First of all, and this may be a stupid question, but do you quilt the whole thing before you put the binding on?
Yes. The quilt is much easier to bind when it behaves as one piece.
Some people use the backing as a binding and therefore do it first, but I find a number of problems with that way of doing it. It can be harder to handle, and a straight grain binding usually frays quickly. Also those mistakes show!
Secondly, how many of you do your own machine quilting? I'd really appreciate any advice or tips you've picked up along the way.
I machine quilt smaller quilts (under 40 or 50 inches or so). I try to stay away from the bigger ones, as I tend to have trouble with control at that size. As I mentioned in another thread, I practised on small bags to get a feel for it.
Some general tips:
Make sure your machine is in top working order. Clean and oil it, set the tension, new needle, the whole deal. test it out first before you start on your big quilt.
I have been trying to quilt from the side of the machine for the last few quilts. This is helpful for managing bulkl, but you have to watch the quilt where it is going through the arm (my backing folded back on me the first few times since I couldn't see what was going on over there). There is an example of that here
. (and may I say that I have been thinking about getting that frame!)
That reminds me, at the moment I don't use a hoop, but you may find a hoop or a frame like flynn's useful in order to keep the quilt smooth.
You will probably want to either recess your machine or use a table so that the bed is flush with the surface around it. Even that little bit of gravitational pull can be problematic.
Wearing latex gloves (yes the medical ones) helps with grip and control.
And finally, I've read that to put the binding on totally by machine you should attach it to the back first and then to the front. Is this really the best way to do it?
I do not do it this way. In fact I think it is better if you sew the front first as you are assured of a nice looking edge-mistakes can go to the back.
Actually the first quilt I made I did like that. I never liked the way it looked.
In general, I use one of two similar methods. If I am making a bed quilt I will normally buy extra wide double fold bias tape to bind it with that (bias is better for a quilt that will see a lot of wear-and also for shaped quilts). This stuff comes with one side pressed slightly wider than the other. I line up the narrower edge to the front and sew that, then fold and pin to the back with raw edge folded away. I then sew from the front again, topstitching along the first seamline with a clear or like coloured thread. Since the wider side is to the back, it should catch from the back. Of course it doesn't always work perfectly-bias stretches and you have to be careful with it.
My other method is for wallhangings and I generally use a straight grain binding. I take a wide strip (usually 5 inches) fold it in half length ways, and sew both raw edges to the front raw edge. Then I fold back, as with the other method. I do have to do some handsewing with this method, as there is a lot of excess to the back. I blind hem stitch it at the fold and this becomes a sleeve that I can hang the piece with. If you used a narrower strip, you could also do this as the above version, without the sleeve. You could even use bias strips as well.