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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Vintage sewing machine attachments : the binder

 The Binder

A binder, sometimes called a bias tape attachment in its modern version, can be used to attach pre-folded or unfolded strips of fabric to any raw edge. I find the older versions far more effective and precise than those sold today.


Different generations of binder are available. The oldest, and simplest, have a scroll that feeds bias strips of fabric around a raw edge of fabric and while it turns the edges of the strips under before the fabric reaches the needle.

Binder for a 70-year-old Singer Featherweight
Later versions of the binder, called multi-slot binders, also have spaces along the scroll that will accept pre-folded binding or finished tape or ribbon of many sizes to bind or cover an edge. Here is the binder used with the first and largest slot to turn under a bias fabric strips:

Some of the multi-slot binders, particularly those made by Singer for slant needle machines, also have posts to help the binding feed into the attachment. Honestly aren't these beautiful pieces of engineering? These are my favourite of the binders because they are almost hands free.

Tricks for using it

If you are getting used to a binder it is probably easier to practice first with purchased pre-folded bias binding which has been stiffened. This just makes it so much easier to feed through the unit without a lot of attention. You can of course replicate this by spray starching your own custom made binding and pressing under a fold along each long edge. Once comfortable with how the attachment works you can make your own custom binding with the help of a bias tape maker.

At the machine it is important to adjust the binder so the needle will fall close to the edge to be bound. This is done by a screw in the older models, or in the slant machine post binder below, by pushing on a thumb lever to the left of the needle opening in the foot.

As with most attachments holding the binding up slightly, rather than flat to the bed of the machine, is also helpful.

The binder takes a bit of practice but is worth every minute of that. Early eras sewists used these attachments continually. Think of all those vintage patterns we see like aprons, now in the original or in replicate, with miles of bias bound edges. We copy the garment but we haven't imported the time saving tools that were used to make them. I sometimes think my grandmother would be amused see us laboriously stitching on bias tape, pressing, turning it under, and topstitching. Busy women with households to run didn't have time for that, not with a binder handy.

Note all binders can be used to make ties too. Simply feed in the folded tape and start stitching:


Ellen said...

Hi Barbara
This is a fascinating idea. My husband bought me an older Singer machine at a yard sale because it came with a buttonhole attachment and he remembered me saying what great buttonholes they made. Much better than my Bernina!
It also came with a selection of complicated and, to me, unidentifiable attachments. Now I will be trying to match them up with your series. If it turns out some aren’t in your selection, I’ll photograph them and send them to you.
Ellen (from Maine)

Linda (ACraftyScrivener) said...

“Spray starch your own bias binding” = light bulb!!! Of course, duh, what a fantastic idea!

Must get out the binder the next time I do this, Thanks Barb!

Kansas Sky said...

I am loving this series. I came into this community just as the generation of women before me were fading away and I relish each year I had with each of them. Clever, intelligent, no-nonsense -- they just took for granted that what they had done was what had been needed to be done. One woman, Maude Jones, was a small-town "seamstress" who produced clothing for others that was couturier quality [fur-trimmed coats, lined dresses and skirts, using silk and wool and linen]. Her hand-sewing tools are prize possessions that I keep in a shadow box frame and look at every day. Thank you, Barbara, for what you're doing! Another prize of mine is a binding sample that you sewed on your machine last year in Tulsa!!!!!! .... I have modern equivalents of some of these vintage feet you're describing and am being inspired to learn how to use them on my "sewing computer".

Deb Glosek said...

Barb, did you ever try this vintage binder with knit fabrics? I wonder if that would work. Hmmmm. Thanks, Deb (from Pennsylvania)

JustGail said...

This attachment I have used, with very mixed success. I did fine on straight lines or gentle curves but doing tight curves or corners were... lets just say - less than successful. Also trying to end the binding without leaving raw edges was a puzzle to me.

sewmadd said...

Where would I begin looking, to buy vintage attachments? My mother had an Adler and used many attachments to create some beautiful garments. That was over 60 years ago and the machine and attachments are all gone.

Barbara said...

I have found quite a few vintage attachments on eBay. Cheapest in general boxes of lots of attachments.

No I haven't used these attachments on knits - suspect they feed the fabric too tightly and would stretch it out of shape.

Also steep curves can be tricky but stay stitching the edges helps.

A few answers to some excellent questions.

JustGail said...

@ sewmadd - besides ebay, check garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores, flea markets, antique shops, almost any place that's selling used items would be good as well.

Carolyn F. said...

I have a number of these attachments from my mother's and grandmother's things. One sews a double binding. It allows just the smallest amount of a second color to show, almost like a bit of piping. I can't use them on my machine but have a cheap machine that pretty much is only good for straight stitching and they fit nicely.

mariestitches said...

Wow! This is incredible. Thank you for uncovering this lost technology. I'm so glad I held onto my mom's old Kenmore from the '70s. Like one of the above commenters, I kept it only because of the quality button holes. I'll now be hunting for these wonderful attachments. Thank you Barbara. You have brought so much to the sewing community. (Loved the recent Sew Making Mavens podcast.)

Carol Lee said...

In the manuals for vintage machines, there is often a section detailing exactly how to use many of these attachments which were included with the machine. Have fun playing!