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!
The photo above shows the back of my rough draft quilt.
Following the many tutorials and demonstrations online, I whip-stitched the binding to the back of the quilt.
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.
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.
(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:
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.
After my brother’s wedding, I took some action shots of my mom teaching the stitch. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And voila! The stitches are now only visible if you go looking for them.
Continue along this way until you reach the end of your thread.
To finish off, take a couple of stitches in the quilt, between the basting stitches and the raw edge.
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!