Fresh ideas for bias binding – And six placemats finished

Nina With Freckles - Placemats with bias binding 2015-09-17

My six placemats are probably a bit notorious at this point, but I finally finished them a couple of days ago. They were started as part of a sew-along in 2011 (yes…), but then stuff happened, including having no walking foot, being too much of a newbie still, all of my personal life being thrown upside down in several areas, and a plain lack of inspiration.

An example of the newbieness would be not knowing about needle and thread sizes, or how (not) to combine fabric thicknesses, but on the other hand, without those experiences I’d be a worse sewist today.

Also, trying to find suitable advice for how to tackle bias binding – which I had inherited a ridiculous amount of and which I had enough of for experimental projects like these placemats, not to justify using yardage for double-fold binding – proved a challenge. My first ever quilted project, two mug rugs, were extremely frustrating to finish in a similar fashion, with bias binding, because the explanations and photographs simply didn’t do the trick for me. I always had more questions than the answers given. Do you recognise the feeling of getting completely stuck, because tutorials you find don’t open up the topic well enough? I can’t count the amount of times it’s happened to me already, and then I have to start researching like crazy just to understand what to do.

And so here we are, seeing the fruits of my labour. I won’t leave you hanging, though, but will post photographs and include text, text, text, in case you wish to use these fresh ideas how to bind with either bias binding or double-fold binding, sewn by machine rather than hand. Even if you end up sewing as you have up to this point, I still think it’s a good idea to question one’s choices from time to time :)

In this post:

  • The rambling you already read
  • How to join strips of bias binding and double-fold binding
  • How to deal with a roll of bias binding
  • How to start sewing on bias binding
  • An idea of how to use bias binding on thicker projects
  • How to sew neat mitered corners – Bias binding and double-fold binding
  • How to finish sewing bias binding
  • Fresh ideas for bias binding and double-fold binding

* * * * *

How to join strips of bias binding and double-fold binding

As mentioned above, I inherited an insane amount of bias binding, basically in all colours of the rainbow, but none of the strips were very long. Luckily, I had matching colours at least, but in once case I had to join two shorter strips first.

There are two slightly different ways how to join the strips, and both work for bias binding as well as double-fold binding used to finish quilts. It’s more about preference than anything else, because in the case of printed fabrics, it might be easier to join end-to-end (think stripes for instance), but if a pattern is lively, a 45-degree join may be less visible. In the preference category also goes your tolerance for fiddliness, as end-to-end is quicker and less cumbersome.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding joining of strips 2015-09-17

In photo 1, the strips are joined end-to-end by placing the right sides together, then sewing with a quarter-inch seam allowance. Press seam open to reduce bulk, and you’re done.

The 45-degree join is done in several steps. As per photo 2, place the strips of bias binding (or fabric for double-fold binding) right sides together, and pin well to hold in place. Draw a line (pencil works fine as you can see) from corner to corner, so to speak. Photo 3: Sew over that line. Photo 4: Cut excess fabric whilst leaving around a quarter inch for seam allowance. Press open.

My tension settings were adjusted for the on-going placemat project, and it was tricky enough to find the correct setting without changing it for this short seam, but I suppose the dark-brown thread would have been challenging to see, had the beige not popped up; an unexpected perk!

How to deal with a roll of bias binding

Rolls of binding can fly here and there unless you find a way to tame them. I’ve seen people stick the leg of an extension table through the middle of the roll, or they might have some necklace thing going on. Yet another way is to stuff the roll in a bowl or mug next to the sewing machine, but I’m weary of that in case I tug more binding too vigorously.

But we have pins and things poking and sticking out. Maybe one of them works for you, too, in your roll management?

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding roll management 2015-09-17

The binding roll was small enough to sit in place when the larger stopper was closer to the needle, and the smaller stopper on the other side of the roll.

Pull binding from behind the machine as much as you will need for a shorter length at a time, and the roll is managed.

How to start sewing on bias binding

Now things get interesting. I’ve looked at many a tutorial, yet only in one (can’t even recall which one) was mentioned how to start sewing the bias binding.

Since my project were placemats, I thought the neatest place for binding overlap would be the side closest to the person sitting at the table, and so I chose an arbitrary point approximately in the middle of that side.

Next, Wonder Clips; they are a miracle, craving to hug lots of fabric at once. And not just those clips, but turned such that the clear half is pointing upwards. Why? Because the clip will be much easier to grab on-the-go when sewing. The clear half is flat, which means it will sit against the sewing machine otherwise, and then the only part you can grab easily is the coloured one. But if you turn the clip “upside down”, both halves will be yours to attack.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding starting to sew 2015-09-17

Step 1: Fold the bias binding open and place its right side against the project. Fold the corner at a 45-degree angle such that wrong sides of binding are touching.

Step 2: Clip generously prior to sewing. Only clip until the first corner, though. See the clip along the perpendicular side? It’s good to have one in that spot for when you remove the last clip on the side being sewn, to avoid fabrics shifting.

Step 3: Where exactly do you start sewing? I like to put down the needle right before the bias binding, at which time I also remove superfluous clips.

What thread colours should you choose? In these photos, I’m sewing the first binding seam with a thread (top and bobbin) that matches the beige backing of my placemats.

An idea of how to use bias binding on thicker projects

The normal way to handle bias binding is to sew in the fold of it. This is problematic when you are making quilted things with batting in between, because unlike double-fold binding, bias binding is quite narrow.

You’ll see later in this post what problems this can cause, but for now I’ll say that I’ve sewn my placemats with slightly more than a quarter-inch seam allowance. In other words, there is a space created between the seam and the fold of of the bias binding.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding handling bulk 2015-09-17

See the faint difference in lighting around the binding fold, when I’m using the seam ripper to pull away the binding? The collage is clickable if you want a close-up.

How to sew neat mitered corners

This section on neat, mitered corners applies to both bias binding and double-fold binding. The collage below is clickable.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding mitered corners 2015-09-17

Step 1: When there’s your seam allowance’s worth of distance left, stop sewing, keep needle down, lift presser foot and pivot 45 degrees such that you will sew toward the corner of your project. Step 2: Sew. Step 3: Remove project and use the grid of your cutting mat for help if you’re unsure. Place the project along lines of the mat, lift the bias binding away from you along a line of the mat, being aided by the 45-degree short sewn line. Step 4: Fold binding back over itself, and clip to keep in place. Step 5: Place more clips along the side to be sewn. Step 6: Start sewing at the very edge. Step 7: Remove clips as needed. The binding bundles up very easily toward the end of the side. Repeat from step 1.

Now I’ll shortly jump ahead to once you’re sewing the other side of the binding in place. That little 45-degree seam will help when you do the following on the placemat top side of the project (apologies for the unsharp middle photo, and please keep reading below for explanation regarding placemat back and top):

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding mitered corners 2 2015-09-17

The binding will fold neatly around the corner thanks to the little seam. The latter will also provide structure to the whole corner area. Once you hold down the side of the binding to be sewn first (with a needle or clip; I chose needle for increased visibility in this tutorial), you can see the beautifully forming triangle. Make sure it stays that way, even and neat, once you fold up the next side of binding to be sewn. You’ll be able to create a perfect point, once you stop to pivot in that corner area.

But we haven’t finished sewing the binding yet!

How to finish sewing bias binding

I got a bit carried away when sewing my bias binding in place, but it is sufficient to overlap about two inches.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding finishing sewing 2015-09-17

Photo 1: Clip generously. Photo 2: The last part of the bias binding that you sew in place will be hidden by the 45-degree starting point created in the beginning. Photo 3: For that reason, you should stay between the edge and the already sewn seam, when finishing sewing binding. Backstitching whenever possible is always a good idea in projects such as these.

Before sewing the binding in place on the other side (the final seam of the binding), I cut off some of the bulk created, visible in this collage in the overlap areas.

As for sewing the final seam of bias binding, give it a good press to flatten the fold (that we didn’t sew into earlier), and turn the project over. Fold the binding and repeat the wonder clipping, start sewing in the area where you have overlap, stop in a corner, pivot with needle down, and continue until you reach where you started.

I like to pull the thread from the top of the project to the back (tug gently in the bottom thread and help carefully with the tip of a seam ripper), tie a few knots, then bury the threads, and cut excess.

Fresh ideas for bias binding and double-fold binding

The interesting, and possibly controversial, part begins now. You have probably noticed by now that I have sewn my bias binding starting from the back of the project. There are several reasons for this:

  • I’m no huge fan of sewing by hand.
  • I prefer to control what I can, and prefer to live with the lesser of two evils.
  • I like to question “established truths.”
  • And more :)

Bias binding is governed by “do what you please”, whereas how one chooses to finish a quilt with double-fold binding is a different thing entirely. People have strong opinions, but generally it doesn’t seem to extend past pro hand sewing and con machine sewing the final seam (or machine all the way). Since my starting point, however, is to find as efficient and as neat as possible a solution, this will provide the framework for options available.

The usual way of sewing quilt binding in place is from the top of the project. This is fine as long as you do the finishing step by hand, but if you choose the machine, in my humble opinion, prettiness will suffer a great deal.

Why? If you manage not to sew into the binding itself, you will still have this rather unbecoming square of thread next to the binding, when viewed from the front/top. Here’s an example on the right:

Nina With Freckles - Binding from front 2015-09-17

And if you wobble even a tiny bit, this is the result (far right, on top) – because you can’t see what you’re doing, where exactly you’re supposed to be sewing, as the guideline is underneath the binding:

Nina With Freckles - Binding from front 2 2015-09-17

You should obviously, in true top-stitching style, hit the very narrow space between edge of binding and the first binding seam, when sewing this final binding seam. Seemingly, you can be doing a fine job, or not:

Nina With Freckles - Binding from front 3 2015-09-17

Fabric shifts, and in this case, you can keep sewing for miles without being aware of having smashed into the binding on the other side (quilt top) of the project. Would you rip out the whole final seam to fix it, or would you grumble and live with the not-very-pretty end result?

Also, what thread colour should you use? Unless your quilt-top background is even everywhere, you will inevitably have areas where the thread doesn’t blend in. Like here:

Nina With Freckles - Binding from front 4 2015-09-17

Perhaps I’m too picky, but it does bother me that a perfectly fine brown blends in extremely well in some parts of the projects, whereas elsewhere it’s rather ghastly. There’s a complete lack of finesse, to put it bluntly.

So how about sewing the binding, be it bias or double-fold, to the back first?

When the binding has been attached to the back of the project first, then pressed (bias binding), you can test with a pin where to sew. There’s ample room, and if you choose a thread colour to match the binding, it will blend perfectly on the top side of the project. Or go crazy and choose a completely different colour.

Nina With Freckles - Bias binding sewing final seam 2015-09-17

Had I sewn in the fold of the binding, there wouldn’t have been enough of it to keep the bobbin thread away from the binding, in the placemat backing. Now, when I “top stitch” where I’ve pushed the pin, I will steer clear of the binding on the backside. Yet another perk of this particular method is of course that if you’re short on time and want to buy premade bias binding, you can use it even in thicker projects such as quilts.

Choose a bobbin thread that also blends well – but in this case, the not-very-pretty square of final seam will be on the back of the project. Just remember to adjust the thread tension well, so that the top and bobbin threads hook inside the batting.

Nina With Freckles - Binding from back 2015-09-17

Embellishments, yay or nay? If yay, consider ric-rac or other decorative ribbon put in between the placemat/quilt top and the binding at the very last stage, when you can see where it will end up. Or how about small Prarie Points?

If the extra stuff is too much, how about playing with the stitches on your machine? Mine doesn’t have embroidery stitches, but even a simple zig zag can look smashing. Imagine decorative floral stitches in a non-matching colour, quite pretty don’t you think?

Nina With Freckles - Binding from back 2 2015-09-17

I came up with a way to lock the corner of the binding, then repeated the same pattern everywhere.

Nina With Freckles - Placemats with bias binding 2 2015-09-17

So what say you? Hooray? Blah? Feel passionately about a particular method? Ready to try something new?

* * * * *

Earlier posts on the placemats:

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