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Perfectly Finished Quilt Edges Without Binding

Updated on March 3, 2017

For most quilters, binding the edges of a quilt is the last major step in completing the project. But how do you bind the edges if the quilt isn't a basic straight-sided shape? Or what if you prefer to have and un-bordered look? One good answer is to assemble the quilt inside out and then turn it to the right side, eliminating the need for binding altogether.

Inside-out method

The inside-out method allows nearly total freedom in deciding the quilt's shape, and it simplifies the edge finishing as well. The technique is particularly useful for making intricately shaped wall quilts, but it also offers advantages when making rectangular bed quilts. It is easy to make rounded corners at the foot of a bed quilt (which keeps a large quilt from dragging on the floor) or to make a fancy scalloped or zigzag border all the way around. There is also greater freedom in designing the top of the quilt, since the surface pattern can extend right to the edge of the quilt without the framed effect dictated by binding. Of course, it is also easy to include a framing border when you piece the quilt top if that is what you want. The inside-out technique can be used successfully on quilts from small wall pieces right up to king-size bed quilts.

Gather your completed quilt top, quilt back, and batting

Use a large clean surface such as a floor or table large enough to layout the whole quilt. The quilt top should be the size you want the finished quilt to be, plus seam allowances, since you won't be adding any extra borders late r. The backing should be the same size as the quilt top, unless the top is intricately shaped. For an intricate shape, just cut the backing to a rough shape that is a bit larger all around than the quilt top. Similarly, the batting should be a bit bigger all around than the quilt top. Both thick and thin types of batting work fine with this method.

Lay the batting out smooth and flat

Spread the backing fabric on top of the batt, right side up, smoothing it out with your hands or a lightweight wooden yardstick. Spread the quilt top over the backing, right side down, again smoothing it out carefully. You should now be looking at your quilt top and backing, right sides together, spread on top of the batt, with the seam side of the quilt top uppermost. Check to be sure that the batting and backing extend under all the edges of the quilt top.

Decide where you'll leave the opening

Decide where you'll leave the opening for turning the quilt right side out. For a large bed quilt with a thick batting, an opening 24" to 30" long is about the right size, and the center of the top edge (the edge that will be at the bed pillows) is a good place. Scale down the size of the opening for smaller quilts or thinner batts. An opening of 10" to 12" is plenty for a wall piece in the 36" by 36" range with a thin batt. For irregularly shaped quilts, try to locate the opening along a straight or gently curved part of the design. Put two pins side by side to mark each end of the opening, then pin every 6" or 8" around the rest of the quilt.

Sew around the entire quilt perimeter

Sew around the entire quilt perimeter, except the opening, using a sewing machine with a heavy duty needle (size 16) and a walking foot if you have one. Use the edge of the presser foot and the edge of the quilt top to guide you in maintaining an even seam allowance. A ½” seam allowance is preferred here, as it is easier than a ¼” seam to keep safely out of the way when the batting is trimmed in the next step. To reinforce the edges of the opening where the quilt will be turned, sew back-forward-back-forward over an inch or so at both ends of the opening.

Trim the excess batting

Trim the excess batting as close as possible to the line of stitching, being careful not to cut into anything but the batting. Also trim the batting across the opening, trimming to the same position as if it had been stitched. If your backing fabric was only roughly cut to shape, now trim it even with the quilt top all the way around. Clip any inside comers just to the line of stitching. Inside curves can also be clipped sparingly if needed. It's a good idea to put a drop of sealer such as Fray Check on any clips you make. Don't clip outside comers yet.

Turn it inside out

Now comes the moment you have been waiting for. Reach into the opening between the quilt top and the backing fabric until you can grasp the far edge of the quilt and begin turning it right side out. If there are outside comers, instead of clipping excess fabric, fold the seam allowances neatly toward the quilt top along the lines of stitching and hold them in place with your fingers as you turn the comer. This gives a sharp comer that is less vulnerable to eventual fraying than one that has been trimmed. (If you have very heavy fabric or very narrow acute angles, you may have to relent and do some clipping.) Gently pull and push until the whole quilt is right side out, then give it a shake or two to straighten the layers a bit. Things will still be pretty rumpled at this stage.

Finish the edges

The quilt perimeter will need to be either top stitched or pressed to tame and finish the edges. Machine topstitching is the easiest way to get thick battings to behave and it allows you to close the opening all in the same step. Hand topstitching also works well. Pressing can be done when you prefer not to topstitch for design reasons. On functional pieces that will be laundered regularly, topstitching is preferable, since it adds a second row of stitching anchoring the batting securely at the edges. The batting is already anchored by the perimeter seam that holds the quilt together, but on a heavily used quilt, it is conceivable that the batting could eventually work loose from a single, closely trimmed seam. Topstitching prevents this.

Whether you will topstitch or press the edge, begin by closing the opening. Bring the trimmed batting up to the seam line on the quilt back, then fold the seam allowance back over the batt and pin it in place. Fold under and press the seam allowance on the quilt top, then line up the edges of top and back and pin them together. Pin just the opening, not the rest of the perimeter.

Working with the upper layer of the quilt face up, start topstitching just past the pinned opening. Finger press and position the edge seam only a few inches at a time, then topstitch as you hold each small section in place. Work your way around the quilt in this fashion, then complete the topstitching by sewing across the pinned opening. If you used a 1/2" wide seam allowance when assembling the layers, then you can topstitch 1/4" from the finished edge and close the opening at the same time. This step is easily done on a sewing machine. If you decide to do the top stitching by hand, you'll probably want to do it outside of the thick seam-allowance area, then go back and slipstitch the opening.

If you choose to press instead of topstitch, work on the back of the quilt. Position the edge seam with your fingers a few inches at a time, pressing as you go. Press only along the very edge of the quilt, as a hot iron can permanently flatten that nice fluffy batting. Slipstitch the opening closed, catching the batting into your stitching at the same time.

Pinning or basting

The quilt is now ready to be pinned or basted in preparation for quilting. On large pieces such as bed quilts, the best results are obtained by stretching the piece in a frame large enough to accommodate the whole quilt, then either pinning it all over with large safety pins or basting it with thread. Once the quilt is in the frame, but before pinning or basting, check it over to be sure the batting is lying smooth inside the quilt. The batting can be grasped by pinching it through the quilt top and pulling it smooth if necessary. You may also want to mark quilting lines at this point.

Smaller pieces can be pinned or basted without stretching in a frame. Just lay them out on a flat surface, check that there are no wrinkles in the fabric or batting, and then pin or baste.

From here, quilting is completed by machine or hand as you normally would.

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      useful tis, i used to bound in the edges and hand sewn them

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Very interesting. I like this method (it seems so much easier to me than using binding, which I've never had much luck with). Love all of your great instructions and photos.