large doll quilt and try this out. Thanks for the ideas!

  5. Very interesting Karen, what you say makes sense and it would be intersting to try it this way. A friend of mine once told me I could go back and add more quilting to a minimally quilted quilt once my skills improved (it was an applique quilt and I didn't really quilt anything in the applique blocks). I still aim to even though I 'finished it' about 3 years ago!

  6. I serendipitously quilted one this way. My mother gave me a top to quilt for her. Turns out she had quilted SITD of all the seams and sashing and attached the binding - so actually it was a finished quilt that needed quilting. It worked fine. Thanks for the tutorial, Karen.

  7. Thanks for sharing your method of quilting. I may have to give it a try in the future. Maybe it will help me get from top to finished faster.

  8. I confess that I have done this many times. In fact I have a quilt still waiting to be quilted that is all bound and almost looks as though it's finished and has been sitting that way for a year or two. :(

  9. I have done this method several times and have been very pleased with the results. I use my walking foot and just slow down and adjust one stitch to the left or right when I come to a mismatched seam.Once the borders are quilted and bound the sandwich seems to roll up so much smaller and it is firmer to hold giving me more control. The first time I tried this was on a quilt I considered finished the conventional way and then I decided it needed more quilting. It worked so well I have used the stabilize, quilt borders, bind method several times. I usually know how I am going to quilt my borders long before I decide the centre quilting so it gives me time to finalize the rest of the quilting which I will do with a free motion foot.

  10. This sounds like a lot of good advice. I'll have to give it a try.

  11. Thank you for explaining your method so clearly. It really makes sense when you see it presented this way. One more thing I'll have to try.