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How to sew the perfect quilt binding by hand or by machine

by Paul Leger

Back in July, I wrote about the math for cutting the right amount of fabric to make the binding for any quilt, where I briefly demonstrated how to put a binding on a quilt. As I was writing the post, I was thinking about all the different ways to add a quilt binding:

  • by hand
  • by machine
  • with one fabric or two
  • going around a 90o corner
  • going around a 120o corner

So many options! As a result of my musings, this week will be all about bindings. Although there are plenty of methods to choose from out there, I’ll show you what works for me.

Before I start, I’d like to thank Nancy Terry from the wonderful Sew Inspired quilt shop in Arnprior, Ontario for letting me use a PFAFF quilt expression 720 machine for this week’s posts.

A PFAFF quilt expression 720 sewing machine with 4 of the 5 quilts I’ll be binding this week

The PFAFF quilt expression 720 with 4 of the 5 quilts I’ll be binding this week

Today’s post will be on sewing a binding onto the quilt and getting it ready for finishing either by hand or by machine. Let’s get started!

The width of the fabric strips to be used for the binding is the first thing to figure out. The standard width is 2½”. Depending on the techniques and fabrics used in my quilts, my binding strips will range in width from 2″ to 2½”.

Here’s how I typically decide:

  1. If I sew the binding on the quilt and then finish with hand sewing, I’d use 2½” binding strips.
  2. If I sew the binding on to the quilt and finish entirely by machine for a quilt made with 100% regular weight cotton, then, I’d typically use a 2″ or a 2⅛” strip.
  3. If I machine-sew the binding on a quilt backed with a thicker fabric such as flannel or fleece, my strips will be 2⅛” and 2¼” wide.
  4. If the quilt is a hexagon quilt with 120° corners, then I cut my strips at a 2¼” or 2½” width depending on the attachment method I use.
Hexagon quilt with 120° corners

Hexagon quilt with 120° corners

To calculate how many binding strips are needed, a little math is required.

Add the lengths of the quilt’s four sides, then divide by 40. Why 40? The average usable width of fabric (WOF) is typically anywhere from 40″ to 42″, so, play it safe and use 40 as an average WOF.

The finished size of the quilt I’ll bind today measures 50″ x 60″.

The binding calculation is as follows:

  1. 50″ + 60″ + 50″ + 60″ = 220″
  2. 220 ÷ 40 = 5.5 strips

TIP Round up and cut 6 strips.

Note: Should the sum of the lengths of all sides of your quilt equal a number where the answer is an exact amount of strips (e.g. 200 ÷ 40 = 5) then cut an additional half of a full strip depending on the size of the quilt.

Calculations to determine the number of strips needed for the binding

Add the lengths of the quilt’s sides together, then divide the total by 40 to determine how many strips are needed to bind your quilt

TIP Before cutting any of the strips, ensure the fabric is squared off first.

To square off the fabric, fold the binding in half, wrong sides together, so that the fabric’s selvages meet. After carefully folding the fabric, place it on your cutting mat. Place a ruler which is at least 24″ long, such as the 24″ x 6½” Sew Easy Quilting Ruler, onto the folded fabric as shown below, ensuring either the 1″ or the 23″ vertical line on the ruler is perfectly aligned with the folded edge of the fabric. Cut off the edge of the fabric.

A ruler is aligned along the folded side of fabric in preparation for trimming

Squaring off fabric before cutting binding strips

After all strips are cut, cut the selvage away from the ends of the strips.

Next, sew all strips together lengthwise end-to-end, right sides together. The strips can be sewn together with a simple lengthwise seam or a 45o diagonal seam. The 45o diagonal seam is preferred, given its appearance, and with the seams pressed open the bulk of the seam spreads out over 2½. If the lengthwise seam method is used, the bulk will be concentrated in an area ½” wide.

To make a 45o diagonal seam, draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of both ends of each strip. Only one end of the strip needs to have a diagonal line, but by having a line drawn at each end there is always a line no matter which end of the strip is picked up. It makes life easier. When it comes to joining both ends together it will be quicker since there will be a needed diagonal ready to be used (more on this later).

Note: I selected the fabric used in the photo below to better show how I place diagonal lines and will not be part of the quilt binding.

 A strip of binding fabric with 45o diagonal lines drawn at each end

Draw a 45o diagonal line at each end of your strips

Place the ends of two strips right sides together at a 90o angle as shown in the photo below and sew along the diagonal line. When sewn, cut away any excess fabric, leaving a ¼ seam allowance.

Two strips of fabric are sewn right sides together along the 45o diagonal line and trimmed ¼" from the seam

Sew along the diagonal line and trim ¼” from the seam

Repeat the step above until all strips are all sewn together. Press all seams open. Fold the binding strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together and press the full length as shown below.

The full length of the binding strip is folded in half lengthwise, wrong sides together and pressed

Fold the full length of the binding strip in half lengthwise with wrong sides together and press

Now, sew the binding strip onto the quilt by following the steps below.

TIP Read the next four steps before you start.

1. Line the raw edge of your binding up with a raw edge of the quilt. Start sewing a ¼ straight stitch seam approximately 5 from the end of your strip as shown in the photo below.

A ¼" seam is started 5" away from the end of the strip

Start sewing 5″ away from the end of the strip so it will be easier to join both ends of the strip

2. Stop sewing ¼” from the quilt edge as shown below.

The seam ends ¼" from the quilt’s edge

The seam is sewn continuously until you arrive at ¼” away from the quilt’s edge

3. Fold the binding away from the quilt.

The sewn strip is folded away from the quilt

Fold the binding strip away from quilt

4. Fold the binding down along the next side of the quilt and sew along the edge in a ¼ seam.

Repeat these steps until all four corners of the quilt are bound.

The strip is folded down and sewn along the quilt’s next edge

The strip is folded down and sewn along the quilt’s edge

Stop sewing about 12 away from where the first seam was started.

The last seam is sewn to a distance of 12" from the start of the first seam

Stop sewing binding approximately 12″ from the start of the first seam

Start by pinning down the 5 section of the strip that was not sewn down in step 1 above. Find the drawn diagonal line by opening the binding strip. Place a pin where the diagonal line meets the edge of the quilt fabric as shown below.

A pin is placed where the diagonal line meets the quilt’s edge

Place pin where the diagonal line meets the quilt’s edge

Take the other end of the strip and pin it to the quilt and above the end of the strip with the 45o diagonal line as shown below.

Trim the top to ¼” to the left of the pin.

 The 2 strips ends are overlapped with the top strip trimmed ¼" to the left of the pin

Cut the fabric strip ¼” to the left of the pin which indicates where the diagonal line meets the quilt’s edge

Sew both binding ends together with a 45o diagonal seam as in the following photo.

 A joining seam is sewn along the diagonal line

Attach both ends of the strips by sewing them, right sides together along the diagonal line

After sewing the joining seam, trim the seam allowance to ¼” and finger press the seam open. Make sure to align the edge of the binding with the edge of the quilt, then sew it in place.

With the strip ends joined, the last section of the binding is attached to the quilt

Sew the last section of binding to the quilt

The various processes for adding a binding to any quilt are similar to one another, especially if the quilt has 90o corners. Follow the above steps and adding a binding will not be difficult.

This is the end of the first part of five on adding a binding to a quilt top.

Tomorrow, I’ll demonstrate how to attach the outer edge of the binding to the quilt by hand or by machine.

This is part 1 of 5 in this series

Go to part 2: Perfect quilt binding by hand, perfect quilt binding by machine


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