Education Sampler Sew-A-Long

Borders – Last Step Piecing

Borders can be non-existing, simple, single, multiple, complex, curvy, or straight.  For all these reasons, I love borders!  If you buy a kit from a quilt store or online, it is probably a design you like, fabrics that catch your eye, colors you find pleasing and include a pattern if followed will mean you end up with a duplicate.  Very little opportunity to put on your own touch other than perhaps the backing fabric you purchase, except when it comes to the border!  Here you can get a bit more creative, changing the line (straight or wavy), maybe even adding a piano key mini border if you have enough leftover fabric.  It is perfectly fine to follow the pattern to the last word, but should you give yourself permission to change the border, have fun.

On this sampler quilt, I gave you the opportunity to make one, two, or three borders.  I’ll explain how to measure for borders (you will use the same method regardless how many borders you want on your quilt).  I will also stress “measure twice, cut once”.  When you are truly experienced, you might be able to come up with a “fix” for the piece not cut correctly, but we will presume you will always “measure twice, cut once” as we go through the process.

I like to begin by making sure I square up my inner quilt so borders will be perfect 90 degree angles at all corners with no puckers as you try to force the border and inner quilt match up.

Steps to squaring your quilt top BEFORE sewing on borders:

  • Lay top right side up, iron if necessary so it lies flat.
  • Using the largest quilt ruler you will position it in each corner and trim any fabric peaking out.  For example, our sashings and cornerstones were cut at 2 1/2″; after sewing to the blocks, they should measure 2 1/4″ from seam to outer cut edge.  Whatever original width you start with, always subtract the 1/4″ seam to have the desired width you are using to square up the quilt corners.  I will use the measurements of 2 1/2″ cut, 2″ finished, for explaining the steps.  Place your ruler so the measurement you have determined, in this case 2 1/4″, lies on top of the seam line.  You may have to adjust your quilt top a bit to get it to line up exactly on both the side and the top.
  • Any fabric peaking out on either side needs to be trimmed off.  If needed, you may go around the perimeter of the quilt top using the line on the ruler (2 1/4″) to trim up any overage.  If you are seeing more than a sliver, check if you should be ripping out the seam and redoing the seam.  You will be happy you do if not doing so would leave the sashing obviously not as wide in that spot.  Trim all four corners using the method described.

Measuring and Cutting Borders:

  • Now is time to measure for the top and bottom borders.  There are two school of thoughts on how to arrive at the measurement used.  1) Some measure each end and across the center, add them together, divide by 3 (this is how average is determined) and use that number.  2) The method I prefer is to take the center measure and ease the border or quilt top to fit.  Before I start cutting borders, I do measure the top and the bottom to be sure the difference is not beyond what I feel will comfortably ease in.  You will get to know what your comfort number is, but I try to not go over 1/2″ difference in any of the 3 numbers.  For this explanation, we will say they are all within 1/4″ so I go with the center measurement.  Here you see I have folded my quilt top in half and am measuring the center of the top edge to edge.  This is the horizontal measurement.
  • After checking to be sure the tape was edge to edge and had not moved, I wrote down the number – I’ll refer to that measurement later. 
  • Next I measure the center horizontally.  If you have the top and bottom edges even, you may measure through the center and not have to move the top and refold.  Your measurement will only be 1/2 of the true full measurement, so take the number you get times 2.  I write this number down, also.
  • How much fabric will you need to make a border?  To determine how many inches total you will need so you are sure you have sufficient amount of fabric for the border at that width, plug your measurements into this formula and work the math (I heard that groan!  LOL  Use the numbers you wrote down.).  2 x horizontal measurement + 2 x vertical measurement + 4 x the width of border (this is to cover the vertical border reaching the top of the horizontal border and the bottom of the same) = total number of inches needed.   Total number of inches needed divided by 40″ (or the total usable inches in your WOF; I use 40 as it gives some wiggle room if needed).  This will tell you the number of WOF strips you will need to make this border.  Take this number times the width of border desired.  Now measure your border fabric and determine if you have enough fabric.  Using my figures for the blue quilt.  2 x 31 + 2 x 41.25 + 4 x 6 = 62 + 82.5 + 24 = 168.5 divided by 40 = 4.2125.  Always round up to the next whole number for strips, so I need 5 strips.  5 strips x 6 inches wide = 30″ of fabric needed.  I have 32″, so I do not have to alter my strip width.  After squaring one end of the fabric, I measure the total inches needed using all the steps covered when we started cutting for pieces.  From there I sub-cut a total of 5 six inch strips.
  • Accuracy is important in cutting border strips so they lay flat and aren’t wavy with “extra” fabric when the quilting begins.
  • Remove the selvages from all the strips.
  • In this case, my 31″ top and bottom borders can be cut from WOF.  Stack tw
  • 4o strips on top of one another, lining up all edges and ends.  Measure 31″, mark.  Just to be sure before you cut, measure the middle horizontally to assure it is still 31″.  When all measurements are checked, cut the first two borders.
  • Fold the border strips short ends meeting and make a crease in the border strip with your finger to show where the middle is.  Do the same with the quilt – top and bottom.  While you are at it, do it for the sides, too.
  • Match the center marks on the borders with the quilt top center.  Then pin the corners.  If the border strip or the quilt top is significantly longer, be sure that is the side you put down on the feed dogs to sew.  The feed dogs pull the bottom fabric through a bit faster and therefore take up the “extra” fabric.
  • Set seam and then press border open with the seam toward the border.
  • In my example, the side borders should be 41.25″ + 11.5″ (2×6″width of border minus the seams total .5″).  Obviously, this length is greater than the WOF, so you will need to sew the three remaining strips together.  You could simply put the fabric RST and make a quarter inch seam, however I would like to show you how to make diagonal seams that are not as obvious, plus when you get to the binding stage after quilting, the diagonal seam eliminates bulk when sewing the binding strips together.
  • Sewing the diagonal seam is not as difficult as it looks provided you set it up to sew the easiest way.  Here you see two strips I am going to connect.  They are RST The top strip short edge is lined up to the long side edge of the bottom strip.  Like when making half square triangles, sewing is from one corner diagonally to the other corner.  You may want to draw the line on once you have them lined up and before putting them under the needle.  Pins may also be used to make sure they stay in position.  Once I sew it, I open it up and finger press to make sure the long edges are in line, then I cut away the excess fabric  1/4″ from the seam.  Now do the same to add the last strip.
  • Again, with RST, match the ends of the 3 border strips sewn to be one strip.  Measure the center vertical distance of the quilt with the horizontal borders on.  Check it against the figure you arrived at in the math steps taken previously.  We will presume they are right on and you may cut the borders accordingly.   They are aligned just like the vertical borders were.
  • Press and if you are adding additional borders, you now know the steps!

Here are the two quilt tops I have been sewing along with you.  I have treated the borders differently:  the blue has an inner pink border and an outer border; the gold and wine color has one wide border with cornerstones.  Measurement for the actual border fabric is the measurement between the top and bottom borders.  The cornerstones are squares, the width of the strip.  Unfortunately, the border fabric on the wine quilt top does not show up well in the photos.  It is a gold/yellow mottled dot that goes well with the other fabrics.  I was going to add a narrow inner border of the gold fabric between the light and the sashings, but changed my mine last minute.  The backing fabric for the wine quilt is a tan with reddish design, so I am going to make a scrappy binding using all the wine fabric left over.  I’m considering a turquoise fabric with modern designs for the back of the pink/blue quilt top.  The white poke-a-dot fabric will be used for the binding if I have enough.  Otherwise, it may become a scrappy border, too.  I will post photos as soon as I get them quilted and binding on.

I am sorry this post is so long.  I tried to give you the most information that came to mind so your border will compliment your quilt and lay flat.  As I use different borders on quilts, I will post photos and do short postings on how I did them.

The next post will also be the final post of this sew-a-long adventure.  I will go over the different ways a quilt can be completed and how to prepare for it.  Since binding is the final step before you can declare it a quilt, I will go over briefly how to attach the binding (two ways – one involves some hand sewing, the other is all machine!) and how easy binding miter corners are to make.  I will try to get that published before Thanksgiving, because we all know once we say good-bye to the turkey (I’m talking poultry, not your brother-in-law!  LOL) Christmas is upon us!