There are a lot of different ways to finish the edge of a quilt and I am presenting here the method I use when I teach my introduction to quilting course. This method isn’t going to win you any prizes, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a quilt you were going to enter into a judged competition. That said, it looks better and is more durable than the pillow case edge (you sew around the edge of the quilt with right sides together and then turn it right side out through a hole you left. You sew up the hole and then do the quilting). It is the standard double fold binding with a couple of little tricks to make it easier for the beginner.
I normally cut my binding 2 ¼” wide which works well for most thicknesses of batting. If you have very thin batting and you don’t like it being so wide on the back, you can reduce it to 2” or if you have very thick batting or like the binding to be a little bit wider then you can go up to 2 ½”. It’s not rocket science, no matter what you choose it will look fine.
To calculate how many strips you need to cut, measure around the outside of your quilt (the perimeter) then add about 4 inches (just to be sure that you aren’t too short). Measure how long each of your strips is. Let’s assume that the fabric is 43” wide after removing the selvage (originally 44”). If you are going to join the strips diagonally subtract 3”, if you are going to join the strips on the straight edge, subtract 1”. Using the diagonal joining method, your fabric will be 40 usable inches per strip. So, in this example if you are making a baby quilt that is 36” X 48” = 168” + 4” (for good measure) gives a total of 172” of binding. 172 divided by 40 is 4.3. So, you need to cut and join 5 strips.
Shown below is how to make a diagonal join.
If that math just seems like too much work, I sometimes just take the first strip that I cut and go around the outside of my quilt. I hold one end of the strip and lay it out along the edge of the quilt. When I get to the end of the strip, I mark that place with my finger and bring the front of the strip to that place and continue measuring. I just count the number of strips it would take to go around the entire quilt. Once the binding strips are pieced together, I go back and make sure that it still goes all around the quilt. It is quite distressing to get to the end and realize that you don’t have enough fabric to finish the binding.
Pre-wash and press the fabric. Fold it in half selvage (the tightly woven edge) to selvage (lengthwise). Cut 2 ¼” strips across the width of the fabric and remove the selvage. Join all the strips together into one very long ribbon of fabric. See images above.
Cut the end of the strip into a point. Cut a 45⁰ angle line coming down from the top left of the strip. Fold over ½ inch and press. Cut off the little tail sticking over the edge of the strip.
Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together (right sides showing) and press down the entire length of the strip. This will make your binding double thickness so it will wear better and last longer.
You will place this on the top of your quilt lining up the cut edge of the strip with the cut edge of the quilt. Make sure that you are at least a few inches from the corner.
Start sewing a couple of inches down from the start of the strip.
When you get close to one of the corners, make a little crease in the binding strip to show where the quilt ends. Then make a little mark ¼” from the crease (bottom edge of the quilt).
Sew to that mark, back-stitch, cut the thread and remove the piece from your sewing machine.
Turn your fabric 90⁰ so that the stitching is across the top of the piece.
This part is a little tricky so I am including lots of pictures. Once you have done it a few times it will become second nature, so don’t be alarmed if this seems strange right now.
Take the loose biding and fold it so that it is going straight up. The fold should make a 45⁰ angle that goes exactly to the corner, and the crease you made with your fingernail should be even with the top of quilt.
If you accidentally sewed too close to the edge, then you won’t be able to get that perfect 45⁰ to the corner of the quilt. Don’t worry, pull the binding as far as you can and clip the little threads one at a time until you can get to the correct angle. You back-stitched here so you don’t have to worry about the seam coming undone.
You know that crease you made that is sitting across the top of the quilt, fold the fabric straight down along that line.
The unstitched edge of the binding now lines up with the unstitched edge of the quilt again.
Pick that corner up and see the little dog’s ear?
Good this means you have done the hardest part.
Fold the ear down to the right and make a little crease.
It isn’t necessary, but I sometimes put a mark going down the crease. Please notice that the line should go all the way into the corner.
Make sure that your stitching starts before the line (or crease). You can start at the very edge of the quilt if you like, just sure you catch the line. Stitch across the line, back-stitch, then continue down the piece until you come to the next corner.
Use this technique for all four corners.
After the fourth corner, sew down the quilt until you are a few inches from where you started.
Back-stitch a few stitches, cut the thread and remove the piece from your sewing machine.
Place the tail under the start of the binding and mark ½” after the bottom of the cut edge.
Fold back the start of the binding and mark a line all the way across the bottom of the binding and cut.
Make sure that the edges line up and pin it in place.
Put the quilt back in the machine and sew from where you stopped across the joint until you get to where you initially started sewing.
Now that the binding is attached, we need to wrap it around to the back side of the quilt. To be sure that the binding is tight and even all the entire way, you will press it out.
This is simple and just requires going around the perimeter of the piece pressing out away from the center.
You will then fold the binding around to the back with your fingers.
Quite often people will pin the binding and hand sew the edge on the back, but here is a much easier and quicker method.
Instead of pin basting, I will glue baste it. Some people have said that they use Elmer’s glue with a precision tip, or just refill the Roxanne bottom with generic white glue. I haven’t tried yet, but I know the Roxanne work well. If enough people request it, then I will do a scientific study comparing the different brands.
Squeeze out a very thin line, or a series of dots along one side of the binding.
With your fingers fold the binding over to the back of the quilt.
Be sure that the edge of the binding completely covers the stitch line.
Press the binding down, this will dry the glue and secure the binding to the quilt.
Once you have finished one edge of the quilt, turn the piece and glue down the next side.
Be sure to put a drop of glue in the corner so that it will be neat and secure when you fold up that side
Press that side and continue in this manner all the way around the quilt.
When you are done, the back of the quilt should look like this.
The angle where you joined the binding will look like this. Nice and neat.
Turn your quilt over, right side up.
Be sure to overlap your stitching when you get back to the beginning.
This will catch the binding on the back side of the quilt,
The stitching will be almost invisible from the front.
There will be a small flap on the back between the folded edge of the binding and the stitch line.
Some more experienced quilters object to the loose bit of fabric between the fold and the stitching line. If you don’t like the look, use a whip stitch and hand sew the binding to the back.
If your quilt is a wall hanging, then no one will be looking at the back (unless you are entering it in a show). If this is a utilitarian piece, a pot holder, or a lap quilt for a friend or member of the family, no one is going to care.
For the first 5 years of my quilting career, this is how I finished my quilts and no one complained. I still use this method when I am in a hurry.
As you gain experience, you may want to explore other binding methods. If you get to the point where you are entering quilts into shows, they you are probably ready to move beyond beginner binding. There are specific things judges look for in binding and this won’t score very well.
But for now, I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and it gets you started quilting.
Please let me know what you think of this tutorial and any request you may have for additional articles.