Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tutorial: A Reverie On Quilt Binding, With Reminders and Resolutions For Next Time

On those rare occasions when I have a quilt nearing completion, I always have to consult my quilting books and/or notes from my old blog posts to jog my memory as to how to do the binding.  I wasn't able to find a previous blog post documenting my binding process, and that's why I'm writing this one today -- for my own future reference.  If you know of other binding tips, tricks or tutorials, please share them with me in the comments!

Cut Width of Binding Strips Determines Seam Allowance
I generally remember that I like to cut my binding on the cross grain (although I'd cut it on the bias if my quilt had scalloped edges), but I can never remember how wide to cut the strips or how much binding I need to make.  For a finished quarter inch binding, my books recommend cutting your strips anywhere from 1 7/8" to 2 1/4" wide.  When I bound my last quilt I used a 2 1/4" cut width and made a note to myself to cut my strips 2 1/8" this time, but when I cut them 2 1/8" I decided I would rather have cut them 2 1/4" so I could use my seam guide with my walking foot to sew the binding to the front of the quilt.  So, what I would like to remind myself for next time is that it doesn't matter how wide I cut the strips as long as I check and adjust my seam allowance when I'm machine stitching the binding to the quilt. 

For my "Math Is Beautiful" quilt, I cut my binding strips 2 1/8" wide and started stitching them to the front of my quilt with my walking foot, using the little 1/4" mark on the inside of the walking foot toe as my guide.  After sewing about 6", I removed the quilt from the machine and wrapped the binding around to the wrong side of the quilt to check the seam allowance.  The binding completely covered the machine stitches on the back of the quilt, but in order to wrap it snugly around the edge of the quilt, the binding came down too far -- it would be noticeably wider finished width binding on the back of the quilt than on the front.  

With a 2 1/8 inch Cut Width, This Seam Allowance Was Too Narrow
Then I tried stitching the same 6" of binding using the outside edge of my walking foot as a guide, but then the seam allowance was too wide -- when I wrapped the folded edge of the binding around to the back of the quilt, there wasn't enough fabric to cover the machine stitches.  I ended up moving my needle position two clicks to the left and using the inside of the walking foot toe as my guide.  That resulted in a binding that just barely covers the machine stitches when pulled snugly to the back of the quilt, a binding that looks the same width on the front and back side of the quilt.  

If I was going to finish the binding by machine rather than by hand, I would want the binding to be slightly wider on the back side to ensure that, when I stitched in the ditch next to the binding on the front of the quilt, the binding on the back of the quilt was caught in the ditch stitching.  

Obviously, batting thickness will impact how wide binding strips and binding seam allowances need to be to wrap around the edge of the quilt and line up nicely, front to back, so this is my reminder to myself that I need to test the seam width and make adjustments before sewing my binding all the way around the perimeter of my quilt!

So, now that I know I'm going to cut my binding strips 2 1/4" wide, how do I know how many strips I need to cut?  Measure the perimeter of the quilt, add 12" working allowance, and divide by 42" fabric width.  Round up to the nearest whole number and that's how many strips I need to cut.  So for the math quilt that finished at 51 3/4" x 51 3/4" after quilting, the perimeter was 207" + 12" working allowance = 219" of binding needed, divided by the 42" usable fabric width = 5.21, rounded up to the nearest whole number gives me 6 strips to cut from my binding fabric.

I join my binding strips at 45 degree angles to reduce the bulk of the seam allowance, and I used to have a terrible time getting that 45 degree seam just right so my binding strips would be straight without a little offset where the seams joined one strip to the next.  I would routinely sew strips the wrong direction, or with the seam allowance on the wrong side, and have to waste time with my seam ripper before I got it right.  With my class sample quilt, I did a little prep work before sewing the seams to ensure that my striped pattern would be matched and that resulted in perfectly aligned, straight binding and no seam ripping, so I'm going to do all of my binding this way from now on regardless of whether there is a pattern to match.

I fold and press a 45 degree angle in the end of one binding strip and then lay that over the opposite end of another binding strip, matching the pattern from the RIGHT side:

Match the Stripes and Glue the Top Folded Strip to the Bottom Flat Strip
Then I swipe my fabric glue stick lightly along the seam allowance of my folded strip, right up next to the fold, and stick it in place to hold the matched pattern in place.

Seam Line Needs To Be Just to the RIGHT of the Fold
Next, open the folded strip so it's at a 90 degree angle to the flat strip.  In order for the strips to be lined up perfectly with matched stripes after sewing, the seamline needs to be just to the RIGHT of that fold line.  I won't be able to see the fold line at the sewing machine because of the bright LED lights, so I draw a line with a mechanical chalk pencil right next to the fold line:

Chalk Line Right Next To the Fold Line
I use 3 pins to ensure nothing slips out of place when I'm matching stripes.  With a solid color binding, I would probably use just two pins, or maybe not pin at all, depending on how reckless I'm feeling.

Sew Along the Chalk Line
...And then I just sew along the chalk line, with a stitch length of 2.0, the same as I use for piecing.

...Like So
When I do it this way, the pattern is perfectly matched at the diagonal seam line and the raw edges of the two strips meet up perfectly every time.  No more seam ripping!

Check the Pattern Match Before Trimming
I open up the seam to check that everything matched up correctly before trimming the excess seam allowance.  Success!  

Trim Seam Allowance to a Quarter Inch
...Like So
I want to press my binding seams open to minimize bulk, so I gently pull apart the glued seam allowances so I can press them open.  You want to use just enough glue to hold the pattern match in place for stitching, but not so much glue that you can't pull the seam allowances apart afterwards!

Seam Pressed Open
I use an old dish towel as a pressing cloth to save myself the fun of cleaning glue off my iron.  And then I just trim those little dog ears off with a straight edge ruler.

Trimming the Dog Ears
The next step is to fold and press the binding in half lengthwise WST (wrong sides together), being careful to keep the stripes straight, and then the binding is ready to be sewn to the front of the quilt.

I rediscovered a little binding tool while rooting around in the drawers of the cutting table.  It's amazing, all the cool gadgets I've got squirreled away in here!  I don't think I've ever used this tool before; someone must have recommended it to me and then I forgot about it.  There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube explaining how to use this tool, such as this one from Missouri Star Quilt Co.:

Anyway, to use this tool successfully, it's imperative that you start sewing the binding onto the quilt with a 10" loose end, and that you stop sewing when you are exactly 12" away from your starting point, leaving another 10" tail on that end.  No eyeballing; you have to mark that 12" before you start sewing.

Attaching Binding With Walking Foot
I generally use my walking foot to sew my binding, but I could probably get away with using my #97D quarter inch patchwork foot with Dual Feed engaged instead.  I'm sewing my binding on with the Aurifil 50/2 cotton thread that is my favorite for piecing, but I'm using a longer stitch length now of 2.5.  Now, when I wrap the folded edge of the binding around to the back of the quilt and pull it snug, it just covers the machine stitches, exactly how I wanted it.

Folded Edge Just Barely Covers Machine Stitches
One other point I'd like to remind myself of for next time -- be careful not to fold in too much binding fabric when mitering the corners!  I think I was deliberately generous with my folds, thinking that would give me more fabric to work with when forming the miter on the back side of the quilt, but what it really does is put too much fabric bulk in the corner itself.  That makes it MORE difficult to miter and finish the corner from the back side, and results in a slightly dog eared corner rather than a true right angle.  I think I'd like to practice that on a scrap sandwich prior to doing it on my next quilt.

See How That Corner Is Just Slightly Too Pointy?
Oh, and I also forget how long it takes me to hand stitch the folded fabric edge to the back side of a quilt.  This quilt finished at about 50" x 50", and it took me over SIX HOURS to hand stitch the binding while binging through eight episodes of Victoria on Amazon Prime.  It took me longer to hand stitch the binding than it took me to do the quilting!  I've never done a completely machine stitched binding on a quilt before, but I may need to learn how to do it that way in the future for these "quick and easy" quilt tops that just need to get done so I can move on to quilting the next one.  Good grief -- I could have paper pieced another pineapple log cabin block in six hours, or pieced the entire Tabby Mountain quilt top in six hours!

If anyone knows of a really good tutorial for accurately stitching quilt binding completely by machine, please let me know in the comments.  Thank you!

Today I'm linking up with:


Deb from Frugal Little Bungalow said...

A lot of people say they love the binding stage but since I hand applique, EPP etc. so much, I just find it tedious and boring and yes it feels like it takes forever!

Very nice tutorial! As to the dog in the family photo that's my sons dog and he's half Rottie and half Lab though he mostly resembles the Rott side of his family :)

He's two and still full of puppy-like energy.

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Rebecca,
Great tutorial and I had to giggle at some of your notes to yourself. Now that you've found your binding tool, MSQC just showed a quilt that uses that same tool. It's always nice to have a dual use for something so handy. I think it was featured this morning or possibly yesterday. ~smile~ Roseanne

Ramona said...

Binding quilts is one of my favorite things about quilting. It means the quilt is almost finished! I do machine stitch the binding on baby quilts because they tend to get more wear and tear. It’s not my favorite way to stitch it down, though. Great tutorial!

Susan in Truckee said...

Rebecca, your blog was SO timely for me. I am ready to bind a quilt I have been working on since last year for my granddaughter (lots of embroidered blocks=very time consuming=I get bored). So your reminder list was very helpful.

I have the #71 foot and will probably do a total machine binding, but I would love to figure out how to follow Shellie's steps and get the stitching line "in the ditch" from the other side. For nice wall hangings and such, I usually hand stitch the binding to finish. But this is a 5 year-old's camping quilt so it needs to hold up to lots of washings.

I always enjoy your comments on the Bernina Series 7 group. Cheers! Susan

Mari said...

Great idea about the glue stick! I never thought of that. I share your problems with hand binding every single thing and have been practicing machine binding. If you want to get some practice with a nice "margin of error" definitely try Susie's Magic Binding ( It made it easy for me to learn the process without having to be perfect. I use the same basic process for all machine binding now, without the flange part. It gets easier the more you do it! Good luck!

Susan said...

You're binding turned out great! And I totally get forgetting how to do things, especially if we don't do them frequently enough. As for binding by machine, I'm a big user of school glue (if glue is ok for Sharon Schamber, then it's ok for all of us!). My tutorial for using the glue can be found at, and I'm super happy with the results! Thanks for sharing today at Midweek Makers!

June D said...

Really appreciate these kinds of posts. Job aids to help us remember and improve. Thanks!