Seam finishes are important. They make every project look better and, what’s actually more important, last longer. Most modern mass-produced garments and decor items are finished with a serger (aka overlocker across the pond). It’s fast and quite effective, but there are still many benefits to old-school techniques.
Seam binding is a technique of finishing seams that includes using a piece of fabric or ribbon to enclose raw edges. It requires only a straight stitch machine, though it can be done by hand if you want the finish to be completely invisible.
There are numerous ways to execute this type of seam finish, but what they all have in common is that the raw edge of the fabric is hidden and completely invisible.
Today, we’ll cover one of those called seam binding. We’ll see what it is, what it does, how to use it, etc. You’ll also learn when the best time is to use it and when you should skip it and pick another technique. If you’re ready to learn more about seam binding, let’s go!
What is Seam Binding Used For?
Depending on the type of bound seam, they have a wide range of uses. They range from creating very durable seams for work clothes to enclosing raw edges without creating bulk. Also, it’s one of the mandatory seam finishing technique for working on straight stitch-only machines.
In the next section, we’ll cover major types of bound seams and what each one is used for. This will give you a clear picture of both the versatility and durability of the technique.
Types of Bound Seams
Felled and flat-felled seams can be considered to be bound seams, but the techniques are very specific and can skip the tape and other additional elements. We can talk about them another time, but for now, here are the 3 most common types and ways to do seam binding.
Hong Kong seam
Hong Kong seams are what everyone thinks of first when they talk about bound seams. They feature a length of ribbon or tape that encloses the raw edge to hide and protect it.
To do this technique, you would nestle the edge of fabric between the folds of the ribbon (we’ll cover them in more detail below). Then you can either use a straight stitch, a zigzag or a decorative stitch, or sew by hand to attach it.
The name, obviously, originates from Hong Kong where it was popularized in small sewing shops that were specializing in qipaos and other garments that combine Eastern and Western styles. It’s most commonly used in unlined jackets, but it will work with almost any project.
However, this technique is unsuitable for some light summer garments because it can create weight and stiffness in the seam.
Lining bound seam
This is one of the sewing techniques that were introduced to regular sewists through Claire B. Shaeffer’s book “Couture Sewing”. Even though that should imply that this is an expert-level skill, it’s actually one of the easiest and most efficient ways to both line a garment and finishes the seam.
To do this, you will have to cut out almost identical pieces of lining and main fabric. The lining piece should be at least a couple of inches wider (at least 2), but otherwise the same shape. You can cut the paper pattern down the center of the pice and add those couple of inches in between to get this right.
Then, you sew the side seam to the side seam. Turn your work inside out and press. You will have some extra lining fabric on the side. Take that piece of fabric, fold toward the main fabric, press and stitch down.
Now, you have a pattern piece with both the lining installed and the fabric edges enclosed. All you have to do now is to sew the pattern pieces together as if you are sewing an unlined garment.
This technique is best suited to jackets and structured skirts.
Hems can be bound too, and there are two ways how you can deal with raw edges using the seam binding technique.
The first one is simple – all it takes is to enclose the raw edge of the hem with ribbon, just like with the Hong Kong finish. The second takes it another step further and folds the bound edge to the wrong side and finishes hemming.
Both techniques are great when you miscalculate how long a garment should be, or if you are altering a regular piece for someone very tall. It’s also great when you want to add a little more weight and structure, i.e., in a tulle skirt. And last but not least, it’s a great way to finish a blanket or a quilt.
When to Use Seam Binding
Seam binding is perfect when you’re working with heavy and/or stiff fabric. Bulk is not good when sewing garments and bound seams create less bulk than you would get from a simply turned seam, for example.
Of course, in those cases, you could turn to a serger with serger thread, but sergers are not that great for working with heavy fabrics that fray a lot, i.e., Lesage tweed, aka the tweed Chanel jackets are made from. Also, add brocade to that list since binding will help secure all those weft threads.
Seam binding also works as a decorative element. It’s also great for necklines, where it doesn’t only have an aesthetic purpose, but can strengthen it as well.
And, as mentioned above, you should use seam binding to finish a quilt, blanket, and numerous other house decor items.
When Not to Use Seam Binding
Never use it with light fabrics and especially summer garments. You can use the lining technique to add more weight to a light fabric and make it more suitable for a tailored piece but give it a pass for everything else.
Bound seams are heavy and they will weigh the garment down as well. And most of the time, flat-felled or french seams are better suited to those projects.
What is Seam Binding Ribbon?
Depending on where (or when) you’re coming from, these ribbons are also called bias tapes. They are specially designed to wrap around the edge of the fabric, enclosing both their and the fabric’s raw edges. As the name suggests, these are the tapes that are cut on the bias which gives them a lot of mobility and elasticity.
Well, commercial tapes and ribbons are not cut that way, but woven to mimic the effect. They are easily available from many retailers that provide fabric and other sewing supplies. They come in many colors and finishes.
The ribbons are usually pressed so you can use them straight away. Sometimes, they only have the edges folded in, so you will have to fold them and press them once more.
What is Seam Binding Tape?
Seam binding tape or bias tape are just other ways to refer to seam binding ribbons. Bias tape is a bit more common these days and it’s probably the name more stores use these days.
Can You Use a Regular Ribbon?
You could, but it’s not advised. As mentioned above, we need the bias for elasticity and to prevent the seams from becoming too stiff.
However, feel free to experiment. At the very least, you may end up with an interesting effect if you use them on a blanket or a tulle skirt.
Which Size of The Binding Ribbon Should I Use?
Whichever one you want. Though, it’s better to use narrow ones for garments to not create unnecessary bulk.
For blankets and quilts, size doesn’t matter too much. The only thing you have to worry about is how much bating you have in a quilt and, depending on the amount, will the ribbon be wide enough to enclose the seam properly.
How to Use Seam Binding Ribbon
There are 2 ways the ribbon is folded and that will dictate how you should use it.
In garment making, most of the time seamstress use the ribbon that is folded both at the edges and in the center. When using it, all you have to do is slip the fabric into the ribbon, secure it, and stitch once as close to the ribbons inside edge as possible.
Quilters usually use a ribbon that is only folded in the center. They stitch one edge of the ribbon to the edge of the quilt, then wrap it around, fold the other edge in, and stitch once more.
However, you can pick whichever method works for you, and maybe invent a new one along the way.
How to Sew Seam Binding Around Corners
If you know how to make mitered corners, you’re already halfway there. Several techniques are based on that skill and that will be easy to master once you mastered the mitered corners.
But, if you’re in a bit of a hurry and want to get to your project ASAP, check out this video below. The technique in it is very simple, but it will produce neat and polished results.
DIY Seam Binding Ribbon
Yes, you can make a binding ribbon yourself! Though there’s not much point in doing it if you’re using a single color, it’s a great technique to have in your repertoire if you fancy a cute print in your bound seams. It’s as simple as cutting out a strip of fabric on the bias, but we can do it better.
The traditional method will have you join multiple pieces of fabric to create a continuous tape, but you can make your life easier and try the continuous bias binding method. Check out this video below for one of the easiest tutorials to follow.
Just pay attention to what’s going on with the fabric’s patterns. You have to make sure that your pattern-matching game is on point so the place where one side of the fabric joins the other doesn’t look too obvious.
Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Seam Binding
To wrap everything up (pun intended!), let’s round up a few more useful things that will make sewing bound seams a breeze.
Wonder clips have been huge in the quilting world for quite some time now, and for a good reason. Pinning a binding can be difficult, especially on a thick quilt. So, put your pins away and get some clips.
And you don’t have to have the exact brand name ones. The clothespins will do just fine.
Bias tape makers
If you often DIY your binding ribbons, you may want to invest in these. They make it easier to turn a plain strip of fabric into a ready-to-use binding.
If you don’t want to commit yet, you can download printable templates (that will work in a pinch).
Most of the time, you can use whatever needles match your fabric. However, if you’re binding a heavy quilt with a lot of bating, it may be a good idea to upgrade.
In those cases, pick leather or denim needles. Both types have reinforced shafts and are less likely to break mid-seam.
Stitch in a ditch binding
This technique is gaining some popularity amongst quilters. It takes some time, but it can produce binding that is almost invisible when you match your colors.
It’s a bit difficult to explain in words all the steps you have to take, so check out this video below. It may take some time to get it right, but it will produce very professional-looking projects.
Bias tape presser foot
There’s a presser foot for everything, seam binding included. If you bought one of those huge sets, it’s probably there already. If you didn’t, it’s not a huge investment to get your hands on one.
The most common type looks like a regular foot with a plastic feeding guide attached to it. Its purpose is to make it easy to sew a binding even without securing it with clips first.
Plus, it’s a multitasker since you can use it for hemming as well. Furthermore, if you ever have to hem a maxi full circle skirt, you’ll be thankful to have one on hand.
Everyone who sews should have a walking foot. Here’s yet another reason to do so. One of these guys will especially be useful when you’re attaching binding on silk brocade or a chunky quilt.
And for a quick callback to the previous segment, you can also get a special presser foot from Janome that combines the effects of these two. It’s called the Even Feed Foot, and it comes with an attachment for sewing binding.
Time to Wrap
….The edges that is! Now that you have a better understanding of seam binding, it’s time to give it a try! Happy crafting!
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.