One of the last details sewn onto a quilt is the binding. Loosely defined, “binding a quilt” is any method the quilter uses to encase all three edges of the quilt top, batting, and backing. In most circumstances, this refers to the narrow strips of fabric that are used as binding, but there are other ways to finish a quilt top. In the next couple of blogs, we’re going to explore the difference between single-fold and double-fold binding, regular binding verses bias binding and when to use each, knife-edge finishes, and some alternate binding options. I will show you my “mathless” way of finishing a binding and how I sew my binding onto my quilt top.
I will also be upfront and tell you what this blog is not about. It is not about sewing the entire binding on by machine. I will be completely honest and tell you, that yes, I do employ this method on charity quilts and children’s quilts. Those quilts are destined to be washed quite a bit and binding sewn completely by machine tends to hold up better to this abuse. However, I don’t think this binding is as pretty as what I call “half-and-half” binding (it’s sewn on by machine and then finished by hand) and frankly, I’m not as good at all-machine-sewn-binding as I need to be. If you want to investigate that kind of binding, there are lots of YouTube videos by quilt artists that really can rock this method.
This blog also does not take into consideration Art Quilts. Not that I don’t like and admire Art Quilts, because I do and have made a few. But Art Quilts, by the nature of their genre, always do not employ what is considered “traditional quilt guidelines.” Sometimes these quilts have a backing, batting, and top, sometimes they only have a backing and top. Sometimes they employ what would be considered binding, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve seen Art Quilts with the edges burned, glued with sequins and seashells, and sometimes the edges have been left to fray. All of those methods (and numerous others) can be used in Art Quilts. But this with blog, I’m taking into consideration mostly traditional quilts with most consistently used binding methods.
The object of binding (whichever method is employed), is to hold the edges of the quilt top, batting, and backing together to keep them from fraying or coming apart. The most commonly used binding is the double-fold binding (also called French Fold Binding) and that’s the first kind of binding we’re taking a closer look at. This method is so frequently utilized most quilters take for granted when you talk about “binding a quilt” that this is the technique used.
The binding strips are cut at 2 ¼-inches to 2 ½-inches in width either on the crosswise grain or lengthwise grain of fabric. That’s several differentiations, so let’s talk about when I use what.
If the quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting, and backing) is thin, I may opt to use the 2 ¼ -inch width. This situation can occur if I’m using flannel or a cotton sheet as batting (for a quilt that can be used in warm weather). With this circumstance, a 2 ¼-inch binding is perfect. If a traditional batting is used (all cotton, 80/20, wool, or silk), I use the 2 ½-inch binding, as that additional ¼-inch is a little easier to work with. Sometimes (especially when I’m quilting an applique quilt), I use two batts, which makes the quilt sandwich even thicker. In these circumstances, I may cut the binding 2 ¾- inches wide. But 99 percent of the time, the 2 ½-inch wide binding will work just fine.
The use of the length-wise or cross-wise grain is the next consideration. There are times when you cut the binding on the bias, but those situations are rare and will be discussed later. Most quilt patterns will instruct you to cut the binding on the cross-wise grain, sew the strips together at a 45-degree angle, and bind your quilt with those. That method works well with most quilts. However, there are circumstances when you may want to consider cutting the binding on the length-wise grain – such as if the borders are heavily pieced or if the quilt is show-bound. A binding cut on the length-wise grain is not as “stretchy” as binding cut on the cross-wise grain and can give more stability to a heavily pieced border. Binding strips cut on the length-wise grain are longer and have fewer seams, which can give you some advantage with a show-bound quilt – most quilt judges are going to examine bindings closely to make sure that they are full, and the seams are smooth – the fewer the seams, the fewer the chances of getting dinged on your binding. Regardless of whether it’s a length-wise or cross-wise cut binding, you want the binding strip about 25 inches longer than the perimeter of the quilt sandwich. That extra length will allow for mitering the corners and sewing the binding tails together at the end.
To make either type of binding, cut your strips, and join them at 45-degree angles.
Trim to ¼-inch seam allowance and press open (this reduces bulk in the binding).
Fold in half, wrong sides together, and press.
Now I am going to share my method of binding. This method works for me…it’s neither right or wrong. It’s a method I discovered a few years ago and it’s called the binding pocket. It’s easy, requires no math, it’s fast, and I really like it. Take your quilt sandwich and your binding to the sewing machine. If you have a walking foot, this is a great time to use it as well as your needle down feature. And at this point, I am assuming you’ve squared up your quilt top and trimmed off the excess batting.
- Open up one end of your binding and fold it on the diagonal.
- Give it a quick press to secure the fold, and then trim the excess fabric below the fold to about ¼-inch (no less than this, and maybe a thread or two more).
- Starting about one-third of the distance between two corners (I typically start on the right side), align the right edge of the opened binding along the side of the quilt and pin.
- Fold the strip length-wise again and pin-mark it 1-inch or so beyond the point where it becomes two layers again. Sew (using a ¼-inch seam allowance) to the quilt beginning at the right-angled tip and sewing through only one layer of the strip. Stop at the pin-mark, take a few back stitches or use the automatic tie-off feature and cut the threads.
- Lift the presser foot and refold the binding lengthwise again, aligning both edges of the strip evenly with the edges of the quilt. Check the initial seam to make sure it extends well underneath the folded, angled binding edge that now rests on top.
- Start sewing where the first seam ended. Keep sewing until your reach ¼-inch from the corner of the quilt sandwich. Back stitch or tie off. Cut the threads.
- Fold the unsewn tail of the quilt binding straight up, positioning it so that its right edge is parallel with the next side of the quilt to be bound. Coax the lower edge of the strip to form a 45-degree angle.
- Fold the binding down, leaving the top of the fold flush with the edge of the quilt top behind it and its raw edge aligned with the next side of the quilt. The 45-degree angle should be intact under the fold.
- Pin the quilt binding to the side of the quilt or align it as you sew (I’m a pinner…). Begin sewing at the top of the edge and sew the length of the side of the quilt. Continue sewing until you come to the next corner, stopping ¼-inch from the edge, as you did prior. Treat all the corners the same way.
- When you’ve worked your way around the quilt and are nearing the starting point, stop the sewing machine with the needle in the down position. Trim away the excess ending tail, leaving enough length to tuck into the opening created by the starting tail.
- Realign the quilt binding with the quilt and sew through all layers to finish attaching it, ending with the seam just past the beginning of the first seam.
- Use a blind stitch and matching thread to secure the angled fold to the tucked-in strip.
This method produces a little bulk where the binding strips are joined, but the bulk is not excessive, and I find it lays down pretty well with a shot of steam and a hot iron. This method is quick, easy, and there are no worries about cutting the binding tails too short or at the wrong angle.
At this point, let me talk about the thread used to sew on the binding. Most quilters, when they’re piecing, use white, beige, gray, or black thread in this process – which ever color thread blends in well with the fabric being sewn. This allows us to keep sewing and not stop every little bit to change out the top thread and bobbin. However, when you’re sewing on the binding, make sure your top thread matches your binding. And most of the time I use a different colored thread in the bobbin than I do in the top of the machine. I’ll explain why I do this a little later.
Take your quilt top to your ironing surface. Working from the front of the quilt, press the binding out. Fold to the back and slip stitch into place.
And that’s it. This is how I bind at least 90 percent of my quilts. It looks good, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never got dinged on my binding with any quilt I’ve entered in a show. (Not to say that this won’t happen in the future….)
More on binding treatments next week!
Until then, Quilt with Excellence!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam