Adding Borders To A Quilt

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Borders are added to a quilt top to frame it and finish it. They can be pieced or plain, they can contain appliqué or fancy quilting designs. Plain borders can have straight corners or be mitered. Fancy quilts might require a scalloped border. A quilt can use only one border or a combination of borders.
Whichever way you choose to make your borders, they can help the quilt in a technical manner, by squaring the quilt top, so it lays flat and also visually, by tying all the fabrics and colors used in the top together, framing the blocks and giving the quilt visual unity. Quilt borders when wide, are an excellent place to quilt fancy designs.

Planning The Borders

If you are making your quilt top from a pattern on a book, magazine or webpage, chances are good you will be cutting the borders first. The choice of fabric is normally one that will either compliment or blend with the fabrics borders in pink quiltused on the quilt top. Ideally, borders should be cut from the straight grain of the fabric, before the rest of the quilt pieces that use that fabric are cut. Cut generously, it is easier to trim than it is to add. If you don’t have enough fabric to cut borders from the straight grain, cut the strips on the cross-grain and piece them together to achieve the length necessary to surround your quilt top. If at all possible, when piecing lengths of cross grain fabric, try to match the fabric’s print to make the seam as inconspicuous as possible. The seam can be a straight seam, sewn on a ninety-degree angle to the long cut side, or they can be mitered, by sewing at a forty-five degree angle. Some quilters prefer this last method because the seam is less noticeable, but if one is careful matching the print of the fabric, it shouldn’t really matter much. The goal here is to make the seam as little noticeable as possible. Keep in mind that it will be less noticeable when the quilt top is quilted.

Borders’ size should compliment the overall size of the quilt and of the blocks. When they are cut wide, they are the perfect place on the quilt to use a large, bold print, like a floral with large designs. A fabric used when piecing the borders in miniature quiltblocks and repeated on a border will become more noticeable. If you haven’t made a decision on what fabric you will use for your borders when you started the quilt top, try several of the ones you used on the blocks. Step back and see how the width and the color or print affect the rest of the quilt. Think of the borders as a picture frame. They shouldn’t overwhelm the blocks in size or fabric choice, but rather compliment and bring the best of the quilt forward.

There are no set rules when it comes to the width of the borders, but some suggest that the widest border should be no wider than a third of the size of the quilt block. If you are using twelve-inch blocks, the widest border should then by four inches. When using more than one border, usually the narrowest is placed closer to the center of the quilt and the widest is the last one, working as a frame. If you are using more than one border, sew them together first, then attach them to the quilt top as a unit.

How to Cut Plain Borders
Adding borders to a quilt is not as easy as it seems. It’s not just a matter of cutting strips and sewing them to the raw borders2edge of the quilt top, cutting the extra fabric off. If you did, chances are good you would end up with a quilt top that ripples
Once you’ve determined what width to cut the borders, you need to figure out how long you must cut them. Ideally the border should frame the quilt and square it exactly. Rippling edges can’t be always quilted flat, and care needs to be taken to make sure the quilt has ninety-degree corners and that it lays perfectly flat and square. Let’s imagine the quilt top you have finished contains nine blocks in a three by three set and the blocks are ten inches finished size. You’ve decided to cut your borders three inches wide. The length of the first two borders would thus be:
10 x 3 = 30 + 0.5 seam allowances = 30.5
And the last two would be:
10 x 3 = 30 + (3 x 2) + 0.5 = 36.5

But the quilt might have been stretched a little from ironing or be a little too small if your seam allowances are off. It is best to use the real measurement of the quilt, but not of the quilt edges, since the stretch if any is more likely to happen on the edges. There are two ways to tackle this problem. You can either measure the quilt through the center and cut the borders’ length to that measure, or average the length by measuring the quilt top through the center, the edges, and depending on the overall size of the quit top, taking a couple more measurements at the quarter marks. Add all these figures and divide by the number of measurements taken to get an average length. Once again, the objective is to make sure the borders lay flat and don’t ripple.

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