3 tattle tale experiments on binding a quilt

Three different looks for the binding depending on which direction the binding strips were cut

Welcome back. What did you think of my favorite sewing machine features that I posted yesterday? Those features make sewing/quilting so much more fun and much easier. Quilting is our hobby after all. It’s supposed to be all about having fun.

Last time I guest blogged on QUILTsocial it was March 2018, it was all about binding. While this seems like such a simple topic, there are lots of little tips and tricks. Although I shared a lot of what I know last time, there are still a few things that have been bothering me.

I’ll be using the Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby deLuxe to walk you through these binding experiments.

I was at a recent guild meeting and the topic was bindings. As the presenter walked us through a number of different styles of binding, the topic of bias binding came up. There’s an urban myth (or should we call it a quilt police law?), that bias binding is better than cross grain binding. OK – I’m good with that, but WHY is the bias binding supposed to be superior to the cross grain binding? I like to know why.

I had performed this experiment a number of years ago when seeking an answer to that same question. I thought it was time to revisit this issue (for the last time) to see if the results were the same or different.

Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby deLuxe

Bias binding versus cross-grain binding and lengthwise grain binding

For the samples, I used pre-quilted fabric for the “quilts”. I chose a striped fabric for the binding so it would be easy to see which grain was used on which sample. The stripe runs parallel to the selvage of the fabric.

Then I got busy and made binding, cutting the binding fabric in three different directions.

Binding made using strips cut on the lengthwise grain

Binding made using strips cut on the crosswise grain.

And I made binding using bias strips. I used the continuous bias binding method that I described in my 9 steps to continuous bias binding in March 2018 series of posts.

Binding made using strips cut on the bias.

Then the bindings were attached to the pre-quilted fabric pieces. I used the Dual Feed Foot to attach the bindings to the backs of the quilts and I used my Clear Foot B to attach the bindings to the fronts of the quilts. I used a straight stitch for the seam on the front.

Binding made with strips cut on the lengthwise grain of fabric

Looks nice on the corner, but not all corners were this nice. It’s very hard to get the stripe to run parallel unless you fussy cut the strip which I did not.

The pattern on the mitered corner may or may not end up matching. This one matched, but it was a fluke.

Binding made using strips cut on the crosswise grain

Again, nice corner, but they all didn’t look like that. I suppose I could have taken the time to fuss with each corner, but this was an experiment so I didn’t take the time.

The pattern matched up at the corner, but this just happened. I didn’t fuss with it.

Binding made with continuous bias binding strips.

Binding made with continuous bias binding strips

The corners gave a more consistent look than the other samples.

The pattern at the corner will have a more consistent look than the other samples.

Here are all three binding samples together so you can compare. All of them are fine – it all depends on the look that you want for your quilt.

Three different looks for the binding depending on which direction the binding strips were cut

Then I took my seam ripper and poked holes in several spots along the edge of all three bindings. I also poked a couple of holes in the flat side of the binding.

All three samples were then washed three times with loads of clothing for more agitation. I have a front load washing machine (does anyone have any other kind these days?)

Now, this wasn’t super scientific. Were those holes that I ripped the same size? Through one layer of the binding or two? I tried to be consistent, but it wasn’t easy. Let’s have a look at the results.

Frayed edges around the damaged binding cut on the lengthwise grain

Frayed edges around the damaged binding cut on the crosswise grain

All three of the samples had frayed edges after three washes. Interesting to note that the lengthwise grain seemed to be the worse. But that could be just the way the binding got nicked? What I notice is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the crosswise grain and the continuous bias binding.

Hmm – did we just displace an urban myth? I was told that the bias binding would wear significantly better because it was stronger and there would be less fraying than using the crosswise grain.

Either way, it’s best to not damage the binding.

This is the second time I’ve done this experiment and I got the same results both times. I’m taking this to the guild meeting to show my peers.

Don’t you love experimenting?

Comparison of the three damaged bindings

Repairing a wavy quilt edge

This next situation is NOT for the faint-hearted. I had made a wall hanging a couple of months ago. As per usual, I was in a hurry. I needed a picture of the finished project ASAP.

I put the sleeve on the quilt and hung it up. I was a bit disappointed. Can you see why?

The quilt has wavy edges.

I felt the edges were just a tad too wavy for my liking. I did get my picture and it has served its purpose, but this wall hanging was hanging in my family room and every day I saw it, that wavy edge taunted me to fix it.

I decided that for the sake of this blog post, that I would remove the binding to see if I could make it less wavy. I’ve been procrastinating on this job because I knew it was going to be nasty. I could have cut the binding off – it wouldn’t have affected the quilt that much, but then I would have had to remove the sleeve at the top and I didn’t want to do that.

Instead, I got out my seam ripper and proceeded to remove the binding. Did I mention that it was machine stitched down? Did I mention that it was a blanket stitch? Did I mention that it was a tight blanket stitch? Well, after listening to half an audiobook and spending an entire afternoon, removing the binding and picking out all the threads, the binding was off.

I highly recommend that you do NOT do this. It was a very long and tedious process. Let’s learn how to do the binding correctly the first time!

After the binding came off, I laid the wall hanging on the floor. The quilt was square and it was flat. The binding had to be the culprit for the waviness.

The quilt lies flat without the binding on.

I should interject here that you need to have good tools to do any job. Doesn’t matter what profession you’re in. Having a good SHARP seam ripper is key. You should buy several of them – keep them everywhere and make sure you replace them from time to time. Yes – you need to replace your seam ripper. Did you know that they get dull? And what happens when we use dull tools? You either cut yourself or you cut your work. Neither of which is a good thing.

Seam ripper

The seam ripper I was using has seen better days and there were a few times when it wasn’t doing the job properly. And some of those blanket stitches were TIGHT! I was hoping to reuse the binding, but that wasn’t going to happen. I felt the edge was too fuzzy so I tossed this binding in the scrap pile and made a new binding. The leftover bit of fabric from the first binding has been sitting in my studio while I tried to find other more interesting things to do!!! But at least I knew where it was!

The old binding was damaged when it was removed because of a dull seam ripper.

The old binding was damaged when it was removed because of a dull seam ripper.

Once the binding came off, I decided to hang the quilt back on the wall to see what it looked like. Just a teeny bit wavy hanging up, but overall – it’s pretty flat.

The quilt lies flat without the binding attached.

Then I reapplied the new binding using the Designer Ruby deLuxe. I was hoping to use the old binding so I could see how much extra binding had been sewn to the quilt, but it was too damaged to reuse.

I used my walking foot (Dual Feed Foot) to stitch the binding to the quilt on the back and then used the Clear Foot B to stitch the binding to the front. This time I used a straight stitch to secure the binding to the front of the quilt.

Do you think it was the worth the effort?

The quilt now hangs flat. I’m happy.

While there’s still a touch of waviness on the left-hand side, the wall hanging looks significantly better. I’m glad I took the time. And now when I see the quilt hanging on the wall, I don’t hear it taunting me at all.

So what did I do differently the second time around?

While I used the Dual Feed Foot both times, the second time, I gently pulled the binding as I sew it. That helped to ensure there was NO extra binding being stitched to the quilt.

I suppose if you wanted to get really scientific about the process, you could measure the sides of the quilt and ensure that the exact amount of binding gets stitched to each side of the quilt. I’m not sure I want to fuss with my quilts to that extent.

I’m going to think about that process and see what I come up with. The binding is a very important part of the quilt and I don’t want the binding to distort my projects.

Sewing the binding before you trim the quilt

This last area is a bit of a gray area for me, but it’s been on my mind so I thought I would discuss it.

Should you sew the binding on a quilt before you trim it? Hmm – I asked around to see why people did that. I wanted to find out if this process makes a better binding.

I have a couple of questions about this method. How can you make sure the quilt is square or at least the corners are square?

After asking around, there seems to be a couple of reasons that people would sew the binding on before trimming. One is to help secure the raw edges of the three layers together. Hm – I think that would be easy enough to zigzag around the edges to keep everything secure. I did touch on that technique in my posts, 7 essential tips on sewing on the binding on a quilt by machine.

The second reason was to help ensure that the binding was completely filled with the quilt. This actually surprised me a little bit because if you want a full binding, why wouldn’t you adjust the seam allowance to ensure that the binding was going to be full? I think the issue here is that many sets of instructions will have you cut 2½” strips for the binding and then have you sew the binding on with a ¼” seam. That will leave a large gap in the binding for sure. But if you use 2½” strips and sew with a GENEROUS ¼” seam allowance, there’s NO gap.

It’s interesting how we learn to do things one way and it takes a big change in mindset to even realize that there are other possibilities. 

I was wanted to try the technique and I had a small quilted project that hadn’t yet been trimmed. However, when I got to thinking about sewing the binding on, I realized that I always sew my binding to the BACK of the quilt first and then machine stitch it to the front.

I think you can see that this technique will not work with 100% machine binding.

That means that all my quilts will be trimmed before the binding is sewn on. I’m glad I asked the question. I’ve had a chance to think through the process and I feel happy with my decision. That allows me to square up the corners and make sure the top is the same width as the bottom and that the two sides are equal. With all the batting and extra backing hanging off the quilt, that process just seems a whole lot harder.

Prepping to sew the binding to the quilt BEFORE the quilt is trimmed.

Wow – don’t you love when we think outside the box? Try new things or at least think about new ways to do old things. Let’s not forget that we figured out how to fix wavy binding. But we don’t really want to fix it, we want to avoid it!

All the of the projects here were bound or quilted using the Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby deLuxe. I will be touching on some quilting tips and techniques for the remainder of the week. Be sure to come back for that. I’ve discovered some pretty exciting stuff.

Have a great day!


This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: Designer Ruby deLuxe – NOT your grandmother’s sewing machine

Go to part 3: 11 essential tips for machine quilting

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Donna Jo July 15, 2018 - 8:48 am
I was dismayed to see the binding damaged after only 3 even on the bias binding, but appreciate the suggestions to minimize the risk of damage.
Peggy June 6, 2018 - 4:46 pm
Lots of interesting info in this post! I hadn't even heard of sewing the binding on before you trim the quilt - interesting - but I think I'll stick with binding after trimming. Thanks Elaine!
NancyB from Many LA June 6, 2018 - 12:40 pm
This was a good post - and I love the different effects of the bindings!
Dawn Kelly June 6, 2018 - 10:13 am
Thank you so much for this thoughtful introspection of quilting habits. I have been waffling about my bindings. I love flange bindings, but sometimes they aren't quite straight AND I like a smaller binding then my flange instructions. I now know that I can make the flange binding and then trim it to the size I like (2" instead of 2.5"). I'm feeling inspired. This will make my binding edge clean-cut and better able to line up on my squared quilt edge for sewing down to the back. Cool!
Joanne Derrick May 29, 2018 - 10:18 am
Where did you get the cat design, I love love it. I would like get it.
Elaine Theriault May 29, 2018 - 10:39 am
The cat pattern is a Charlie Harper design. It was made into a pattern by Keri Designs. The pattern is called Limp on a Limb by Keri Designs. Search for Limp on a Limb on the internet - there is even a kit available for it. Have fun - it's a gorgeous pattern. Elaine
Melissa Marginet May 29, 2018 - 6:08 am
While your bindings will be frayed the same after three washes, after much more wear and tear the threads that are cut will continue to get damaged. The damaged thread on the bias binding is a short thread so the damage is contained within a short distance. The two bindings that run with the grain will continue to get damaged for the length of that side of the quilt. This will also happen faster on the straight of grain binding as the quilt gets tugged on during use because it doesn’t have the stretch of a bias binding.
Elaine Theriault May 29, 2018 - 6:31 am
Melissa - THANK YOU for your comment about the damaged binding. NOW I get it!! I think it was the wording and how it had been explained to me that I didn't get. Yes - I can see that I'll still have a damaged binding, but the damage will be contained. Thanks again - appreciate that explanation. Elaine
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