“Bind the quilt to finish.”
That simple instruction, which ends almost every quilt pattern ever written, refers to a step in the quiltmaking process that in itself requires a few different steps. When a quilt pattern editor writes “bind the quilt to finish,” it’s assumed that the quilter knows what this means.
Most patterns assume you will use a continuous double-fold binding technique in which you 1) stitch together narrow strips of fabric with diagonal seams to make one long strip, 2) press your binding strip lengthwise and wrong sides together, 3) align the raw edges with the trimmed raw edge of the quilt, 4) machine stitch through all layers with a 1/4″ seam allowance and going around all four corners, 5) fold the binding over to enclose the raw edge of the quilt and 6) stitch the binding’s fold to the other side by hand or machine.
That’s a lot to infer from a simple phrase like “bind the quilt to finish.”
But the truth is that there are enough different ways to bind a quilt to fill, well, if not a full-length book at least a thick booklet.
Let’s take a quick look at the individual steps involved in binding a quilt.
Determining binding technique
Besides the traditional double-fold technique, there are other methods such as single-fold, faced and pillowcase bindings. Each requires its own set of considerations.
Cutting binding strips
There are two aspects to cutting binding strips: width and grainline.
The standard recommended width in our patterns is 2-1/2″ for a double-fold binding. But I will confess to you right now that I am more of a 2-1/4″ gal when it comes to my quilts, except when I’m not.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I cut binding strips at 2-1/8″ because I didn’t have quite enough of the fabric I wanted to use to allow 2-1/4″ strips. And you know what? It worked really well and I may do it more often. Meanwhile, some intrepid and experienced quilters I know just go straight for the 2″ strips.
What it boils down to is that the width at which you cut your strips should be based on your comfort level and the look you want for the quilt you’re making.
And then there’s grainline. While strips cut across the width of the fabric, or crossgrain, are the right choice for most quilts with straight sides and 90-degree corners, you will want to cut strips on the fabric’s bias if your quilt has edges with curves or unusual angles.
Stitching the binding strip to the quilt
What side do you join your binding to first, the front or the back? Do you finish the opposite side by hand or machine? Or are you one of those people who can stitch a binding to the front and back at the same time? So many choices!
And what about trimming the extra length and joining the ends? A few years ago, when it had been a long time since I’d last finished a quilt, I spend an afternoon one weekend checking out YouTube videos on joining the ends of my binding strip because I couldn’t remember how to do it. Again, the variety of ways in which people approach this step can be a little overwhelming.
In a 2014 blog post for Quilters Newsletter, I wrote about trying new binding techniques in combination with one another on three small quilts. While I ultimately succeeded, I also encountered some challenges, particularly with trying to join the ends of the binding strip.
It took four attempts — yes, 4 — to successfully join the ends of the binding strips. It was frustrating and more than a little embarrassing to have so much trouble trying to figure out why the binding kept looking like a Mobius strip. My mistake was that, once I had positioned the ends of the two strips perpendicular to one another with right sides together, I was stitching across the wrong diagonal. Do not do this unless you want a binding that looks like it belongs in a quilt made by M.C. Escher. When I vented to my husband, he said, “Don’t you have something you need to sew for work? Why are you spending so much time on this?” “It wasn’t supposed to take this long,” I grumbled under my breath.
Taking into consideration the machine-finished bindings I’d done on the two doll quilts, I decided to cut the binding strips at 2″ instead of my typical 2.25″. With the doll quilts, and in fact with every binding I’ve finished on the front of the quilt by machine, I found it challenging to get the stitching lined up on both the front and back. By working with a slightly narrower binding, my straight stitch just inside the fold on the front resulted in a fairly consistent stitch-in-the-ditch on the back. Bonus: I didn’t cut off any points in my piecing on the front.
Because I finished these three small quilts within in a week of each other, that means I bound 12 corners in a short period of time. I used the technique that Patrick Lose demonstrated in an episode of Quilters Newsletter TV: The Quilters’ Community and was able to get comfortable with it. The corners, particularly on the road to California quilt, are good and flat and the miters turned nicely.
Here’s the episode featuring Patrick Lose demonstrating his binding technique.
Patrick has an entire course just on bindings available from Craft U; click here to try the Quilt Binding Basics with Patrick Lose course for a free trial. In his course, Patrick covers:
- How to choose binding fabric
- How to match fabric patterns, such as stripes, when joining strips
- How to determine the grain of cut fabric
- How to determine whether you should use straight grain or bias binding
- How to cut and prepare your binding
- How to bind using straight grain binding, creating perfectly-mitered corners
- How to create lump-free binding corners
- How to economically cut continuous bias binding strips
- How to bind curved and round pieces
- How to bind pieces with scalloped or irregular edges
- How to hand stitch bindings to the wrong side of the quilt
On a baby quilt she made last year, Lori Baker—who is a whiz at joining her bindings entirely by machine—learned why we typically recommend joining binding strips with diagonal rather than straight seams:
I pieced the back and used the extra fabric that I cut away after I’d quilted to make the binding. The seams on the binding are straight, not diagonal, so there is quite a bit of bulk at each seam in the binding.
I paid special attention as I was pressing the binding to get those seams as flat as possible. I used lots of steam and really took my time. But the bulk was still enough that I had to be careful as I was stitching so my sewing machine would go over the “bump.” My conclusion is that there is a reason we recommend the seams in the binding be on the diagonal.
If you’re looking for more in-depth binding tutorials, tricks and tools, you’ve come to the right place.
Machine Quilt Binding Made Easy! with Jenny Kae Quilts is an on-demand webinar in which Jenny describes how to:
- Square up your quilt
- Cut, piece and press binding
- Attach your quilt binding to both sides of the quilt
- Hide your ends and create PERFECT quilt corners
- Create fast, accurate and beautiful machine binding
Jenny appeared on an episode of Quilters Newsletter TV where she demonstrated how to prepare your strips; here’s a short preview of that episode.
Hand Quilt Binding with Laura Roberts is another on-demand webinar in which Laura talks about:
- What supplies you need
- How to prepare a quilt for hand binding
- How to use binding clips, pins, hair clips, fusible web, even glue to hold binding in place for stitching
- Blind (slip) stitch and ladder stitch
- The secret to getting a full binding (and why you want it)
- How to professionally finish mitered corners
- Techniques for binding scallops, and how to finish prairie point and rickrack edges
- When and how to use facings instead of binding
- Why and how to apply extra-wide binding
Here’s a short preview of an episode Laura did of Quilters Newsletter TV about hand binding.
Karen Charles, event specialist for Husqvarna Viking, also stopped by our video studio to demonstrate how to bind quilts using piping. Her first hint is to test the piping for shrinkage using a steam iron. Karen uses a binding foot on her sewing machine for this technique, but recommends using a zipper foot if a binding foot is not available. She also shows how to create a scalloped edge to the quilt binding. To view the full video, visit QNNTV.com.
In this episode of Quilty, Marianne Fons demonstrates how to turn corners on your binding perfectly every time.
In fact, to view any number of binding tutorial videos, go to QNNTV.com and search for “binding”—there are simply too many for me to link to here.
As for tools, the Fons & Porter Binding Tool is designed to help you get a smooth finish for binding ends every time.
I hope that knowing there are lots of different ways to bind your quilt will help you feel confident to pick the correct techniques for you and your quilts. Here’s to more frustration-free quilt finishes!