Let me show you how to add borders to your quilt the correct way! This will help prevent puckers and tucks in the quilting, and help your quilt to lay flat when it is done. Whether you choose to quilt the quilt top yourself or send it to a longarm quilter, it is always best to measure the quilt top and add the correct size borders.
Be a Quilting Pirate!
When a quilt top has borders, commercial quilt patterns (and my free quilt patterns) include measurements for the border strips. I never follow these measurements without measuring my quilt top first – and neither should you! They are simply ‘guidelines,’ as a quilting pirate would say.
Why should I measure my quilt top before adding borders?
No matter how accurately you cut your quilt pieces or how accurate your 1/4” seam allowance is the process of sewing all of those seams will result in some variation. Everyone who sews the same quilt pattern will end up with a top that is a little bit different!
If the specified measurements for the border strips are smaller than your quilt top, sewing them on will pull the quilt top in and result in extra fabric in the center of the quilt.
If the border strips are a little bit too long, this will result in wavy edges because there is excess fabric in the border. The infamous ‘slap and sew’ method involves sewing on a long border strip and then trimming away any extra. This inevitably results in wavy borders.
You can adjust the width of the quilt borders too
In addition to cutting the border strips a fitted length, you may also want to adjust the width of your border to make the quilt larger or smaller. I find it helpful to add a little extra to my border width so that after quilting I can square up my quilt to a precise size.
The quilting process always changes the size (and maybe the shape) of a quilt because it makes it more dense all over, and sometimes especially dense in certain areas. If you cut your border strips a little bit wider than needed, it will make up for that lost area after quilting.
Should I used a pieced border or 1 continuously cut strip?
This is entirely up to you. For my ‘special quilts’ I like to have continuous borders without seams, but on all my other quilts it doesn’t bother me to piece strips together. On a printed border, the seams probably won’t be noticeable anyway. When the quilt is finished, no one will notice this detail except another quilter!
Tip: Some manufacturers make solid colored 108” wide quilt backing fabric that matches their regular 44” wide quilting cotton solids. If you choose one of these colors for the background of your quilt, you can purchase 1/2 yard or less of the 108” solid and easily use that to cut continuous borders.
For example, I buy solid Kona Snow fabric by the bolt (or 10 yards at a time) because I love to use it for my quilt backgrounds. I also buy 108” wide Kona Snow fabric to use for the border fabric on my special quilts.
How to measure your quilt top for borders the proper way
I usually measure and sew the side border strips first, and the top and bottom borders last. This is my preference.
First measure the length of your quilt top three times. Use a tape measure to measure in the middle and along each side of the quilt. When you measure along the sides, don’t place your tape measure at the edges of the quilt because the edges can be distorted. Measure a few inches in.
You might be tempted to stretch the fabric in the quilt top as much as it can go. I find it best to simply smooth out the top and measure with the quilt top flat but not stretched.
Write down the three measurements. The average of these three numbers is the correct length of the side borders. For the quilt in the pictures, I used a ruler and rotary cutter to cut my border strips 5 1/2” wide by 46 3/4” long.
Pinning the Border Strips to the Quilt Top
Fold the border strip in half to find the center and mark it with the pin. Fold the quilt top in half also and mark the center with a pin.
With the fabrics right sides together, pin the border to the quilt top in the center first (matching up the pins). Then pin ends of the border. Cut each distance in half and add a pin in the center until you have pins about every 6-8”.
Lining up fabric edges takes time whether use lots of pins before you go to the sewing machine, or skip the pins and try to ‘wing it’ after you have started sewing. I always find it easier (and my quilts turn out better) if I use plenty of pins when attaching my borders.
Tip: Pin with the quilt top on top and sew with the border strip against the sewing machine’s feed dogs. This way you can pay attention to the seams in the quilt top and prevent them from folding the wrong way.
Attach the Border to the Sides of the Quilt Top
Sew a side border to the quilt top with a 1/4” seam allowance and a medium stitch length.
Open the border and press the seams flat.
Then sew the remaining border strip to the opposite side.
Measure and sew the top and bottom borders the same way
Measure the width of the quilt 3 times to determine the length of the top and bottom borders.
Write down these measurements. Use the average measurement to determine how long to cut your top and bottom borders.
As before, find the center of the border strip and the center of the quilt top to help pin the border strip to the quilt accurately.
Sew the top and bottom borders with a 1/4” seam allowance and press seams.
Doesn’t that border frame up the quilt top nicely? I think a nice bright pink or navy blue binding will be the finishing touch after quilting.
Now you can ignore the border ‘guidelines’ in quilt patterns too and be a quilt pirate like me!
A PDF version of this article has been added to the Library of All the Printable Blog Post Files for you to enjoy. It is not available in my shop.
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