Ready-made versus Do-it-Yourself Quilt Binding

By: Penny Halgren

Binding is usually the finishing touch to your quilt. It’s the fabric that wraps from the quilt top around to the backing, covering the edges of your quilt and keeping everything (including the batting) conveniently tucked inside.

You can also think if the binding as the final frame around your quilt.

As with so many other aspects of quilting, there are several decisions to make.

Fabric stores sell ready-made bias quilt binding. This may be a good solution for a beginning quilter. Many of my early quilts used ready-made binding. By the time I got the quilt finished and ready for binding, I was ready to let someone else do that work, and the thought of pulling off the wrapper and sewing pre-made binding on was most appealing.

There are a couple of limitations with ready-made binding:

  • The color choices are usually very limited – just basic colors: black, white, ecru (off-white), navy blue, possibly royal blue, an occasional yellow, and that’s about it. Also it is available only in solid colors – no fun and fancy fabrics.
  • There is only one width. While it is wider than the standard ½” binding used for making clothes, it still is available only in 1” width.
  • It is only one layer of fabric. While the bias binding makers probably believe that is adequate, as quilters we know that the edges of quilts get more than their share of wear, and sometimes the binding is the first to wear out. A double layer of fabric adds extra life to the edges of your quilt.

There are some definite positives of ready-made binding:

  • Because pre-made binding is so easy to use, for quilts that will be dragged around (like some kid quilts), the time you save by using pre-made binding may make it very attractive. In addition, as the quilt wears out, you won’t be having hysterics because of all the hard work you put into making the quilt.
  • There are only a few decisions to make – limited choices of color and only one width – so you won’t spend hours trying to figure out what binding to use.
  • Overall, the binding is very consistent. It is all the same width, it is nicely pressed, so you get very good creases on the folds which makes it easy to see where to sew and it folds over the quilt easily.
  • There is very little wasted fabric. Yes, you may end up with bits and pieces of binding left over, but you won’t have huge triangle pieces of fabric (which usually happens when you make your own binding).

On the other hand homemade binding offers the following limitations:

  • It’s more work. There is some additional effort you must put into cutting, piecing and pressing your own binding.
  • You may run out of the fabric you are using for the binding. I speak from experience on this one. I have at least one quilt that uses two different fabrics for binding, simply because I ran out (translation – didn’t plan well enough).
  • The consistency is not the same as with pre-made binding. Cutting and sewing with accuracy helps, but mine never seems to be all exactly the same width. It may be off by just a fraction of a quarter of an inch, but it’s still off, and sometimes it presents a challenge in sewing it onto the quilt.

On the other hand, there are some positive aspects of making your own binding:

  • You can use exactly the fabric you want to create the desired effect. (Assuming you have enough of the fabric!) You may want to match the last border or patches of your quilt and have that color be the final frame to your quilt picture. Or, you may wish to use a contrasting fabric. Either way, you get to choose.
  • You get to choose the width of the binding. Sometimes, I use just a ½ binding, other times, I make it 1½.” It depends on the look I am trying to achieve for my quilt. Sometimes I make it show ½” on the front of the quilt, then extend the binding onto the back of the quilt by 2”-3.” That may accomplish a couple of different things.


    On one quilt, it covered up the fact that my backing was a little short. Many times I use the binding as a place to hide a stick that I use to hang the quilt – so the binding ends up being a sleeve, instead of adding an extra one. (Some quilters may cringe at that idea. I have read that having wood that close to your quilt may not be such a good idea - the wood may deposit sap or other oils onto the quilt fabric.)

  • You get to decide whether to use bias binding or straight grain binding.
  • Generally when you make your own binding, you end up with a double layer of fabric, which gives extra wear-ability to your quilt binding.

There you have it! Several differences between ready-made binding and homemade binding. As with so much in quilting – choices, choices!

Happy Quilting!

Penny Halgren

©2006, Penny Halgren
Penny is a quilter of more than 24 years who seeks to interest new quilters and provide them with the resources necessary to create beautiful quilts.

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