Stitching down the binding: thread color, stitches and stitch length

Welcome back! After talking about the 7 essential tips for binding a quilt by machine, today’s the day I share with you all the fun stuff I learned about stitching a quilt binding to the front of a quilt.

I seem to have so much on my plate, that hand stitching a binding on a quilt is a thing of the past. A couple of years ago, that would have bothered me, but I’m over that. I believe there’s a saying: Finished is better than perfect. And who decides what is perfect anyway?

I’ll be using the Husqvarna Viking Epic 980Q to assist me. We haven’t seen a whole lot of the sewing machine this week, but it’s been working behind the scenes. Now we’re going to check out some of the stitches and how we can use them for our binding.

Husqvarna Viking Epic 980Q

Basting small items for quilting

Before we get started on the binding, I wanted to share a tip that I use for basting small items. While spray basting is my favorite method, I really hate to use the spray in my studio for a number of reasons, lack of ventilation being the most important one. Yes, I could pin these small items, but I’m lazy. Have you noticed that “lazy” people who take shortcuts can still get a lot of work done?

I use this technique for SMALL items. It doesn’t work so well for larger items. And here’s the beauty of having a large rectangular ironing surface.

I lay out the backing, the batting, and the top as if I were to baste them conventionally.

Three layers of a small project to be quilted are laid out on the ironing board.

Using steam, I iron the three layers as if they were one. I’m not pressing super hard as I don’t want to compress the batting too much. But I want the top to be smooth.

Then I carefully flip the table runner over and iron the back. I start in the middle and work my way to the outer edges. I’m NOT using fusible batting, but I could be if I had it.

I flip the table runner over again, check the front that all is good and then very carefully, I take it to the sewing machine to start the quilting process. Remember: technically, these three layers are NOT basted. The heat of the iron and the cotton in the batting (I use an 80/20 cotton/polyester batting for almost all projects), will make the layers “stick” together. But you could very easily shift those layers if you’re not careful. That’s why this works for SMALL items only.

TIP You MUST check the back frequently to ensure that no tucks or ripples have occurred. If necessary, I give the top and backing another quick press several times during the quilting process to keep things smooth and flat on the top and the bottom.

TIP Do not iron your three layers together and then fold or roll the top and store it away. You’ll just have to start over when you’re ready to quilt. Press and then go to the sewing machine.

You can see why this works for small projects. They are easy to maneuver. The backing or the top of a large quilt would shift with this very temporary basting. Note the three layers will not technically be stuck to each other. They are just laid out nicely.

I’ve been using this technique for small items for many years. Saves time and money. I’m all for that.

Press the backing (from the middle) of the three layers of the table runner to be quilted.

The width of binding strips

I promised yesterday that I would share with you some photos about how wide to cut the binding strips.

Technically, it doesn’t matter how wide you cut your binding strips. What’s important is that you use the appropriate seam allowance that will allow the quilt to fill the binding.

You can see below that I’ve got a generous ¼” seam allowance. It’s more like ⅜″.

Generous ¼” seam allowance on a binding sample

I flipped that binding over to the front of the sample and stitched it in place. Then I cut the binding so we could take a peek inside. Can you see how the quilt has completely filled the binding? When you touch the binding, you won’t feel empty space between where the quilt ends and the outer edge of the binding.

The quilt completely fills the binding

In this next example, I’m using a ¼” seam allowance to do the first round of stitching the binding to the quilt.

Binding is stitched to the sample using a ¼” seam allowance.

When I cut this sample apart, you can see that the quilt does NOT fill the binding. When you grab the edge of this quilt, you’ll feel a gap in the binding where the quilt ends.

There is no right or wrong on this, but I do like my bindings to be full of the quilt. They look nicer, they feel nicer and well, it makes me feel better!

In the sample below, you can also see the top of the binding is slightly wider than the bottom Normally the distance isn’t quite this pronounced. This is a sample after all but it’s important to note. I want that binding to cover the seam that was used to attach the binding on the back of the quilt so it only makes sense that the top would be slightly wider than the bottom.

The quilt does NOT fill the binding on this sample

Stitching the binding to the FRONT of the quilt

I’ve been busy as a beaver getting quilts ready so I could show you some different techniques and threads I used to stitch the bindings to the front of the quilt.

I must say that I’m pretty excited about the techniques that I uncovered. I still remember the first binding that I stitched by machine. I hated it. It took forever, it was ugly and well, let’s say that we won’t go there!

A stack of quilts to be bound

As I mentioned yesterday, you want to have a smooth, even seam when you sew the binding to the back of the quilt. That sets us up to have a nice, even binding on the front and the back of the quilt.

Even, smooth seam from stitching the binding to the back of the quilt.

Even when the edge of the quilt has been serged, the seam allowance that I use to stitch the binding on means the serged edge will be completely encased in the binding. No danger of the serged stitches appearing on the front of the quilt.

The binding seam allowance is wider than the serged edge

I found that stitching the bindings to the front of the quilt worked best if I used a regular foot. I used the clear B foot.

Using a clear B foot to stitch the binding to the front of the quilt

Using the straight stitch

In this first example, I used a straight stitch to stitch the binding onto the front of the quilt. The yellow fabric is the backing and if you look close at the backing, you’ll see a line of stitching that is parallel to the binding. That’s the stitch line from attaching the binding to the front of the quilt. Obviously, on the front, my line of straight stitching falls on the blue binding.

Using a straight stitch to attach the binding to the front of the quilt

Matching thread for the top and the bobbin

I used a MATCHING thread for the top and the bobbin as I did not want the stitching to stand out on either the front of the back of the quilt; but it could if that’s the look that you want.

Matching threads for the backing (yellow) and the binding (blue)

Using a decorative stitch: shell stitch

The next stitch that I tried is the shell stitch in the Utility Stitch Menu.

TIP I did a little bit of stitching on a practice piece first. Always a good idea if you’re doing something new.

The shell stitch is similar to a blind hem. There are a couple of zigs and zags and then a larger stitch. My goal was to keep the small zigs and zags on the quilt and the larger stitch would hook onto the binding to attach it in place.

Sample stitch out of the Shell stitch

Here’s a screenshot of the stitch menu. I did shorten the stitch from the default and I did narrow the stitch width. No need to make the stitch more visible. I went for the smallest width I could manage without compromising the integrity of the stitch and I needed to be sure that I could see the stitch so it caught the binding as I was stitching.

Settings for the Shell stitch

Here’s the end result. The darker color is the front of the quilt and the tiger stripe is the backing. You can’t see the stitches on the front at all which is great. The stitching does show a bit more on the backing, but it’s not bad.

Matching thread colors for the Shell stitch on the binding and the backing of the quilt

Color is more important than brand

TIP I’m a big fan of any brand of thread. When stitching the bindings on, the color is MORE important than the brand, as long as it works. I used a wide variety of thread brands and had no issue with any of the thread combinations that I used in the Epic 980Q. I use a 50 weight thread, the same you would use for piecing.

The buttonhole stitch

The next stitch I tried was the buttonhole stitch. I was about to use the invisible thread on the top, so I did a little stitch out using the clear (on the left) and the smoke (on the right).

If I don’t have a matching thread color, my fall back is invisible thread.

Practice stitch-outs using invisible threads.

The leopard print is the back of the quilt and the brown is the front. Again, you don’t see the stitches on the front of the quilt. The stitching on the back is noticeable but you have to be looking for it.

The binding was stitched using a buttonhole stitch and matching threads for the backing and invisible thread on the top.

Here’s a screenshot of the buttonhole stitch menu. Again, I chose a stitch width as narrow as I could go. I also played around with the length. You don’t want that stitch length to be so short. A shorter stitch length will just make more stitches which becomes more visible.

TIP Make sure you play around with your buttonhole stitches. There are several to choose from on the EPIC 980Q. There’s no right or wrong one to choose. It’s the one that gives you the look that you want. However, I would caution you that if you use the double stitching buttonhole stitch that it will take twice as long to stitch the binding down.

Notice on the screen that the points of the stitch are going to the right, whereas in the highlighted menu area, the points are to the left. It’s easy to flip the direction on the Epic 980Q. And having that stitch appear on the screen as it’ll be stitched out is a handy feature to have.

Screenshot of one of the buttonhole settings

Then I tried the buttonhole stitch again (same one as above) but used invisible in both the top and the bobbin. I know, something that we all hate! But if you’re using good quality thread, you shouldn’t have a problem.

I didn’t even have to adjust the tension on the Epic 980Q. It managed just fine. I was dancing around the studio when I did this one. You can’t see the stitches on either side!

The buttonhole stitch using invisible thread on the top and in the bobbin

The serpentine stitch

I wanted to try some different stitches and I still had quilts to bind. This next quilt was done with the serpentine stitch. Oh my, I love this stitch. It was FAST. Really fast. The Inukshuk fabric is the backing and the scrappy look is the front. I used a thread in the top and the bobbin that matches the binding since most of the stitching occurs on the binding both on the front and the back.

Serpentine stitch using thread that matches the binding on the top and in the bobbin

Here’s the stitch menu for the serpentine stitch. I did make a couple of adjustments but only on the length this time. I left the stitch width as is.

Machine settings for the serpentine stitch

Three Step Zigzag

The last example I have to show you uses the Three Step Zigzag. I used the same color thread on the top and the bobbin since the majority of the stitching will be on the binding.

It’s very hard to see the stitching which is exactly what we want. And the binding is a very high contrast to the quilt top so I wanted most of the stitching to appear on the binding. It worked like a charm and was also FAST.

Matching thread for the binding (on both sides) using the Three Step Zigzag stitch

The stitch menu for the Three Step Zigzag stitch.

The stitch menu for the Three Step Zigzag

Make sure to keep your little sample handy so you can play around with the widths and lengths of the stitches so you get exactly what you’re looking for and no need to rip out the stitching on the actual quilt.

A small scrap of quilted fabric to practice various stitches

OH – I should mention that when I stitch down the corners on the front, I don’t remove the quilt from the sewing machine. I fold the corner over and use the Quilter’s Awl to hold it in place.

Use the Quilter’s Awl to hold the mitered corner in place as you stitch.

Wow, that sure changes things up when you go to stitch the binding on with the sewing machine. I was very excited and I learned that there isn’t ONE way to do this. A lot depends on the thread colors you have available, the color of the binding in relation to the color of the border and a whole lot of other things. I would highly recommend that you play around as I did.

The Husqvarna Viking Epic 980Q was an awesome machine to stitch down those bindings. It was FAST and lots of choices for the stitches. But the ability to go FAST through that many thicknesses? Well, hands down, this machine made binding a breeze.

I’ve got a couple more techniques on binding to share with you tomorrow so be sure to come back.

Have a great day!


This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: 7 essential tips for sewing the binding on a quilt by machine

Go to part 5: 2 quilt bindings that add pizzazz: getting creative with the Epic 980Q

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Amy Caldwell February 4, 2019 - 1:12 pm
I really like the idea of serging the quilt edges before quilting.
Elaine Theriault February 5, 2019 - 3:02 pm
Amy -- it makes a huge difference to serge or otherwise stitch those three layers together before adding the binding. I wouldn't do it before quilting (perhaps you wrote quilting instead of binding in your comment?) By not stitching the three layers together for the quilting process, it allows the excess of the top and back to push out. Thanks for following QUILTsocial. Elaine
Sheila Hlushak April 4, 2018 - 8:44 am
Wow, great tutorial, I have learnt a lot. Thanks really helpful.
Maggie Leibhart April 3, 2018 - 10:59 pm
These are great tips
Toni Leli April 3, 2018 - 10:40 am
This was very helpful.
Carla A. Canonico April 3, 2018 - 5:38 pm
So happy to hear it!
Peggy April 2, 2018 - 5:16 pm
Lots of great tips again! Thanks Elaine!
Anna M Hutchins March 31, 2018 - 11:52 am
Good tutorial,
Barbara March 29, 2018 - 8:55 pm
Great tips
Brenda West March 29, 2018 - 5:45 pm
Really appreciate all the informational blogs. I am self teaching to sew so they really help to make sense of things. This article is exceptionally great for someone like me. Thanks
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