Hand Binding a Quilt: Part Two

Last week, in part one, we set off with hand binding a quilt and didn’t quite make it that far. We did manage to machine sew the binding to the front of the quilt. Now, it’s time to hand sew the binding to the back of the quilt. If you’ve already hand bound before, I’m also including some tips and tricks to prevent some headache-inducing issues including: snapping or knotting threads, wonky corners, and thread ends. Here are my tips and tricks to hand bind a quilt with little fuss.


Starting a thread

Before you can start binding, you need to need to cut a length of thread. Now, most online guides recommend no more than 18″ of thread. But your girl doesn’t have the time to constantly be rethreading her needle! I typically use a good arm’s length (~3″). Practice with shorter lengths first and work your way longer. Longer threads can easily knot if you’re not careful.


Next, you need to knot the thread to the quilt. The easiest way I have found to do this, is to slip the needle straight through the binding seam allowance. Then tie the end of the thread off in a triple knot at the end and trim the thread end short (~1/8″).


hand binding a quilt: starting the thread


At this point, your thread isn’t in the right place start stitching. You’ll seen to slip your needle through the backing fabric from the knot to just below your line of binding machine stitching as shown below. Now you’re ready to start binding!


Hand binding a quilt: starting the thread


The handing binding stitch

Ladder, blind, slip–the stitch we’ll be using to hand bind a quilt goes by many names, but they’re all the same simple steps. You start with wrapping the binding around to the back of the quilt (the back of the quilt should be facing you). Sewing clips can hold the binding wrapped around the edge of the quilt, but I don’t use them. I find they get in the way. Do what feels right for you.


Since your thread is already in the backing fabric, you’ll start your binding stitch in the binding fabric. Insert your needle into the fold of the binding fabric just above where the thread comes out of the backing fabric (red arrow in the picture below). Bring the needle out of the fold of the binding fabric about 1/8″ to 1/4″ away from where you inserted it (the blue line in the picture below). Pull the needle all the way through.


The slip stitch


Next, you’ll inset your needle into the quilt’s backing fabric, just below where you pulled the needle out of the binding fabric. Make sure your needle is inside the line of machine binded stitches from the front. Otherwise, you’ll be able to see them. Then bring the needle out of the backing fabric about 1/8″ to 1/4″ away from where you inserted it. Pull the needle through.


Slip stitch


And that’s all there is to the basic binding stitch! You’ll continue on with with for 3 – 5″ (yes, inches), and then I recommend you tie a knot.


Knotting off thread

Knotting off your binding every few inches is exceedingly important because your thread could knot up or break and then you’d have to redo all your binding. Frequently tying off your binding keeps it secure, even years down the road if a thread fails with use. Besides, it’s super quick to do.


You’ll start a knot as you go into a stitch in the backing fabric. Make a skinny stitch, 1/16 – 1/8″, and pull the needle through, but do not pull the thread taunt. Leave a little circle of thread.


Knotting off binding


Slide your needle through the center of the circle of thread.


Hand binding a quilt: knotting thread off


Pull the circle of thread closed by tugging on the thread coming out of the backing fabric as shown below. This will trap a thread in the old thread circle and create a new circle of thread.



Again, slide your needle through the center of this new circle of thread. This will create a double knot. To finish the knot, just pull on the needle until the circle closes.



Note: I’ll often make a triple knot. Do this by repeating a second and third steps a second time before pulling on the needle to close the circle.


Finishing off a thread

When you get to the end of a thread (~6″), you’ll want to knot off the thread as we just talked about, but don’t cut the thread just yet. We’ll need to hide it.


Start by inserting your needle between the binding an backing fabric, so that the needles come out through the top of the binding fabric (the edge of the quilt).


Hand binding a quilt: finishing a thread


Pull the needle all the way through, and holding the thread taunt, snip the thread near the binding. The tension should cause the thread to retract back into the binding so you don’t see anything. Please be careful not to cut into the binding.


Hand binding a quilt: trimming thread


Starting a new thread

Starting a new thread is exactly the same when you started the thread at the top of this page, but I thought it might be helpful to have a visual now that you have some binding handing over the edge of the quilt that hinders things. You’ll need to tie off the thread at the edge of the quilt and bring the needle to the inside of the machined binding stitches.


Hand binding a quilt: rethreading


Sewing the corners

Hand binding a quilt’s corners is the hardest part of the process, but it’s really not all that hard at all. Start by hand binding your quilt until about 3″ before the corner. Make sure you have enough thread to get around the corner–rethread now, if needed.


Next, you’ll clip down the binding on the side your sewing on (horizontal side).


Hand binding a quilt: sewing the corners


Then you’ll fold down and clip the binding on the far side of the corner (vertical side). The folded corner of the vertical side should match up with the edge of the horizontal binding. See this under the purple clip in the picture below.


Hand binding a quilt: the corner


Continue your binding stitch until you get to the corner. As you approach the corner of the line of machine binding stitches, you’ll want your last hand binding stitch to be through the quilt’s backing fabric. As your needle comes out of the backing fabric (at the corner of the machine binding stitches), bring the needle up through the corner made from the overlapping binding fabrics, grabbing the the horizontal and vertical binding (see below). Pull the needle through.


Hand binding a quilt: the corner


Insert the needle back into the horizontal binding fabric, where you had sewn in the last step, and into a small section (~1/16″) of the backing fabric as shown in the picture below.


Hand Binding a quilt: the corner


Then sew a normal stitch into the binding fabric.


Hand binding a quilt: the corner


Knot your thread off and then continue hand binding. Your corner should look like below. A good corner will be pointy at the top and the fabrics should meet up at the binding’s fold.


Hand binding a quilt: the finished corner


Speeding up hand binding

Once you get a hang of the hand binding steps above, you can start to speed up. This is done by taking more than one stitch before you pull the needle through the fabric. Take a look at the picture below.


Speeding up hand binding a quilt


You’ll see that the needle went through the binding and the backing fabric before the needle is pulled all the way through. Some people will take even more stitches in one go, but I find my stitch quality really goes down hill after two stitches. See what works for you!


Problem solving

There are three big problems that you can come across when hand binding: knotting thread, breaking thread, and binding that doesn’t reach around the quilt edge.


Knots in your thread

Knots are an inevitability, but they don’t have to happen too much. In my most recent ~42″ x 42″ baby quilt, I got 2 knots. If you get one, do not pull it! You’ll just make the knots tighter. Instead, insert your needle into the knot’s loop and gently tug forwards and (if the thread doesn’t give) backwards. If the thread is still stuck, you’ll have to cut it. Aren’t you glad you’ve been knotting your binding now?


Breaking thread

Sometimes your thread just snaps. Maybe you tug a little too hard or maybe you chose the cheapest stuff from the store. Either way, it happens. When it happens to me, I like to pull out my stitches to the knot I made and hide the thread end. Then I start a new thread. If your thread broke too small to hide as I showed above, use your needle to push it under the binding.


Binding doesn’t reach around the edge of the quilt

Okay, I’m guilty. I don’t often trim the edge of my quilt as long as it looks ‘straight enough’. I also tend more towards speed racer than precision racer, so my machine binding isn’t always exact. When your binding doesn’t wrap all the way around the corner of the quilt to cover the machine bound stitches on the back, trim a little of the binding seam allowance.


Hand binding a quilt: trimming the seam allowance


And the hand bound quilt is done!

It’s taken a hot minute, but you’re done! I promise the look of a hand bound quilt will out weight anything a (current) machine can do. It’s worth every minute, especially if you’re giving it as a gift. Most people won’t know the love that went into it, but you will.

Sew on!

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