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How to Make Continuous Bias Binding

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Sewing is an continually evolving art. Learning new and interesting techniques is one of the best ways to build upon your current knowledge. It keeps your skills fresh and your ideas lively. Last week, we brought you up-to-speed with Bias Binding: figuring yardage, cutting, making and attaching. Today, we're continuing our journey down the binding path to a "sub-set" technique called: continuous bias binding. This is a little bit like another ancient art: origami. You start out with a flat square (or rectangle), and after a few folds and flips here and there, you have something completely different and very dimensional.

First, a brief recap of why we use binding and the difference between straight and bias. 

When you have an exposed raw edge, for instance, around the edge of a quilt, you need to finish it in some way. Binding, whether straight or bias, is ideal for covering the raw edges while creating a decorative finish at the same time. Of course, like anything, there are pros and cons to each type of binding. Straight grain binding uses less fabric and is quick and easy to make. However, it’s not as strong as bias binding, and is best for straight edges only. Bias binding, which is traditionally cut at a 45˚ angle, is stronger and more durable than straight grain binding, and is pliable (due to the stretch of the bias), allowing it to go around all kinds of shapes especially curves. However, it requires more fabric and is a little more challenging to make.

Soooo... what is continuous bias binding? It’s one of those “two birds with one stone” techniques. Simply stated, it’s a technique for pre-sewing bias binding strips before you actually cut them. The process eliminates having to sew a bunch of strips together end-to-end to get the length you need to go around your project.  The best way to understand it is to just show you.

If you are new to working with binding, as we mentioned above, please see our previous tutorial: Bias Binding: Figuring Yardage, Cutting, Making, Attaching. It gives you all the handy formulas, tips and techniques for the four key steps outlined in its title, discusses single fold versus double fold, and lists the tools to have on hand. 

Once you've done the "fabric math" (using our tutorial or your own experienced brain power)... onward we go to continuous bias binding. 

Continuous method

If you review continuous bias binding methods in quilt books, as well as on websites and blogs, you'll find a few variations in the actual steps for the technique. Using our experience, we captured what we feel is the best of the bunch: a single set of steps that provides a clear and simple approach.

NOTE: We’re using a plain fabric and a permanent marker so you can clearly see the marking steps. However, YOU should use a pencil as recommended for a successful outcome.

  1. Lay your fabric on a cutting mat, right side down.
  2. Cut the predetermined size square from your binding fabric (again, the tutorial mentioned above gives you the formulas needed to determine this square size). This includes removing the selvage edges. We trimmed our fabric to 21" x 21" square.
  3. To find the true bias, fold the square at a diagonal. Press the fold in place.
  4. Open the fabric back up so you can see the crease. The fabric should still be right side down
  5. Mark the left side of your square with an "A," the right side with a "B."
  6. Using a see-through ruler and a rotary cutter, cut along the diagonal crease line.
  7. Carefully place the "B" triangle to one side.
  8. Carefully flip over the "A" triangle so it is now right side up.
  9. Place triangle "B" on top of triangle "A" so they are right sides together and the bias cut edges form an “X”.
  10. Place pins along the straight edge.
    NOTE: The points of the triangles will extend slightly beyond either end of the seam. This is correct.
  11. Carefully bring your fabric to your sewing machine.
  12. Using a straight stitch and a ¼" seam allowance, sew along the straight edge, removing the pins as you go.
  13. Press the seam open.
  14. All the marking is done on the wrong side of the fabric, so lay your fabric back on the cutting mat right side down. Your sewn fabric should now look a parallelogram and your seam should be vertical.
  15. With your pencil and see-through ruler, mark seam lines ¼" in from the raw edges along the top and bottom of the parallelogram.
  16. Working from left to right, mark the pre-determined width of your binding strips (our pre-determined binding width was 2" - again, you can refer to the previous tutorial for how we figured that out). 
  17. These lines should intersect with the ¼" seam lines marked at the top and bottom. 
  18. Continue to mark in this matter across the entire parallelogram.
  19. If you have excess width at the end that does not equal the cut width of your bias strips, mark it with a bunch of Xs so you remember to trim it off and discard it at the end of the process.
  20. Along the top of the parallelogram, number your lines: 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. until all the lines are numbered. Yep... start with zero along the top. 
  21. Along the bottom of the parallelogram, number your lines: 1, 2, 3, etc. until all lines are numbered. 
  22. Fold the parallelogram right sides together, carefully matching the top and bottom numbers…1 to 1, 2 to 2, 3 to 3, etc. pinning in place as you go. 
    NOTE: You will match the "0" to the raw edge. This is your starting point where you will begin to sew in the following steps.
  23. NOTE: If you look closely, when you match up the numbered points, the drawn lines create an “X”.  (We put a light behind our fabric in the photo below so you can see what we’re talking about.)

  24. When you’re completely done pinning, your parallelogram should look like an odd shaped tube. If it’s flat, something is wrong.
  25. Bring the fabric tube to your sewing machine. 
  26. Sew along the marked ¼" seam line where you matched the numbers. Begin to sew at the zero - at the intersecting first seam. Stop at your last marked number. Our last marked number was 5.

    NOTE: Since you will be cutting across this seam, shorten your stitch length to help keep the stitching intact. We used 1.8mm. Also, you will have to slightly manipulate the positioning of the tube as you sew this seam; be sure to handle the fabric gently so it doesn't stretch out of shape.
  27. Press the seam open. You will have to rotate the tube as you press the seam.
  28. With fabric scissors, cut along the marked line, starting at zero.
  29. Continue around and around, cutting along the drawn line, spiraling around the tube, until you get to the end.
  30. Congratulations! You just made continuous bias binding.
  31. Remember that extra section we marked with Xs? Now’s the time to cut it off.
  32. At this point, you will press your binding in single or double fold and sew it to your project. Again, we recommend reviewing our previous binding article for detailed steps on attaching binding and additional helpful links.

Hints and Tips

  1. Before you actually cut your square, you should determine if you need to preshrink or prewash your fabric.
  2. If calculating your yardage is overwhelming, there are charts available online (search “calculate bias binding”), in books, and as laminated cards.
  3. To make longer continuous bias binding, you can use a rectangle instead of a square or cut two squares on the bias and sew them together to make a larger parallelogram.
  4. Look for sale and clearance fabrics that would make great binding. Buy a yard and pre-make binding for future projects.
  5. If you are binding a project with batting between the layers of fabric, such as a quilt, you may need to add ¼" to your strip cut width to account for the thickness or type of batting used. 
  6. If your project has more than one layer, again like a quilt, before attaching the binding, it’s a good idea to baste the edges together. This keeps any of the layers from folding back away from the edge in the sewing process. Otherwise, you would have to rip out your binding stitches and re-do those specific areas.
  7. You can use a fat quarter for binding, there are charts available on the Internet that do the math for you and explain how much binding you will get depending on the cut width of the strips.
  8. If your tube is wide enough, you can insert a small cutting mat inside it and use a rotary cutter to cut the final continuous strip. This works even better if you place the cutting mat on the small end of your ironing board, and slip the tube around your ironing board. 
  9. If you make your markings on the right side, you can use a rotary cutter and mat in the traditional manner, you'll just have to keep turning the tube and cutting a little at a time. Even doing that, it's still faster than using scissors as described above.

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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Comments (28)

Lady Di said:
Lady Di's picture

I like the article, just wish it were in a PDF format.  I have been quilting for 50 years and sewing for 60.  Guess I am telling my age.  There are things we forget as we age and that is why I rely heavily on the PDF files.  This tutorial give great directions, so I will go to last weeks and see what that has as well.  Thank You for such lovely information. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Lady Di - all of our articles offer a Print and Save to PDF option at the top right hand of the page - just opposite the date.

Lorraine Row-Smith said:
Lorraine Row-Smith's picture

Hadn't done binding for year or so had a general idea got on the internet to see what I could find and bingo so easy thank you back to the sewing machine....

Carmen Chenok said:
Carmen Chenok's picture

The directions are misleading at #16, 17, and 18.  One picture has the seam placed one way and the directions say "the lines should intersect with the 1/4" lines."  However, they don't.  I just finished marking my fabric according to the photo and the directions, scrolled down, and ..... low and behold!  The seam has been turned and the lines don't intersect.  Now I need to redraw all my lines.  Very frustrating. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Carmen Chenok - sorry to hear you were confused. The photos do show the vertical lines intersecting with the 1/4" lines top and bottom. In the photo below step #14, you see the plain piece with just the seam and the B/A pieces marked. Then in the photo below step #15, we show how we've drawn in the horizontal 1/4" lines top and bottom (the B/A position remains the same). And, in the photo below step #18, we show the vertical lines drawn in, which do intersect top and bottom (again, the postion of B/A is still the same). Perhaps you were confused by the photo below step #19? As the copy explains, it shows what to do with excess width. Again, we're not sure exactly where the frustration happened, but hope it works out better for you the next time through. 

Lauretta6 said:
Lauretta6's picture

It worked perfectly. Thank you so much. Project DONE.

cberrill2 said:
cberrill2's picture

Just a hint; I find it helps to cut 'v' shape notches where you are going to be matching the lines to make the tube- kinda like a dressmaking pattern does to help you match pieces. That way you are not messing about matching them up from either side or peering for the x through the fabric as that can often be where things go wrong!

Shellie said:
Shellie's picture

Ok!  I think I'm pretty close on getting this right.  I have two questions though:

1. (a) Why do the points of the triangles have to extend past the ends in Step 10.?  (b) If it has to be that way, then how far should they extend past the edges on either side?

2. (a) I have measured the marks on each end for my binding widths multiple times to make sure they're right before I draw my diagonal lines, but once I sew my tube and then cut along my line, my finished binding width is always narrower than it should be...any idea what I might be doing wrong? (b) Could what I asked about in question one have something to do with this issue?

Thanks so much for you help and the tutorial! :)

*** HELPFUL HINT FOR THOSE DOING THIS WITH LARGE PIECES OF FABRIC:  Use a carpenter's chalk line to draw your long lines... Just pull & snap, instant straight line!  So quick & easy!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ shelllie - the points extend beyond because you are matching up a straight line with a diagonal line. It extends approximately 1/4". Regarding your second question, it's hard to troubleshoot something like that long distance because it certainly sounds like you are doing the right thing. The width of your strips should not change during the construction. Remember, you'll have a "scrap" to trim off (in the steps above -- the piece with the "x's"). Beyond that, you might want to read through our other binding article linked above for additional help.

Kim U said:
Kim  U's picture

Thank you for sharing this tutorial. It turned out great, I will be using this method for all my quilts from now on.

Robin T. said:
Robin T.'s picture

Help!  I am totally lost!  I folded my fabric, ironed the crease, and cut it.  From there I am lost.  I sewed the two together as instructed, but wasn't totally convinced it looked right.  My husband said it was a parellelogram, but I don't understand how to mark the lines. My 1/4" lines don't look the same as yours and my parallel lines don't match up.  I think part of my problem is my fabric is much bigger than what you showed in the pictures, so I couldn't see what your entire picture showed.  That might help me immensely.  I have worked on this for two days and am very frustrated.  Please help!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Robin T. - sorry you are having frustrations. As we mentioned above, you are indeed starting with a parallelogram (your husband is right). We did extra steps and photos for this tutorial because is can be a bit of a brain teaser. It's hard to troubleshoot something like this long distance. Perhaps you should try the technique on a small scrap square. You could even use the exact 21" x 21" dimension from our sample. Try it small first (we call this "making a Barbie version) to master the steps, then move on to your real fabric. 

ElvaAliceCoulter said:
ElvaAliceCoulter's picture

I am at step 16, and am ready to mark off my 2-inch strips.  Do I start measuring the 2 inches from the very tip of the fabric, or from the point at which my 1/4 inch seam allowance marking intersects the edge?  (Great, great tutorial with wonderful narrative that "syncs" perfectly with your photos - Thanks so much.)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ ElvaAliceCoulter - If you have a see through ruler, it's easiest to lay the ruler parallel to the edge and draw your line. You are measuring 2" over from the left straight edge. The picture below step 18 probably shows it best.

ElvaAliceCoulter said:
ElvaAliceCoulter's picture

I don't have a see-through ruler, and had made 2 inch marks along the edge of the fabric, planning to just connect them with the lines.  When I drew the lines, my strips were straight and parallel, but much less than the two inch width I'd intended and calculated for. It's a geometry thing ... .  So I cut a 2 inch template out of cardboard and used that to rule across the midsection of the fabric, laying out the strips at their proper width and then extending the cutting lines out to the raw edge. The numbering system worked perfectly and I now have a lovely length of binding. Too much fun!  Now, I'll go out and buy myself one of those clear rulers, and pick up some pretty remnants at the same time.  Thanks for your prompt answer and for a great technique! 

Aunt Bee said:
Aunt Bee's picture

It is important to measure your next line the distance you want from the first line. Not along the seam, but from the line itself. If you measure along the seam you are measuring on the diagonal.  The diagonal between two lines is longer than a straight line between the two lines, therefore if you measure on the diagonal, say two inches, then the actual strip will be much narrower.   To prove this simply measure the square, 21", then measure the diagonal of that square, it will be much longer.  So if you want 2" wide strips, when marking your lines mark the lines, do not mark on the diagonal.   Simple geometry, but then I was a math major!

zoe said:
zoe's picture

how many meters of bias binding can you make per 21"x21" square?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Zoe - As we mention above:

If you are new to working with binding, as we mentioned above, please see our previous tutorial: Bias Binding: Figuring Yardage, Cutting, Making, Attaching. It gives you all the handy formulas, tips and techniques for the four key steps outlined in its title, discusses single fold versus double fold, and lists the tools to have on hand. 

So -- take a look at that tutorial. It will show you how to figure everything in inches, then you can convert to metric. 

Chera said:
Chera's picture

What a great tutorial! I had to resew my triangles when my parallelogram didn't look like yours and it was making it messy to draw my strips in, but it all worked out and now I have beautiful striped bias binding for my baby quilt! I especially appreciated the numbering; when I learned to do continuous bias binding in my costume course, we just had to offset the first and last strips, but it's a weird thing to get your head around! Numbering them made so much sense and made it much easier to line everything up. Thank you!

Kristen said:
Kristen's picture

I'm a bit confused about the numbering. In Step 21 it says: Along the bottom of the parallelogram, number your lines: 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. until all lines are numbered. But in the picture it looks like the numbering is 1, 2, 3, etc. Which would let the raw edge match up when connected to the top. Is this correct?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Kristen - yep - good catch. Step 21 should NOT say "zero" - it's been corrected above. Thanks for pointing this out. We re-did this tutorial slightly and must have overlooked that change.

babs4008 said:
babs4008's picture

Oooooooh, now I get it!  I've read a  couple of tutorials and tried this technique once, but it was a bit confusing until now.  Thank you again for making something that looked so complicated seem easy!  You give me confidence to try things I've been avoiding for years.

Linda A. Gonzales said:
Linda A. Gonzales's picture

This is awesome. Love it. Will do, soon. 

Thank you

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

I resurrected the Greist bias binder and have used it for binding pockets that go on aprons. It does, howerver, not take kindly to any seams in the binding. Any suggestions on how I can get it to accept the fabric? Thanks.

PS I love the simplicity of just using a presser foot and stitching once.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jane Coombs - The bias binder you mention is similar to other binding feet that are available on many models of machines. None of them are too happy with seams or really even a variety of fabric types. The thinner the better is best, so nothing over a quilting cotton. Many folks swear by their binder feet for all kinds of applications, but I feel they do best  with the smaller projects such as you describe: a bit of binding on an apron pocket. 

Tammy Larsen said:
Tammy Larsen's picture

Ingenious! Thanks for sharing and making my sewing easier. 

Thelma P said:
Thelma P's picture

This is awesome! I will definitely be trying this soon. I recently made my first tee-shirt quilt and made. My own binding...this would've been a great method to use.

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