Tutorial: Invisible Ladder Stitch for Quilt Binding

Mal | Media,Quilting,Resources,Sewing,Tutorials | Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Update: Apparently this stitch is called the Ladder Stitch. Personally, I prefer my title for it: Invisible Mamma-Jamma Stitch. While ladder stitch is common to embroidery, applique, and closing up stuffed plush dolls, apparently very few people have applied it to quilt binding. Let me know if you try it!

I mentioned before that my mom had taught me a stitch for quilt binding that was so simple and obvious yet so wonderful that I wanted to share it with you.

Quilt binding with whip stitch

The photo above shows the back of my rough draft quilt.

Whip-stitched bindign in action

Following the many tutorials and demonstrations online, I whip-stitched the binding to the back of the quilt.

Whip Stitched Bindings

But, as you can see in my photo and the ones above, whip-stitching can leave a very visible line of tiny stitches. In addition to being sort of unsightly, I worried a bit about the stitches getting caught and, God forbid, ripped.

Creative binding solutions

Some people go to great (and creative!) lengths to machine stitch their binding, as seen above. I imagine that at least some of them are frustrated (as I was) with the result of the whip-stitching and looking for alternatives.

When it came time to bind my friend’s baby quilt, I whip stitched the entire thing and hated it. On the phone with my mom (sewing consultant extraordinaire), she said there was a better way and that if I would be willing to re-do it, she would teach me. It only took me 3 evenings to unpick all that stitching, and 3 weeks for her to arrive in town with thread and scissors in hand.

Mom proceeded to teach me the ladder stitch — a stitch that is easy, fast, and nearly invisible! She uses it for both quilt binding and hand applique. I think it would work for any application requiring joining of two fabrics where at least one of them involves a fold.

The basic idea is to think of the shape of a castle wall.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 1

(I work mine from right to left, because I am right-handed. Lefties may wish to mirror-image the process.)

When you tighten up the thread of the castle wall, the bits that were visible disappear into the fabric like this:

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 2

So that all that’s left visible on the outside of the fabrics is a tiny dot of thread where the needle has passed from one side to the other. In my experience, you have to really hunt if you want to see that thread. Awesome.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 3

After my brother’s wedding, I took some action shots of my mom teaching the stitch. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 1

Start off with the Mamma Jamma knot I already taught you. Then, insert the needle on the back side of the binding to hide the knot. Only go through one layer of the binding, as the goal here is invisibility, man.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 2

When the needle comes out, it should be between the two layers of binding fabric and smack dab in the middle of the crease of the binding’s fold. If you felt like popping the knot through the fabric to bury it, nestling it right into the inside of the binding’s fold, you can do that. My mom didn’t do that, though — you can see the knot poking out on the right if you look at the image below.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 3

Make sure the exit point is directly parallel from where you want to insert your needle into the quilt. Check the diagram above — you shouldn’t have too much diagonal or angled anything while working this stitch. In this case, mom started about a quarter of an inch from the previous stitches, since that’s about how far she spaces this stitch. For my part, I space them a little closer.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 4

Then stitch down straight across from that exit point. Make your stitch just above (on the quilt side, not the edge side) of your line of basting stitches.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 5

Come back into the binding fabric directly across from the previous exit point. You want to stitch right in the fold of the binding, because the thread will ultimately nestle there, perfectly parallel to the fold.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 6

Alternate stitches between the quilt and the binding, always inserting your needle directly across from your previous exit point. Again, refer to the diagram above if you have questions.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 7

When you’ve done a few stitches, gently tighten up the thread. As you do, the stitches will disappear and the whole thing will be held together by thread which is tucked neatly out of sight, buried inside your work. Be careful, though, not to tighten too much — if the quilt stretches more than your stitches, your stitches will break and your binding will come undone.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 8

And voila! The stitches are now only visible if you go looking for them.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 9

Continue along this way until you reach the end of your thread.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 10

To finish off, take a couple of stitches in the quilt, between the basting stitches and the raw edge.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 11

Mom likes to finish hers off by bringing the end of the thread through the loop before tightening the last back stitch to secure it.

And there you have it! If you try this stitch, if something doesn’t make sense and you need more/better explanation, or if you dispute the name of this stitch, please leave it in the comments!

Stitching myself back together

Mal | Art Therapy | Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Like a persnickety teenager, I go through phases when it comes to my art-making. Sure, I’ve always written and kept journals, but began cycling through wildly variant media and techniques in the autumn of 2000. At that time I lived in Boston, was severely and profoundly depressed, and discovered a community pottery studio only 2 blocks from my house.

Pottery phase

I was not an artist or even really a crafter at that time. I was just lost. In that deep winter of loneliness, depression, and depression, the process of centering the earthy clay on a wheel, of cleaning and trimming it, and of offering it up to the temperamental Kiln God miraculously alleviated my suffering. It was then that I knew I wanted to become an art therapist.

Hope

The pottery phase lasted for a couple of years, and was followed by watercolor, bookbinding, art journals, and other art forms — each of which served a unique and powerful psychological purpose. I cycle through these phases organically, letting them come and go as they may, on the belief that the art itself has power to change and heal me in ways that I can’t understand and should not try to control.

After three months of fighting with my insurance company, in November of 2008 I was finally scheduled for surgery to remove my diseased gallbladder. These days, gallbladder surgery is a simple, laproscopic, same-day and outpatient surgery. Some people even call it a “procedure,” not a surgery. By that time, I had been so sick for so long that a one-day inconvenience hardly felt worthy of major concern.

Notions

But before the surgery was scheduled, I had already felt myself shifting into a new phase of making. Around October, I began to stitch like crazy. Whether it was embroidery or sewing or quilting, I just couldn’t get enough of fabric and thread and seams and needles. I handmade all of my Christmas gifts, embellished clothing and household linens, and endlessly researched textile techniques online.

Surgery

When the time came for my surgery, there were complications on the operating table and suddenly my simple, same-day procedure turned into a 2-week hospital stay. It was almost a week before I could even pick up a pen and begin to document the events in my ever-present art journals.

Yo yo wreath

When I was released to go home, the first thing I wanted to do was sew. I had to sew something… anything. I started handstitching yo-yos while propped up on pillows. I made dozens and dozens of yo-yos. In practical terms, stitching is something that can be done from bed. It is the perfect recovery art, in that way. But, the glide of the fabric between my fingers, the repetitive up-down of the needle, the knotting and gathering, all combined to bring me peace. I could breathe. I stopped panicking at every twinge and twitter. The cloth — like the blankets and pillows and nightgowns and warm, wet washcloths of the hospital — was so nurturing. So healing. So comforting.

But, more than that — it’s as though I am metaphorically stitching myself back together. Healing myself inside and out. I stitch and stitch. Embroidery seems to soothe like nothing else.

Recover

It’s funny — Alica wrote today about embroidery and a similar phenomenon that occurred with her when she was hospitalized after an accident. Jenny, too, dove into yo-yos at a time when she needed to find peace.

I believe in the power of art to heal us, if we let it. Right now, I am stitching.

Seams behind the scenes

Mal | Handmade,Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Hexagons sorted

I had been randomly stitching hexagons with whatever scrap fabric I could find. The result was a large collection of tiny, penny-sized hexes but no intended design.

Hexagon planning

I got to feeling a little bit lost in the project, so I printed off a hexagon page (from the graph-paper generator) and got to work with some colored pencils. Now I have some order and a direction. Now, with some structure, I am able to begin the long process of joining the pieces together and creating something cohesive.

200905058622

I’m using the ladder stitch to join the into little flowers. It’s awesome because you can barely see the line of stitches. They are all hidden away — tucked into the folds and creases of fabric. They hold things together, but you don’t think much about them. This is a very interesting concept, psychologically.

Sometimes you want your stitches to show. Jude of Spirit Cloth writes about intentionally showing stitches on her What If blog.

For some reason, on this project, I want to hide them away. I think it has something to do with my process on this blog, actually — the way I reveal some things, but not all things, about myself and my work. Even still, burying the process a little bit from time to time is valid as an artistic and therapeutic choice.

What about you? Are you in the mood to show your process, or hide it? Visible or invisible seams?

Purpose, re-purpose

Mal | Simplicity | Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

fortune

A few days ago, I found myself shopping for domain names. Within the next week or so, I will be embarking on a new chapter in my life and I am feeling the itch to document it. I brainstormed, trying to find a site name that could grow with me and reflect my values and priorities. Naturally, I spent quite a bit of time journaling about it, making lists, and creating vision statements. At some point, I stopped and wondered — is turning*turning a place worth returning to?

After all, my original intention for this website was to muse about all kinds of things that were important to me — not only art/craft stuff, but also simplicity, mindfulness, practical philosophies, and organic living. The phrase “turning, turning” comes from a Shaker hymn that talks about being simple, free, and accepting of life’s ups and downs. It is a song about insight and introspection. Shoot, it’s a song about being flexible and open to all good and simple things. What I’m saying is that this blog was always intended to be about living a good and rich life, not about one craft niche or another. In fact, very early on, there were some posts which addressed these broader ideas.

But, what seemed to happen is this: when I would post something about quilting, I found a community of quilters who wanted to chat about quilting things. Cross-stitch? Here come the cross-stitchers. A blurb about ceramics would bring in a slew of questions about clay. My post about folding fabric seems to have achieved a cult following and to this day I still get emails about my ladder-stitch tutorial. The reality is that my interests are varied, and my loyalty to one medium or another is very fickle. I am a re-inventor by nature and I sometimes felt myself being pigeon-holed into a niche knowing that the allure would wear off in a month or two.

I am also continually learning about my professional life; every day I must balance public and private realms when it comes to making a living, serving my clients, and advancing my field.

So, I’m really not sure if I’ll be returning to this spot or not. There is much to catch up on, and the idea of a clean slate is certainly enticing. But, so is the idea of using this domain for the things I originally intended — to document my attempts at living a meaningful, connected, and purposeful life.

To turn, turn ’til I come ’round right.

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