Monday, April 6, 2015

Binding a quilt

Oh boy - it seems that everyone has a different way of doing their binding.

 A full blown tutorial on making and sewing on binding will be posted on QUILTSocial in a day or two, but there were a few areas of discussion that I wanted to address outside of the tutorial.

I used various sources on the internet, my knowledge and experience (are those the same?), and these two books by Mimi Dietrich. The first book was published in 1987, revised in 2003 and reissued in 2013. Most of the information I am quoting is the same in both books so these techniques and thoughts have been around for many years.
Happy Endings by Mimi Dietrich. Can you guess which is more recent of the two books?

Trimming the quilt

I trim all my quilts right along the edge of the quilt top. I do this for my own quilts and I do this for customer quilts. It is easy to use the big square ruler for the corners and a long ruler for the sides. Before you trim, make sure the quilt edges have been basted together. This will make it a whole lot easier to sew on the binding.

Recently I came across a quilt that had been trimmed 1/4" BEYOND the edge of the quilt. Hmmmm - this is new - why is it trimmed that way??? It appears that it was trimmed (by a long-arm quilter) who suggested a WIDER binding. OK - I get that, but why would you want wider binding? In my research, I found one sentence in Mimi's most recent book that references a wider binding and trimming 1/4" beyond the edge of the quilt. I don't think I have ever seen a quilt with wide binding. It is very rare and I'm not sure why you would want a wide binding. Perhaps if you have used a small inner border, the wider binding would help to balance that off?  If the binding fabric matches the border print, making a wider binding seems pointless.

Quilt trimmed 1/4" beyond the edge of the quilt

Since I was going to put the binding  (which had been cut into 2 1/2" strips) on this quilt, I re-trimmed the quilt so that there was no extra batting or backing beyond the edge of the quilt.

Trimming away the excess batting and backing

An exception to the general rule of trimming right at the edge of the quilt is if you have a pieced border with points or no border and the blocks have points in them right at the edge of the quilt. There are two ways to handle this situation - maker a narrower binding or trim the quilt 1/8" beyond the edge of the quilt and use the "normal" 2 1/2" width of strips.

Narrower binding (2") used when the pieced blocks are on the edge of the quilt
Quilt was trimmed 1/8" beyond the edge of the quilt top and regular binding was used (Thanks to Elaine S for the picture - I have no quilts with this kind of a pieced border)

How wide should the binding strips be?

How wide should you cut your binding strips? I was taught to cut 2 1/2" which is the most common strip width you will find in any of the books or other tutorials, although 2 1/4" is a close second. But here is the thing that most tutorials and instructions leave out or fall short on - they tell you to cut 2 1/2"  or 2 1/4" strips, but they do NOT tell you what size of a seam allowance to use. People tend to use 1/4" if no specific seam allowance is mentioned and this will leave the binding empty inside.  

A bit of research on the internet and I found ONE SOURCE with instructions indicating that using different widths of binding strips requires different widths of seam allowance. Think about it - ONE SOURCE.  This relationship between the width of binding strips and width of seam allowance is referenced in BOTH of Mimi's books.

I still like the look of the 2 1/2" binding strips - that gives me a nice 1/2" wide binding on the front and 1/2" wide on the back and the binding is completely full of quilt. If I were making a smaller quilt (like a mini), I would consider making a narrower binding. I made a small sample of a wider binding (3 inch strip) and while it is OK - I don't think it adds anything to the look of the quilt and uses more fabric.

2 inch wide strip used on the top quilt and 2 1/2" wide binding strip used on the purple quilt
2 1/2" wide binding strip on the purple quilt and 3 inch wide binding strip on the pink/brown sample
Comparison of three different binding strip widths - 2" at top, 2 1/2" and 3". 

If you used strips larger than the three inches shown above, I think the binding starts to take on a personality of its own. I read that most professionals want the binding to be minimal unless it is an integral part of the quilt. Plus the wider binding uses more fabric and you don't gain anything from that extra fabric. It is not like the extra wide binding is any more secure or will wear any better than the narrower binding.

My normal is to cut the binding strips at 2 1/2" and use a 3/8" seam allowance.  However, I recently put the binding on a quilt that had plush on the back and I cut the binding strips 2 3/4" to compensate for the extra thickness of the plush back.

2 3/4" binding strips for an extra thick quilt. I still used 3/8" seam allowance

Seam allowance

Hand in hand with the width of the binding strips is the seam allowance. This is a very common mistake that people make and one of the first things I do when I touch a quilt is to see if the binding is full. Sadly, many are not and that is because people were not taught correctly and as I mentioned above, the instructions rarely clarify how wide that seam should be.
Seam allowances for the different sized binding strips - top is 1/4", middle is 3/8" and bottom is 1/2"

I use a 3/8" seam allowance. When I pull my binding to the back of the quilt - it is FULL. An empty binding feels wimpy and it is ugly to see narrow binding on the front and wide binding on the back.

Folded mitered corners versus sewn mitered corners

Some quilters will use four separate strips of fabric that are sewn to the edge of the quilt (one strip per side) and then sew a mitered seam at the corners. While this may be very useful if you want different coloured fabrics on each side of the quilt, it takes longer to make those miters. The folded miter is fast and easy and looks beautiful when sewn properly.

The folded mitered corner on the front (hand stitched closed)

The same corner on the back (also hand stitched down)

Here is an example of a corner that was stitched using the stitched mitered corner method.

The machine sewn mitered corner (the front)

The machine sewn mitered corner (the back)  (Thanks to Virginia who let me use these pictures of hers as I had no examples of binding done this way)
Wide Bindings

Just did a Google search to try and find a picture of a really wide binding. Found a couple - they look too much like blankets!

Image from Juicy Bits - Crafts for Kids

Kate's BIG Binding Quilt

Judges comments about bindings

I thought I would check to see what the judges have to say about bindings.  The most common things they look for:

  • Is the binding full of quilt,
  • Is the binding sewn on straight and even.,
  • Is the binding equal width on the front and back,
  • How neat are the joins and
  • Are the mitered corners stitched closed (I do mine by hand when I am sewing the binding to the back).

There you have - way more than you ever wanted to know about binding!!!!   But hopefully this will clear up some of the binding myths and make your quilts look more beautiful.

Personally - I go for what is easy. Making folded mitered corners is easy, not having to deal with an extra wide seam allowance to put on a wide binding is easy, not having to trim extra space beyond the quilt top is easy!  Yep - it appears that I am lazy. Well, not exactly, but I go for looking good, easy to do, and fast.

Hopefully the above has given you some room for thought. Next time you sew on a binding - think about the width of strips and the width of seam allowance. They go hand in hand!!!!

Have a great day!!!!!!


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