The quilt shop door jingle-jangled as I pushed it open with my back and rolled through, clutching a big bag of fabric to my chest. A small lady, heading the opposite direction, started to squeeze by me, then backed off. I was taking up the whole doorway. I smiled, apologized, and held the door open for her as best I could with my foot. She thanked me and hurried out into the sunny June day.
I paused on the welcome mat to take a breath and look around inside the shop. There was a chatty group of people sitting at sewing machines off to the left – a class, I supposed. Bolts of colorful fabrics lined the shelves behind the group and extended around the perimeter of the room. And quilts! There were dozens of quilts displayed between the bolts, quilts of all sorts. Traditional, modern, retro brights, primitive darks. A long cutting counter stood sentry in front of the shelves on my right. A friendly, round-faced lady with grey hair was cutting and folding fabric at the counter. She smiled and waved at me in greeting. I headed her way. Time to get this quilt finished. My first quilt.
I introduced myself to the cutting table lady. Her name was Phyllis. Turns out that she owns the quilt shop. We chatted for a spell before getting down to business – we’re West Virginians after all. Friendly is our way of life. I told her about my quilt – she was thrilled for me, for completing my first quilt. I glowed with pride. She helped me chose a quilting pattern and batting. So far so good.
“Okay, so…one king size quilt to be quilted in a rose pattern,” said my new friend Phyllis. “And you brought your own backing fabric. Would you like us to do the binding, too?”
“Oh, no – just the quilting, please. I’ve never done binding before, so I want to do that myself so I can learn.” I said.
Phyllis smiled. “Are you sure? It’s a lot of quilt to bind.”
“Absolutely. I need the practice.” I said.
Several weeks later, after I’d wrestled that king-sized quilt through my little sewing machine (sewing the binding strips to the front) and then when I was sitting on the couch, night after night, hand-sewing the binding to the back of that big ‘ol quilt, something important occurred to me.
I could’ve learned how to do binding just as well on a placemat or table runner.
What can I say? Hindsight is 20/20.
I was right about one thing from my first batty binding experience. I learned a lot.
This past month, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone finishing up several quilts that I’d put aside just shy of the finish line – the bindings weren’t done. Why? Well, if you quilt much, you know why.
Binding is always batty. It is the last step in making a quilt, and at that stage, you’re torn between giving-up or giddy-up (rushing to get it done). Mistakes are bound to happen.
To help you avoid some of those mistakes, I have a few tips for you.
First tip: Always measure your quilt to determine how long your binding strip needs to be. Measure your quilt across and down in three places and take the average measurements. You want to make sure your strip is long enough to go around the entire perimeter of the quilt. If you don’t measure, you’ll cry when you run out of binding just short of the end. So, find yourself some floor space to lay your quilt out flat, break out a tape measure, and take for-real honest measurements.
If you’re like me, you’ll procrastinate getting out that tape measure.
I don’t know why simple measuring seems like such a chore. It’s not crazy hard work, like digging ditches. Still, if necessary, carb-load beforehand so you don’t get the vapours. Anything to keep that quilt top from becoming another UFO. You can recover with a nap on the couch if/when your kids permit such behavior.
Second tip: Make sure you use binding strips that are at least 2½ inches wide. I’ve tried making them 2¼” but ended up tugging and stretching the fabric to make them cover the edge of the quilt. This is a bad thing, because they won’t hold or wear well. I’ve seen other quilters recommend even wider strips – but I’ve not tried that. Why? Sometimes I use pre-cut jelly rolls which are exactly 2 ½” wide and save me some time and effort when I’m in giddy-up mode. Also, many of those other quilters recommend strips that are 2 ⅞ or 2 ⅝, and at this point in my quilting life, I refuse to use eighth inch measurements. You may remember this from a previous blog – it’s against Stacey’s Rules for Preventing UFOs. 😊
Third tip: Forget about bias cut binding unless you have a curvy border. It’s a lot of effort for very little gain if you just have straight edges. Supposedly bias binding wears better over time. I don’t doubt that because of the way the fibers run in bias binding, but still. I am not making show quilts at this point, so I say skip it for now, learn more about it later. Done is better than perfect.
Fourth tip: Find a set of great instructions and keep them close to hand in your sewing room. Here is my absolute favorite so far, from Patrick Lose. He has a trick that I cannot explain – but which he explains expertly. It’s easy and it makes your corners lie flat and beautiful. He has videos a printable version, and several other tips & techniques on his website. Try them! Let me know if they work for you.
Last tip: If you’ve never done binding before, take my advice and start on a small project first, instead of a king size quilt. Perhaps that will keep bats out of your belfry.