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11 Tips for Fast Machine Binding

With 3 pins, no glue, no clips!

I love quilting. I love sewing. I love everything fabric and fiber. I also love my family, and spending time with them. This means I occasionally give myself a break and find shortcuts in quilting that allow me to complete a quilt faster. Because, let's be honest - sometimes finished is better than perfect!

One shortcut I use is binding my quilts by machine. As much as I love the look of a hand-bound quilt, and love to sit down and sew it by hand, what I love more is spending time

with our son.

I love going on imaginary adventures using all the "latest technology" in tools and gadgets, such as treasure maps, magnifying glasses, spy glasses, "grabber guns", and special rocks and sticks.

So I choose to bind my quilts by machine for at least the next 10 years, because...

He's only a little boy for such a little while!

We have too many places to go, too many monsters to fight, too many adventures to go on, and I simply do not have the time to spend hand sewing.

There are many good videos and tutorials available online on how to bind a quilt by machine, I will not teach you how to do that here. This post is about sharing my best practices, tips, and lessons learned for "super-duper" fast binding.

...Because I do not use clips, nor glue, and I use about 3 pins! I just....go for it!

I simply choose to not make the time to pin, clip, or glue. It either gets done QUICK, or it sits in the closet of forgotten quilt tops. You know, the one we all have, the closet full of fabrics we love, the skills we've learned, and a little bit of...guilt.

You will notice the images below are of different quilts, because, guess what? I bound all those quilts at once, in one sitting, super-duper fast!

Here are my tips, my best practices, and what I do to GET IT DONE!

1. Efficiency tip: I cut my binding 2.5" and fold it in half. I use 50 weight thread, and 2.5 mm stitch length. For the purpose of efficiency, I use the general standards or factors: most common binding size and that I can easily remember, the thread that is already in my machine, and the default setting on my machine for stitch length. Any adjustment outside of those parameters would mean loss of time (nano-seconds matter and add up!), loss of brain power while I'm trying to remember, and if, for any reason I need to stop for the day, I need to remember it for next time. And with a 4 year old, who knows when next time will be? And my memory is not what it used to be before I had a child and was well rested.

I machine sew the binding to either the front, or the back of my quilt, depending on preference. If I want the "hand-sewn" look, I sew the binding to the front, and then flip it to the back side. If I am making a quilt that I want done even faster, I sew the binding to the back and flip it to the front, because I don't have to worry about what the stitching line looks on the back, or if my stitches will catch on the back.

The pictures below are of binding sewn to the front, directly on the binding itself. I use pins just for the corners, use (whatever I have handy) to keep the corner in the right position, and sew one stitch over in the corner, go back, and then turn the corner. I don't mind the look of that extra stitch, and I feel like it helps my corner be more secure.

2. I iron my binding outward, but I do not iron it folded towards the back. Because that would only take more time, and those monsters and adventures can't wait!

3. I like my binding tight, so I use a 3/8" seam allowance. Note: if you have points at the edge of your quilt, such as half-square triangles, a 3/8" seam allowance will clip those points off and they will no longer be sharp. If it's a quilt to be used and washed a lot, I don't mind, and I also can't really tell once that quilt is at a picnic or wrapped around my son in front of the fireplace.

Since I sew fast, I have accepted that I cannot maintain a consistent 1/4" all the way around without the quilt slipping from time to time. The width of my main presser foot creates a 3/8" seam, so that's what I do. The tips listed below are for the binding sewn to the front, where you will stitch very close to the binding on the front, to catch the folded fabric on the back. This is tricky, because you want to make sure your stitches sew through the binding on the back, and this is why quilters normally use clips, pins, or even glue. We have already established that I do not.

4. I use a topstitch or stitch in the ditch presser foot. My machine has an IDT, which is a built-in walking foot, but even without a walking foot, going slow would be just fine. Align the presser foot guide against the edge of the folded binding. I generally like to sew fast, but this is where I sew slow. This helps me make sure I don't stray from the ditch, and that my needle doesn't sew over the binding itself. It needs to stay in that groove.

5. I use 3, sometimes 4 pins. That's it. For the entire quilt. One pin is to help me start sewing the binding folded. The rest are used when sewing the corners. So, with the binding folded to the back, I make sure the fold of the binding is beyond the original stitch line. I add a pin to keep it in place, and I start sewing a few stitches. Then, once that is tacked in place, I continue to fold the fabric as I sew slowly, making sure I feel the "bump" created by the fabric on the back. In the image on the right, the stiletto is resting in the "bump" created by the binding on the back of the quilt. As you can see, the bump is beyond the original stitch line holding on the binding.

6. I use my fingernails to feel the "bump", and to hold the binding in place. While my right hand is constantly folding the fabric to the back as I sew, my left hand is pushing down (without creating resistance against the feed dogs) to keep that binding on the back in place. It also helps me check that the binding on the back is in the correct position.

7. I keep my eye on the needle. Always. Sometimes I forget to breathe. I do not recommend that part.

8. I check the back every 6" or so for any missed spots where the binding didn't catch. Insert curse word here, but don't say it loud, there's a child in the room!

I may have a small missed spot or two along the way, but I'll show you how I hide the evidence.

9. I stop to admire my work and exclaim "Who needs clips? Not this girl!". Notice how you can barely see the stitches on the front? The back will look like the second picture. As long as you go slow, and keep checking with your fingers to make sure the fabric is in the right position, the back should look consistent.


10. I plan for the corners and go slow. I add a pin on the folded binding on the edge I am currently sewing and on the edge I am going to turn the corner on. This helps my binding find its own way of folding, because, let's admit it, sometimes fabric does whatever it wants!

I cut off a very small amount of backing and batting from the corner. I found that this helps reduce the bulk, and helps my corners stay sharp.

I continue to stitch in the ditch, making sure that I turn the corner exactly in the...well...corner, and that my stitch is not too far on the binding, or not far enough, and not catching the binding on the back.

I never sew over my pins (you only break a needle and bend and jam a pin inside your machine one time until you learn that lesson!), so I take my time with this area, and sew slow. Still faster overall than clipping, pinning, or gluing an entire quilt!

Once the corners are done, I do a little internal dance to "I like sharp corners and I cannot lie!"

11. Once the binding is complete, I look on the back and correct any spots that I may have missed. I use a ladder stitch, and this method works for me even in the corners. You could go back to sew it by machine again, but I have not been able to do that nicely. Here is what it looks like corrected with a ladder stitch. On 3 quilts I have bound that day, I've only had 4-5 total spots that were missed, and each were less than an inch.

I missed the corner on this quilt because it was too bulky. It became bulky because the area where I sewed the binding strips together somehow ended up in a corner, resulting in many layers of fabric in that spot. But once the quilt is completed, it's completely unnoticeable! My tension didn't seem quite perfect either, I just know that perfect quilts will happen once my son is all grown up and I have all the time in the world to dedicate to perfection...right?

So, in one afternoon I bound three quilts, spent less than one episode of Cat in the Hat hand sewing these missed spots, caught three monsters, found one treasure, found two pieces of "real gold, mommy!" and the most perfect stick, had a snack and almost (Gosh, so closeee!!!) took a nap, because, let's admit it...quilting and treasure hunting are exhausting!

Hopefully you find these tips useful, and I would love to see what you create! Follow me on social media @otter.and.thyme or tag me #otterandthyme

Until next time,


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