How to Machine Bind a Quilt || My Method

Binding is one of those things that I seriously forget how to do every.single.time.  No lie.  After every quilt, I refer back to my printed page from Heather Bailey's site.  But this started to get old for me, so I cheated.  Yeah.  I got "lazy" and decided that I no longer wanted to sew the last seam at an angle to join the two strips at the very end of binding, which was the one step that always had me going back to my trusty Heather Bailey referral sheet.

Like always, I urge you to find a method that best suits you.   My method may or may not be the best method for you, but if you find yourself getting frustrated figuring out that very last seam in binding, then my tutorial might be helpful.   Quilting should make you happy not grumpy.  I think this is becoming my new motto.  Actually, it did become my motto.

In this post I go over how to make straight grain binding, the math, how to apply it to your quilt, and how to finish it.

Tools needed

Small acrylic ruler
Fabric marker
Pins or clips to hold the binding in place
Thread to match the front of the quilt and the binding
Elmer's Glue
Hot Iron

A note about binding widths before you begin.

I cut my binding strips to 2 1/2” and sew using a slightly larger than 1/4” seam.   This binding size is considered skinny. There is no right or wrong to how wide or thin a binding should be, but the quilt should fill the binding. There is plenty of information online in regards to making wider or skinnier bindings. 

Straight grain binding method


The math.  How many strips do I need?  The easiest math is to add all four sides of your quilt +15 inches.  Take this number and divide it by 42 (or whatever width of fabric you are using.  Most quilting cottons come in 42"-44" width bolts).  That's how many strips of fabric you need to make your binding.  

For example, a 60" square top would be 60+60+60+60+15 = 255    255/42= 6.07
I'm going to ignore the .07 because it's such a tiny number that the extra 15" will make up for it.  So I need 6 strips cut at 2 1/2" x WOF, and that will be enough for my 60" square quilt.  

To cut your strips, make sure that you cut straight and evenly.  If you fold your fabric in half and then cut it, make sure to use a measurement line on your ruler and line that along the fold line.  You will be amazed at how not square your fabric can be at times.  

Joining the strips

Once your strips are cut, you are ready to join them together to make one continuous strip. Place one strip right side up. Place another strip right side down perpendicular to the other strip . Let about a 1/4 -1/2" over hang. Draw a line from corner to corner, and sew along the line. Trim to a 1/4" seam, and press open. Repeat until all strips have been joined.

Fold the binding in half (with wrong sides touching), and press with a hot iron.  

Attaching the binding on

Backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitches.

  1. Before sewing on the binding, you will need to check the seams in the binding in relation to where they will end up on the quilt.  The professionals say to never let a seam end up in the corner, if possible, and I wholeheartedly agree.  It's a serious pain, especially if you like to hand quilt.  So we need to do a faux binding check.  Leaving about about a 10 inch tail, place the binding on by pinning into place with the raw edge of the binding touching the raw edge of your quilt.  You don't need to get pin crazy.  Just enough to keep the binding on, so you can wrap it around the quilt.  Follow steps 3 and 4 for the corners, if you need help.   If a seam lands in a corner, you need to move the binding a few inches.  If no seams end up in the corners, take all the pins out except the pin closest to where you want to start.  Use it as a visual marker.  

    I like to start in the middle of my quilt on one side.  Remember to leave at least a 10" tail of binding, so you can join it to the other end of the binding.  
  1. Beginning 10" from the tail, backstitch and sew a 1/4” seam stopping a few inches from the first corner you come to.  Leave your needle down.  Place a small ruler a 1/4” from the edge of the quilt. Make a small mark. Double check to make sure that the line is now a 1/4” away from the edge.
    Note:  I mentioned earlier about my seam being slightly larger than a 1/4".  It is a unique seam size to me because I use the walking foot on my Bernina as seam guide, which not everyone has.  Whichever size seam you sew, that is exactly how far away you stop from the corner.   So you if sew 2 inches away from the edge of the quilt, you stop 2 inches away from the corner.  If you sew 1/2" from the edge, you stop 1/2" from the corner.  Got it?

    3.  I'm pretty sure most people will tell you to sew off to the edge in some 45 or 90 degree fashion.  I don't do that.  It makes me grumpy, and remember my motto above?  I want to be happy.  Continue to sew to the mark you made and then backstitch.  Remove the quilt and clip threads.  Fold the binding over to the right.  It should create a perfect 45 degree where the fold of the binding hits perfectly on the corner of the quilt.  (This assumes that your quilt is square and the corner itself is 90 degrees.) If the binding is higher than the edge of the quilt, you did not stitch down far enough. If the quilt is higher than binding, you stitched too far down.   

    1. Fold the binding back over this time to the left and align the raw edge with the edge of the quilt. Keeping this in place, rotate the quilt. Start sewing about an 1/8” from the edge of the binding and sew a 1/4” seam. Repeat steps 2-4 for the other three corners.

    5.  After your last corner, stop sewing when you reach about 12" from the start of the seam (that very first spot you started sewing the binding on).

    6.  With the quilt side in front of you, lay the tails flat along the edge of the quilt.  Smooth out any ripples.  Overlap the tails by at least one inch and trim excess.  We are now going to join the strips like we would with any our piecing.  Right sides together.  This does not create an angled seam which distributes the bulk.  Would this be allowed in a quilt competition?  I am not sure.   (Sorry to change photos on you, but let's just pretend this here is a quilt with some binding. :)

    7.   With your ruler make a 1/4" mark from the edge of one of the tails.  I chose the yellow one. 

    Lay the other strip on top, and mark a line that follows the line you made on the other strip.  Mark another line 1/4" to the right from that line.  Cut along that second line.
 With right sides together, line up the marked lines, and sew a 1/4" seam.  Press the seam open.  

Once that is sewn, the binding should lay nice and flat without any excess.  Continue stitching the binding down until it is complete.  

Finish the binding with a machine

My personal favorite is to hand stitch the binding using quilting thread and a small needle because I get to spend a little time under my finished project while enjoying a show or spending time with family. It is a slower process, and there are some people who do not enjoy it. That is totally ok! 

But there are many times that I go to my machine to finish the binding.  Sometimes, I want to finish the quilt quickly, and this is the best way of doing that. These steps will go over machine binding.
1. Load the machine with top thread to match the front of your quilt and bobbin thread to match your binding.

2. Clip any loose threads along the edge of the quilt.  Traditionally, you would fold over the binding to the back side and use pins or clips to keep in place, which I show you.   I'm also going to share a little secret with you.  GLUE.  Old school white Elmer's glue.  I don't do this all the time, but man.  It's just great for when you want to keep that binding in place.  

3.  Place a small line of glue along the edge of the quilt.  Fold the binding onto it and heat set with an iron.  If using clips, just fold over and clip or pin into place.  Easy peasy.  

  • This glue will not damage your iron or machine.  Wipe off with a  clean cloth if you get any on your iron.  
  • I have not broken needles using glue.  
  • The glue will wash out.
  • It is not permanent, so if you make a mistake, just pull the fabric apart.  Bam.
  • Use small amounts so the glue will "run" and spread and won't create a big mess
  • Stay away from the edge that the needle will pass in the machine, if possible.  Just for safety and also if you plan to hand stitch, it's hard to pass a needle through glue with your hands.

3. Heat set with an iron.

  1. When you get to a corner, continue to fold one side down and glue baste.  After heat setting, place a small amount of glue in the corner before you fold over the binding.  

5.  Take the other side, and fold over to create a 45 degree angle.  Heat set the corner and continue on like in Step 3, if you are glue basting.  Otherwise, insert pins like shown.

If you do not have enough pins or clips to make it around the entire quilt, which I normally do not, pin as you go.  

Sewing in the ditch

With your matching threads, stitch in the ditch on the front side.  This is totally optional, but once again, I do not know professional quilt judging protocol.  Sometimes, I will stitch directly onto the binding along the top edge.  Sometimes, I will stitch just outside of the ditch, so you can see the stitch line run parallel to the binding on the front of the quilt.  It's all up to you.  Stitching in the ditch can be hard, and takes some focus and practice.  Here below is stitching in the ditch.

Once you are done, bury your threads.

If you choose to hand quilt, the binding will look like this on the front.

If I have forgotten something, please chime in!  This was a hefty tutorial, and being human, I can overlook something.  Thanks for popping in!

xx nancy

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  1. Great tutorial - thanks!! I hand finish the binding on quilts for show, but other quilts, I sew the binding down to the back of the quilt, flip, pin then using a "fancy" stitch sew the binding to the front of the quilt. I love using the blanket stitch on my machine for this. I have never used glue...you use glue and pins? Does the extra step of adding glue really make a difference?

    1. Thanks for sharing your technique! I will use either but not both. The glue eliminates the need for pins. I had pictures of both techniques and wanted to let people know there were other ways of doing it. You may or may not find glue basting time consuming, but it's so nice to place quilt into the machine and just go. No stopping. It's great! But it's not ideal for everyone. xx

  2. Thanks for the detailed tutorial! Do you ever have problems with the back line of stitching looking wavy or messy?

    1. Thanks! Yes, sometimes. It's not that my stitching is wavy, especially if I am following the binding very well, but sometimes it's me folding it over that's not straight. It's the actual binding line on the back that isn't straight. Because really, you have to to be doing some serious moving of the quilt to get wavy stitch lines. The machine is only capable of going straight. Make sense? :)

  3. Thanks for this tutorial! Is it easy to miss the binding on the back side? I feel like I could stitch in the ditch OK but unless I had precisely rolled over the binding to the back, I could not sew some of it down. I do love the idea of using glue!

  4. Great, great idea!! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. If one makes sure they fold glue just above the stitching line and fold the binding 1/8" - 1/4" over the stitching line, this method should work perfectly. Perhaps the clips that are so popular now, would hold the binding easily in place. Thanks for the photos that helped me finally to understand how to do this. It is perfect for the many charity quilts that I make.


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