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 squeeze extra information in our DIY posts for anyone not familiar with binding, I decided to create a special standalone post that I can link to instead. We’ll look at bias binding, straight edge binding, fabrics, making binding, and more. Handy information for dog DIYs (of course), but also sewing projects in general.  If binding is a new technique for you, pet projects are great for practising and/or trying new techniques. They won’t care if you make a few mistakes or things look a less than perfect!

What is Binding?

Binding refers to finishing the edge(s) of a sewing project with a cover. Binding materials (commonly referred to a bindings or binding tapes) can be bought ready-made, but it is also easy to make your own. It does take some patience and time, but is a great way to customise the fabric, look, style, and/or size of the binding. Plus making your own binding can be very cost efficient as well.

Tip: 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).  See fabric below for more information on cutting options and how they might affect the look and/or performance of the binding.

Different Types of Binding Tapes

Single-Fold Binding Tape

Single-fold binding tape has two folds. Just to mess with your mind! The raw edges of the take are folded inwards towards the centre (mid-line). Single-fold tape is usually used as a facing. It finished 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, the raw edges inwards and then an additional fold along the mid-line. Double-folded tape is what is most commonly used to wrap and bind edges. Despite its doubled layers, this type of double-fold binding is still only one layer thick as it crosses the mid-line fold, which is where the raw edge of the bound material will be encased.

Other Types of Binding

For special projects that are made of hard materials, going to be subjected to heavy use or wear, or are intended to last a very long time, you might want to approach binding differently than the usual edging methods. When I made my recycled t-shirt quilts, I used a French fold binding, which is a true double fold binding, where the strips were folded fully in half before forming the binding. This means that that material is two layers across the rough-raw edge.

Homemade Binding Fabric Choices

Fabric Options

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

  • Binding tape making with the usual methods requires a lot of ironing (helpful for application as well) so a material that can be ironed and hold creases makes things much easier.
  • Plain colours or small random patterns are easier to join than pattern matching.
  • Strong patterns may look very different depending on the direction of cut.

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 may also wear better over time 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 a strong patterned material, using a bias or straight edge cut can also make a huge difference to the finished appearance. This may play a role in the decision on binding type as well as the joining/cutting of the strips. The example photo below shows how strips cut from the same fabric can look very different depending on the chosen direction.

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 tape makers, like the ones shown in the photo at the start of this post. These are simple tools that help pre-fold the strips into a flattened U-shape for ironing. The ironed single-fold strips can be used as-is or refolded along the centre and ironed for double-fold tape. They’re handy, but it’s necessary to make the strips the exact size for the specific maker. The maker size dictates the size of the finished binding, which can be a limiting factor in your projects. They can also be a bit tricky with some fabrics depending on thickness, texture, etc.

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.
  • 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) the fabric and be pre-sewn and then cut as a continuous strip.

Making Binding Tape by Hand

I have a set of bias tape makers, but I often hand fold and iron. This lets me decide exactly what I want, but it does take some time with all that cutting 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. See tips below about equal allowances on each fold vs. slightly different sizes.

Folding the strips to make the double fold binding tape:

  • Incrementally fold wrong-sides together along the centre (mid-line), ironing to press the crease.  See tips below about equal folds vs. slightly different sizes.
  • Open and incrementally fold each raw edge again from side-to-centre crease at an even seam allowance, ironing to press the creases.  
  • 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

Tape makers are an inexpensive and helpful tool for your crafting kit if you frequently use standard sized bindings.  When using binding tape makers, the fabric strips are prepared as above, but the makers help with the work of folding. They take care of the edge-to-middle folds very quickly and (with care) evenly, but for the tape makers to work properly, it’s essential that your fabric strips are cut to the right size for your tape makers for smooth 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 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 using tape makers to make double fold binding, the centre fold will need to be created and pressed manually afterwards.

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. Very handy for consistently pressing a foldover for hemming as well, not just when making binding.
  • Most ready-made (and DIY, if you take the extra time) double fold bindings do not have a perfectly even fold. There is one side slightly longer 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).
  • 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.
  • Bindings can also be left unfolded and applied using measured allowances instead of the creases as guides. This is common in quilting, but can also be particularly helpful in other sewing projects for materials that can’t be ironed or are poor at holding creases.
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Binding Tape Application Techniques and Examples

Please excuse my quick cutting and sewing on these example pieces. I’ve selected scrap fabrics from my 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 (as ugly as some may be) is easy to see on the examples.

Binding vs. Facing

Before I start with binding, here’s a quick intro to using tape as a seam finish and facing, as noted above. When used as a facing, the tape is only visible on one side when attached, but gives a very tidy concealed seam finish.

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.
  • Fold the attached tape back on itself, so that it is 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 machine sewing binding, everyone likes to do things a little differently. Most methods work similarly if your careful with your 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 developing sewing skills are tidier on the top (and I’m not the most patient sewist, especially on quick craft projects). Cucicucicoo has a beautifully detailed step-by-step guide with photos for sewing binding tape right-to-right if you need a hand with positioning. Lisa also has great tips for using binding on 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 one added tip, since this post was first created and shared, I’ve added some inexpensive binding clips to my sewing stash and they’re 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.

Two Step Double-Fold Binding Application (With Corner)

Whether executed front-to-back or back-to-front, machine or hand-finished on the second stitching, two-step binding is the common application method. 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 and position it at the starting point, right sides facing, so that one raw edge is aligned with the raw edge of the fabric.
  • 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 on small items, but 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 right to the edge. 
    • Remove the item from the machine.
    • Pull the binding open at the edge and 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 that the raw edge of the material is against the centre fold of the binding
    • Optional: Iron (if materials allow), pin, and/or clip.
  • Return the item to the machine on the original side and 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 binding can’t reach to cover the reverse stitching from the first step, then it is impossible to hide that stitch line in the finished binding. 
  • If it reaches, but the chosen method and position for sewing the edge down with the second stitch line is too far above first the stitch line, the 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 the binding.
  • A mix of good attachment, peeking, and/or failed catching may happen if the raw edges of the material(s) are uneven, if binding is unevenly folded, or if either the material or binding are stretched during application.  It 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 making tips above, most ready-made (and DIY, if you take the extra time) double-fold bindings do not 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 not be suited to the project you are sewing. 

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 derisking visible peaking under the flap when topstitching, but it’s better to try and avoid the problem unless using it purposefully. It is possible to deliberately use the mismatch to create an intentionally 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. The 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 from Cluck Cluck Sew.

Avoiding Visible Stitches

To avoid a mismatch, the binding can be made (or attached) just slightly larger on one side, with (if necessary) an 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 and the successfully bound attachment 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 topstitching, 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. 

Using 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 can also 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 is 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.

Tapes work best with single edges and/or combined with other techniques for corner areas. See the one step sandwich method above. It 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. 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. 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 be helpful with ensuring that 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 neat and tidy finish, they require care on positioning (and if turning corners), but the wider sew down can help with secure the front and catch the rear.

Thread Colour and Coordination

The example pieces above all look pretty terrible with the intentionally visible threads (and my wonky fast sewing), but if the same techniques are applied with care in a complimentary contrast colour 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 straight binding, I sometimes cheat on the sleeve method and 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 requires extra external stitch lines, creates added bulk at the ends, and leaves a open little crack if viewed straight on. The stitch lines and crack are not so bad, but often the added bulk and stiffness may be undesirable, especially 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. 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
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Getting Comfortable with Binding Tape Application

Samplers and Test Pieces

Samplers and experiments using leftover fabric are a great way to get comfortable with your 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 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.

Making and using binding tapes

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