The following information is what I have gathered over the last several years of quilting on the best way (that I have found) to complete quilt binding entirely by machine. I hope you find it helpful, and feel free to share any other tips or tricks you may have.
Bias Binding Vs. Straight Grain Binding
Straight grain binding strips are cut with the grain of the fabric. Cutting straight grain binding strips is quick and easy with the use of a rotary cutter.
Bias binding is cut on a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric. Bias cut binding is less likely to fray or unravel making it more durable over time; however, it is somewhat time consuming to make. Bias binding is easier to apply to quilts with rounded corners, as it has more give or stretch than straight grain binding.
I prefer bias binding, and I use the continuous method for making it. The best explanation for making continuous bias binding I have found (and I use it EVERY time I make binding) is in All-In-One Quilters Reference Tool, Harriet Hargrave et al, from C&T Publishing, Inc. This book also has some great quick reference measurements for other aspects of quilting.
Single Fold Vs. Double Fold
Single fold binding is a single layer of binding stitched to the edge of the quilt. The raw edge of the binding is turned under and the fold is stitched down. To get a clean finish you need to press the binding after the first side is stitched to turn under the raw edge. This method is less bulky than double fold binding, making it easier to finish on your sewing machine. I prefer single fold binding.
For double fold binding, the binding is pressed in half and both raw edges are stitched to the edge of the quilt. This binding may be more durable due to the extra layer of fabric. This method is somewhat easier to finish by hand. It is important to note that double fold binding is NOT the same as packaged “double fold” bias tape. Packaged “double fold” bias tape is equivalent to single fold bias binding explained above; however, I would not recommend using packaged bias tape for quilt binding because it will not hold up to the wear and tear that most quilts receive.
The finished width of the binding and the fold (single vs. double) will determine the width of the cut strips. The finished width on the back of the quilt will be 1/8 inch wider than the width on the front of the quilt to cover the stitching. And don’t forget to include a 1/8 inch, or more depending on the loft of your batting, to account for the bulk of your quilt and the folds in the binding.
I prefer a ¼ inch wide finished binding on the front, single fold binding, and I generally use a low loft cotton/bamboo/rayon batting. Based on this I like to cut 1 ½ inch wide binding.
Once your strips are cut they need to be sewn together (unless you are using a continuous bias method). Strips can be sewn together using a straight seam or an angled seam. Straight seams are bulky to sew through and tend to pull apart. Angle seams should be sewn with right sides together as shown, and then seam allowance trimmed to ¼ inch.
Attaching binding to your quilt
Front Vs. Back
Binding can be stitched to the front or back of the quilt first. I prefer stitch my binding to the front of my quilts first; beginning at the bottom edge of the quilt. I think the bit of finishing you have to do at the end is less noticeable if it is on the bottom edge.
It is just as important to check your seam allowance when sewing on your binding as it is with piecing. If the seam allowance is too wide then you will not have enough material to completely turn the binding to the back of the quilt and cover your stitching. Because I want the binding on the front of my quilt to be ¼ inch finished I stitch it on using a ¼ inch seam.
As you stitch the binding to the quilt you will likely need to navigate those pesky corners. As you reach a corner, stop the same distance from the edge as your binding seam allowance/finished width. For example, my binding seam allowance/finished width is ¼ inch, so I stop ¼ inch from the edge of the quilt as I am sewing. Be sure to backstitch a few stitches to secure.
Remove your quilt from your machine. While holding the edge of your quilt that you just finished sewing horizontal, fold the binding 90 degrees up, then down. This should create a small triangle as shown below. Place a pin along the triangle edge to mark where you will begin sewing and secure the binding while you start stitching. Begin stitching at the pin (this should be ¼ inch, or your seam allowance/finished width, from each edge of the quilt).
Connecting the ends
Once you make it back to the beginning of your binding you need to connect the two ends. You can fold under the two edges, or tuck them in if you are sewing double fold binding, but I prefer an angle seam just like the ones used to connect the rest of the binding strips.
Lay the ends of your binding along the edge of your quilt. Make sure they are smooth, as they will be once they are stitched down. Find a spot where the two ends of your binding overlap (left over right). The overlap needs to be the same distance as the cut width of your binding strips.
Fold back the left end. Place one pin in the right end, measure a distance that is the same as the cut width of your binding and place a second pin.
Once the binding is stitched to the font of the quilt it is turned and pressed to the back of the quilt (or vice versa). The
goal is to have the finished edge of your binding just barely overlap the line of stitching you just made to attach your binding. If you used double fold binding the folded edge simply gets turned to the back. If you use single fold binding the raw edge needs to be folded in and then turned to the back, as shown below.
There are several methods to secure the binding while you stitch it in place including, pins, clips, fusible tape, or fusible thread. I have tried all of these methods and I have found that just a few pins or clips is enough for me; however, if you are new to quilting or you want a precisely finished edge I would recommend fusible tape, it has the most holding power.
Hand vs. Machine Finishing
Once the binding is turned to the back (or front) it can be finished by hand with a blind stitch, or by machine. I prefer to finish by machine, it is much quicker and I feel it is more durable over time. If you do choose to finish by machine understand that it will not look like it was hand finished.
I stitch my binding with the back facing up. I want to make sure that I am securing the binding edge to the quilt. If you complete this step facing down, you may not catch it and you will have to go back and fix it latter. When you begin stitching, try to keep your stitches as close to the edge of the binding as possible. If you have cut your binding to the correct width, and maintained the proper seam allowance when sewing your binding to the front, your stitches will be in the ditch of the binding seam on the front of the quilt.
Do not stress out if it is not perfect. I do not think I have made a single quilt where the stitching was exactly in the ditch on the entire quilt. Sometimes it is in the quilt, sometimes it’s in the binding. You may think it looks terrible, but unless you plan on entering it into a show and having it judged by a panel of experts NO ONE WILL NOTICE.
Facings – an alternative to binding
If you would like the quilt design to go all the way to the edge of your quilt without any binding showing, facings are a great alternative. There are lots of methods for facings that can be found on the internet. The best tutorial I have found is from blogger Victoria Gretenbagh at The Silly BooDilly.
For the reverse, you can also leave excess backing material once you have trimmed your top and batting and turn the backing material to the front.