Curved Binding

Why bind it at all?

One of the last things you think about when making a quilt is the binding but as this holds everything together maybe we should be paying a bit more attention to it. Why have a binding at all? Many old wholecloth quilts did not have bindings – the edges of the quilt front and back were simply turned in and finished with one or two rows of running stitch. However this is not a very strong and there is likely to be plenty of wear and tear at the quilt edge. If you are making a wallhanging then this might be an appropriate way of finishing the edge, as there will not be the same amount of wear.

A separate strip of fabric, which wraps around the quilt layers, creates a firm protective edge. It can be an integral part of the design and if necessary a worn binding can be replaced in later years. Quilt bindings should not be confused with commercial bias binding, the pre-folded tapes bought in haberdashery departments: these are narrower and are not the same quality as the rest of your quilt.


Figure 1: Single Fold Binding
Figure 1: Single Fold Binding
The fabric used for your binding should be chosen with care, do you want to make a feature of it, perhaps contrasting with the border and quilt centre. It can be pieced to match the border. If you use a matching colour to the border fabric it can disappear completely. Perfectionists should also consider the appearance on the back, i.e. how the binding looks against the backing fabric.


Decisions, Decisions

Another consideration is straight cut binding or bias cut binding. Each version has its fans. The bound edge of a quilt gets a lot of wear, a bit like the piped edge on a cushion, and if you use a straight binding then you might have one thread running down the whole edge of the binding, once this goes the whole lot falls apart. If you use a binding cut on the bias then the binding has many threads going at an angle and if one frays only a small section of the binding will be damaged. Next you must decide whether to use a single or double fold binding. With a single fold binding one raw edge is sewn to the quilt top and the second is folded onto itself as you turn the binding to the back of the quilt and stitch in it place. See Figure 1.

Figure 2: Double Fold Binding
Figure 2: Double Fold Binding

With a double binding, it is folded in half lengthwise, WS together, and pressed. The raw edges are sewn in place at the quilt edge and you have a neat fold to stitch to the back. See Figure 2.

Figure 3: Joining binding at an angle
Figure 3: Joining binding at an angle

Bias cut binding is essential if there are any curves in the quilt edge (deliberate curves not waves caused by quilting!). To join the pieces sew a seam across the strip at a 45° angle (Figure 3). This type of join can also be used when joining strips for a straight binding as it helps spread the bulk of the seam.

Bias binding can be made from quite a small square if you use the following technique (see Figure 4).

  • Cut the square of fabric diagonally as shown.
  • Sew the two pieces together, with RS facing as indicated and using a 1⁄4in seam allowance, and press the seam open.
  • On the WS draw pencil lines 2 1⁄4in apart.
  • With RS facing, pin so the top edge of one side is in line with the first pencil line on the other.
  • Machine sew to make a tube and cut along the pencil lines to make the binding.
Figure 4: Making a long strip of bias binding
Figure 4: Making a long strip of bias binding

To calculate the size of square needed using this technique a bit of maths is involved. Add together all the sides of the quilt and multiply by the width of binding that you are going to cut. Then take the square root of the answer add 1in for safety and round up to the nearest whole number. For example, for a quilt 72in long by 60in wide:

  • 72 + 72+ 60 + 60 = 264
  • Multiplied by 2 1⁄4 (the cut width of the binding) = 594
  • The square root is 24.37
  • Add an inch and round up and you will need to start with a 26in square to make enough binding

Round the bend

When you have decided on single fold or double fold and straight or bias binding then next decision is butted, rounded or mitred corners.

Pieced Binding

Butted Corners

These corners use a separate piece of binding for each side of the quilt and work best on square and rectangular quilts. For safety you can cut the strips a bit longer than the sides of the quilt but this can encourage waviness in the edge of the quilt.

Sew the first two strips on opposite sides of the quilt. Many people use a walking foot for adding the binding as it stops the quilt layers from shifting as you sew. Fold to the back and slip stitch in place. Trim the ends even with the edges of the quilt if needed. Sew the remaining two strips in place allowing 1⁄2in extra at each end. Wrap the excess binding around the end of the quilt as shown in Figure 5 and then fold to the back and stitch as before. Sew the ends closed.

Rounded Corners

Having rounded corners on a bed quilt means that quilts can often hang better at the corners and you are less likely to trip over them. Using a bias cut binding, ease an extra amount around the corners. The bias will allow the binding to stretch around the curve. At the hemming stage you will need to catch any extra fullness with your stitching.

Figure 5: Wrapping the butted corners
Figure 5: Wrapping the butted corners

Mitred Corners

This method uses one length of binding to go round the whole quilt top. Join using 45° seams or make using the continuous method. Before starting lay the binding roughly round the edge and make sure no seams are at the corners as this makes it harder to sew the mitre.

  1. Following Figure 6, starting at least 6in from the corner, sew along one side, stopping the width of your binding away from the corner. Secure with a few reverse stitches and pull the quilt away from the machine.
  2. Fold the fabric away from the corner at 45° and then fold it back on itself in line with the next side of the quilt. Starting at the edge of the quilt continue sewing the binding in place.
  3. Complete all four corners and sides and sew to about 4in from your starting point. Press a diagonal hem on the piece of binding that will be on top when it is finished, trim the tail so that you have an overlap. Pin very firmly, fold and check there are no lumps and bumps and then stitch in place.
  4. Stitch the binding to the back of the quilt as usual; when you get to the corners you should find that a mitre can be coaxed into shape as you fold the fabric. Purists can invisibly stitch the mitre on the front of the quilt and realists just add a couple of stitches on the back.
Figure 6: Mitred corners
Figure 6: Mitred corners

Other techniques

There are of course other ways you can finish the quilt edge. You could cut the backing much larger and fold it over the front to create the binding. Sew in place with a narrow zigzag or straight stitch from the front. This is a useful method for those who dislike hand stitching.

You can catch samples of prairie points or other folded triangles into the binding as you sew it to the top to create interest at the quilt edge.


Your tutor will explain exactly what samples they expect to see but a butted, rounded and mitred binding are essential, as is one with a single and one with a double fold so you can evaluate the differences. Samples do not have to be huge, an 8in square, perhaps a quilted block sample or hand or machine quilting samples would be plenty large enough. Leave one side of the binding partly unfinished to shown how to join the ends. Make notes in your file as to which bindings you found easiest to sew, and work some examples of the continuous binding calculations (a calculator with a square root function is very handy). Your tutor may have different ways of starting and finishing the bindings, so try both methods. At quilt shows and exhibitions look closely at the bindings, make notes and take photographs for your file.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 13 Number 5 May 2005