Understanding, Making, and Using Binding Tape

Tools for making binding tape

Baffled by binding? Biased towards bias? Never fear, you’re not alone. To help, here’s a special post on understanding, making, and using binding tape to finish edges in sewing projects. Rather than repeat general binding information in our sewing project posts, this is a special all-in-one reference post for anyone not familiar with binding. We’ll look at bias binding, straight edge binding, fabrics, making binding, and more. As an added bonus, if making or sewing binding is a new technique for you, pet crafts are great for practising or trying new techniques. They won’t care if you make a few mistakes or things look a less than perfect.

What is Binding?

The sewing term binding refers to finishing the edge of a sewing project with a cover material. Binding materials are commonly referred to a bindings or binding tapes. Binding tapes are often referred to a bias tapes or bias binding, but not all bindings are actually made from fabric cut on the bias (diagonal to the grain). We’ll talk more about how orientation can affect the look and/or performance of the binding later in the post. Binding materials can be bought ready-made, but they’re fairly easy to make. DIY takes a little extra patience and time, but is a great way to customise the fabric, style, and/or size of the binding. Plus making your own binding tapes can be very cost efficient.

Different Types of Binding Tapes

Single-Fold Binding Tape

Single-fold binding tape actually has two folds. Just to mess with your mind!  Yeah, mine too. But it will all make sense once we get to the double-fold. Length wise, each of the raw edges of the tape are folded inwards towards the middle of the strip. Single-fold tape is commonly used as a facing material for sewing projects. It finishes the raw edge, but is only visible on one-side of the finished project.

Double-Fold Binding Tape

Double-fold binding tape has three folds. It’s like a single fold tape, but folded again at the middle, hence the double fold. Length wise, each of the raw edges fold inwards and then there is a main fold along the middle. Double-folded binding tape is what is most commonly used to wrap and bind edges in sewing projects. Despite its doubled layers at the sides, this type of binding is still only one layer thick at the centre fold, which is where the raw edge of the bound material sits when wrapped in the binding.

Other Types of Binding

For special projects that are made of hard materials, made for heavy use or wear, or are intended to last a very long time, you might want to approach binding a little differently. For example. when I made recycled t-shirt quilts, I used a French fold binding.  That’s a true double fold binding, where the strips were folded fully in half before forming the binding with two layers of material across the raw quilt edge.

Homemade Binding Fabric Choices

Fabric Options

Binding fabric choices depend on the look and style of the project and how durable you want to make the finished item. If you’re making your own binding tape, there are a few things that can help to make things a little easier:

  • Some fabrics are just much easier to work with than others. Especially if you’re making, folding, handing, and sewing little strips. Materials that fray easily or are prone to snags and pulls will make your binding making and application much harder.  
  • Binding tape making with the usual methods requires a lot of ironing. Ironing is helpful for application as well. Using a material that can be ironed and hold creases nicely makes things much easier.
  • Making long strips? Joining pieces? Plain colours or small random patterns are easier to join than pattern matching.
  • Strong patterns may look very different as binding depending on the direction of cut or type of application. This can be a style statement, but you need to plan for it. Play around with your materials and see what you like before committing to cutting. 

Direction of Cutting for Binding Strips

Binding strips can be cut on the bias (diagonal to the grain) or as a straight edge binding, cut either cross-grain (parallel to the selvage) or lengthwise (perpendicular to the selvage). Bias cuts are popular because they are slightly more flexible, and that small amount of stretch can be very helpful when binding curves. It can also be a bit more durable since the bound edge falls across the fabric threads on a diagonal, not in line. Straight edge bindings are easier to cut, but less flexible. For patterns, choosing between a bias or straight cut can also make a huge difference to appearance. The example below shows strips cut from the same fabric on different orientations.

Understanding, Making, and Using Binding Tape

Binding Making Tools and Equipment

Binding can be made by hand, without any special tools other than standard cutting tools, and iron and an ironing board.  You can also use special binding tape makers, like the ones shown in the photos here. Tape makers are available from sewing suppliers, the sewing section of large craft shops, and online at large retailers like AliExpress or Amazon. They’re very inexpensive and useful to speed up folding common sizes. You can check out the binding tape makers on Amazon (affiliate link) for product examples and ideas. 

Binding tape makers are simple tools that help pre-fold the strips into a flattened U-shape for ironing single-fold strips. These can be used as-is or folded again along the centre to make double-fold tape. The size of the tape maker dictates the size of the finished binding, which can be a limiting factor on design use. They can also be a bit tricky with some fabrics depending on thickness, texture, etc.  I often fold by hand, especially for wide decorative bindings, but the makers are great for standard bindings. Mine got a serious workout making all the bindings for sewing reusable masks for family, friends, and neighbours. And now I have a binding box in my craft stash for ready use, too!

Preparing Fabric Strips for Making Binding Tape

  • Wash fabric to preshrink and reduce the risk of colour bleeding, if /as required. Dry thoroughly.
  • Iron flat to ensure even measuring and cutting. This will help things pull through smoothly when it’s time to fold, too.
  • Cut into measured strip (or strips if joining to make a long piece of binding).
  • Optional: If joining, sew the strips together. To do this with minimum bulk on the finished project, the strips are usually joined on a diagonal. This can be done individually to join the ends of each strip or (for a bias binding) pre-sewn and cut as a continuous strip.

Making Binding Tape by Hand

As above, I have a set of bias tape makers, but I often hand fold. This lets me decide exactly what I want, but it does take time with all that cutting, folding, and ironing. It’s particularly useful for making extra large decorative bindings, which are too big for my tape makers.

Folding the strips to make the single fold binding tape:

  • Fold the fabric wrong-sides-in at an even seam allowance from the raw edges towards the mid line of the fabric, ironing to press the crease. You can do both sides individually, or one then the other. 

Folding the strips to make the double fold binding tape:

  • Incrementally fold wrong-sides together along the midline of the strip (optional at this stage, but I like to use this as a guide when hand folding), ironing to press the crease. See tips below about equal allowances on each fold vs. offsets.
  • Open. Incrementally fold each raw edge again from side-to-centre towards your create at an even seam allowance, ironing to press the creases. You can use a hemming guide or other tool to help keep your allowances uniform, if needed. 
  • Incrementally refold along the centre (or with a slight offset if you prefer), ironing again full length to ensure all creases are set.

Making Binding Tape with Tape Makers

As noted above, binding tape makers are an inexpensive and helpful tool if you frequently use standard sized bindings. The fabric strips are prepared as above, but then the tape makers help with the work of folding. They take care of the edge folds quickly and evenly, when used with care. To work properly, it’s essential that your fabric strips are cut to the right size for your specific tape maker. That will help ensure smooth pull-through use and a consistently folded tape. 

  • Slide one end of the prepared fabric strip in through the wide end, and out through the narrow end of your tape maker. You may need to use something pointy to pull it into place. Most binding tape makers sets come with a tool to help.
  • Incrementally pull the fabric through the maker. As the fabric is pulled through the marker, it will be folded inwards on both edges. 
  • Press with an iron to set the folds as you work your way along the length of the strip. 

The finished tape is a ready to use single fold binding. If you’re making a double fold binding, the tape makers does your edge folds. Then the middle fold needs to be made and pressed manually. 

Additional Tips and Tricks

  • If you aren’t confident with manually folding an even allowance, you can use a sewing gauge or make a guide out of a thin piece of cardboard with a marked line measured from the edge. Guides are handy for consistently pressing a foldover for hemming or other uniform folds, not just when making binding.
  • Most ready-made (and DIY, if you take the extra time) double-fold bindings don’t have a perfectly even fold. They have a small offset, with one side slightly bigger than the other. This makes it easier to ensure that the back side is caught in on the second sewing. It also allows a little extra room for folding over the thickness of the sandwiched material(s). Using an offset can help with some of the commonly experienced stitchline issues when attaching double-fold bindings, as noted below. Avoiding frustration is always nice.
  • DIY double-fold binding is often made with a centred fold, as this is much easier than folding and ironing a perfect offset for the full length of the binding. Using a gauge or simple guide can help you quickly fold and press with an offset instead.
  • Bindings can also be left unfolded and applied using measured allowances instead of the creases as guides. This is common in quilting, but can be particularly helpful in other sewing projects for materials that can’t be ironed or are poor at holding creases.
Dalmatian DIY black polka dot divider bar

Binding Tape Application Techniques and Examples

Please excuse my quick cutting and sewing on these example pieces. I’ve selected scrap fabrics from my craft stash that have a right side and a wrong side for visual clarity, and small patterns so that they don’t distract from the obvious stitching. I’ve also used black (needle) and purple (bobbin) threads to make sure that the stitching is easy to see on the examples. Ugly, but effective for blog post examples.

Binding vs. Facing

Before I start with binding, let’s take a quick look at using it as a seam finish facing. As noted in the types of tapes above, this is a common edge finishing method using single-fold binding tape. When used as a facing, the tape is only visible on one side of the finished project, instead of both like a double-fold binding. Facing gives a tidy finish, and can also be use for design or decorative effects. One of my all time favourite skirts had a wide decorative facing at the bottom hem, visible only on the inside lining. Just a flash of extra style.

Using single fold tape as an inside facing:

  • Align the tape right-side-in to the right side of the fabric, then sewn along the fold line. 
  • If needed, the seam allowance can be trimmed and tidied.
  • Fold the attached tape back on itself, so it’s facing right-side-up on the wrong side of the fabric with both folds tuck under.
  • Iron flat (if materials allow).
  • Sew the tape into place near the folded edge (double lines) or just at the free edge, depending on preferences. Remember that the reverse stitch lines will be visible on the front of the material.

Using single fold tape as an outside trim:

If using single fold tape as an outside trim, the process is the same, except that the application starts with the tape aligned right-side-in to the wrong side of the fabric.

Using Bindings to Create a Cased Edge Finish (Bound Edges)

Different Strokes (or Stitches) for Different Folks

When sewing binding, everyone likes to do things a little differently. Most methods work similarly if you’re careful with positioning and sewing. Do what works for you. It often depends on the materials, project, and person. My methods vary depending on what I’m sewing.

Binding Methods and Additional Resources

I’ll give a brief intro to some of the binding attachment techniques, options, and common issues below. Additional resources are available on our pet craft help Pinterest board.

Personal Preferences

I’ve tried several different application techniques and confess that I usually prefer sewing and top-stitching the top/right side. My still growing sewing skills are tidier on the top (and I’m not the most patient sewist). Cucicucicoo has a beautifully detailed step-by-step guide with photos for sewing binding tape right-to-right if you need help with positioning. Lisa also has great tips for binding curves in her post.

If using a two-step method, sewing the shorter right-to-right and then topstitching again from the right side, with the longer fold on the back, creates a neat finish and consistent catch/cover. If sandwiching (or cheating with hemming tape – see below) then sewing from the top (if there is a top or right side on the project) is the easy go-to.

For extra special projects or tricky materials, using a guide such as a basting line (see below) or pin placement for visual reference can also help. As an extra tip, I’ve added some inexpensive binding clips to my sewing stash since this post was first created and shared. They’ve been incredibly helpful for positioning and holding binding compared to pinning, although they can also be used in combination with pins in tricky sections of a project for perfect placement.  You can check out binding clips on Amazon (affiliate link) for examples.

Two Step Double-Fold Binding Application (With Corner)

Two-step binding is the common application method for double fold, whether you preference is to sew front-to-back or back-to-front, machine or hand-finished. It gives a neat finish and has the benefit of the first fold being flapless thanks to the first stitch line underneath. It does, however, come with the risks of the binding failing to completely cover the first stitch line (peeking) and/or not fully catching the back of the binding on the second stitch line. We’ll look closer at those in the common binding application issues later in this post.

Step-by-step sewing double fold binding and turning a corner

Sewing a Double-Fold Binding with Corner

Side one (step one):

  • Unfold the end of the binding. Position it at the starting point, right sides facing, so that one raw edge is aligned with the raw edge of the fabric. Note that if you’ve made binding uneven edge folds, it is the fold of the shorter side that is sewn first.
  • Sew the binding into place along the first fold line, stopping near the unfolded binding’s width from the corner.
    • Remove the item from the machine.
    • Fold the tape upwards 90 degrees. Ensure it is in line with the next side (perpendicular to the current side). Iron to press a crease. Unfold. Alternatively, if the material can’t be ironed or won’t hold a crease, a pin can be used to mark the pivot and/or the fabric marked.
    • Return the item to the machine (same position) and resume sewing.
    • At the fold crease, pause sewing. With the needle down, lift the foot and rotate the item towards the corner. Lower the foot and sew along the crease line all the way to the edge (corner).
    • Remove the item from the machine.
    • Refold the tape upwards 90 degrees. Ensure it is in line with the next side (perpendicular to the current side), then make another fold downwards at the edge. Iron (or pin/pinch) and carefully return the item to the machine, positioned to sew the next edge starting from the very top of the folded binding.
  • Continue sewing along the first fold line of the next side of your project.

Side two (step two):

If the materials allow, ironing (straight sections only) the binding before turning and wrapping can help to ensure that the first line fold lies well. The corners will naturally mitre when the binding is turned and can be pinned or clipped to hold neatly folded.

  • When you have full sewn the item (and joined ends, if applicable), trim threads and turn the item over. 
  • Wrap the binding over the edge.
  • Carefully topstitch (or other technique, if/as you prefer) the binding into place, taking extra care to ensure the corners are neatly folded on both sides.

Pinning is normally enough to keep everything in place on small items, but a double check never hurts. Unlike unpicking! For large projects or difficult fabrics, as I reach the corner, I like to remove my item from the machine, ensure the corner is folded as neatly as possible (checking both sides), reinsert the item on turned around the corner, and start sewing again.

One Step Sandwich Double-Fold Binding Application (With Corner)

When done carefully, this “cheat” application method looks visually almost identical to the two step method. It can be quicker, but it’s essential that things be carefully positioned to avoid mismatches or movement during application. Additionally, since the first fold line hasn’t been sewn down before top stitching, it will have a small free flap, which can be minimised with narrow (or in the ditch) topstitching or using a centred fold for the binding instead of an offset fold.

Step-by-step sewing double fold binding and turning a corner as a single step sandwich

Sewing a Double-Fold-Binding with Corner Using a One Step Sandwich

  • Fold binding and position it at the starting point, sandwiched over the edge so that the raw edge of the material is against the centre fold of the binding
  • Sew the binding into place, going right to the edge. Then to turn the corner:
    • Remove the item from the machine.
    • Pull the binding open at the edge. Manually manipulate the corner into a neat point, ensuring it is the same on both sides. 
    • Refold around the next side, sandwiched over the edge so the raw edge of the material is against the binding centre fold.
    • Optional: Iron (if materials allow), pin, and/or clip.
  • Return the item to the machine on the original side. 
  • Resume sewing so that the top stitched line appears uninterrupted, pausing needle down to turn the corner onto the new side. 

Common Binding Application Issues

When machine binding, two of the most common problems are not concealing the first step stitch line when the binding is turn and sewn in the second step (peeking), or not catching the back of the binding when the front is sewn in the second step. I’ve had both happen on past projects, and it’s super annoying having to unpick and do-over. Grizzle.

Positioning Problems when Applying Bindings

The relative position of the binding front/back needs to be right for both the application method and the thickness of the item being bound. In two-step application, here are some common issues:

  • If the folded over binding can’t reach to cover the reverse stitching from the first step, then it’s impossible to conceal that stitching. 
  • Wrapped? If the folded over binding reaches but the fit is tight, you might still get peeking. Depending on your method and position for sewing the second stitch line, if it’s too far above first the stitch line, the first stitch line will still be visible peeking from the edge of the finished binding. 
  • If the second stitch line is too far below the first stitch line, it will fail to catch at the rear. The stitching will be visible on the body of the project instead of on the finished binding.
  • A mix of good attachment, peeking, and/or failed catching may happen if the raw edges of the materials are uneven, if binding is unevenly folded, or if either the material or binding are stretched during application. Problems can also happen if the binding is unevenly attached in the first step (whether with an uneven stitch line or movement in the binding position relative to the edge), and/or the if the second stitch line is uneven.

Offset Bindings

As noted in the binding making section above, most ready-made double-fold bindings don’t have a perfectly centred fold. They are offset, with one side slightly longer than the other. That makes it easier to ensure that the reverse side is caught in on the second sewing. The difference is usually small, intended for stitching the top at (in the ditch) or very near the edge of the binding (narrow topstitch). This may or may not not be suited to the project you are sewing. DIY double fold bindings can be made with an offset, too. It just takes a little extra patience when folding and ironing your binding strips to make even offsets.

Concealing the First Stitch Line on Double-Fold Binding

Reducing the Risk of Visible Stitches

Using a bobbin thread that matches the fabric for the first stitch line can be handy for reducing visible peeking under the flap when topstitching, but it’s better to try to avoid peeking unless done purposefully. It’s possible to deliberately create a visible stitch line on the fabric (whether from the first or the second step) by using a consistent intentional gap and a thread colour that will either disappear into the finished project or act as a framing accent. Visible stitching can be distracting, but on heavily stitched items, like quilts, it can fade into the other decorative stitching on the quilted main fabric. Here is an example of the technique in use from Cluck Cluck Sew.

Avoiding Visible Stitches

To avoid a mismatch, the binding can be made (or attached) just slightly larger on one side using the offset technique. If necessary, include extra allowance for the edge thickness of the materials being bound. In the thick example piece below, the failed example shows an attachment without allowing for thickness. Then the successfully bound example shows the binding unfolded, re-ironed to allow for  wrapping the thick edge, double checked for coverage before sewing (better to check than to unpick), and then sewn into place with the two-step process (back first) and a narrow topstitch finish.

Example showing how material thickness affects application of binding tape

Avoiding Peeking from Under the Fold

To avoid peeking under the flap when machine narrow topstitching a binding, in most cases, position the second stitch line just barely above the first stitch line. Too far above, and it will be possible to see the reverse of the first stitches under the free flap. Too far below and it may not catch the rear. Need extra help? Using temporary markers as guidelines can help with positioning to ensure catch (see below). Decorative stitching (see below) instead of a straight top stitch can also help by holding down a wider section of the tape, but more prominent stitching may affect the finished look and style of the project.

Catching the Rear When Applying Double-Fold Binding

Using Temporary Markers

A temporary marker can help with help ensure that the second stitch line catches the rear. One option, if pinholes won’t damage the finished project, is to use a temporary basting line guide along the edge of the back fold. The basting stitches provide a visual marker that, if stitched above, will ensure the back is caught. This can be very helpful for positioning, especially if sewing right at the edge. When finished, pull the basting line out. Perfect!

Example showing how a basting stitch line can be used as a guide when sewing binding tape

Replacing the First Stitchline with Tape

Cheating a little on the application might not be the classic choice, but it can help avoid many of these the problems. Iron-on hemming tape (if materials allow), or washable / wash-out double-sided tape can be used to secure the first side of the binding. Then there’s no first stitch line at all! This can also be helpful if you want to reduce holes, like when using binding or facing on waterproof materials. I’ve even used this method to attached trim on completely no sew DIY dog bandanas. They look the part, but don’t use any stitching at all.

Tapes work best with single edges and/or combined with other techniques for corner areas. See the one step sandwich method above, which can be easily adapted for use with tape instead of pins/clips.

Example showing how to use iron on hemming tape with binding

Different Stitching Options for Topstitching Binding Tape

Standard Binding Application

Commonly seen methods for finishing binding are simple straight-line stitching, either right on the edge (in the ditch) or as a slightly inset topstitch on the binding (narrow topstitch). I tend to go for a narrow topstitch finish over stitching right in the edge (in the ditch), but there are many ways to finish a binding and it can be as discrete or as decorative as you wish. Looking for style ideas? Sew Mama Sew gives a nice visual on a few on the most common tape finishing methods.

Decorating Stitching

Decorative stitching can be used as a design feature, but it can also help to ensure edges are securely bound and reduce peeking/flaps. Some of the standard stitches on basic sewing machines do a nice job on decorative duty if your machine doesn’t have fancy stitches. For a tidy finish, they require careful positioning, but the wider sewing styles can help with securing the front while catching the rear.

Thread Colour and Coordination

The example pieces above all look pretty terrible with the intentionally visible threads (and my wonky fast sewing for the examples). But, if the same techniques are applied with care in a complimentary contrasting colours then they can really pop. In a complimentary matching colour, stitching fades into the finished piece and the fabric becomes the star of the show once more.

Example showing different types of stitching used on binding tape

Finishing the Ends of Binding

Joining the Ends of a Wrap Around Binding

If binding wraps all the way around the item, the ends need to be discretely joined at the meeting point. How I join depends on whether I am trying to conceal a bias binding joint or a straight binding joint. I will usually sew and trim the tails. So Sew Easy has a great visual on this method. For a quick straight binding or when working on small projects, I sometimes cheat on the sleeve method. Shhh. For this, I use a little bit of fusible web to “hem” my outer (visible) strip at the joint. Simple, but effective.

Finishing Binding at a Visible Edge

If binding finishes at an edge, it’s a little trickier. Trimming the ends, turning inward, and sewing into place works, but it’s not ideal. It requires extra external stitch lines, creates added bulk at the ends, and leaves a little end fold gap if viewed straight on. The stitch lines and gap are not so bad, but added bulk and stiffness might be undesirable, especially on small items or when binding with thick fabrics.

My preferred method, where the project allows, is to flip the binding right-side-in, sew the inverted end closed at a measured length, trim, and flip outwards to slip onto the edge like a fitted cap. This takes a little extra fussing with measurements but gives a neatly closed end with very little extra bulk inside the binding. Much nicer. You can see this method in use on the ends of Oli’s belly band senior dog diapers.

Example showing how to finish exposed edges of binding tape

Getting Comfortable with Binding Tape Application

Samplers and Test Pieces

Samplers and little craft experiments using leftover fabric are a great way to get comfortable with your sewing machine settings, visualise stitches, and test drive new sewing techniques to see how things work. Or don’t. It’s great learning, but also so much better than figuring issues out after the fact on valuable materials or a project you’ve put your heart into preparing.

Small Sewing Projects

There are many different ways to sew on a binding, depending on the type of binding, material, and your personal sewing preferences. There are so many variations! I’m often tweaking methods or experimenting with something new. Simple small projects are great places to try different techniques and/or refine sewing skills. Much less heartbreak if something isn’t quite right than making an error on a lengthy quilting project or with fancy fabrics.

P.S. Guess who’s not going to judge whether your binding is perfect? The dogs! Make them something special and practice your sewing skills at the same time. Pawfect. Sniff around our sewing project for dogs to find some project ideas to get you inspired.

Making and using binding tapes
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