Saturday, March 5, 2011

Facings that stay where you put them

Although I love to make traditional bindings, I almost always finish my quilts with facings.  I think they give a more "arty" look, just as the trend in paintings for the last half-century has been to omit frames and just let the work stop at its edge. 

The only problem with facings is that once a piece has been densely quilted, it's hard to turn back the edge and make it lie nice and flat.  You have the hefty batting, plus a drapery-weight backing, plus the pieced quilt top itself, all held together with lots of stitching, and that sucker just doesn't want to fold, let alone stay there after you stop pinching it.

I've tried various ways to get a flatter, neater edge.  Pressing is useful, providing you can establish a neat fold in the first place.  Understitching can also help; that's a technique borrowed from garment sewing where you stitch through the facing, plus the two seam allowances, just barely inside the seamline that attached the facing to the quilt.

Probably my best insight was to stitch the facing a half-inch in from the edge, not a quarter-inch.  Even paper, which is generally easy to fold in perfectly straight lines, will misbehave if you turn back only a quarter-inch, and fabric is inherently much more difficult to control. 

But even with wider margins, the edges resist arrest.  So my second-best insight is to topstitch the margins, so to speak, and make sure there's no way for the quilt package to spring back toward its original flat contour.  With some quilting designs, of course, you don't want a row of topstitching around the edge, but most of the time I like to quilt in a grid pattern and that works perfectly for this technique.

So here's my plan:  as I get toward the edges of my quilt I stop quilting before I do the last couple of rows.  I trim the quilt to size, attach the facings, turn them back and pin them in place.  Now I go back and do those last rows of quilting, holding down the facings in the "topstitching."

I still hem the facings down by hand, but that task is also a lot easier once the edges are firmly secured. 

Facings sewed on, corner turned, and everything pinned in place ready for the last rows of quilting.

Stitching the last rows of quilting in the empty space; close enough to the edge that the stitching catches the turned-back batting and backing.

Back view of the facings after quilting the last rows (on one side there was enough empty space for two rows of quilting).  I still have to sink the thread ends from the quilting rows, and hem down the facings. 


For a tutorial on how to sew on those facings in the first place, click here.


  1. Thanks for this tip. I have had trouble too, turning the facing back and would never have come up with this solution.

  2. You know, I have never tried this method! You make it look so easy! I am definitely going to give Facing a try in the next small art quilt I make!
    Thanks for sharing your work!

  3. Interesting solution to a challenging problem! I quilt my rows about 1/8" apart and turning those edges back is difficult at times. I trim the edges of my pieces to about 1/4" narrower than the width of the facing so I have more to turn under, but the facing will still cover the raw edges. It also helps to spread the bulk out from three layers to just the batting. Lots of steam and persuasion usually get the job done.

  4. Great idea - but doesn't the additional layers of fabric really give you (even more) problems with thread tension? And you don't end up having more of those problems with quilt mishaps you showed the other day?

  5. Like a lot of problems the solution seems easy - when someone else has come with it. Thanks for posting this tip!

  6. thanks to everybody for commenting!

    U.L -- you do have to sew a little slower to make sure you don't run into problems, but I have never noticed problems with thread tension. If anything, it's a little easier because there's so much thickness into which the thread joins can disappear.

    Since I pin the facings back very carefully before stitching, I never run into mishaps like I showed you a week or so ago. That kind of mishap comes because the free edges were not under control. In this kind of topstitching everything is totally under control!