Binding frames the edges of a quilt. It usually consists of a strip of fabric, usually double folded, that is wrapped and sewn around the raw edges of quilt.
Binding is usually attached to the quilt by machine and then the folded edge is sewn into place by machine or hand stitching. Both these options are covered in this post along with mitred corners.
A good binding finishes a quilt and can provide extra visual impact. It is worth spending time planning the right colour for your quilt design, considering how wide you would like your finished binding to be and sewing it on using a method that suits you and your quilt. Quilts for display are often hand finished as it gives a neat and almost invisible appearance. Quilts for the home and those destined for children and pets might need a tougher, more resilient, machine finished binding.
Preparing the quilt
Once your quilt is quilted it needs to be trimmed in preparation for binding. It helps to use a large square quilt ruler for this (e.g. 12” square) but any larger quilt ruler will do along with a rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat.
Start with the corners and take time to align your ruler with the quilt edge. The aim is to remove excess wadding and backing fabric as well as squaring off your quilt if needed. Remember that some of your seam points will be only 1/4″ away from the edge so trim with caution! Once trimmed, sew around the edge of the quilt using zig-zag stitch or sew a straight-line 1/8” away from the edge. Be careful not to distort the corners. If you want to add a quilt label, this can be done now, especially if you using a corner placement. See this post from Martingale for more ideas on quilt labelling.
None of these items are essential but they all help!
- Walking foot. This helps when attaching binding as it makes it easier to sew multiple layers of fabric without them shifting or slipping.
- Stitch in the ditch foot/Edge stitch foot. This is a specialised sewing machine foot with a blade in the centre that can be used to stitch directly along a seam or ‘in the ditch’ and is very helpful for attaching binding entirely by machine. The needle can be moved to the right or left of the seam and the blade helps to give stitching accuracy.
- Elmer’s School Glue. I use a temporary glue method to attach the folded edge of the binding to the back of the quilt before I stitch it down by machine. I’ve tried various fabric and basting glues but this has been the best. Available in the UK on eBay and Amazon. Test your glue on a sample before use on a quilt and check that it washes out of the sample and has no adverse effects on the fabrics. Another suggestion is Roxanne’s Glue Baste It.
- Clover Wonder Clips. These are small sprung clips that are invaluable for holding thick layers together. Other brands are also available.
- 90/14 sewing machine needle. When adding a binding to a quilt by machine, there are multiple layers involved so I like to use a bigger needle e.g. 90/14.
- Fabric marker. This could be a standard pencil or a temporary fabric marker pen.
- Seam Gauge or small ruler marked in inches including quarter inch increments.
Decide the width of binding. The standard choice is 2 1/4″ or 2 1/2″ depending on how wide you want your finished binding to look. They are both attached in the same way. Consider the thickness or loft of your quilt as this will affect the finished look of the binding. I like a narrow look so I chose 2 1/4″. Press your binding fabric. It can help to starch it too as this can make cutting easier. For this binding method we are cutting across the width of the fabric and joining the strips together to make continuous cross grain binding.
To calculate the length of binding required measure around the edge of your quilt and add 24”. This provides you some extra fabric for the mitred corners and also for joining the start and end of your binding. The perimeter of my quilt measures 176” approx. + 24” extra so I cut five WOF (width of fabric) strips each measuring 2 1/4″ wide. These will to make a continuous binding of around 200” in length. A half metre or yard of fabric is sufficient for either 2 1/4″ or 2 1/2″ binding for a quilt of this size.
Trim the selvedges from the short ends of each strip and join the short edges of each strip to the next with right sides together and using 1/4″ seams. Press the seams open. Check the binding length around the edge of your quilt. Now fold the binding along the length with wrong sides together and press as you fold. The short edges at the beginning and end of the binding should be cut straight and at right angles to the length. It helps to loosely wrap the binding around an old thread spool to keep it under control until ready for use.
Attaching the Binding
For this method we will be attaching the binding firstly to the right side of the quilt. Start at least 12” away from a corner and leave a 10” or longer tail on the binding before starting the seam. Align the raw edges of the double binding with the raw edge of the quilt – you can pin or clip in place if you prefer, I don’t tend to use either for this stage of binding. Your stitch length should be 2.5-3mm long depending on the thickness of your quilt – the thicker the quilt, the longer the stitch. Secure the beginning of the seam and sew a 1/4” seam. Stop sewing 2” before you reach the first corner leaving your needle down.
To mitre the corners of the quilt it helps to mark each corner as you go. With your sewing paused and your needle down, flip the binding back and use a seam gauge or ruler and a pencil to make a mark 1/4″ before the corner and at the very edge of the quilt. Place the binding down and slowly sew the binding to the quilt to the point just marked. Stop and reverse to secure the seam. Remove from the machine and trim excess threads.
Take to your ironing board. Press the area just sewn then flip the binding back at a 45 degree angle against the end of the seam – it will be a diagonal fold – and press. Now fold the binding back over the fold so the strip lies now against the next side of the quilt to be bound.
Starting at the very edge of the corner with the quilt rotated 90 degrees, secure the beginning of the seam and sew a 1/4” seam as before. Continue attaching the binding around the edge of the quilt and sewing the corners in the same way.
Stop sewing and secure the end of the seam sewing 12” before reaching the binding starting point.
To join the binding ends lay the binding tails over each other – they need to be very slightly taut as they will be when finally sewn. It helps to pin the underneath strip in place and place the other strip over the top. The top strip needs to overlap the underneath strip by 1/2″. Mark this point in pencil and trim with scissors – check the measurement again before you cut!
Unfold the bindings and place the short edges right sides together. Pin in place and sew 1/4″ seam using a small 2mm stitch length. This is a little awkward and it is why there is a 12” gap to allow a little more room for manoeuvre.
Press the short seam open, fold long edges together as before and check the fit; the binding should lie flat and should not be loose. Adjust if needed, then lightly press the fold along the length of the binding. Resume sewing the seam and sew until stitches meet the start of binding. Your binding should now be continuously attached around the edge of your quilt with a mitre at each corner. Flip the binding away from the quilt so it covers the seam and press. Use the point of the iron to press the binding away from the corners.
Finishing the Binding By Machine
I use a glue basting to machine sew my binding – I find it helps with the accuracy and makes the corners much easier to sew. If you prefer to try another method, check out the resource links at the end of this post.
Take the quilt to your ironing board along with your glue of choice and clips to hold the binding in place. Place the quilt with the wrong side upwards. Working with approx. 12” binding length at a time, place tiny dots of glue within the seam allowance at the edge of the quilt. It can help to decant the glue into a bottle with a fine nozzle to make it easier to control. Bring the binding over the quilt edge so that the double folded edge just covers the seam line (by just under 1/8”) and use a hot iron to press in place. The heat of the iron helps to set the glue. Place clips to hold everything in place. Continue around the edge of the quilt, gluing, pressing and adding clips; the glue works quickly so the clips don’t need to stay in place for long.
At the corners, the aim is to create the mitred effect to match the right side of the quilt. For this you will need to stick one edge of the corner down completely and give it time to dry before the other edge folds over it with a diagonal line and is itself glued into place. For the best effect, check which way the fabrics fold over each other on the mitred corner on the right side and reverse this on the wrong side. This spreads out fabric bulk and results in a sharp neat corner.
Once the glue is dry, the clips can be removed and the binding can be stitched in place from the right side of the quilt. If possible, use a stitch-in-the-ditch/edge stitch foot or walking foot. Place the blade of the foot in the ditch between quilt and binding and adjust so the needle comes down just left of that. Using a thread that matches the binding and the front of your quilt and a long stitch 3-3.5mm and stitch slowly, pivoting with the needle down and rotating the quilt at the corners. The stitches on the reverse of the quilt should be holding the binding edge down.
The glue basting should hold everything in place. When you have stitched all the way round, check the quilt from the back for any missed sections. Like many things, this technique improves with practice so don’t worry if there are a few bits that need sewing again on your first attempts.
Finishing the Binding by Hand
Hand stitching a binding gives a soft, almost invisible finish and can be a relaxing way to complete your quilt. Use a co-ordinating cotton thread – e.g. Aurifl 50wt and a hand-sewing needle e.g. size 9 piecing or sharps needle. Working from the wrong side of the quilt, cut a length of thread approximately the length from your armpit to finger and knot the end. Place the knot in the quilt edge seam allowance and push the needle tip into the fold of the binding. Now place the needle directly beneath this, just below the machine-sewn seam and pushing into the quilt backing fabric only – not through to the front of the quilt. Bring the needle tip up just less than 1/4” away from the last stitch sewn and into the fold of the binding. Continue with evenly spaced blind stitches and fold the mitres as you come to the corners.
TIP: If you would like a stronger finish, you can double the thread although this will make bulkier stitches.
Congratulations! If you have been following the Making a Quilt series you should now have a finished quilt! Look out for the bonus extra part coming soon about the quilt-as-you-go technique, a method of quilting blocks and whole quilts as you sew them.
Leah Day’s Method
Rita Hodges of Red Pepper Quilts tutorial
Lynne Goldsworthy of Lily’s Quilts – how to bind a quilt
Cristy Fincher – glue basting
Single Fold Binding– for smaller items, mini quilts, place mats etc.
Kerry Green of Verykerryberry – Single fold binding
Alternatives to Binding
Victoria Gertenbach of Silly BooDilly shows how to face edges of a quilt
Rita Hodges of Red Pepper Quilts shows how to bag out a quilt