From the Bernina Fan Club

From Backing to Binding


J. Colleen Fry Segroves /Fancywork Studio Designs

© 1999 for personal use only.

This material is intended to help complete quilts in a professional manner. The same techniques developed for Folkscape Quilting produce equal length finished sides on other quilt styles. Since I combine elements from realistic, pictorial, landscape, and folk art designs, none of the usual indicators, such as sashing, are available for squaring up. Over time I discovered finishing quilts is the most challenging part of quilt making. My techniques developed by trial, error, and study have been instrumental in winning many ribbons, and getting my quilts before the public. For best results, please read the entire document before using the techniques.

Helpful resources include Joen Wolfrom's Landscapes and Illusions and Harriet Hargrave's marvelous books.

I. Backing quilts:

Carefully chosen backings often elevate a quilt from average to extraordinary. All quilts over 42 inches wide require pieced backings. If seams of the backing fall into horizontal or vertical centerlines, judges usually delete points since center seams receive heavy stress and wear. Backing fabrics should reflect the pattern and/or style of the quilt. Example: a flying geese top enhanced by realistic geese print appliques, or flying geese patches. My Amish Folkscape is backed with a Roman Stripe quilt top. There are many different ways to add backart.

  1. Be sure to provide 4 to 6 extra inches on all sides of the quilt backing for home machine or hand quilting. Professional machine quilters require an extra 8 to 12 additional inches of backing fabric on all sides. Select random, monochromatic fabric designs. Do add back art. Color match the bobbin thread to the backing when machine quilting. Change the top thread at any time without breaking off the bobbin thread. Leave a long thread tail on top, which can be worked into the quilt invisibly with a "handicap" open eye needle. (Check at sewing stores for the needles.)

  2. Do a quilting scrap sandwich to test fabric and batting results. I also recommend practicing on mini-check woven gingham. Quilting stitches fall evenly into the small squares of the woven gingham. Machine or hand quilting on the gingham makes design problems more apparent so design problems may be corrected before quilting.

  3. Full backings do not need to be added all at once. On most quilts, borders may be added after all but 3 to 5 inches around the edges of the center portion are quilted. Square up the center portion, fold the top and bottom edges back, secure by pinning before adding the border batting.

  4. Extra border batting may be applied in three ways:
    (a.) abut the straight edges of the battings by hand stitching them together using large herringbone or zigzag stitches in thread which matches the batting.
    (b) Overlap the battings by several inches before cutting a curving (serpentine) path through both layers at the same time. Separate and remove waste batting from the curving seam edges. The two new pieces will match perfectly. Baste as described in Part II Basting the Quilt # 2.
    (c) Add borders and batting together by adding them in the following way. Measure and cut all borders and the batting. Be sure to leave extra fabric on the back and batting. Sandwich as follows: backing to the backing with right sides together, batting is matched to the back. Pin them as you go. Add the top border to the topside with right sides together. Using a quarter inch seam, start stitching from the upper right corner placing the bulk of the fabric to the left of the machine. Trim away most of the batting seam allowance. Baste the border sections, quilt and re-square.

[When making Folkscape wall quilts, I like to hand quilt the main section of the top and wool batting without backing. After squaring up the center, I add complete backing and batting plus front borders to the quilted center. The Folkscape pops forward with a softer look -- Where the backing is unquilted I do "hidden quilting", my own technique.]

II. Sandwiching and Basting Quilts:

A young quilter casually asked: "Can I iron batting?" I inquired why the batt needed ironing. She replied that it wasn't smooth. You'll find the answer to her question in this section.


  1. Choose a large flat surface as noted in Part III:
    Needed Tools. Avoid spongy carpeting, or surfaces that may be marred by pins

  2. Before laying out the backing, fold the right side of the fabric into quarters; fasten a safety pin at the apex of the folds. Repeat for the quilt top. Later the safety pins lie on top of each other marking the center point of the quilt.

  3. With the largest size bulldog clips or one-inch masking tape anchor the backing right side down starting at the middle of each side. Next anchor the middle of the bottom edge. Continue alternating around the sides until all edges are secure. Keep the tension equal. Work from the centers to the corners.

  4. Batting has grain, check Harriet Hargrave's books on the subject. She recommends aligning the grains of the backing and batting in the same direction. This will make quilting much easier whether by machine or hand. Both fabric and batting stretch more on the cross grain. Vertical grain is stable.

  5. Remove the batting from its packaging 24 hours before using. If badly wrinkled, place it in a clothes dryer for 5 to 10 minutes on wrinkle release without heat. After laying the batting over the backing, remove folds and other wrinkles by sweeping your forearm gently across the batting surface. Don't stretch the batting. A number of excellent quilters use the new basting sprays. Most Bernina dealers carry these products. I prefer Sullivan's Basting Spray on washable quilts and no spray on non-washable quilts.

  6. The safety pins marking the center of the quilt are placed on top of each other. Don't automatically expect problems to "quilt out." Check with a ruler to test whether the seams are straight before basting the sandwich. Leave several extra inches of batting and the extra backing allowance on all sides until quilting is finished.

Basting the quilt.

Directions are included for several of my favorite basting methods. The quilter should choose the one, which seems easiest before trying the others.

  1. I pre-baste a quilt with large headed pins or safety pins securing sandwich in order to move it. I prefer to pin the quilt with all pinheads or safety pin heads pointing to my right and the points toward the left. [This is about the only use for large headed pins. Fine needles or long silk pins are better for sewing by machine since the smaller heads do not lift the fabric from the machine bed thus distorting seams.] Then move the quilt to a table to hand baste by sections or over the lap to close the safety pins.

  2. Place pins in rows about 4 to 6 inches apart resulting in a gridded surface with all sharp points pointing to the left. Roll up the quilt from the bottom to the top. Hand baste quarter-sized sections stitching outward from the center point of the quilt gridding the quilt with large zigzag or open herringbone stitches. The distance between basting lines varies according to the batting contents. Check directions on the batting container. To baste by machine, use a long basting stitch and a walking foot. All stitching rows are sewn with the pinpoints facing the machine needle and the bulk of the quilt to your left. Another choice is to have basting done on a professional quilting machine. Do be sure the operator aligns it so that the corners do not stretch out and middles shrink in. I hand baste my show quilts.

  3. Some quilters use large needles and heavy weight thread to baste, but lighter weight threads and fine, long needles make fewer needle holes. To repair needle holes brush a fingernail or a toothbrush across the fabric horizontally and vertically. For less impact by basting use silk thread.

  4. When quilting, remove only the basting threads where you are working. Since the weight of the quilt can cause the quilt to stretch, remove the quilt from hoops or decrease the tension on floor frames when not working.

  5. Closed safety pins work well on large machine quilted projects. The tacking gun seems to offer the least interference when machine quilting but it increases potential damage of fabric. Work the needle of the basting gun gently through the sandwich to prevent broken fibers. Machine or hand basting is best for hand quilting in my opinion. I use gloves for basting and machine quilting.

III. Squaring Up:

Why do I square up a quilt more than once? Perfectionism? Actually, I panic if uneven or rippling sides occur on my quilts. They distract from the beauty of the quilt and are preventable. So, before doing anything, ask yourself an important question: "Will squaring up the design before adding the borders chop off points or pattern? That answer determines whether to square up the quilt at this point. Squaring up a quilt two times is standard for me.

Needed tools: A helper speeds up this process. A 12' or longer metal carpenters measuring tape in a locking metal case. (A 120" fiber glass tape measure is harder to handle.) Two large corner square rulers to set corners. A metal yardstick: wooden yardsticks may vary in length or warp. Gimp twine, available at Bernina stores. Large headed pins. A fine marker to show up on the quilt top. Cutting matt. Inch wide masking tape and a large flat surface such as a hard floor or cutting table. [I had my sewing room floor tiled in 12" X 12" blocks. Squaring up begins when the backing is laid out.] Another solution is to push large rectangular tables together to form a surface. Churches, schools, quilt shops, or libraries usually allow scheduling of on site table use.

Squaring up directions: This section may also be used to pre-square the top as well as prepare the quilt for the binding. You may find it helpful to draw a traditional four-patch quilt with borders equaling the width of one block on paper. Lightly shade the center blocks. Use other colors of pencils for the other steps of the technique. The proportions will be the same for type or size of quilt: the outsides edges, 1/2 the width for the centers, and 1/4 of the quilt width for the other two lines. This places one set of 5 gimp lines horizontally and another vertically across the quilt.

  1. Prepare the quilt sandwich by clipping away thread tails and extended corners, clean up any fraying edges, press all seams directionally then press the front and back of the quilt top. Lay out the quilt as if to sandwich according to the directions in Part II. Secure the backing to the work surface according to directions for basting. [My sewing room has 12" X 12" tile so that basting, sandwiching and squaring begin immediately.] Be careful not to stretch the quilt when taping it down.

  2. Lay five lengths of gimp across the quilt forming the square grid beginning with centerlines. Sidelines are laid out by starting at the narrowest part of the border or side. Lines for the other sides will fall at the same border width. Pin all lines where they cross.

  3. Carefully place the corner square ruler on top of the crossed lines in the center of the quilt. Align it so that the crossed lines fall under the center crossed lines on the ruler. The key is to align and pin them exactly in position to make 4 equal squares. Simply slide any incorrect line into the correct place and pin it down. I recommend checking and correcting the entire vertical and horizontal centerlines in this manner before moving on.

  4. Use the square ruler to correct any set of crossed lines. Then, use the metal yardstick to extend the lines toward the borders. When all interior lines are correct, begin at the narrowest section of the border to straighten the sidelines. Use the square ruler to keep perpendicular lines straight

  5. Correct any corner deviations by placing square rulers in each corner of a side. Use the carpenter's rule to make a line from corner to corner making certain that the gimp corners are squared. With the carpenter's rule and a helper, pull out the metal tape longer than the diagonal lengths of the quilt. Lock the tape into place. Measure from the very tip of the upper right corner gimp lines to the same point on the bottom left corner. Be as accurate as possible. Repeat the process on the other diagonal. To locate and correct slight side errors, measure from the centerlines to the outside lines of gimp. Be sure they are equal. Measure the width of the borders to see that they are all the same. Equal measurements for diagonals and sides prove you have a squared up quilt!

  6. To mark the quilt-sides lay square rulers inside the top and bottom corners on the same quilt side, place the yardstick alongside the twine. Carefully draw a parallel line along the gimp. Secure the gimp so that it remains straight. These permanently marked lines must be exact. Remove all gimp and masking tape. Place the quilt on the cutting matt; use a rotary cutter to cut on the marked line or trim the edges with the quilt over your lap. The key is to make accurate, straight cuts through all layers. After removing the excess, stitch around the edges at 3/8 " from the edges to stabilize the quilt. Begin stitching at the top right corner edge. Stop at the bottom edge. Repeat on all sides forming tiny squares in each corner that will be helpful later.

Squaring up pictorial, landscape or Folkscape quilts: Differences occur when laying out the gimp gridding for this type of quilt. Place two lines at the edges of the mid-ground separating the foreground and background from the middle. For design reasons, no focus of interest or separation of sections should fall in the middle of the quilt. After marking these sections, either place a centerline at the half way place between the first two lines or measure the side of the quilt and divide the number in half to find the middle. The first vertical line will divide the quilt into equal halves.

IV. Preparation and Binding Tips.

To my shock, Ruth B McDowell and others complete their entire binding before quilting. I have better results quilting and squaring up before binding. While there are many binding styles such as prairie points and inch wide Amish bindings, I believe in learning traditional methods first.

  1. Make the bindings according to this formula: multiply one finished width by three then double the measurement plus an additional 1/8 " to equal 1 5/8". The extra eighth inch allows for a "turn of cloth" where the doubled binding wraps over edge of the quilt. It's okay to use a 1 3/4" width, but it will overlap stitching which attaches the binding to the quilt a bit more. I often use the larger width when adding grosgrain ribbon between the binding and the quilt. Allow about 2 feet more binding than the sum of quilt sides.

  2. Cut all bindings on the straight of grain. Bias bindings are more prone to cause rippling sides.

  3. To join the bindings, overlap the beginning of one strip and the end of next strip with right sides together for 2 inches -- Cut a 45 degree or bias angle across the overlapped strips with the longer end of the bottom piece on the right side. All binding seams will match. To join bias edges of the binding pieces, align the cut edges with right sides together. A triangle (1/4th") will extend on each end. The strips will angle away from each other. Machine stitching begins at the notch formed between the extended triangle of one piece and straight edge of the other piece. It ends in a similar "v" at the bottom. Do not stretch while stitching. Press the seam open. Trim off the extending corners. Continue in this manner until all binding strips are joined leaving only the start and end of the binding free. Fold all binding in half with wrong sides together and press. Open the beginning of the binding with the cut, square end aimed away from you. Fold the top left corner down matching the right side of the binding. Press. Leaving a quarter inch seam allowance on the folded corner, trim away the rest of the loose triangle. Trim away the left over triangle.

  4. Sit at the sewing machine with the quilt rolled from the left to the right side. Start the binding at least 12 inches below the corner or at about one-third of the way down from the top of the right side of the quilt. No binding seam may fall within 8 to 12 inches of any corner. Re-cut and re-stitch any binding where this happens. When measuring allow extra binding to cover the corners.

  5. Lay the beginning of the binding on top of the quilt with the shortest side of the folded seam allowance closest to you. Use small-headed silk pins across the binding and quilt edge for the first 6 inches. Next mark the corner seam allowances. Each quilt corner has a 1/8th" stitched square where the quilt was stabilized. Those small squares will help mark the quilt's corners. Use fine needles inserted parallel to the stay stitching to form exact quarter inch squares. These two needles are the basis for turning the corner. Mark all 4 corners in the same manner.

  6. Proceed to pin the rest of the binding in place with the pinheads closest to you and the point's facing toward the start of the binding. As I work, I measure each side length of the quilt and binding to be certain that each pair of side lengths will be equal in length. Start stitching the binding just after the pins going across the start of the binding. With the quilt bulk on your left accurately stitch a quarter inch seam allowance parallel to the quilt edge. This determines the accuracy of the binding. The beginning and end of the binding will be the last section stitched. Remove pins by sliding a fingernail down the seam line catching the head pinhead and pulling it toward you just as it is reached.

  7. About 1 inch before the corner reduce the stitch length slightly before continuing to the first needle, stop, backstitch for 3 stitches then remove the quilt from the machine. This part is tricky so read and do it step by step. Take the loose end of the binding and lay it on the table perpendicular to the next side. The folded binding edge will make a half-square triangle over the just stitched binding. Next fold the binding over the new side of the quilt. The fold at the edge will line up even with the edge of the prior corner. Carefully pin the corner in place and slide it back under the needle. Resume by stitching from the folded corner. Be careful not to over where the stitching ended on the first side. To check the accuracy, look at the backside of the quilt. Remove the second needle just as you reach it. Continue stitching on the binding until within 4 inches of the beginning.

  8. Remove the quilt from the needle; slide it to the left of the needle. Lap the binding end over the beginning. Place a pin across the loose end =BC inch after the shorter fold of the starting edge then cut across the binding just after the pin. This leaves enough binding to tuck between the bias folded edges of the beginning. The outside edge of the end binding will protrude below the beginning binding. This accounts for a turn of cloth. Alternate pinning the unstitched sections of binding to the quilt working toward the spot where ending tucks inside the beginning. Once these are pinned into place, slide the quilt under the presser foot, and secure by overlapping the stitching for =BD" on each end. Remove the quilt from the machine. Trim away the small left over turn of cloth that sticks out to reduce bulk in that spot.

  9. Prepare the corners before hand stitching the bindings to the quilt back. Trim the bulk from the corners by cutting across the smaller stay stitched squares. Press all binding toward the raw edges. For straighter firmer sides place a 3/8" grosgrain ribbon between the quilt top and the binding. Use either white or a color matching the binding. Cut two lengths of ribbon equal to each set of sides minus 1/2 inch leaving a quarter inch empty at each corner. When whip stitching the binding to the back of the quilt by hand, the folded edge of the binding should just cover the stitching line attaching it to the quilt. The grosgrain ribbon helps keep the binding width equal. Upon reaching a corner, fold the binding so that the bulk the front of the corner lies opposite to the bulk of the back.

  10. At each corner and where the binding begins, there are folds which are not secured. With matching thread invisibly stitch these places closed.

Add a hanging sleeve and label to complete your quilt.

*Copyrighted material found in this document shall not be used in other publication, be taught by teachers, or be used in any other manner without permission of the author. It is for personal use only and may not be copied for other users.

To contact the author:
J. Colleen Fry Segroves, or write to
3824 Saddlehead Drive
Plano, Texas 75075

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