Tutorial: Straight-Grain Binding

When I started quilting in 2003, I had no idea what I was doing! All I knew was that a quilt was a couple of layers of fabric with some soft stuffing between. Over the next couple of years I made a few more quilts, and I figured out some things like how to use a rotary cutter, how to make a 1/4″ seam, and some design principles.

But for a long time I found the last step mysterious: how to finish a quilt by making and applying binding. A beautiful quilt deserves a well-made binding.

There are many ways to edge your quilt, but I will focus on the double-fold, straight-grain binding that is used on most quilts with straight edges.

Cutting the Binding

How much binding do you need? To get all the way around, take (width + length) x 2. For example, if your quilt is 45″ x 60″, you need (45 + 60) x 2 = 210″. Now add 12″ for the corners and the joint. That makes 210 + 12 = 222″.

How much yardage do you need for that? It depends on how WIDE you want your binding. Most references recommend cutting 2.5″ strips selvage to selvage (WOF).

Assume you have 40″ selvage to selvage. If you need 222″, you need 6 cut strips to make the binding. (222/40 = 5.6. Round up to 6.) This is 6 x 40″ = 240″. If you only cut 5 strips, you would have 200″, not enough. Better to have too much than not enough.

(If you’re not cutting selvage to selvage, use the length of strips you’ll actually have. If your strips will be 53″, use 222/53 = 4.19, and round up to 5 strips. I often cut my binding along the selvage instead of edge to edge. It works fine.)

If you cut strips 2.5″ wide, you need 6 strips x 2.5″, or 15″ of fabric. If you’re buying new fabric, buy a half yard (18″). Again, better to have a little too much.

My preference is a narrow, tight binding, so I cut mine at 2.25″. You get to decide your own binding width, which may depend on how you finish it.

As always, press the fabric before cutting. When cutting edge to edge, unless the selvage puckers and distorts the fabric, there is NO need to cut it off now. You’ll cut it off after you’ve sewn strips together.

Square up the fabric and fold edge to edge. Depending on the ruler you use, you may need to fold a second time. Cut into strips.

When I cut strips for this and many other things, I like to use my June Tailor Shape Cut Ruler. I am not big on gadgets, but this is one I’ve found tremendously useful in getting accurate cuts. Here is a video demonstrating the product. (I have no affiliation with the company!)

Making the Binding

Once you have your strips cut, press them in half lengthwise, wrong sides together.

The first 4:15 of this video gives an excellent demo on how to prep the strips and make the binding. Just note, she uses the term “bias binding” a couple of times when what she really means is “bias seam.” Also note, once the full binding strip is made, you should press the short seams open, and then re-press at the joints in half, wrong sides together. (Likely there is an ad before the video.)

Applying the Binding

For a traditional hand-stitched finish, apply the binding to the top of the quilt. For a machined finish, you might choose the top or the bottom, depending on the machine method you use.

Cut a 45 degree angle on one end, as shown here.

Lay the prepared binding all around the perimeter of the quilt before stitching it on. Check that the seams do not fall on the corners. Once you’ve decided a good starting point, pin it with a pin or two just to keep the whole thing from shifting.

Starting at the end you cut at 45 degrees, leave a tail of about 10″ unstitched. Use a 1/4″ seam allowance. Sew with raw edges of binding to raw edges of quilt. Some people find a walking foot helpful with this. My machine’s feed dogs work fine and I don’t use the walking foot.

Continue all the way around, mitering the corners as you go, and stopping with a tail of about 10″ or more.

The link for Jaybird Quilts also shows how to make the final joint. This method works great.

Here are a couple of pictures to show it in more detail. First, I open up the fold on both sides to flatten it completely. That’s why about 10″ of tail on each side works well. With less than that, it’s hard to open it flat. With pinning, the two ends won’t shift and you can mark your line. Use a pencil with a faint line on light-colored fabric. With darker fabrics you can use a faint line of pigma or other permanent pen. Test it first, if you’re concerned the color will show through.

Attach the binding, leaving about 10″ unstitched from each end.

After pinning the binding smoothly and open along the quilt edge, draw a line on the finishing end, using the beginning angle as your template.

Once you have the first line drawn, measure a half inch from it and draw another line. This is your cut line.

Now unpin both ends so you can sew the angled ends together with a 1/4″ seam.

My sister sent me this link from McCalls Quilting, showing a video of the same basic method.

Finishing the Binding

The nicest finish, if you are able, is to turn the binding to the back of the quilt and stitch by hand, using a blind or hemming stitch. Julie at Jaybirds.com has a video to give tips on this.

Here is a photo below of me working on binding by hand. You can see the needle travels underneath, so there is only a small stitch on the top. The thread should match the binding color to disappear most completely.

If you prefer to do a machine finish, refer to the Missouri Quilts video above for tips. She uses a decorative stitch to finish, with the binding first applied to the back of the quilt rather than the front. An alternative, which I’ve used many times, is that shown by Judy Laquidara at Patchwork Times.

The photo below shows me finishing the binding by machine. The TOP of the checkerboard is showing. I stitched in the ditch using a top thread to disappear as much as possible (in this case, I used green since it snugged up against the green binding and matched half of the squares.) The bobbin thread should match the binding, as you will stitch directly on it.

For a different method of machine-finishing I haven’t tried, check this link. The big difference begins with her step 13. Looks great, and well worth trying!

Save leftover binding strips in one place. You can piece mismatched binding together to finish scrap quilts with a playful edge, or finish utility quilts and mats without regard to coloring.

2 thoughts on “Tutorial: Straight-Grain Binding

  1. Thread crazy

    You’d be surprised how many people do not know how to figure how much fabric they need for binding. After working at the quilt shop, I was always amazed as how little some people knew. Good post.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thanks so much. I find the math easy, but I know it’s baffling for a lot of people. Once I headed through a long string of quilt math, over the phone, with my niece. After a minute I took a deep breath and apologized for going so fast. But she’s an accountant, and a smart gal, and she’d kept up with me the whole way.

      Thanks for taking a look. 🙂


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