Adding the Quilt Binding



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here. The link below takes you to the Cat Notquilt project.

We are rapidly approaching the finish line. The next step is adding the quilt binding. I had mentioned that I had gone through the stash and found percale sheet remnants: a dark hunter green and a sea-foam green, both with a bluish tinge.

quilt bindingI do not have enough fabric to go all the way around the edges, even if I made a very skimpy binding. I like a wider quilt binding as it frames the finished work.

When I cut my binding, I don’t bother cutting it on the bias, like packaged quilt binding. I don’t see the need and it’s worked out fine, both in the sewing and in the wash.

Tip: Cutting on the Grain

I do make SURE that I am cutting my binding strips on the grain. I do this by tearing the fabric. Fabric store clerks used to do this in the dim and distant past. Nowadays, that cut edge isn’t straight at all and bears only a remote relationship to the grain.

When you tear the cloth, it will separate between the threads making up the weave. An alternative to cutting is to pull threads. You get a clean, straight edge right on the grain. Marking the edge, making a snip, finding and pulling a thread all the way across, pulling a second thread alongside the first one, and then cutting right down the now-open ladder in the cloth gives a clean, perfect, unrippled, unstretched edge. This method works best in more loosely woven cloth.

But I found it to be a tedious exercise in frustration. Tearing is much faster, but not every fabric will tear. The heavier the fabric, the more it will resist. Twill weaves like denim or corduroy will flatly refuse to tear. It won’t work at all with knits so don’t waste time trying. A clean, smooth, even weave is your best bet for tearing long strips.

The problem with tearing is that it stretches and ripples the edges and you get a lot of loose, very long threads. Combat the first problem by ironing the torn fabric edges flat right after you tear them. The second problem can be solved by pulling and discarding the loose threads.

Tearing is so much faster than pulling threads that I nearly always tear the cloth to get those long, smooth, clean, unlikely-to-ravel edges. Virtually every rectangle of cloth in the cat NotQuilt was torn, even the little ones.

I could have cut them all, and they would have turned out fine. The binding may not have. Long, long strips work much better if they are precisely on the grain with not a single deviation. Even if you are fanatical with your marking and cutting, you can’t keep the scissors between the woven parallel threads. I don’t use a rotary cutter, but I don’t think it would stay between the threads either.

If you cut your edges, you can pull all the odd thread bits until you get that clean woven edge, but then you get a lot of bits to clean up. You have to trim off that tiny fringe, and then, when all of this is done, the strip of cloth you so carefully measured is narrower. It may not be much narrower, but if you didn’t allow sufficient room for seam margins, losing an eighth of an inch on each side of a strip can throw off your subsequent ironing and sewing.

So I tear my strips when I can. Percale sheets tear like a dream. As always, wash and preshrink the fabric and iron it into submission before starting. Then measure and carefully mark where the edge should be, cut a snip about a half inch and let her rip. Don’t be gentle or the fabric will know you don’t mean it.

Don’t make the mistake of measuring a lot of cutting lines, marking them and then cutting. Measure a strip, mark it, snip it, tear and iron both sides, and THEN measure the next strip. This way, all your strips will be the same width when you are done.

Mixing My Binding Fabric

sewing notebook

A page from my sewing notebook, diagramming the nearly finished cat notquilt. Click on it to embiggen.

When I dug out my percale sheet ends, they were wide enough to allow me to cut three long pieces of the dark green percale. But no matter how carefully I measured, I couldn’t get enough length and still get the width I needed to wrap around the front and back of the NotQuilt. The same was true of the sea foam green percale.

I would not have enough scrap left to piece the binding with many shorter rectangles sewn together, end to end. I am not above doing this by the way.

That led of course to the problem of how to finagle the joins. As I noted earlier, I liked the dark green better. It set off the cats more effectively than the sea foam green. But I did not have enough.

I could have sewed all the strips together, ending with enough sea foam to finish out the needed length and just let the odd color show up where it wanted to.

I could have cut up the strips and alternated dark and light green all around, leading to more seams and more busyness.

I had finally decided that I would sew the corners with the sea foam percale and fill in the sides with the dark green but I wasn’t really happy with this choice. It was better than the alternatives, as it had the benefit of looking planned.

So I laid the finished NotQuilt on the floor, with the binding strips thrown across it, and my dear husband suggested that I work from the corners in with the dark green and use the sea foam to fill in the center of each side.

I decided to follow his suggestion, then figured out a way to maximize the dark green percale, allowing me to use every bit of it, while minimizing the sea foam.

sewing notebook

The second page of my sewing notebook, showing the results of my calculations. This allows me to come back later and see how I arrived at my choices. Click to embiggen.

I keep a notebook in my sewing area (it’s not nearly big enough to be dignified with the term ‘sewing studio’). A notebook is very useful and everyone who sews regularly should keep one. The notebook lets you work out what you are going to do on paper before you ever put scissors to expensive cloth. The notebook — a simple spiral bound one is all you need — also remembers for you, so when you make pillowcases again, you don’t have to remeasure an old one. You look up what you did before.

I got out the notebook and drew a picture of the NotQuilt. It is a plain rectangle, with the exact measurements of all four sides. Notice that the top of the NotQuilt is four inches longer than the bottom edge. This is another vagueury of repurposing old stuff. Fortunately, the two sides were the same length; quite amazing really that they turned out that way.

I needed four strips of binding to cover two lengths of 104 inches, plus a top strip of 88 inches and a bottom strip of 84 inches. This does NOT include seam margins or turning the corners, so I really needed a few more inches of length for each strip, but how much won’t be determined until I sew them down. This is annoying if you are trying to squeeze out every last inch of cloth without running out and without having any left over.

My dark green percale strips ended up being seven inches wide. This gives me a nice wide border, front and back and allows for half-inch seam margins.

The sheet remnants were big enough to give me three strips: two were 115 inches long (I remeasured them with my trusty 120-inch tape measure; buy one the next time Joann’s runs a 50% of notions sale) and a third strip that was 90 inches long.

sewing notebook

The second page of my sewing notebook, showing the results of my calculations. This allows me to come back later and see how I arrived at my choices. Click to embiggen.

I had Bill take a picture of the two pages in the notebook. The first page is when I made my initial measurements and decided how wide the binding strips were going to be. The second page is when I measured more carefully and worked out how I was going to sew them down.

I want to use up every inch of the dark green percale. The NotQuilt has four corners and four sides. I have three strips of fabric.

I sewed the three strips together, end to end, with half-inch seam margins. Although I measured and tore the strips carefully, they still ended up being off in width from each other. They are all seven inches wide or a bit more, up to a half inch more. When I sewed the strips together, I chose a top side, always lining up the strips with the top edge, allowing the lower edge to be uneven.

Once I sewed both seams, I ironed them flat and open, then ironed the entire piece again. I spend a lot of time ironing. Then I carefully folded over the entire piece into two even halves, lining up the top edge. I cut the fabric at the fold.

I then folded over each of these two pieces into two equal halves and cut them again at the fold.

The point of all this folderol was to give me four strips, each the same length. Doing it this way saved me oodles of time trying to measure it out and having the cloth fight my efforts. My four strips may be ever so slightly different in length, but they aren’t as deviant from each other as they would have been if I had tried to do this with measuring, marking, and cutting.

So now I have my four strips, all the same length and I have no waste. I have four corners. The sides of the NotQuilt and the top and bottom edges are different lengths. What do I do?

What I do is measure my four strips of cloth to see how long they really are. They are about 81 inches long, give or take a bit. I need a total of 380 inches to go all around (not counting seams, overlaps, and joins).

If you can read my chicken scratches, I marked out on the rectangle the lengths of the four sides plus the gaps at the top, bottom, and sides, which would be left open. If I arranged the dark green percale evenly on all four sides, I would be left with much narrower sea foam green inserts at the top and bottom, and wider ones at the sides.

I wanted the sea foam inserts to be approximately the same lengths. I worked it out on paper that if I cut each of the four strips in half again, I would be able to sew a shorter piece on the top and bottom (both sides) with the longer pieces on the sides, top and bottom. The strips would meet at the corners.

So I cut the four strips again, but not in half. I cut them so that one piece of each strip was six inches longer than the other. I folded them over, measured out the offset, and cut. I made sure that the joining seam from when I sewed the three strips together (I had two of them) was as far away from the cut as I could, so that I didn’t end up with more layers of fabric than I wanted stacking up on top of each other when I turned the corners.

The next step was to iron the strips into binding.

I chose an edge on each strip as the top and worked from there. I ironed under a half-inch seam margin. I ironed a fold at the 3-inch mark using my Dritz Ezy-hem. This is another miracle gadget, and I highly recommend you get one at the next Joann’s 50% off sale. It is made of paper thin steel, with measurements printed on it. You fold the fabric over and around the Ezy-hem and iron right over the whole thing. It makes getting precise fold-overs much easier.

Once I had the first two folds ironed under (the half-inch seam margin and the 3-inch binding width,) I turned the strip over. There were slight variations in widths in the strips and I had to compensate for them. I folded under the seam margin so that it was ever so slightly narrower than the original 3-inch width and ironed it in place.

That means that sometimes the second seam margin is a half-inch and sometimes it is wider. The extra width won’t show and it doesn’t affect the width of the finished binding. I did not have to drive myself nuts trying to get exact duplicates of my strips.

When you cut long, long strips, they won’t be identical no matter how careful you are. This is a good work around.

So this is where we are now. I have eight strips of finished binding, waiting to be sewn onto the cat NotQuilt, covering all four corners and down each side. When the eight strips are sewn down, I should have four not terribly wide, evenly spaced gaps that I will fill in with the sea foam green binding, still waiting patiently to be folded and ironed.

Yes, I will have obvious, overlapping seams where the two greens meet. It can’t be helped. Fortunately, I am not planning on winning first prize at the county fair with this NotQuilt.