The border on a quilt is often the last part that gets stitched together for any given project — it’s just so easy to overlook! But if you’re going to make a quilt with more than 100 pieces, it pays to get these corners right.
Not only will they look good when finished, but they’ll help hold everything together while you work on other aspects of the project itself. In fact, getting them wrong could actually cause problems later on, as we’ll see below. This article covers all the steps involved in stitching up a quilt’s borders, from choosing fabric to turning under or over each corner.
We’ll start by looking at what goes into planning out a perfect quilt design, then move onto cutting our fabrics and laying them out, before tackling those hard-to-pin down seams on the machine. Finally, we’ll show you how to turn the corners of your perfectly pieced quilt under (for straight edges) and over (for overlapping ones), ready to wrap around the frame and become an heirloom piece of artwork.
In addition to learning about stitching borders, you might want to check out some free resources designed specifically to teach beginners how to create their own quilts. For example, there are lots of great online tutorials available through sites like YouTube, which cover everything from designing patterns to using templates. You should also take advantage of the many forums dedicated to sharing tips and tricks on sewing projects such as quilting. The Internet has countless sources of information and support for anyone who wants to learn how to sew.
Now let’s kick off this lesson with a quick recap of why you need to pay attention to where you end up putting your quilt’s borders.
Choosing Your Fabric
Choosing Your Fabrics
To choose the best materials for your quilt border, think about whether it needs to coordinate closely with anything else inside the quilt. If it does match something, use the same type of fabric throughout. For instance, you wouldn’t want two different types of fabrics near buttons or zippers. It’s also important to keep color schemes consistent within groups of squares — otherwise, things won’t seem quite balanced. If you have multiple colors to pick from, try to avoid mixing prints too much.
You may even want to consider keeping certain areas simple. A solid background makes life easier for people who live alone because it simplifies matching. On the other hand, if you plan on giving your quilt away to someone special, you may want to add small details to break up the pattern. Another option would be to mix solids and florals for a little variety. When you’re done, remember to cut extra large strips to allow room for overlap and ease stretching.
Want to learn more quilting techniques, see our Paper Piecing Tutorial
If you don’t already know which direction you’d prefer your quilt to face once its completed, ask yourself questions like “Do I wear my hair long?” or “What do I usually sit next to?” Think about what kind of mood you’re trying to set with your quilt. Are you creating a cozy bedside table accessory? Do you want it to hang above a couch instead? Or maybe you’ve got plans for it to adorn a mantlepiece? These points give us clues to which way to fold the material and lay it out.
Once you’ve decided on the overall shape of the quilt, it’s time to figure out exactly what size square(s) you need to buy. Depending upon the dimensions of the final quilt, you may need fewer or more squares than normal. To find out how big to go, measure both sides of the frame against the length of your arm. Then multiply that number by three to determine the width needed.
Next, decide where you want to put your top/bottom left and right borders. If you plan on placing them along the outer edge, try to leave enough space between them for folding without having to touch them together. Once you’ve figured out where they’ll fit, draw lines connecting opposite corners. Now you can divide the remaining area equally among the four sections and begin trimming your fabric. Remember to cut larger pieces first. For example, if you plan on adding a button hole to the bottom right side, cut several inches of excess material beforehand. That way, you have plenty of room to thread the needle and tie a knot afterwards.
Other beginner guides, Easy Embroidery Stitches for Beginners
With your basic measurements taken care of, now comes the real sewing fun stuff. Read on to learn how to prepare your fabric for sewing.
Make sure you understand the safety guidelines associated with working with needles. Most states mandate that workers receive training on proper techniques regarding needle usage and disposal, so contact your local Department of Labor office for further instructions.
Preparing and Trimming Your Fabric
Before you head toward the seam ripper, scissors and iron, it helps to prep your fabric properly. First, remove any existing labels or markings. Next, unfold the raw edges of the fabric by either pinning them back together or pulling apart the individual layers. Fold the edges over 1 inch (2.5 cm). Doing this allows them to lie flat during construction.
Afterward, place the folded edges on top of the open edge of the material, lining up the dots underneath the seamed line. Pin the edges together securely, leaving approximately 2 inches (5 centimeters) at the beginning and ending point of the seam. Sew slowly and carefully until you reach the desired seam allowance. As you approach the end of the seam, stop sewing and continue pinching the edge to form a clean-looking finish.
After completing the seam, clip the ends of the threads, flip the fabric over, and press the entire thing down firmly. Lay the border pieces out according to your initial drawing. Make sure the center of the fabric aligns directly with the middle of the frame. Place pins every few feet wherever necessary. Be careful not to poke holes too close together or you’ll ruin your neat rows. Cut the material on the drawn line. Repeat this process with the rest of the fabric. At the end, repeat step six again after finishing all four borders.
One mistake many novice quilters make is slicing their fabric incorrectly. Cutting strips incorrectly can lead to inaccurate measurements and unbalanced designs. Instead of measuring diagonally across a strip, as shown here, it’s better to measure horizontally across one section and vertically across another. So if you were to follow the horizontal measurement from the upper left corner, slice your fabric accordingly.
As mentioned earlier, you may need extra fabric to accommodate overlaps and ease stretching. While you’re preparing your fabric for construction, pull out a yardstick and mark the fabric with vertical stripes. Keep a sharp eye out for wrinkles, folds and uneven cuts. You can fix any mistakes immediately before starting the actual stitching.
When you’re ready to start stitching, read on for pointers on how to make stitches appear straight.
If you happen to notice a crooked seam after you’ve begun stitching, you can easily repair it by taking a pair of scissors and snipping the loose thread. Just be sure to pinch the new thread tightly to prevent fraying.
Making Straight Edges
While machines offer convenient ways to sew borders, it’s possible to achieve cleaner results with a bit of patience and some old fashioned elbow grease. Before you begin, ensure that your sewing machine settings are adjusted appropriately. Adjust the tension lever downward to decrease slightly the amount of stretch in the material. Increase the feed dogs to increase pressure and reduce puckering. By doing this, you’ll lessen the chance of accidentally skipping stitches.
Start by attaching basting tape to the innermost perimeter of the first and last panels, forming a rectangular box. Use a pencil to trace a rough outline of the border evenly spaced every 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters). Draw the layout lines very lightly. Cut slits along the lines using a knife or rotary cutter. Remove the basting tapes and fill in the gaps with single stitches (which we’ll discuss shortly). Reattach the basting tape to the outside edge of the first panel. Using the same method, attach the second panel to the third. Continue alternating the order of the panels this way until you reach the midsection. Take note of the exact placement of the previous boundary.
Leave the remainder of the border unsewn until all the foundation blocks are joined. To join the block containing the previously marked boundary, thread a running stitch along the edge of the border. Pull the running stitch tight, then slip the tip of the needle beneath the edge of the adjacent border block. Bring the needle back out from behind the border, then insert the needle through the appropriate marking, continuing down the row. Tie a firm knot and pull snug to secure. Repeat this step to connect the block containing the next marked boundary. Continue repeating the process until all the blocks are connected. Leave a gap between the last block and the frame equal to the distance between the marks on the previous block. This gives you room to work with the remaining fabric.
When you’re ready to start stitching, read on for pointers on how to make stitches appear straight.
After connecting all the blocks, it’s time to fill in the rest of the gaps so that your frame looks even and balanced. To do this, begin by making a straight line from one corner of the last block to a corresponding corner on another block as shown here. Repeat this process with every block until all of them are connected together. Be patient and press each block firmly so that the fabric lies flat. If the frame is short, you may need to extend it. To do this, fold the extra sections in half lengthwise. Unfold the fabric and lay it over the finished edges of the frame. Apply as much pressure as necessary to stretch and press it into place. Continue sewing until you’ve filled every gap.
Finishing Your Border
It’s important to finish the border accurately, especially if you’re using a pattern. You can use any of the following methods to align your new border with the pattern.
Before completing the sewing, it’s a good idea to pin out blocks from the front and back in order to check for general alignment. Mark in longitude and latitude lines on each of them. The lines should be in a straight line with the middle of the fabric. Pin out your border and make corresponding marks on it. If you’re using a border pattern, mark the longitude and latitude lines using the pattern diagram, as shown here.
When you’re finished stitching your border, remove all pins from your material. Cut off any extra threads or threads that might have gotten strayed. Apply a thin layer of glue around all edges of the border block so that it blends into the surrounding fabric seamlessly. With the help of an assistant, press the border into place.
If there are any visible seams where your new border meets the previous ones, put a stitch in each seam line. This will make your project look professional and neat.
Displaying Your Piece
Feeling proud of your work is an important part of quilting, just as it is when we sew garments ourselves. It’s important to display your work in a place where it can be enjoyed by others and admired for its beauty.
If you’re ready to hang your quilt, go for a lightweight fabric such as velvet, a cotton lawn or a satin.
Making a quilt is a job best performed with others. Before you start, make sure that your friends and family are on board so that you have ample help when it’s needed.
When working on your quilt, take it easy and enjoy yourself as much as possible. Remember to take breaks when necessary so that you don’t burn out too quickly.