Shortcuts and Binding Relationships

I have this love/hate relationship with binding. I love it, because it means that I’m almost done with the quilt, but when I get to that point, there are all these variables that have to be thought about, worked out, tried, discarded, tried again, and still when you put the binding on the actual quilt, any number of things could go wrong no matter how good things look before you start. Variables like batting thickness, binding width, which foot to use, binding fabric thickness, quilt fabric thickness, etc., etc., etc., not to mention the relationships between all of these variables and how they affect each other. And those variables can multiply exponentially if there is any fluff or border waving going on on the edges of the quilt. What’s not to hate?

I even made notes a while back about binding and the measurements that I use for strips and which foot and so on, but for the last couple of quilts I’ve finished recently, I’ve used different batting and much experimenting was necessary. The current batting is Quilter’s Dream Poly Request Loft, which is very thin, lots thinner than the Hobbs PolyDown or Heirloom/Tuscany Wool that I’ve used for many of my quilts in the past.

I almost always use a double French fold binding on my quilts. I’ve finished a couple recently with a facing, but after the second one didn’t really turn out better than the first, and still looked like it had fat dog ears, I’ve gone back to my regular binding method for now. For this Dream Poly batting, I decided to use 2¼” cut strips for the binding, since I wanted the binding a bit narrower than my usual treatment, and the battling is very thin.

When I sewed the binding onto the quilt with the machine, after some experimenting, I lined up the edge of the folded binding with the edge of the quilt, used the Pfaff #0A foot, set the needle at the 5.5 position, and guided the edge of the quilt along the right edge of the foot. This was basically a fat ¼” seam on the binding, and when I flipped it, it lined up perfectly with the folded edge sitting just above the sewn line, ready to hand stitch down.

French fold binding, back

After stitching it down by hand right above the machine stitched line with a ladder or blind stitch, it looks like this (well, this is a different quilt, but the same idea anyway):

French fold binding, back, after hand stitching

The corners are always a bit of trial and error. (See the McCalls website for diagrams that are much more clear than the pictures that I took of the corner folding process for mitered bindings!) On the first binding I did with this batting, I think I got two of the four corners mitered perfectly (or at least what I thought of as perfectly). The others were pretty good, but two were nearly perfectly square with a perfect miter and looked like this:

French fold binding, mitered corner

On the second quilt binding, for some reason I didn’t trim the quilt top before sewing the binding on as I usually do, which meant that I couldn’t flip the binding to the back as I went, and check the corners as I did each one to make sure they would miter somewhat close to perfectly. The batting was the same, there was nothing different about the borders from the first quilt to the second one, so I just “did it.” I folded the corners the same way I’d done the previous binding and trimmed the edges after I machine sewed the binding on, and didn’t check the corners by folding to the front along the way to check the miter. So I ended up with corners like this:

French fold binding, bad corner

Meh. Rounded corners. Corners that look like they got chopped off with a rotary cutter. Not good, not good at all. I may have to re-do the whole binding, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since the quilt is only 12″ square. (Okay, it’s not a show quilt, so maybe I’ll just live with it. Maybe.) The difference may have been the binding fabric itself since everything else was virtually the same. The plaid fabric was a bit “heftier” if that makes any sense. It just felt a bit thicker than the black solid that I’d used for the other binding.

Lesson learned: always, ALWAYS check the corners. And making a test quilt sandwich and putting binding on a corner with all the same materials as you plan to use in the real quilt probably isn’t a bad idea either. Too many variables left unchecked spoil the binding. You’d think I’d have learned these things by now, and I guess I have really, but we all take shortcuts sometimes. Most times when I do though, I end up being sorry for one reason or another…