Quilt binding can make or break your quilt! BERNINA Ambassador Annie Smith shares her expert advice for quilt bias binding tips to finish your quilt beautifully.
In June 2016, I did a Quilt Binding Tip post for WeAllSew that did a comparison between using a walking foot and a 1D Reverse Pattern foot with Dual Feed.
Since I wrote that post, I’ve had the chance to refine my quilt binding applications to create a better, sturdier binding. In addition to being a national quilt Instructor and BERNINA Ambassador, I’m also a Quilt Judge and have judged hundreds of quilts. One recurring problem with quilts entered for competition is the binding: unfilled binding, overfilled binding, uneven binding and the trend to stitch the binding to the back of the quilt and topstitch it on the front. In all my years of judging, I have seen just one quilt that had perfectly machine top-stitched binding on it. The rest were marked down because of the problems with inaccurate stitching.
In this post, I’ll give you all of my little tips and tricks for accurate binding, some you may know and some that will be new to you. I’m going to take you step by step.
Tip #1: Straight edge binding vs. Bias binding
Straight edge binding saves the amount of fabric that you need to bind a quilt and was a popular practice several years ago. I bound a King sized quilt for our bed with it, and within one year, this is what happened on my hudband’s side of the bed:
His whiskers rubbed the fabric open because there was no cross-weave support on the edge of the quilt. His whiskers were like a cheese grater on the weaker straight weave of the fabric. The place that the quilt will get the most wear is the bound edge.
So, I went back to using Bias binding, as I did when I first started quilting. Bias binding fell out of favor because it’s a pain to make. Bias binding is much more sturdy for the quilt because the edge of the binding has a cross-weave, rather than a straight weave.
I also prefer to use a ⅜” binding rather than a ¼” binding. In my opinion, ⅜” binding gives you a “meatier” binding, and ¼” is just too skinny, especially on a queen or king bed quilt. I think that little extra ⅛” measurement of binding adds a nicer frame to the outside of the quilt, especially with the lofts of our batting being just a little bit thicker.
All of my instructions that follow use a ⅜” binding and seam allowance.
I start with ¾ yard cut of binding fabric for most quilts.
Fold up the fabric so the selvedge matches the cut edge to get a perfect 45-degree angle.
Press the folded edge with iron to get a crisp crease.
Keep the fabric flat and cut with scissors in the crease.
Press entire piece of fabric flat so there are no evident folds.
TIP: When cutting strips or other subcuts on my mat, I don’t line the fabric up to the markings on the mat. For consistent cutting, I always line up using the ruler. I find that the sizes of my cut pieces are more accurate. If the mat lines bother me, I’ll flip the mat over to the unprinted side. So if you see in my photos that the fabric is laid “off” of the lines on the mat, that’s why.
When I cut my strips, I use 2 ¾” as my width. With the ⅜” seam allowances, you also need to take into consideration the thickness of the quilt at the edge – which is where the 2 ¾” strip width comes from, to accommodate that.
TIP: I mark my ruler with blue painter’s tape and write the width on the tape with a permanent pen, so I can remember where I need to lineup and cut. It’s easy to see and easy to remove for other sized cuts.
After cutting the crease with scissors, turn the fabric one-quarter turn clockwise so the cut crease is now vertical. Fold the fabric in half, lining up the cut so the raw edges are even — as pictured below. This becomes your new raw edge to line up your ruler for cutting the strips.
When you cut your strips, move the fabric away from the cut edge, rather than picking up the ruler. If your rotary cutter doesn’t make a clean cut all the way through the fabrics, it’s easier to just cut through the fabrics with the ruler in place, than to try and line up your ruler on the same cut line again.
I get nine good cut strips out of the ¾ yard of fabric, which is usually a little more than I need for the project. That’s good insurance.
After all of the strips are cut, I trim the angled ends (selvedge) off and then I have the correct angle set for sewing the strips together. I line up the ruler on the 45-degree line of the ruler.
Sew strips together, end to end, lining the ends up so they have a ¼” “bunny ear” on both ends, and sew.
Press all seams open. This helps to avoid bulk – which is also why we prefer to use a diagonal seam rather than a straight seam, which is super-bulky and makes a little pebble in the binding.
Now, press the binding in half, meeting the raw edges, to make your binding length.
TIP: The Rule of Thirds
When beginning to sew on your binding, don’t start at the edge or in the middle, as your join will be really obvious to the eye. Rather, choose a side (left or right) and start one-third of the way down. Your join will be perfectly hidden. Also, let about 12″ of binding to just hang free, this is the part that you will join to the end.
Next, install the Reverse pattern foot #1D, and engage the Dual Feed.
TIP: Before you begin sewing, take the time to measure the needle placement to the #1D foot, as shown in the photo below:
See? I marked my little ruler so I can see exactly where the ⅜” mark is. I’ll use this again while stitching.
Line up the raw edge of the binding to the raw edge of your quilt.
Also, don’t stretch the binding as you stitch, which will add a warp to the edge that will never lay flat. Just lay the binding on and stitch. I always start and end with a little back stitch.
Stitch to about 6″ away from the bottom edge. With your ⅜” marked ruler, measure the bottom edge and place a pin at ⅜” from the edge.
Sew to the pin, make sure the needle is in the down position, take two backstitches, stitch forward two back to the pin, then pivot the quilt edge out to the corner.
Now sew out to the edge of the quilt, remove the quilt and snip threads.
This is what the miter at the corner should look like, on the top and to the back:
This mitered corner will give you a perfect right angle edge to your quilt. Stitching this corner down prevents you from making this corner binding fabric too big to too small. See what it looks like when you pull the binding back to turn the corner?
Fold the binding back so it’s smooth, and now fold the binding down onto the next edge and sew from the top edge.
Sew the rest of the binding to the quilt edges as previously done. Stop sewing the binding when you are about 12″ away from where you started.
Lay the quilt flat, so you have clear access to the part of the binding that you need to join, as shown in the photo above.
Next, fold the left side of the binding back, in half, and make a clean straight cut with scissors.
Lay the binding you will sew on top of the start of the binding, overlapping the two, as shown in the photo below:
Now – between the cut edge of the beginning binding, use the ruler to measure where you should cut the tail of the binding to joining the two ends.
TIP: When I cut this piece to join the binding, I always cut the binding ¼” less than the width of the binding. So, I cut the binding at 2 ¾” wide, I will cut this last piece 2 ½” wide, ¼” LESS than the original width. I found if I left that ¼” on, the area where I stitched that last bit to the edge made my edge stretch just enough that it was visible when the quilt was hung. One quarter inch made a difference! So, when I cut the ¼” less, the binding lays flat and perfect. This is the best trick I can share with you.
Join the two cut edges in this way. I pin the quilt together so I can have free access to all of the binding.
Mark a diagonal line on the right binding edge, with a pencil. This will be your sewing line.
Line up the binding edges for sewing and pin across diagonal line so it doesn’t move when you sew. Pay close attention to the way to lay the edges together in the photo below, so you don’t have to pick out your stitches. Lay RIGHT side strip over LEFT, so the end of the right strip meets up with the edge of the left strip – at a 90 degree angle, as shown in the diagram under the photo.
Once you’ve sewn the edges together, trim the leftover so you have a ¼” seam and press seam open.
Now, sew the last of the binding to the quilt.
Before I’m ready to start handsewing, I always add a hanging sleeve to my quilt. I never know when I’ll need to hang a quilt for display, competition, or as wall art. I take the time to zigzag the sleeve to the top of the quilt as shown:
TIP: If you take the time to press your binding flat after it’s been sewn on, the finish on the front of your quilt will be beautiful and the binding will turn to the back for handstitching much easier and evenly.
This is what your beautifully mitered corners will look like:
When you turn the binding over to the back for handstitching, it should completely cover the stitching line as shown:
And not like this:
If you try to pull the binding over so it covers the stitching, it will fold over the edge of the quilt inside the binding and create an over-filled and lumpy binding. You want the binding to easily fold over so you don’t have to pull it at any part of the handstitching process.
Hand stitching the binding on the back of the quilt is a task that you either love or hate, I’ve heard both. Everyone agrees, though, that it can be tedious. So, whenever I work on hand stitching a quilt binding, I reward myself by watching a movie (or two) while I work so I entertain myself at the same time! It surely makes the process more enjoyable, and it gets your quilt finished at the same time.
If you have any questions or comments about this process, please comment here on the blog, and I’ll get back to you.