I'm squeezing the final steps together here, because they take so much less time! They really are the finishing stages for a quilt project.
Sometimes I love binding. Sometimes I’m just okay with it. It is the final, crucial step for quilting, which is satisfying. Sometimes, if I’m stuck in impatience, I just want it done already.
I got smart with the most recent quilt I made—I made my binding before I did the quilting, so it was ready to go, which seemed faster, even though it wasn’t.
I better back up. You can buy bindings for quilts, which I have done, or you can make binding. I prefer making binding, generally using fabric that I’ve used for the quilt itself. You can do single or double/French binding. The main book I use (Quilters’ Complete Guide, by Marianne Fons and Liz Porter) has great instructions for how to make bias binding, and I always use them. It involves cutting a square of fabric, cutting it into two triangles, sewing the triangles together a certain way, drawing lines, sewing the triangles together another way, to make a tube, then cutting a continuous line and voila, you have binding, a long strip of fabric.
I’d explain better, but honestly, it’s like magic. I usually make extra binding, just in case. I also usually make French binding, because it’s more durable. This means ironing the fabric strip on a center fold to make it double thick.
At this point, I will have decided whether I’m doing a straight edge or a scalloped edge, if I’m doing piping, and any other such bits. For a standard French binding, you just place the rough edges on the quilt top’s edge and stitch, through all thicknesses, all around the quilt, breaking at corners and…well, doing something else magical that works when you fold it to the back to make a corner (you stop stitching ¼ inch from the edge, turn the quilt, fold the binding back on a diagonal, perpendicular to the previous side, and fold it back down, again aligning the rough edges with the quilt top edge. See? Hard to explain.). When you get back to start, you have a few options for making a finished seam, usually folding back the first end a bit, and continuing to stitch the new end for a few inches over the first part.
Then, you trim the edges of the quilt, all the extra backing and batting. You then fold over the binding to the back and, if you have French binding, you have a nice, smooth folded edge to slipstitch into place.
I know, I know—probably most of what I just said makes no sense. It’s hard to describe without pictures. Fons and Porter do an awesome job, so I really recommend their book if you have any interest in quilting.
The quilt is officially bound. This is when I usually remove all the basting and any stray threads, really examining to make sure everything is right.
I’ve done a few special bindings in the past. With my nephew, I worked it so the binding matches the fabric of the quilt parts next to it. I did some piping on my niece’s quilt, and scalloping for a couple of friends (as demonstrated at right, just before turning the binding to the back.) But just simple cotton is fine, too, and helps solidify any color message you want to send.
Best part: The quilt is DONE!
Worst part: Sewing up the bit where the two ends join. I always have problems making that smooth and not too bulky.
I always have baby quilts dry cleaned before presentation. It is not something one would normally do with a quilt—in fact, washing quilts is seldom done for heirloom pieces. But after I’ve worked on a piece, especially in summer, I feel better getting any of my hand oils and dust from the floor off it.
I only twice had problems post-cleaning. One quilt pilled a bit at the dry cleaner. I no longer use that fabric. Another time the quilt came out with brown spots on it. The cleaners sent it elsewhere for a different treatment, and that took care of the vast majority of the problem.
Sometimes before and sometimes after cleaning, I will photograph the quilt for my records.
My usual photography spot now is hanging from two clip-style hangers, on my front door. The space is just big enough to get it all in, and the lighting is the best in the house.
Best part: Relinquishing the quilt—it’s out of my sight for a few days.
Worst part: Relinquishing the quilt—fearing that it will somehow get destroyed!
Obviously, the quilt presentation is a time of joy. I always get excited about “handing it over.” I joke about the “secret” gift, but no matter how well known it is that I’m making a quilt for somebody, the final product is always a surprise. I can’t think of a time that anyone other than my parents saw a full quilt design before it was made.
My favorite reaction is my sister’s to my nephew’s quilt. She nearly cried, and instantly wanted to photograph it. Since that is also my favorite of all the ones I’ve done, and because she is a craft goddess in her own right, that was particularly rewarding.
I’m not very good at accepting compliments, or accolades, but I do like to deliver the quilts in person. It is as much about delivering love as delivering a loved object. And I always get to hold the baby.
And that's it! That's how I make a quilt...at least, usually. I always try to do something a little different so that I'm always learning and solving new problems. Just last night, for instance, things came together for my next project, after a bit of a struggle, and I'll be using new technqiues, including hand embroidery and more pronounced sashing. And, it's black and cream. It's great when everything seems to come together all at once--that's the point at which I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm ready to move forward!