Much as I love traditional quilt bindings, I think that if you want your quilts to be regarded as art you do better to make a more “painting-like” finish for your edges. Here’s how I put facings on my quilts so the composition goes all the way to the edge.
PS – the clamp holds the ruler in place to make it easier to cut a long straight edge. As an alternative, call a helper to hold down one end of the ruler, especially if you're working on a large quilt.
Proceed around the quilt and trim all four edges.
Cut facing strips 2 ½ or 2 ¼ inches wide on the cross-grain of the fabric (to give it a little more stretch). Place the first facing strip at one corner of your quilt, and stitch along one side of the quilt with a half-inch seam allowance. Stop about three inches from the corner and put your needle down so the quilt stays in place.
When you get around to the fourth corner, pin back the hem on the first facing strip, which is waiting for you, lay the facing over it and complete the stitching to the corner.
You have completed part 1 of the facing. That was the easy part.
Part 2 presents more of a challenge, because you now have to turn the facings right side out, and what’s going to happen to the bulk at the corners? That has always been my pet peeve with quilt facings done in the traditional manner – you can end up with four layers of batting and backing, plus eight layers of facing strip, plus four layers of quilt top, all stacked on top of one another. That makes a huge lump at the corner and I think the whole quilt looks clunky as a result.
My method eliminates the bulk at the corners. Sure, you have a double thickness where you turn back the half-inch edge, but the corners are no thicker than the rest of the edge. Here’s how that happens.
Make sure you have two layers turned back -- the essential two layers -- and two layers lying flat on the table -- the liability layers. You will probably be able to see the needle holes from your stitching line, even though you have ripped out the thread. For this picture I marked the corner in green, and I often do the same thing in real life so I can tell where the corner falls.
If you’ve ever sewed garments, you are probably flashing back to the points on collars and the square corners on cuffs. You are thinking the next step is to trim off the edges of the facing, grading them practically to the sewing line at the corner. If this is the case, you need to be brainwashed. Get that image out of your head! There's no more cutting!
You’re going to keep all that extra fabric and turn it in when you flip the facing right side out. Remember, you cut off the backing and batting from the corner, leaving a tiny triangle with no stuffing at all. If it didn’t get filled with something, it would be awfully limp and puny there after you got the quilt finished. But now the extra fabric of the top and facings will cram into the corner and fill it out.
Continue to pin the top facing along the edge of the quilt, moving away from the corner, working right to left (counterclockwise). First turn back the half-inch edge of the quilt, finger-pressing and pinning it in place (the white pins in the photo above), making sure the facing is pulled taut away from the edge. Then turn the hem allowance under and pin there (the red pins in the photo). Keep both rows of pins in place till you have finished hemming.
You may want to pin all the way around the quilt before you start hemming. Or you may want to pin one edge, sew it, and then pin the next one. It doesn’t really matter, except that you should always stitch counterclockwise. And instead of starting in a corner, start sewing three or four inches to the left of the corner. You’ll see why in a minute.
Well, remember that you haven’t sewed down the corner yet – this is why you started three or four inches in. You can take out a couple of pins from the corner, smooth the bubble in under the top facing, repin, and sew around to your starting point.
For this tutorial I assume that you are hemming down the facings by hand. If you want to add a line or two of machine topstitching for a more secure edge finish (click here for a post about this technique) I suggest you turn the corners, pin the outer edges of the quilt, machine stitch through the half-inch turnback, then hand-hem the facings down last.