Introduction: Perfect Binding for a Quilt

I have seen many quilts--even ones made by experienced quilters--that have a large lump in the binding where the quilter started and ended the sewing process. I never liked the look or the feel. I learned this method of binding many years ago. This method results in a binding where it is virtually impossible to determine where the binding process actually began.

My sister made me go to a quilting class once--she wanted me to learn to use a thimble so that I did not tear up the skin on my finger and would be more efficient when it came to quilting things for her. I did not actually develop the ability to use a thimble but I did come out of the class with this method of binding a quilt. I have never seen this method in a book or on a website so I wanted to make sure that other quilters have the opportunity to try it.

Step 1: Cut Your Binding Strips

Most quilt books suggest that you cut your binding strips 2 inches wide. This can be difficult to use if your batting is thick. When I use thick batting, I cut my binding 2 1/2 inches.

The binding is the very edge of the quilt so it will get handled a lot. For this reason, the binding is going to be a double layer of fabric.

You will seldom have a single strip of fabric long enough to go all the way around the quilt. You will need to attach several strips together. Make sure that you have enough pieces to go all the way around with a bit extra--too much is better than not enough.

Step 2: Joining Strips

If you join your strips end to end, there will be a spit on the binding that is bulkier than the breast of the binding--not good. It will be visible but it will also be difficult to wrap the quilt edge.

The strips need to be joined at a 45 degree angle. This cuts down on the extra thickness by spreading out the seam allowance.

Lay the two ends that are to be joined, with right sides together, at a 90 degree angle. There should be a square that is 2 layers thick. Sew corner to corner across this square. Check the picture to see which diagonal of the square to sew.

Before you cut off the excess fabric, straighten the strip to make sure it is straight. If you accidentally sew the wrong diagonal, the strip will have a bend in it. If this happens, remove your stitching and try again. You only have to mess up once or twice and you will have this down perfectly. I don't even have to think about it any more.

Once you know that you sewed if correctly, trim the excess fabric. Open the seam and press--finger pressing is usually enough but you can use an iron if you want. Opening the seam helps to cut down on excess bulk.

Step 3: Fold the Strip and Pin in Place

The binding will be sewed on as a double thickness to give the outer edge of the quilt more durability. Fold the strip in half lengthwise. Some books recommend ironing this fold--I usually do not bother.

Start in the middle of one side of your quilt. Leave an 8 inch (approximately) tail at the leading edge of your strip. Pin the binding strip so that the 2 raw edges are lined up with the raw edge of your quilt top. Pin a short section or pin all the way to the first corner--which ever is easier for you.

If you are sewing this on a sewing machine or if you are a lefty and sewing by hand, you will probably want to work clockwise around the quilt. I am right handed so I hand sew counter clockwise around. It is just a matter of comfort.

Step 4: Mitering the Corner

Stop your stitching a quarter inch from the actual corner. When I pin, I actually put my last pin in this spot. I take an extra stitch or two (back stitches) to make sure that it is good and secure--don't cut your hand sewing thread. Tuck your needle into the quilt a few inches away just to keep track of it.

If you are machine sewing, back stitch the way you would to lock the end of a seam and cut your thread.

Hold the quilt so that the edge you have been sewing is pointing away from you. Take the loose end of your binding strip and fold it to the left (if you are sewing clockwise) or to the right (if you are working counter clockwise) so that it forms a 90 degree angle. There will be an angled (45 degrees) fold on top of the quilt.

Take the long end and fold it back so that the raw edges of the binding line up with the raw edge of the next quilt section. This second fold should line up with the raw edges of the previous side sewn.

I hand stitch so at this point, I insert my needle through the binding at the spot that was 1/4 inch from the corner of the quilt. I pull the needle through so that all my thread is on the new side of the quilt. There is a triangular fold sticking up--do nothing with it at this time. I take a stitch on the new working edge, stop and do an extra back stitch (just to secure the corner well), and continue to sew the binding.

If you are machine sewing, turn the fabric and insert it under the pressure foot so that the first stitch will be 1/4 inch from the corner of the new side. Lock the first stitch (just like when you see a regular seam) and continue sewing the binding along this side of your quilt. You will deal with the triangular fold that sticks up later in the last step.

You will have this down pretty well by the time you have done it 4 times. Stop sewing when you get ban k to the first side of the quilt. DO NOT SEW THE LAST FOOT OF THE EDGE YET.

Step 5: Joining the End to the Beginning

The magic part of the binding is this last part of this side. This is where, if you do it right, it will look exactly like where you joined 2 strips of binding on the rest of the quilt--no bulky chunk where you tried to hide the last bit of raw edge.

You need to have about a foot of room to work--the exact measurement is not critical but if you have too little space, it is hard to get your hands in the space. If you leave too much space to work, you run the risk of twisting the binding strip and then you have to unstitch and start over. Not fun this close to the end of the project.

You will need at least 8 inches of loose binding on both sides of your gap. Pin the binding in place starting from either side. Them pin the other side in place. There should be a few inches of overlap. In the middle of the overlap, I put a pin through the 2 folds. Then I put another pin in the same spot but from the other side. When you pull on the two binding tails, they will separate and each tail has a marking pin. You have just measured the exact length that you need.

Pull out the pins that are along the edge of the quilt. This gives you the slack that you need to work. Take the two strip ends (with the marking pins) and open the fold (single layers of fabric.

With the right sides of the fabric strips together, line them up at a 90 degree angle in such a way that the pins line up as perfectly as possible. I usually use a third pin which I insert into the spot marked by the top pin. Then I peek around and get my new pin right where the pin is in the bottom layer. Once you have the two strips lined up, you can remove the first 2 pins. Be careful to keep the last pin in, or you have to start over.

With this last pin simple going straight through the two layers of fabric, you can adjust the strips to make sure that your 90 angle looks good. Stop and check one last time that there are no twists in your binding.

Sew diagonally across the overlapped section. You can draw a pencil line if you need to but usually don't bother. After sewing, and BEFORE CUTTING, pull the quilt flat. This should stretch the newly joined binding across the edge of the quilt. It should be the exact length needed to finish the quilt.

If it is too long, too short, has a twist, or you sewed the wrong diagonal now is the time to notice. After you cut the excess tails is too late. Check first. Ask me how I know this. I have bound my quilts this way for so long that I can't remember any other way, and I still check every time.

When you are sure it is right, trim the binding to 1/4 inch from your seam. Finger press the seam open. Refold in half. Pin the raw edges in place. Make sure that there are not any little tucks in the quilt underneath. Finish sewing the seam.

The fancy part of the process is done. :D

Step 6: Wrapping the Edge

Cut off any extra backing fabric and batting from around the edge of the whole quilt.

Wrap the folded edge of the binding over to the back side of the quilt. With matching thread and your tiniest stitches, whip stitch the edge to the back of the quilt. You though make sure that the previous seam (the attachment of the binding) is not showing on the back of the quilt. This is why I like my binding just a bit wider than most quilters. I can easily pull the folded edge just past the visible stitches as I work.

Sew on the back of the quilt until you get to the first corner. Now is where we have to deal with that bit of extra fabric from when we turned the corner.

Step 7: Mitering the Corner (part 2)

When you get to the corner, push the fold away so that it doesn't get caught by your needle. Sew the back side seam (whip stitch) right up to where you see that you turned the corner when you attached it. I take an extra tiny stitch to lock the thread in place.

The folded edge of the binding will wrap itself to the next side of the quilt. There will be two 45 degree angles. The first one will become the actual corner of the quilt. Fold the second one down and tack a stitch in the binding counter to hold it securely. Continue sewing the binding along the back side of your quilt. Repeat at the next corner.