Happy Feet – Quilt Binding Edition


The Problem

I hate binding quilts. It’s the one thing about quilting that feels like drudgery to me. It takes a long time to do it the traditional way, and it is difficult to get great results if you do it all by machine.

Let’s start with the traditional method of binding a quilt:

  1. Cut and join the binding.
  2. Fold the binding in half, lengthwise.
  3. Sew the binding to the front of the quilt, matching the raw edge of the binding to the raw edge of the quilt.
  4. Hand-sew the other edge of the binding to the back of the quilt, effectively encasing the raw edge underneath two layers of fabric.

For those of us who do not like or do not have the time to hand sew quilt bindings, there are machine methods.

  1. Follow steps one through three above.
  2. Fold the binding to the back of the quilt and pin in place.
  3. Stitch in the ditch next to the binding on the top of the quilt to secure binding to the back.

The problem with this method is that it generally creates an uneven stitching line on the back. You can’t see what’s going on underneath your quilt, so you’re at the mercy of the pinning job you may have gotten correct, or not. (Usually not.)

I tried using my bias tape foot, but that did not work well. The traditional binder foot is made to handle narrow bindings on thin fabric. I’ve tried feeding even a light quilt sandwich through there, and I got a mess.

The Search

I figured there must be a better way, so I asked Dr. Google.

I discovered that there are actual machine binding accessories, often used in industrial settings. These function similar to the traditional binding foot, except that they are made to handle much wider binding, and to put much heavier fabric through the machine.

Bernina makes a binding attachment similar to the industrial binders for their domestic machines that works like a champ, but it does not bind the quilt in a traditional way. Instead, it applies the binding similar to bias tape: you have two layers of fabric on the top, two on the bottom, and only one on the edge, where your quilt receives the most wear. It’s expensive, too. Topping out at around $300 for the whole package, I couldn’t justify the purchase. I admit to some sour grapes in my assessment of the product.

Still, I thought, there must be some better way to do this.

The Idea

Enter the Flat Fell Foot.

We see the product of this little device pretty much every day. It’s used to make those encased seams on our jeans, among other things. Here is a link to a video about how to use a flat fell foot, courtesy of Heirloom Creations.

When I saw this video, the light bulb went on. The job of the flat fell foot is to turn fabric over so you can stitch it precisely. That, my friends, is exactly what we want to do when binding a quilt!

Flat fell feet come in different widths. For quilt binding, you need a large one. Mine is 8mm.

Bernina 8mm Flat Fell Foot Flat Fell Foot - Bottom View

As you can see from the photos, there are other features that make the flat fell foot well-suited to quilt binding. The foot bottom has three different levels. The right-most level is the lowest, and is meant to ride on a single layer of fabric. The center level is highest. This keeps your folded fabric in place. The left-most level is meant to ride on two layers of fabric. These levels are what will keep our quilt in place.

 

Now, on to the part you’ve been waiting for:

The Tutorial

This is not a “quick” way to bind, but it is an easier way to get a quality binding on your quilt.

These instructions are for binding a quilt with a low loft batting, such as Warm & Natural. I haven’t tested this method on thicker battings, but I would assume that you would need to cut your binding slightly wider to accommodate the extra thickness.

  1. Trim all the layers of your quilt. If you do not have quilting up to the edge, you may want to do a stay stitch around the outside edge to make sure everything stays straight and square. This is a precision binding technique.
  2. Make your binding. For this method, I cut my binding at TWO INCHES. Please trust me on this. If you cut it too wide, it will not work properly. You may use either bias binding or straight cut binding.
    When joining your binding, join the ends at an angle to reduce bulk.
  3. Press your binding in half lengthwise, so you have a one inch strip.
  4. Set your machine needle as far left as the flat fell foot will allow.
    Sewing binding on top
  5. Sew the binding to the top of the quilt with the raw edges facing the right side, using the flat fell foot to guide the edge of the quilt and binding. Everything will be underneath the flat fell foot at this point.
    180181182
  6. To turn corners, stop ¼” away from the corner, back stitch, and remove the quilt from the machine. Fold your binding to the right, forming a triangle over the stitching. Then fold the binding back to the left, lining it up with the next side of the quilt. Pin.
  7. Sew the next side, starting from the edge.
  8. Continue like this until you have sewn the binding completely to the front of the quilt.
  9. Press your binding to the outside of the quilt.
  10. Move your needle slightly to the right. (I move mine two positions.)
    190
  11. This is where the magic happens. Working from the back side of the quilt, fold a portion of the binding over and put your needle down into all the layers.
    191192
  12. Lift your presser foot, with the needle still down, and pull the edge of the binding up so that it lies above the small inner edge of your flat fell foot. The right edge of your flat fell foot will be resting on the machine bed.
    193
  13. Lower your presser foot and sew, making sure to keep your fabric against the inner edge of the flat fell foot, and gently folding the binding as it goes toward the foot.
    198200
  14. When you near a corner, fold the binding of the oncoming side up and pin in place. Stitch up to the corner, adjusting the binding in the binding foot to make sure it stays in place. Use a stiletto or a seam ripper if you have to. If you prefer to avoid this, you can also pin both sides of the binding in place, then place all layers of the quilt and binding underneath the foot as you sew to the corner.
  15. Once you reach the binding on the next corner, keep your needle down and rotate the quilt to sew the next edge. All the quilt layers, including the binding, will be under your foot at this point. Sew a few stitches and then, needle down, lift the presser foot and bring the binding up over the top of it again so that you can continue the way you did in step 12.
    201190
  16. When you reach the end of your binding, simply lift your foot, pull the binding underneath, and sew until the end.

When you’re finished, you should have a beautiful binding with no hand sewing.

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Happy Binding, and let me know how this turns out for you!

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15 Responses to Happy Feet – Quilt Binding Edition

  1. Such an awesome tutorial. I am going to look at all the various feet I have with my machine to see if I have one. (not a Berina — :( ). If I find one, I will try it on some mug-rug samplers before trying on a quilt~!~ Thanks.

    • Lisa Yarost says:

      Thanks! Make sure you get a wide fell foot. Mine is 8mm. It’s a good idea to practice on a small project. Also, if you use thicker batting you may want to practice with a chunk of that, first, too. Let me know how it works for you!

  2. doesn’t the 2 inch produce a very narrow binding – i too do not have a bernina but will check the pfaff feet for something similar. thanks for the tut. it was very clear!

    • Lisa Yarost says:

      The binding turns out to be about a quarter inch. It’s actually tighter than your average binding.

      Your second line of stitching is a touch closer to the edge of the quilt to ensure catching the binding edge on both sides. Since you know that you have your binding sewn securely, in this case, precisely 8mm from the quilt edge, moving your needle one or two mm toward the edge is nothing to worry about. It will catch all the quilt sandwich layers, as well as all six layers of binding. That’s a lot to hang on to!

      The width of the binding is determined by the width of the felling foot. If you have more folding over onto the top than the width of the felling foot, it will crease at the area near the needle, and you will have a wrinkly edge with your seam going through the wrinkles, preserving them for all time.

      By no means is this project a Bernina-oriented one! I happen to own a Bernina and two vintage Singers, and this was the brand of flat fell foot I could find locally. This is a very old fashioned foot, to make a seam that has been used for (I think) for at least a hundred years.

      I hope this makes sense. Let me know if you have more questions.

  3. Cynthia says:

    You are a genius! Thanks for the tip!

  4. Funnily enough, hand stitching the binding is my favorite part! ^^; It’s the most relaxing and rewarding part for me haha. But I really want to try this in the future! I’ll have to keep my eye out for that foot. =)

  5. Corinna says:

    Where did you get the foot to

  6. Kim says:

    Where did you find this foot? I can’t find it on Amazon.

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