Finishing Techniques: How to Bind a Quilt

There is a saying which states that a Quilt is not a Quilt until its Quilted, but for some people this is their least favourite bit of the whole process. Choosing some gorgeous fabrics and sewing them together on a machine or by hand is an enjoyable way to pass the time. When it comes to the quilting bit, things get a little more heavy going. You have to clear a big space to lay everything out, almost certainly get on your hands and knees to do the tacking, and then you have to do almost the same amount of sewing again but this time though three bulky layers of fabric. It is understandable why a lot of our customers at the shop think it would acceptable to just sew all the way around the edge with wrong sides together and turn it out the right way. It’s only when we explain that this will result in their carefully pieced patchwork becoming one side of a big duvet sized bag that they begin to accept than quilting is the only way forward.

However, quilting isn’t the only problem here. If, like most people, you do the right thing and quilt your quilt ‘properly’ then you are left with another dilemma, how to tidy up all those frayed edges of wadding, seams, and loose threads. Again, there is only one real way forward – Binding.

Binding divides opinions. Half the patchwork nation think its the ultimate achievement. They feel a sense of pride in reaching this stage in the proceedings and enjoy how it ties up all the loose ends. The other half, of which I am a member, find it a tedious obstacle that gets in the way of an otherwise finished project. Binding, in my opinion, is a bore.

It is, however, the one and only way to finish your quilt like a pro – and thats the only thing that keeps me going. So, next time you come to the end of a marathon quilting session, with bleeding fingers and a crooked neck, do not despair, what happens next may break you, but it will make your quilt look amazing, and thats really all that matters.

The first job of the binding task is to trim your quilt to size. To help your border stay nice and flat you should pin and tack all the way around the edge of the quilt either by hand or on a machine, using a nice long stitch. This should be just inside your seam allowance so the stitch line can’t be seen IMG_4854once the binding has been sewn on. Once you’ve done this get your sharpest pair of scissors and cut away any excess wadding and backing fabric from the edge of the quilt so that it looks finished. Truth be told, a lot of my quilts stay just like this for the rest of their lives, but that it very bad practice and you must persevere.

Next you need to make your binding. Don’t be tempted to buy pre-made binding here. Firstly, this is likely to be bias binding. This, as its name suggests is cut on the bias of the fabric meaning it stretches a little, making it curve beautifully round the collar on a dress for example. The vast majority of quilts have nice straight edges so there is no need for this added bonus. Secondly, the binding on a quilt gets quite a lot of wear and tear and the single layer of fabric provided by bias binding is not enough to prevent this from happening. Quilt binding tends to be make from folding fabric in half, thus giving a double layer of fabric to protect the edge of your quilt.

So to make your binding choose a fabric that matches your quilt beautifully, in colour & quality and cut strips across the width of the fabric, These strips can be any thing from 2 1/4 – 3 inches wide, your preference will be come clear with experience. Cut enough strips so that, when they are joined together, they will go all the way around the edge of your quilt, and then join them all together, trimming the selvedges as you go. Once you’ve got one long strip fold this in half along the width and press. Job Done.

Take your handmade binding and your trimmed quilt and head for the sewing machine. You can do this by hand if you want to, but really, the sooner it’s over the better, and there will be some hand sewing in a minute. You are going to sew the binding onto the front of the quilt. Line up the raw edges of your quilt with the raw edges on the binding and, leaving a 4 inch piece loose at the beginning sew the binding on using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. You can pin this in position first, but sometimes it is just as easy to go for it, lining the edges up as you go.

When you get to a corner you are faced with the opportunity to really excel in the world of professional finishing, and you should greet it with open arms. What you should do here is mitre the corner and you can do this in a few simple steps.

1. Sew all the way down the first side, stopping an accurate 1/4 inch before the end. Then take the quilt out of the machine, snip your threads and lay the quilt out on the table in front of you with the side you were sewing horizontally at the top and the next bit of the binding laid flat in the direction you were going

2. fold the binding up away from the quilt, leaving a 45 degree angle fold exactly on the corner of your quilt. Quilter and Designer Mandy Shaw uses the phrase ‘Go North’ here as an easy way to remember which direction to take your binding.

3. Bring the binding back down and realign the edges of the binding with the edge of the quilt that you are going to sew next, with a neat straight fold on the top edge of the corner. Put a pin in the corner to hold the folds in position and head back to your machine to continue sewing straight down the next side. Repeat this process for every corner.

When you get to the end, or back to the beginning rather, you need to join your ends up. Stop sewing 4 inches short of where the join will be, and using the 4 inch section you left loose at the start sew together the two ends using either a straight or diagonal seam. This should match the seams you used to join the strips together in the first place, so go with your own preference. Diagonal seams help to reduce bulk but straight seams use less fabric.

Now you’ve finished attaching your binding to the quilt its time for the final finishing touch. Fold the binding over the edge of the quilt enclosing all the raw edges and stitch the folded edge of the binding to the back of the quilt.

This is certainly possible to do on the machine, but we strongly recommend you do it by hand using an almost invisible slip stitch, all the way around the edge. Now, if you thought making and attaching the binding wasn’t as tedious as I made out earlier, you might be about to catch my drift, so make yourself a cup of tea, sit down in front of a great film (preferably one without subtitles) and pleasantly finish your quilt.