Quilt Borders - Frame that Quilt!

Posted by Sherri McConnell

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pieced quilt border

Pieced half-square triangle border

Now that you're nearing the end of your quilt top, it's time to frame the edges with beautiful borders-and the possibilities are limitless! You can create a single quilt border or multiple borders, any of which can be pieced or appliquéd, narrow or wide, braided or herringbone and more! Adding the perfect kind of borders to your quilt can be a little intimidating; however, there are a few simple techniques you can apply to ensure the process goes smoothly. When thinking about your quilt borders, one of the first steps is to decide which fabric to use. It's important you give this consideration, as the colors and patterns you incorporate can change the entire feel of your quilt. While sometimes you might have a fabric for your border in mind from the start of a quilt, other times it's important to finish the quilt's center before making a final decision.

Pieced borders can be made using blocks and fabrics complementary to those in the center of your quilt or you can take a contrasting approach using different colors and patterns. Borders can also be constructed using long strips cut from prints, solids, or any combination of both.

red and white quilt border

White stop border, red inner border, white
outer border

Selecting Borders

Here are a few ideas to help you decide how to border your quilts.

  • Do you need a "stop" border (or narrow border) to frame the quilt before adding additional wider borders? If so, cutting strips 1 1/2” to 2” wide is a good measurement for a stop border.
  • Do you want to add multiple borders for size or effect? Generally, smaller borders should be added before the larger borders which will frame the outside of your quilt. Or you can alternate smaller and larger borders for a unique effect, accentuating your larger borders.
  • How wide would you like your border? Think about the proportions of your quilt. You won’t want your borders to be so large that they overwhelm the quilt center. If you need extra inches consider adding a couple of smaller borders before topping them off with a final larger border.
  • Is there a certain color in the quilt you'd like to bring out? If yes, by choosing that color for your border, you’ll automatically make that color stand out more in the middle section of your quilt. Another idea for a border choice is your favorite print from the center of the quilt.
  • One way to audition border fabrics is to simply set a piece of fabric next to the outside edges of your quilt center. Look at the fabric and observe how it interacts with your quilt’s color scheme from a few feet away. You might even audition two different fabrics at once using this method, until you are sure about your fabric choice.

Adding the Quilt Borders

green floral quilt border

The green floral border brings out the greens
in the quilt.

Adding borders can be a bit of a challenge-who hasn't seen a “wavy” border on a quilt that just doesn't seem right; however, there are some steps you can take to make this part of the quilting easier, too. Straight borders that lay flat can best be achieved through careful measuring of the finished quilt center.

To begin constructing your border, first, add your left and right border strips. To do this, measure your quilt carefully along the left and right side, and center. Hopefully, the measurements match or are within close proximity. If the measurements aren't equal, but are within 1/2” or so, add the three measurements, divide by three, and use the resulting number for the length of your left and right border strips. Pattern measurements often don't account for variations in stitch width, so if you are using a pattern that gives border measurements, always check your finished quilt-center measurements. If your measurements are different from those in the pattern directions, use your measurements to be sure your borders are cut to the proper length.

Then cut your border strips from the width of your fabric, piece your border strips for length using a diagonal seam, and cut to the necessary length. Or if you'd prefer, purchase and use fabric the length of your longest border pieces. You won't need to seam your border strips this way, but you will employ additional fabric. Sometimes you will need to use this method if you are working with a directional print for your border and want the fabric on all sides of your quilt to be facing the same way.

Also, it's always a good idea to pin border strips to your quilt before sewing as this will prevent shifting and ensures you won't end a side of your quilt with an improper amount of border material left. To do this, just use a pin or more on your quilt ends, center, and mid-point sections between the center and ends. If your border is a little longer or shorter than your quilt size, put the piece with the bigger measurement on the bottom, next to your presser foot. By putting the longer piece of fabric on the bottom, the presser foot of your machine will help to “ease” the extra fabric as you sew. Stitch the left and right borders to your quilt, using a 1/4” seam and pressing out toward the borders once you've finished stitching.

Now it's time to measure for the top and bottom borders. Again, you'll take three measurements: measure the width of your quilt at the top, center and bottom. Use the measurements you get if they are equal, or use the method described above if you need an average measurement. Then piece diagonally and cut according to your measurements. Finally, stitch the top and bottom borders using a 1/4” seam and follow the same technique used for the left and right borders, easing your fabric if necessary.

quilt border example

Print stop border with print outer border

If you are adding multiple borders, begin with the left and right sides and then add the top and bottom of the first border, repeating the same steps to add subsequent borders.

Borders are a lot of fun and their vast variety of possibilities can help give your quilt the right sentiment. Be sure to audition several fabrics so you get the look you desire, and then measure, measure, measure for a perfect fit. My favorite choice for borders is to use one of the larger prints from the center of the quilt. What is your favorite type of border?

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