Tutorials & Instruction

A Quilt Binding Primer (Part 4): How to Attach Binding to a Quilt

Hello, and welcome back to the Quilt Binding Primer Series!  In today’s post we finally tackle how to attach binding to a quilt. Wow! It’s been a long road. When I started this series, I thought it would take 2-3 posts. Now it’s looking more like 5! But we will get there, I promise!

If you’re just now finding this blog and want to “catch up” on previous lessons, here are some things we’ve covered already:

Part 1 of the Primer  – an overview of quilt binding – what is quilt binding, what does it do and some design considerations.

Part 2 of the Primer –  how to calculate the amount of binding needed and fabric requirements, how to cut binding strips, and how to sew the strips together to create “French fold” binding

Part 3 of the Primer – how to trim a quilt before you attach the binding

As I mentioned in the last post, the quilt in the photos is my version of “Starfall”  a pattern by Fresh Lemons quilt, and you can find it via this link. I think it’s one of the most fun quilt patterns I’ve made all year. The lovely custom quilting was stitched by the very talented Mary Covey.

The Traditional method to attach the binding

The technique I demonstrate in this post is the traditional method to attach binding. There are other meths which I will tackle in the last post of the series, but this method is considered the best way for most quilts. Traditional binding is usually sewn to the front of the quilt by machine. It is then pressed out, folded over the back, and hand stitched to the back.

Prep your machine

  • Put in a new needle – it’s going to go through a lot of layers and needs to be super sharp.
  • Thread your machine with thread to contrast with your binding (I will tell you why later).
  • Attach a 1/4″ presser foot if you have one. (If you don’t own one, it’s a great investment that will greatly improve your quilting.)
  • If you don’t have a big sewing table, it’s helpful to set up some tables around your sewing space to hold the weight of the quilt. I usually lower my ironing board and set it beside my table so my quilt won’t drop off and create drag as I sew.

Find your starting spot

Before you actually get started on the machine, it’s a good idea to evaluate where you should actually start the stitching. Spread your trimmed quilt out on the floor. (The floor usually works best, but a table will do if it’s a smaller quilt.) Now, take your prepared binding, and begin laying it along the sides of the quilt.

When I do this, I usually start with the end of the strip about 1/3rd of the way up on the lower right side of my quilt.  As you lay the binding along the edges, notice where the seams in your binding fall.  You want to make sure that none of the seams in your prepared binding are going to land on a corner.  It’s okay for the seams to land a few inches out from the corner. We just want to make sure none of those seams will hit the corner, because when we miter the corner we do not need any excess bulk in there.

So the purpose is to figure out where you should start. And once I’ve done that I insert two pins.

To pin or not to pin?

I find that pinning the entire binding to the quilt is a huge annoyance.  As I’m sewing, the pins just seem to attack me, so I opt to only use two pins.  If you’re a pinner, by all means go ahead and pin the binding all the way around the quilt if you like. I just find it easier to align the binding to the edge as I’m sewing.

Here is my two pin method:  The first pin is inserted where my binding strip will start.  The second pin is about 12″ down.

It’s a little hard to see the first pin (I should have inserted it the other way) but in the photo above you can see where I have pinned the start of my binding. Then you can see where I’ve dropped down about 12″ (it doesn’t have to be exact) and inserted my second pin.

Attach binding with your machine

Now you’re ready to take it to the machine. Leave the first pin in the quilt.  This will serve as your signal for where to stop after you’ve sewn the binding all the way around the quilt. Begin sewing your binding at the SECOND PIN.  Set your stitch length to 2 mm, and make sure your machine is set to the “needle down” position if your machine has that feature. Make a securing stitch, then sew along the edge with a 1/4″ seam.

Begin at second pin, and sew using a 1/4" seam.
Begin at second pin, and sew using a 1/4″ seam.

(Note: You might recall in the last post I mentioned that when I am able, I trim 1/8″ to the right of the top.  If you were able to do that, it’s important that you not line up your binding with the batting/backing edge of the quilt as I have in the above photo.  In this case, you would need to line your presser foot edge up with the pieced top edge, and you would have that 1/8″ extended out to the right of your presser foot. For simplicity sake, I am not demonstrating that technique throughout this lesson, but below is a photo of how that would look.

Binding and presser foot alignment when quilt is trimmed 1/8" outside the quilt top.
Binding and presser foot alignment when quilt is trimmed 1/8″ outside the quilt top.

Continue sewing until you get 1/4″ away from the edge of the corner.  My presser foot, has a red line that is 1/4″ in front of the needle which tells me where to stop.  If you have that feature, use it to your advantage. So, when you’re a 1/4″ away from the edge, stop, turn the quilt slightly 45 degrees, then sew off into the corner of the quilt.

Photo showing how to sew off the corner of one binding edge

Check your stitching line

At the beginning of the post I suggested you use a contrasting thread.  When you get to this point, where you have come to a corner, take a look at your stitching line where you have attached the binding to the front of the quilt. It is really important that the line be consistently straight all the way down. If you have a little crookedness to your line, it’s an easy fix. Just put it back on the machine (no need to unsew) and make the correction.

photo of green quilt with blue binding attached
A nice straight stitching line on this binding

Photo of crooked seam on quilt
Oops, this stitching line got a bit out of line!
Photo of quilt showing a corrected stitching line
Corrected stitching line

Mitering your corners

Now, we make the miter for the corner.  To do this, first fold the binding up using a 45 degree angle fold, then fold it back down, making sure the top fold is even with the edge of the quilt.  If it hangs over the edge or is too much inside the edge, it will mess up the miter.

Fold up using a 45 degree angle.
Fold up using a 45 degree angle.
Next fold back down over the 45 degree fold, making sure edge of fold aligns with edge of quilt.
Next fold back down over the 45 degree fold, making sure edge of fold aligns with edge of quilt.

Folding in this way will create a beautiful mitered corner.  Now, take the quilt back to the machine, and stitch beginning at the top edge of the fold and continue down until you get to the next corner.  Then, repeat the above steps for all corners and sides of the quilt. When you get to the first pin, stop, pivot and backstitch off the quilt.

Stop when you get to the first pin.
Stop when you get to the first pin.

How to hide your starting point when you attach binding

Yay!  You made it all the way around the quilt. Now we just need to sew these two “tails” together, and we are going to do it so no one can tell where you stopped or started.

So, take your quilt off the machine if you haven’t already.  Position it so that the bulk of the quilt is away from you, and the two “tails” should be closest to you.  Like this:

Position the quilt with the buik away from you and the two loose "tails" closest to you when you attach binding
Position the quilt with the buik away from you and the two loose “tails” closest to you.

Clip the tails so they fit perfectly together

Keep the beginning tail flat, and lay the “ending” tail over it. (If you’ve positioned your quilt correctly, the ending tail will fold from the right to the left.) In the photo below, I’ve placed some markers to help you see the points I want to point out.  The two chopsticks are the start and end points of your stitching.  Everything in between has not been stitched yet.  Take your scissors and clip the ending tail (the one on top) about 1/3rd of the way to the right of where you started stitching.  Save the little piece you have cut off.  It’s hard to see in the photo because my binding tails blend together pretty good, but I have clipped it right where my red Kai scissors sheaf is positioned.

Clip the ending tail.

Use a fabric marker to mark a line on your beginning (bottom) tail that is just to the left of the clipped ending (top) tail. Next, take your piece of clipped tail and open it up.  So, now we are going to use the width of your binding to measure exactly one binding width to the right of the marked line.  Make another mark here. (You could also use a ruler if you prefer, but I find that using this piece works just as well)

Marked binding. Left marker is where ending tail was clipped. Right mark is one binding width to the right of first marked line.
Marked binding. Left marker is where ending tail was clipped. Right mark is one binding width to the right of first marked line. The opened scrap of binding is shown on top of the binding.

Cut the bottom tail on the second marked line. In the picture above, my marking pencil is marking the spot. Now, remove your pin from the beginning tail. Gather up a few inches of the quilt between the two tails and pin it together. This makes it easier to work with the two tails, and prevents the binding from stretching. Pull the beginning tail down and open it up, so that the right side of the fabric is facing up. Take the ending tail (the one on the right), turn it down and open it up so that the right side of fabric is facing down.  Align the ends of the two tails so that they are right sides together and perpendicular to each other. Draw a line on the diagonal where the two tails meet.  Pin together on each side of the marked line.

Tails brought together and marked for sewing. Notice the bulk of the quilt that is pinned together between the two tails.

Go back to your sewing machine and sew the two tails together on the marked line. Remove pins and make sure the tails “fit” along the side of your quilt.  It’s also a good idea to make sure you didn’t twist the binding the wrong way.  (I’ve done this a few times!)  If all looks good, then trim the seam and press open.

Make sure the joined binding tails "fit" correctly on your quilt when you attach binding
Make sure the joined binding tails “fit” correctly on your quilt.
Trim the seam and press open
Trim the seam and press open

Now you can return to the machine and stitch the joined binding tails in place, and no one will ever be able to figure out where you started or where you stopped.

One side down, one more to go!

Once you attach binding a few times, you will realize that you can attach binding to the front of your quilt pretty quickly.  You’ll get a little better and a little faster every time.  And the front side is where I tend to scrape off as much time as I can. The backside is a different story.

I love the hand sewing part of quilt binding, and usually save this for evenings when I’m a bit tired.  I can turn on Netflix, hit play and mindlessly sew while I listen and watch.

To prep the quilt for hand sewing the back,simply press the binding out from the front side of the quilt.  At this point, a lot of people like to turn the binding over the sides and hold it down with little clips.  In fact most of my quilting buddies do this, but I feel the same way about binding clips as I do about pins. They get in my way. I prefer to simply fold over a 2 inch section at a time, hold it down with one clip, and stitch it down.

In my next post, I’ll show you how I attach binding by hand to the back of the quilt, and then I’ll show you a few other machine binding techniques.

Until next time,

Happy Quilting!