Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I have a confession to make. I hate binding. Not like I hate doing my taxes (i.e., so much that I pay someone else to do it), but it is my least favorite part of quilting. I have heard people who extol the virtues of binding, equating it with the final stretch of a marathon or tying ribbon on a package. I don't run unless chased and I use gift bags for a reason. My relationship to binding is best summed up by this quote from Yoda,
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
To face my fear of binding I took a class at IQF Chicago 2008 with Kathy Kansier called Quilts with Great Edges. We covered at least fourteen different binding techniques or edge treatments, including the humble wrapped or self-bound hemmed edge.While the wrapped or self-bound hemmed edge may seem humble it is nothing if not logical. When non-quilters come into my studio and see a quilt that has been quilted and is waiting to be bound, many have spontaneously said, "So you're going to wrap the fabric from the back to the front, roll it over a couple of times and sew it down?" Knowing nothing about quilting or sewing, they can see the logic of self-binding.

But the fact that it is logical does not mean it is simple. I discovered this when trying to self-bind my Gamelan quilt, based on the pattern from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's book The Modern Quilt Workshop: Patterns, Techniques, and Designs from the Funquilts Studio.
The trick with self-binding is that your quilting determines the edge. If you were doing a standard binding, you'd just hack off any quilting done beyond the squared up edge. But with a self-binding, if you didn't stop quilting at the same place all along the edge, then you'll have some unsewing to do. This issue is compounded when you quilt from the back. Quilting from the back is quilting with the backside of your quilt facing up usually in order to follow a pattern on the backing fabric. That's what I did on the Gamelan quilt. I used a large scale print on the back (the pink fabric - which is from Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr's fabric line, as were almost all the fabrics in this quilt), so I could outline quilt from the back.

My backing (the pink fabric) was about four inches larger on each side than my quilt top (the green fabric). And, despite my efforts, was not particularly evenly aligned with the front during the basting process. So on some edges I'd quilted beyond the edge of the top and on other edges I barely made it to the edge of the top. I ended up making a chalk line on the top where one would normally cut if one were squaring up a top for a traditional binding. Then I ripped out the quilting stitches outside the chalk line.
At that point I could trim the backing and the batting to the edge of the quilting by laying a ruler along the edge of the quilting and folding the top back over the ruler and out of the way. [Can you tell I took this picture after I had already trimmed what needed trimming? Can you tell I need a manicure? That reminds me of a hand piecing class I took with Jinny Beyer in which she used this neat enlarging projector so she could put her hands underneath it and the projector would enlarge the image onto a screen. She said this was great for showing a classroom full of people how to hand piece, but it was not so great the day after she'd been working in the garden. So the next time you're envious of Jinny Beyer's quilting talent and fabric empire, just take solace in the fact that she too is in need of a manicure.]I trimmed the top to an inch wider on all sides from the back and batting.I did a test run on a scrap of paper to determine how much I could cut off the corner to reduce bulk without leaving raw edges exposed. Then I trimmed the corners of the top, so when they're folded over to the back they form miters. I folded the edge of the top in half and ironed it. Then I folded the corners toward the center and ironed them.
Not having the greatest of confidence in my ironing, I basted down the corners so they would be more easy to form into miters when I got to them. This worked well and the basting stitches came out easily after the binding was sewn on.
I folded the edge of the top to the back of the quilt as I sewed the edge down. Finally I hand sewed a few stitches in each corner to secure the miters, which is a heckuva lot less hand sewing than the standard binding method.

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