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Binding by Hand vs Binding by Machine

Is One Way Better than the Other?

by Beth Cooper
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What does it mean when someone asks if you did your binding by hand?  Are machine bindings frowned upon?  Is one way better than the other? What is Bias Binding and is it necessary?  Should I sew my binding onto the front or back of my quilt first?  All of these are great questions and have really simple answers. 

Let’s start at the beginning.  What does “binding by hand mean?” For most people, “binding by hand” simply means that you sewed the first side of your binding down using a machine and will then flip the fabric over and sew the second side down by hand.  This is the most common way of doing binding.  Pros:  it looks very nice, and the stitches are usually not noticeable.  Con: it takes longer.

Are machine bindings frowned upon?  It depends upon who you ask.  There are always some traditionalists out there who frown upon them.  There are also some (not all) quilt judges out there who also frown upon them, so be aware of that if you are making a show quilt.  However, most quilt judges are fine with machine bindings if they are neat and tidy.  To further explain, binding by machine is just what it sounds like.  Not only do you sew your binding down on one side with your machine, but you also sew the opposite side down by machine as well.  There are so many options when it comes to machine binding.  Does your machine have several fancy stitches on it that you never use?  Well, here’s your chance!  For the first side, just use a straight stitch, but after you flip your fabric and begin sewing the second side down, pick a fancy stitch and go for it!  Maybe you’ll decide to add a beautiful chain of flowers stitched right down your binding?  Pros: this technique is faster than doing it by hand and fancy stitches can be added.  Cons:  it is sometimes hard to get your topstitch to also look straight on the backside and that takes some practice.

Check out this helpful tutorial on machine bindings from Natalie at Missouri Star Quilt Company

Is one way of binding better than the other?  The short answer to that question is “nope.”  Binding is a matter of preference.  The beauty of binding is that it is YOUR project, you can do it however pleases you.  Just like you are the one who picks the fabric for the binding, you are also the one who picks the process.  At the end of the day, all that really matters is that it is finished, and you like it.

What is Bias Binding and is it necessary?  Bias binding is binding made of bias strips of fabric.  Now, what are bias strips and how are they different than just a strip of fabric.  It has to do with the grain of fabric.  Fabric has three types of grain:  Lengthwise (or warp), Crosswise (or weft) and Bias.  Lengthwise runs parallel to the selvedge, crosswise runs perpendicular to the selvedge, and bias runs diagonally at a 45-degree angle across the fabric.  To make bias binding, you would cut your fabric strips at an angle.  Bias strips have more stretch and should be handled with care or you’ll stretch them out.  Years ago, quilters were instructed to always use bias binding.  These days, it is not used very often.  There are instances where it is helpful to have your strips cut on the bias and that is when you have curved or rounded edges on your quilt.  If you are binding anything other than a straight edge, you will have better results with a bias binding because it can be maneuvered around those curves much easier than a binding cut straight across the fabric.  So, to answer the question, “Is it necessary?” the answer is “Sometimes.  But not always.”

Should I sew my binding onto the front or back of my quilt first?  There isn’t a right answer to this question.  Most people sew on the front first, then flip it and sew down the back when doing it by hand.  Those that do it by machine tend to sew down the back first and then the front.  It is simply a matter of preference.  The goal is to have each side look uniform.  If the front side looks the same all the way around and the back side looks the same all the way around, it’s fine.  Sew the sides in whatever order you desire.

Want to take a class on bindings? Well, now you can take a fantastic course all about bindings right from home! This online course with Natalie from Missouri Star makes binding a breeze!

These are the most common questions about bindings.  And remember, there really is no right or wrong way.  Most quilters try several methods before landing on one that just feels natural to them.  Happy bindings!

Check out this helpful video on hand sewing your binding from The Crafty Gemini.

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