Binding a Quilt – a Definition and How To

by Lisa Call on September 18, 2010

in Quilting Process

How to Attach a Quilt Binding


Binding – a Definition

My quilts (and most traditional style quilts) have 3 layers:

  1. the top: the layer of fabric which has the design, which I create by sewing pieces of fabric together.
  2. the batting: the hidden middle bit that provides body and thickness to the quilt.
  3. the back: which is a layer of fabric on the back to complete the “sandwich”.

After I finish quilting (ie adding stitching to the top of the quilt that goes through all 3 layers to hold it together and to add texture), the edge of the quilt is a little rough, as you can see in the photo above.

The white part along the edge is the batting. It’s not very attractive hanging out over the raw edge of the top.

Binding a quilt is the process of finishing off the edges of the quilt so it is neat and tidy.

Traditionally a small strip of fabric is visible from the front of the quilt, which provides a very narrow framing of the artwork (note the upper and right edges):
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

I prefer to not have the binding show on the front of my quilt, so it looks like this instead (note the upper and right edges):
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Technically (as in using correct sewing terms), I believe what I am doing is more like putting a facing on the quilt edge, which well could be. I still call it binding as the process is basically the same thing to me.


Binding – a How To

What follows is a pictorial guide to how I bind my quilts.

This is Structures #42 right after I completed the quilting:
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

First step is to flatten out the quilt. I do this on the carpeted floor with a very hot steam iron. I let it sit for a while to cool and dry.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Next step is to cut the strips of fabric that will be used to along the edge to finish things off. I need 4 binding strips, one for each edge of the quilt.

I cut my bindings 2″ wide. If necessary I will sew multiple strips together to make them long enough for the entire edge of the quilt. If I do this I press the seams open.

After cutting the strips, they are pressed in half lengthwise, so they are double thickness.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

I then sew the fabric strips to 2 parallel edges of the quilt (in these photos I show putting on the 2 sides first and then the top and bottom. Now I do the top and bottom first and the sides last).

I sew these on with a scant (very very scant) 1/4″ seam allowance. I line the raw edges of the binding up with the raw edges of the quilt. Note that I have NOT trimmed the extra binding from the quilt before sewing.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

I then press, with a hot steam iron, the binding strip over the top of the raw edges to flatten it out. This is the same as just pressing a seam open – nothing fancy.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Then folding the binding strip out of the way, I cut the extra batting and backing fabric off. I use a rotary cutter, if taking a rotary cutter near your finished quilt is a bit frightening you can also use scissors to do this.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Now I sew the last 2 binding strips to the other 2 edges of the quilt. The previous binding strips are folded outwards (not doubled over the quilt top).
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Press the last 2 binding strips over the raw edges.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

I then cut off the excess batting on these last 2 edges.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

I cut at a diagonal on the corners to minimize the amount of excess fabric that will have to be stuffed into the corner on the back. Be careful not to nip into the finished edge of the adjacent binding strip when doing this.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

The sewing machine portion of binding is now over. This is what the quilt looks like at this point.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Time to turn the binding to the back of the quilt. I press the binding completely to the back of the quilt along 2 sides of the quilt (the first 2 sides that I sewed the binding onto). Note that a tiny bit of the front of the quilt can be seen from the back. A tiny tiny amount. The goal is that none of the binding be seen from the front.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

These 2 edges are then sewn down by hand (so it can’t be seen from the front). I use hair clip things to hold the binding in place while sewing. You can buy these for big $ in the quilt store or you can go to the hair product aisle at your favorite store and buy them cheap. Same thing.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

This is what the first edge looks like sewn down by hand.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Now time for the only tricky bit. Pressing down the last 2 edges. The edges are easy. The corner require a tiny bit of practice and patience. Fold the corner under so it can’t be seen from the front. I press the heck out of it with my iron to make it flat.

I iron/press ALOT and use ALOT of steam. And spend time here, making it neat. I think about my craftsmanship. An extra 5 minutes here getting it perfect, is time well spent.

After pressing, I sew the last edge down by hand. I double back on the corners to make sure they are secure.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

Ta-da – the binding is done. This is what a corner looks like from the front.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

And from the back.
How to Attach a Quilt Binding

This binding as a bit of heft to it, some body, that I really like. The corners are a bit bulky. I prefer this. I think it helps the quilts hang nicer. There are ways to face a quilt that are lighter weight and definitely beautiful, yet I prefer this more substantial finish.

The completed artwork:

Abstract Contemporary Textile Painting / Art Quilt Structures #42 ©2006 Lisa Call

Structures #42
©2006 Lisa Call
33″ x 81″
Textile Painting (Fabric hand dyed by the artist, cotton batting, cotton thread)


Emily Firlik September 18, 2010 at 8:50 am

Lisa, thanks for taking the time to demonstrate how you “bind” a quilt. It was very helpful and informative.

Lisa Call September 18, 2010 at 9:21 am

Glad to be of help Emily.

Sally Bramald September 18, 2010 at 9:07 am

That looks a very professional finish. I might try it that way next time I want to face a quilt. Not knowing how others did it, I came up with this way here . It worked but yours is probably more firm than mine. Yours for art work, mine for a quilt to be used.

Lisa Call September 18, 2010 at 9:24 am

Sally – I just made up my way of doing the facing also. I was tired of doing traditional bindings so just adapted it over time to this technique.

The link you gave didn’t work – this is the correct link for how you do facings:

I’ve seen others do it in a similar way. I think you all had more real sewing experience than I did :)

Nancy September 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

For those that are nervous of cutting off the excess fabric with a rotary cutter, I find using a grided ruler to be a big help. Using the lengthwise grid allows you to cut consistently, and by compressing the fabric with the ruler you can cut more evenly and accurately because it keeps the fabric from bunching up. It also helps to keep you from cutting into the body of the quilt.

If you find that the binding is too bulky when you turn the seam allowance, you can remove or trim the batting out from between the layers of the seam allowance. You can also grade the seam allowances by trimming the top S.A. to 1/8″, the next layer to 3/16″ and so on until you get to the longest SA. You may not need to do both on the same quilt, but it is good to have options.

You may also want to invest in a tailor’s clapper which is basically a shaped block of unfinished wood. After pressing and steaming the heck out of a corner, you immediately hold the wood against the fabric trapping the steam in the fabric. This is preferrable to using the iron excessively because it can leave a shine on the fabric. The tailor’s clapper is one of my favorite pressing tools because it makes seams look professionaly finished.

There are so many little tricks that can make a big difference in the finished product. Sorry for being so wordy- just had to share.

Lisa Call September 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Nancy – these are all excellent and fabulous tips. Thanks you much for sharing – very generous of you.

Barbara J Carter September 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm

What a terrific demonstration! Thank you for showing this process in such detail. I feel like I really understand it now. And I love that you use those spring-loaded hair clips instead of pins. I would never have thought of that, and yet I use them in my hair all the time!

Are you planning to show how you attach the hanging sleeve too? That’s something I’ve always been curious about. But maybe that’s old hat for quilters. Can you tell I’m not a quilter?

Kit Lang September 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Lisa, thanks so much for posting this. Just this week at our guild meeting I was talking about how I don’t want to bind textile art pieces in the traditional way so have been leaving them with raw edges. This is a much more beautiful way to finish them.

Thank you so much for sharing your method!

kathy September 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Lisa, thank you for so generously sharing your technique on a faced binding! As a long time fan of your quilting and finishing work I truly appreciate seeing the detail of your process.

maggie September 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Yes ! Thanks for sharing your binding technique,I’ve wondered how you tackle this and didn’t like to ask……
Also when I’ve finished a quilt I haven’t steamed it. I can see the difference it makes. So I will try this next time too.
I love Structures 42, the movement of the horizontal bars across the surface feels quite musical and I like the way you handle colour. great stuff!

Meagan September 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

What a wonderful tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing your tips!

Wendy September 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Lisa, I just wanted to say thank you for the tutorial; I was just this week in need of a straightforward way to bind a recycled denim patchwork piece, and especially like the way this leaves the front borderless. And that I didn’t have to cut bias strips. Or try to iron said bias strips. Thank you very much, it has worked perfectly.

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