Learn to Quilt Series: Binding and finishing your quilt

It’s hard to believe, but this is the last week of the how-to posts for the learn to quilt series! It’s been a great motivator, and a really fun experience as I’ve had friends reach out and share their first quilts! I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, and I especially hope you’ve been kind and easy on yourself if you’re brand new to quilting. Remember – only you know where the mistakes are, and they all go away with use. 😉

This was a lucky week – for you, and for me. I had four quilts that needed binding prepared, so I was able to take lots and lots of pictures! We’ll go over trimming your quilt, binding it, and then the finishing touches and quilt care. The post is quite long, but it’s mostly photos!

I’ll go over two different binding methods – machine binding and hand binding – and you can decide what is best for you. You’ll develop your own preferences over time and may modify these instructions, but we’re going to keep it simple for now.

As far as fabric selection, I love all sorts of fabrics for binding – nothing is off limits for me. I’ve used stripes, solids, dots, florals, and designs big and small for binding. I’ve never found one I didn’t like!


Cutting and preparing binding

First, no matter which binding method you use, you’ll cut binding strips from yardage – it’s very similar to how we cut border fabric a few weeks ago. The pattern calls for 7 strips cut at your desired width – I use 2″ strips, but when I first learned to bind I used 2.25″ strips. I use thin batting and my presser foot sews a very scant 1/4″ seam, so 2″ is perfect for me. If you’re not sure which size to use, you can cut a small piece 4-6″ long and test it by going through all the steps below using a large stitch length that’s easy to rip out.

Cut your strips, trim the selvage off the ends, and stack them up while still folded in half. Just like with borders, we are going to make a long, long strip of fabric. (Yay! Ack…)

Pick up the top layer and peel it back so it is out of the way.

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Next, pick up the next two layers (they should already be right-sides-together) and sew the ends together with a 1/4″ seam.

Repeat this process until you have all the strips sewn together. (Just like in the borders, you’ll have one strip left at the end without a mate.)

Here’s where binding differs from borders – you’ll press the seams OPEN, and then press the entire strip in half length-wise: WRONG-sides-together. I prefer to start pressing in half and then press a seam when I get to one. Use your fingers and the tip of the iron to press the seam open, as opposed to the side as we have been doing.

*Note – your seams will NOT be on the diagonal – I sew my seams slightly different for machine stitching now but the way I described above is easier for beginners. Your seams will be perpendicular to the strip.

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Continue folding and pressing your binding strip until the entire strip is pressed – set the whole mess aside while you trim your quilt.

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Trimming your quilt

Yes – this part is a pain. Yes – you should do it even if your long-arm quilter already trimmed it for you. Yes – you’ll be sorry you didn’t when you realize after putting the binding on that you have ravels and batting showing and have to rip the binding off to fix it.

Just trust me on this one.

Commandeer a large space of hard floor or a large table, and grab your rotary cutter and cutting mat. Maybe knee pads. (I hate this part.) Lay the quilt out as flat as you can and using the borders as a guide, trim your edges straight and corners square with a little scoot-and-trim, scoot-and-trim all the way around the quilt.

I prefer to start with two corners, then trim the edge between. You can trim a little off, or a lot – this is where you get to decide how much border you want on the finished quilt. I typically take ~ 0.25″ off a quilt with borders so I know it’s good and straight.

(The quilt pictured doesn’t have borders, so I trim much closer to the real edge of the fabric so I don’t lose any of the design.)

Once that little project is finished, take your quilt and the wad of binding over to your sewing machine. You could roll the binding up and place it around something cute to keep it organized as you sew it on….or you can do what I do and promptly toss it on the floor with one end in your lap.


Attaching the binding to the quilt

(Don’t worry, we’re still in the universal how-to here – hand stitching vs. machine stitching comes next!)

Starting in any random part of the quilt, lay your binding down so the raw edge of the binding and raw edge of the quilt are together.

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Leaving a 6″ tail, begin stitching the binding on with a 1/4″ seam – remember to backstitch at the beginning to secure it. If you quilted yourself, I find it helpful to leave the larger quilting needle on for this part. If you didn’t, your regular needle will be fine as well. Binding tends to shift, so hold it down tight with your fingers and go slowly!

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If you notice the layers shifting badly, you can go ahead and allow a tiny pleat in the binding to get it back on track. Typically, a little pleat will only happen in top-most layer of the binding that is folded over in the end, so it’s not a big deal. Holding the binding down firmly with your fingers as it approaches and slides under the needle helps, and you can even pin the binding if you are having a lot of trouble.

When you approach a corner, check to see if your presser foot has a small 1/4″ tick mark in front of the needle (most do, but not all). If it doesn’t, use a ruler and pencil to measure and mark 1/4″ from the edge you’re approaching. If it does, stop stitching exactly when your corner reaches the 1/4″ mark with the needle in the down position. (Either by pushing a button or turning your hand crank.)

On my foot, the first red tick mark is exactly 1/4″ in front of the needle. You can barely see the white fabric under the pink binding, lined up with this tick mark. If I didn’t have the tick mark, I would have stopped when my needle reached my pencil line 1/4″ from the corner and have the same picture.

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Leaving the needle in the down position, pivot your quilt 90 degrees. Your foot edge should now be lined up with the new quilt edge (pictured here in white).

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Backstitch right off the edge of the quilt and pull it away from the needle a bit. (Don’t break the thread – but if you do, just go back and backstitch where you stopped at the corner to secure those stitches and move on.)

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Fold the binding edge up, making a 45 degree angle that leads all the way to the corner.

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Keeping the 45 degree fold in place, bring the strip back down on itself so the second fold is parallel with the quilt edge.

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To double check the folds – if I lift my finger holding the binding down, you will see the 45 degree fold is still in place:

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Holding the folds down carefully, start stitching again with a 1/4″ seam. If you cut threads, be sure to backstitch here to secure it.

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Once you stitch down the strip a bit, you can double check your corner by folding it to the back – you should have a nice miter on the front side of the quilt:

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A quick note on corners – they are hard! Don’t sweat it if your miters aren’t perfect – it takes some practice to get nice, neat corners. Once your quilt is done and couch-ready, not a single person is going to care two wits about what your corners look like!

Keep going all the way around the merry-go-round until you get 8″ or so from where you started and backstitch, leaving a tail and a gap in the binding.

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Take your quilt to your cutting mat and overlap the tails. Measure and trim the tails so they overlap by 1/2″, roughly in the middle of the un-sewn gap.

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Sew the two tails right-sides-together with a 1/4″ seam – this is somewhat tricky, but if you pinch your quilt in half you can get the tails to meet more easily.

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Finally, finger press the seam open. I don’t bother with using the iron in this step and have never had a problem.

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Refold the binding, lay it flat to the quilt, and finish stitching it down. (Backstitching to secure your start and stops!)

Now you get to decide – are you going to fold the binding over and machine stitch it down, or hand stitch? There are pros and cons to both – I mostly machine stitch now because the time and convenience are just too good. However, I have hand stitched many quilts and love it.


Machine stitching

Pros: 

  • Fast and easy – I can usually get a quilt machine stitched down once the binding is on in 30 minutes or less. It takes me daaaaaays to hand stitch a binding, and I just ain’t got time fo’ dat.
  • Ultra-secure – hand stitches are secure, don’t get me wrong. But some quilters prefer to machine bind just to make ultra-ultra sure the baby quilt that gets washed every other day will hold up.
  • I personally like the “professional” finished look of machine stitches. Granted, that is very subjective, but I like it.

Cons: 

  • The biggest con is your stitches will show on the front of your quilt. For many quilters, this is a deal-breaker and they choose to hand-stitch. I always choose a thread that matches the front fabric, and might choose to hand stitch a quilt if I think the stitches showing will bother me.

For a quilt with a white border, I machine stitch with white thread and the stitch line is barely noticeable to me after washing. I have found that machine stitching with 2″ binding strips provides me the best ratio of ease of stitching vs. visible stitch line. If you choose to machine stitch, you may develop different preferences over time.

I always machine stitch from the back – there is no right or wrong way, I’m just very picky about how the stitch line looks on the back, so that’s how I stitch so I can see it.

First, fold the binding over so the fold is in back – hiding the raw edges – and secure it. I love Clover clips (probably my favorite sewing accessory EVER – available on Amazon or at JoAnns, and I think even at Hobby Lobby) but some folks use old school hair clips, pins, glue (with a quick iron to set it), or hem tape. There’s a million ways – clips are the easiest in my opinion.

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At the corners, fold the binding into a miter and either clip or pin the fold so it stays in place. Again – don’t worry if you didn’t get a perfect miter! It’s taken a lot of practice to get consistent miters in my corners.

Sometimes I’ll clip the entire quilt if it’s small, other times I’ll just clip one side at a time. I use my walking foot to sew to prevent anything from shifting on me. Just sew down the edge with whatever seam allowance you’d like (I hug the edge of the binding).

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When I get to a corner, I’ll unclip and hold the miter with my fingernail…or preferably, leave a pin in place and stitch right over it – which is exactly what I did after taking this picture and reprimanding myself for knowing better when the fabric shifted.

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I like to give it a little backstitch then pivot in the needle-down position and do a little back-and-forth again to secure everything in place. Keep going all the way around until you’re finished!

Here’s a close-up picture of my stitch line from the front of my unwashed quilt, and an example of the stitch line in a washed and freshly crinkled quilt. It’s barely noticeable to me, and doesn’t bother me one wit. 🙂


Hand binding

Pros: 

  • My favorite thing about hand binding is the invisible finish from the front of the quilt.
  • I find something very therapeutic about hand stitching. Some people really love it for that reason.
  • You get to spend some time snuggled under your quilt while you put the final touches on it.

Cons: 

  • Time – if you’re fast, maybe it only takes you an hour to two. If you’re like me and get distracted every ten minutes, it can take days.
  • Some people don’t like the “puckered” look hand stitches can give.
  • Plain and simple, some people just don’t like to stitch by hand. That’s ok!

Don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling like you SHOULD hand stitch your binding. You do whatever you want – it’s your quilt. I do both depending on the quilt and my mood, and have decided finished is my favorite. 🙂 

Get snuggled on the couch with your quilt, turn on a favorite movie, and have the following supplies within arms reach:

  • Needle – you can use any sharp needle, but if you’re looking for a recommendation I love these small, sharp needles by John James: Gold’n Glide quilting needles, size 9. They are quite small and that takes a bit of getting used to, but they are perfect for binding and have a nice big eye on them for easy threading.
  • Thread – many people like to match their thread to the binding fabric. I use either gray, black, or white since I don’t like to stock lots of thread colors. Any thread will work, but if you find your thread shredding on you try switching to a wax coated thread – I now use this Gutermann quilting thread exclusively for hand stitching and love it. Just keep in mind you CANNOT use waxed thread in your sewing machine!
  • Scissors
  • Thimble (a matter of preference on how many and which fingers to put them on, but my fingers get too sore without them!)
  • Clips – 4-6 is enough

To knot the thread (a quilter’s knot), wrap the end of the thread around the needle four times, then use your fingernails to gently slide the wrapped thread off the end of the needle (towards the eye). Continue sliding it all the way to the end of the thread, pulling it tight 0.5″ or so from the end. You’re looking for a nice, neat little knot. This can take a little practice!

Start by folding the binding over, covering the raw edge, and place 5-6 clips spaced about 3″ apart. (I like to hold my quilt with the binding facing me, and stitch from right to left. If this feels awkward, play around with holding it different ways.)

We’ll be stitching what’s called a “blind stitch” – the thread runs in between the backing and front fabric, poking up in little “nabs” to grab the binding fabric. This stitch, with tiny little nabs, can be virtually invisible.

Insert your needle a inch-ish from your starting point, coming up in a tiny little “nab” in the binding fabric. Because careful not to stitch through all the layers – the needle should run in between the front and back fabrics. Once in a awhile I’ll get a stitch that shows on the front and it’s not a big deal.

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Pull it through until your knot is resting on top of the backing fabric – now give the thread a good tug, and your knot should “pop” under the fabric. (This is called “burying” the knot.) Invisible!

If you’re having trouble getting your knot to bury, pull the thread back out (or snip it and re-knot) and simply take a stitch under the binding instead. Once you fold the binding over, you won’t see the knot.

Now insert your needle into the backing fabric right where you came up, and come up again 1/4″ or so from your last little nab.

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Insert your needle into the backing fabric right where you came up again. Keep repeating this stitch. If you look carefully, you can see a row of tiny white stitches:

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Once you reach the end of your thread, I like to take a double stitch over my last nab to secure it, and then tie a little knot right on top of the fabric. Insert your needle as if you’re taking another stitch, but come out 1″ or so away from the backing fabric and bury the knot. Trim the excess thread.

I often have trouble burying my knot here – if your thread snaps, it’s not a big deal. The knot is small enough you won’t notice it. You can also take a double stitch and instead of tying a knot next to the fabric, take a long stitch that comes out where you’ll fold the binding over and tie a knot there. Once you fold over the binding, it will hide the knot.

Start your next piece of thread a few stitches back so you have some overlap.

Corners:

There are multiple ways to hand stitch a mitered corner. I’ll show you the way I do it, though it’s not the most invisible method. If you search the internet, you will come across other tutorials with different methods – choose what you like!

Take a double stitch right where the fabrics meet in the corner, then take your next stitch up through the middle of the corner. Take three whip stitches in a row to secure the two sides together, then on the fourth stitch come back out in the corner where you started. This method is simple, quick, and secure. If the stitches showing bother you, try other ways! No one way to do anything in quilting, that’s for sure!

Happy stitching!


Quilt labels

Not everyone labels their quilts, but if you’d like to, I highly recommend Sweetwater’s custom iron-on labels. You can even upload our own logo! I’ve used them on many quilts, and they hold up great. I like to hand stitch around the edges to secure them and give them a nice little handmade touch.

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If you’re ordering bulk labels, Custom Labels 4 U makes wonderful woven labels. They are pricey, but look professional and won’t fade with time. I love them!

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Quilt care and laundry

Machine wash warm or cold – the first time you wash your quilt, I highly recommend using a Shout Color Catcher. Tumble dry on low.

Quilts will shrink a bit and crinkle up after washing – it’s totally normal so don’t be worried when it comes out more textured than when you put it in!

Quilts are quite durable! Just like a cotton t-shirt, they will get softer and softer with use.


Congratulations on your finished quilt!!

This tutorial series has been so much fun – I have really enjoyed teaching this quilt and sharing my passion for this hobby. After two baby quilts, a disappearing nine patch was my first large quilt and first one I made for myself. I hope others can find not only a love for quilting, but also their confidence through this quilt-along.

If you’re hooked and looking for a new project, I’ll be releasing another beginner friendly pattern within the next month or so – be sure to subscribe to the blog below or check back at the beginning of June for a new charm pack pattern! Pinterest and Instagram are also other wonderful places for inspiration – I’m a part of a large community of quilters on Instagram and it’s a constant source of joy and creativity.

I’ll end this series with my personal creative mantra, of sorts:

Create the things you wish existed. 

Much love, Rebecca

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Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care

Thank you to all those who have followed along through this series! If you still want to get updates on new patterns or tutorials, sign up to follow the blog below. You’ll get an email when a new post drops!

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2 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Binding and finishing your quilt

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Whole cloth baby quilt with minky backing and easy binding – RebaLeigh Handmade

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