Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Easy Method to Join Binding Tails

Binding. Love it or hate it? I love it because it means a quilt is almost finished. Some people dread the binding process, especially joining those last two ends of binding strips – we call them the binding tails. There are many tools and techniques to do that step, but I’ve discovered an easy and accurate method that requires no math, no expensive special tools, and it lays perfectly flat every time. My method works the same way for single or double fold binding.

Here is my most recent binding project, a Baltimore Album quilt that has been “in progress” of hand appliqué and hand quilting since at least 1989. Too pretty to languish in the UFO queue any longer! It is about time to bind it, right?

 This quilt has been trimmed and squared. After folding the binding fabric yardage on the diagonal, I cut the first four 2-inch wide bias strips, and laid them at the corners. The next four strips were laid down along the sides. The ends of each strip are loosely flipped up and down. This step is how I estimate placement of all the binding seams – not near corners or midpoints. (Binding seams add too much bulk if placed near a corner, and I like to avoid seams directly at midpoints because this is where quilts are often folded in half – just my personal preference.) 

Again, this is just a rough estimate of placement. The seams will be sewn right sides together, then attached to the quilt, except the last seam, the “binding tails.”

Before picking up the first and second strip to sew the diagonal seam at the sewing machine, I place a pin on the quilt edge to mark where I plan to begin attaching the binding. Then sew that first strip to the next strip, picking them up off the quilt counter clockwise.

To keep the joined binding strips from stretching or wrinkling, I wrap the entire binding flat onto a cardboard tube. (Note: For a double fold binding, I do not fold my binding in half and press, as some people do.)

You will need a walking foot or even-feed foot to sew the binding onto the quilt.

Big tables are great for handling the bulk of the quilt. Be sure the quilt is always supported so its weight does not pull against the needle or the binding.

Place the beginning of the binding at the marking pin on the quilt leaving at least a 6 inch extra “tail” hanging loose at the beginning, as shown in the photo below. Loosely fold the binding in half, wrong sides together, and align both raw edges evenly along the quilt edge. Sew the binding to the quilt with a walking foot 1/4 inch from the raw edges. Miter corners.

Keep adjusting the bulk of the quilt as needed. See how the cardboard tube stands on my table nearby? Roll the binding off the tube as needed.

When you get around the quilt, BEFORE the last 10-12 inches of the quilt, STOP, leaving another long tail, at least 6 inches long. (Do not cut the tails yet.)

Trim threads, remove the quilt from the sewing machine, and lay it out flat.

Align the remaining binding (tails) along the quilt edge until their ends meet. Flip one binding tail straight up, the other straight down, folding them flat to form a 45 degree angle where they meet, as shown below. Be sure the binding folds are butted close together, and right sides are facing up. Remember: The tails should form a continuous line straight up and down, and the folds should butt close together, or the resulting seam will not be correct. Finger press the folds firmly so they lie flat. Pin in place temporarily.
NOTE: With a double fold binding, you will have to loosely fold the quilt up in curves to allow the binding folds to open out flat, as shown in the following photos.

Cut a piece of blue painter’s tape the length of the butted join (not longer). Carefully tape the join. Press down on the tape to firmly crease the folds underneath. Scratch over the tape with a fingernail or tool to make sure the binding folds are well creased and secured to the tape.

Remove all pins. Carefully slip the palm of your hand under the taped binding to gently lift it up away from the quilt while letting the quilt gently fold out of the way.

Open the binding creases, forcing the blue tape to fold in half. The binding will form an X. You should still see the creases, but if you cannot, mark the crease with a ruler and pencil.

Sew along the crease to join the binding strips. Do not pierce the tape. (NOTE: If your tape is too long, it might stick to the sewing machine bed – just trim the tape so it’s not sticking out from the seam line.)

Open the seam and carefully remove the tape, lifting it from the sides. If you have pierced the tape, bits can be removed easily with a tweezer. 

At this point, I like to lay the binding down flat on the quilt to see that it will indeed lie flat, but it always does. :-)

Trim off the excess binding tails 1/4 inch from the seam.  Notice in the photo below how the quilt is loosely curled UP and safely out of the way temporarily.

Press the seam open.

Return the quilt to a flat surface. Align the binding flat along the quilt edge, and pin.

Finish sewing the binding onto the quilt. The binding is now all attached and the finish is in sight! Find a comfortable chair, and hand sew the binding to the back of the quilt to finish.

© 2013 Barbara M. Burnham

Taking this technique a step further, you can make a pieced binding to identically match your pieced quilt border in “Precision Pieced Binding,” American Quilter Magazine, November 2012.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Machine Back-Basting for Hand Applique

Students in my year-long class at Bear's Paw Fabrics in Towson, MD are making great progress on their blocks. The lesson this month was back-basting on the sewing machine as a prep for hand applique. The border swags on my Baltimore Garden Quilt were done this way and the borders went so quickly! Students were skeptical at first, but they learned that it is very easy to do, and so speedy to applique! (All smiles!) The technique is described in the book, and we did a sample in class with just two sets of swags.

Of course, we also have to showcase some of their blocks in progress.

"Well, I didn't think I was going to like this technique, but I do!"
‘Til next time, Keep Stitching!
©2013 Barbara M. Burnham

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inking and Signing on Fabric - Continued

To follow up on a previous blog post about Inking and Signing on Fabric,

Fabrics best for inking:
•Choose a densely woven fabric – a tight weave. A loose weave or course threads will be more difficult to write on smoothly.
•Use light color solid or very subtle prints that will not compete with the inking.
•White-on-white printed fabrics can be challenging to ink because of the uneven raised surface. Sometimes the printed white designs wear away. Avoid those fabrics if you can, or accept that they will have limitations.

Prewash to remove sizing, avoid products that may leave a residue, and iron flat.
Test a sample of inking on the fabric and launder the sample.

Use inks that a safe for fabrics. Sakura Pigma® Micron® pens are permanent on fabric. Size 005 is best for very small, fine writing, but it must be used with a very light touch.

Inks used on antique quilts were formulated in various ways that were damaging to the fabrics. In her scholarly article about Ink Damage on Nineteenth-Century Cotton Signature Quilts, Margaret T. Ordonez also offers advice for those of us making new signature quilts: “Do not heat set ink in signatures with an iron unless directed to do so for a specific formulation” and “Plan quilting stitch patterns so that you do not quilt through signatures.” Uncoverings 1992, Volume 13 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group.

Here are more examples of how I have used inking on quilts.

See how the downstrokes of letters can be carefully thickened for emphasis?

With MS Word (and lots of fiddling) I made these words go around in a circle.

Larger size Pigma® pens are available. For these tall letters, I first outlined each letter on the banner fabric (before it was appliquéd), then filled in the letters with a larger pen. (Other options for big letters = applique , reverse applique, or use ultrasuede.)

Always label your quilts for future generations!

Find more information about inking in books by Elly Sienkiewicz, including alphabets, phrases and fancy Victorian words to trace. I love this image from Baltimore Beauties and Beyond Volume II, “Sign Thy Quilts!”

Search for calligraphy books, engravings, and graphics to trace. Antique quilts with inkings are wonderful inspiration! (More on antique inkings in another post).

Years ago, I learned inking techniques in classes with Susan McKelvey. Her books are out of print, but you can still find them. I am SO honored to have an original inking by Susan McKelvey on my friendship quilt. A treasure indeed!

‘Til next time, Keep Stitching!
©2013 Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2013 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Students and friends have asked about how I do the writing on my appliqué blocks. As promised, here are my recommendations and method, with lots of photos.

For fancy writing, I first make the design in Microsoft Word, and type out words in Kunstler Script Bold font, which most closely resembles the writing I have seen on antique quilts. Use a font size that you can actually write (not too small). Copy the words twice and print on paper. Cut out one copy of the words for tracing. Set aside the second copy for visual reference. HINT: Including a straight line or two will help with straight placement.

Did you think my writing was freehand? Sorry, my freehand writing will never be as pretty as Kunstler Script. If you do not have a computer, and are nervous about signing a block, write out your signature on paper first. You can make sure the writing fits the space or centers where you want it to be on your block. Then trace it as described below.

* Always practice on a sample of the same fabric.
* Fabric must be completely dry or the ink will bleed.
* A light box is indispensable for tracing.

I use Sakura Pigma® Micron® pens, which are permanent on fabric. Size 005 is best for very small, fine writing, but it must be used with a very light touch. Notice that there is a huge difference between 05 and 005 – Closeup below compares Size 005 at left, Size 05 at right.)



1.  Place the block FACE DOWN on the light box.

2.  Where the inking will be done, stabilize the BACK of the fabric, to help the pen move smoothly across the fabric, or the pen may catch on the threads as it moves. Transparent tape is easy to see through for tracing. Use clear packing tape for larger areas.

3.  Turn on the lightbox. Place the printout FACE DOWN on the BACK of the block. Align the printout, and tape that down securely. I have used regular office tape on top of the packing tape (easy to adjust or move it if needed.)

4.  Turn the block over FACE UP on the light box. Keep the second copy of words nearby for reference, so you can better see details of the letters.

5.  Take your time. This is not a job to be rushed. Get comfortable, take a deep breath, and brace your hand on the lightbox. Use a very light, steady hand to write. Use the Pigma pen like a paintbrush, brushing the ink softly. Too much pressure can damage the pen’s fine point. Do not allow the pen to stay on one spot for very long, or the ink may blot as the fabric soaks up the ink.

6.  Ink all the words as single strokes first. You can darken the downstrokes of letters or add details later, if desired. (Like salt in soup, ink is easy to add, nearly impossible to remove.)

7.  Turn the lightbox on and off frequently to help you determine the effect, and the amount of ink or pressure desired.

8.  Last step, and VERY important – REMOVE all the tape before ironing or wetting the block!  NEVER leave any tape on fabric long term.

Allow the ink to dry completely, 24-48 hours, before wetting the block.

Signing blocks for a signature quilt. Size 05 Pigma pen is best when many people will sign freehand on fabric. Provide them with sample fabrics (with tape on back) to practice. Don’t let them use regular ink pens! Bellwether Dry Goods makes signature quilts for weddings, and they provide this little sign with the pens:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Years ago, I learned inking techniques in classes with Susan McKelvey. Her books are out of print, but you can still find them. Also find more information and inking techniques in books by Elly Sienkiewicz, including alphabets, phrases and fancy Victorian words to trace.

Inking can be used to trace images from calligraphy books, engravings, graphics, even trace from your photos onto fabric. Embellish your appliqué with inking – Pigma pens are available in lots of colors. Label your quilts! I could go on and on about inking – I’ve done lots of different things with Pigma pens. But this post is already too long.

See more inking tips here: Inking and Signing on Fabric - Continued

‘Til next time, Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2013 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Applique Organizer Folders (Continued)

This is a followup to yesterday's post (Click here) about Applique Organizer Folders. 

Glenda posted a comment that "Threaded needles could probably be kept here as well."

She is so right! Here are pictures of my needle folder. I can thread lots of needles in advance for teaching a class, doing demos, traveling in the car, quilting, or preparing for any sewing project. It saves a lot of class time. I don't have to thread needles in a hurry, or while bumping along in the car.

Needle Organizer

This folder was made the same way as the Applique Organizer. Then I added an extra piece of batting, folded in half, along the top. This is simply pinned onto the glued batting with long quilter's pins -- the ones with the big yellow ball. (Flat ones would be even better.)
Because this batting piece is loose, I can easily insert my various threaded needles, extra ball point pins, etc.

The threads are then laid flat on the batting where they will cling. The top flap folds down to secure all the needles even more. You don't want them slipping out!
(Note to self: Attach a little flat magnet to hold empty needles!)

At the bottom half of the folder, there is a folded scrap of muslin just laid on top. This makes all those loose threads behave when I remove a threaded needle -- as I remove a threaded needle, I place my hand on this muslin scrap -- it helps "contain" all the other threads and prevents tangles. I used the pinking cutter to trim the muslin, so it will not ravel.

P.S. I love the pinking cutter blade to cut out my applique blocks -- they don't ravel with all that handling of the block. Then I trim the blocks to size with the straight cutter before assembling my quilt.

Keep Stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2013 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Applique Organizer Folders

Great for hand piecers too!

Organizing Small Fabric Pieces for Applique or Hand Piecing

Applique and hand piecing often require a lot of small fabric pieces. Here is an idea to keep all those little pieces organized and handy, especially when travelling.

You will need:

  • 1 Sturdy File Folder
  • Cotton Batting -- leftover strips at least 12 inches long -- after trimming the edges of a quilt for binding, we often have long strips of leftover cotton batting. Save them!
  • Rotary Cutter (straight blade, and pinking blade if you have one)
  • Rotary Cutting Mat and Ruler
  • Gluestick (not wet glue)

  1. After trimming the edges of a quilt for binding, we often have long strips of leftover batting. Save those long strips! I use Quilter's Dream Cotton, Request loft.
  2. Cut long edges of batting scraps with a rotary cutter. If you use a "pinking" rotary blade, the batting strips can nest together nicely. My folder is 11-3/4 inches tall so I made my batting pieces 12 inches long. A width of 8-1/2 inches would have been perfect for my folder, but narrower strips can be set side by side.
  3. Open the file folder and lay it flat. On the right-hand side of the center fold, rub gluestick to cover the area, all the way to the edges. (If your folder has a "tab" don't glue that.)
  4. Before the glue dries, carefully lay a strip of batting down onto the glue. The strips should be longer than the top and bottom of the folder.
  5. Smooth the batting flat. Make sure all the batting adheres nice and flat. If one strip is not wide enough, add more strips until the right-hand side of the folder is covered with batting, except the folder "tab."
  6. Let the glue dry. (Note: Don't use a wet glue, only gluestick. Wet glue will seep through batting, make it stiff and less "clingy," and will warp the folder.)
  7. Lay the folder on a cutting mat. Rotary cut with a straight rotary blade to trim the top and bottom of excess batting strips even with the folder.
  8. Arrange appliqué pieces on the batting in a logical order (by number, color, placement on the block, or however you like to work).
Fabric pieces will cling to the batting, flat and organized. Storing pieces this way avoids unnecessary handling, fray, and loss of little pieces.

You might want to store your paper pattern in the same folder. Oh, my! You could write a pattern name on the tab, and even file your folders and be really organized.
If you are like me, you will need a folder for each work in progress. Don't we all have more than one project at a time?

And here is my Applique Needle Organizer: Click here

Keep Stitching,
Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2015 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Very Unique Baltimore Garden Quilt

At the 2013 American Quilter's Society show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania ... First in line at the Exhibit Hall doors (with hundreds of other quilters) - yes, that's me back there in the crowd. After the countdown, the Exhibit Hall doors open and quilters stream in to see the beautiful quilts.

Always happy to reunite with long time quilty friends, the first person I see is my friend Phyllis Hatcher, diligently at work appraising the show quilts. Imagine my surprise to see that the quilt she is appraising is a reproduction of my Baltimore Garden Quilt!

Here is Phyllis, wearing gloves, showing the back of the quilt (Thanks, Phyllis!)

I am constantly amazed at the creative vision of quilters, and this one is no exception. Linda H. of Stockton, Missouri contacted me earlier to request the required permission to exhibit her quilt, so I knew the quilt would be there, but WOW! I had no idea how very different it would be.

Linda reproduced her Baltimore Garden Quilt using modern fabrics and techniques. She used a different color multi-print batik for each of the 25 blocks and the border. The blocks are replicated in silhouette on a black background! Her applique is raw edge, and each block is machine quilted in different color threads. Some are variegated threads. Each block was completed separately, and then assembled using double sided bias tape. Lastly, the dimensional flowers are hand made and attached to the quilt. Amazing....

I wonder what the original quiltmaker of the antique Baltimore Garden Quilt would think of Linda's version of this quilt!

Keep stitching!
Barbara M. Burnham

(c) 2015 Barbara M. Burnham. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written authorization.