Borders = doing them right


There is probably a scientific principle stating how wide the border SHOULD be based on the size of the quilt blocks. But really, borders are a matter of personal preference. If you want to make a quilt larger than the pattern, you add a wider border. If your quilt needs a frame, add a border. In the case of a round robin quilt, almost the entire quilt is composed of borders!

The trend for the past year or so has been to exclude borders, not only with ‘modern’ quilts, but traditional patterns as well. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference, and your needs. I have always believed that a border makes a nice frame – a great stopping point for the eye.

Regardless of the size of border you choose, or the number of borders, or whether they are mitered or applied straight, there are some important tips you need to know to ensure your quilt doesn’t end up a mess.

Let me give you some honest background here: I have made this mistake over and over and over again, and have learned these tricks through a few combined methods. As a quilter, I have seen the product of women who’ve finished their umpteenth Judy Niemeyer class with extensive points and paper piecing to women who brought me their first patchwork quilt, that they learned to make as I did (from a friend, who learned from her mom, no training or classes, and very little actual measuring or precision).

Fortunately that was a long time ago, and I have come a long way. Regardless of your background or the extent of your quilting expertise, EVERYONE is subject to messing up the borders. I’m just fortunate enough to quilt my own messes :), but I promise I won’t share anyone elses! The photos below are from a family project.


Have you ever put your quilt together and had the border look ruffly? Or maybe it came back from the quilter (or if you tied it and bound it) only to find that there is a tuck or two along the outer edge?

These are all symptoms of the same underlying problem: the border is larger than the quilt.

Some ladies at the quilt shop say to measure your quilt in three places (center and along both ends) and to CUT the border to the average length before applying them. I tried that and ended up with a short border. oops.

Some say to pin your border. While I agree that this will help, I believe there is an additional step you can add in to ASSURE your borders do not end up longer than your quilt side.


  1. Measure your quilt length on the ends and center, average them. Mark this length on the fabric wrong side of your borders (use chalk or pencil, NOT pen), but leave yourself a bit of extra length JUST IN CASE, before cutting.
  2. Pin your borders onto your quilt top, ensuring the quilt top is on the bottom (very important) and the pins are on the border side on the top. That way you can also double check that your quilt top matches up with the markings from measuring the quilt top that you put on your border.
  3. Sew the border onto the quilt WITH THE BORDER ON TOP. Why is this step so critical? The feed dogs (the little ridgy things under the walking foot) pull the bottom fabric to the back as the needle goes up and down. There is no offsetting part on top of the fabric that pulls it back, so based on the way a sewing machine is constructed, the bottom fabric will inevitably be moved along at a greater rate than the top fabric.

This same last concept applies when constructing t-shirt quilts – if you are sewing sashing between the t-shirt panels, put the t-shirt side DOWN so that it is pulled through. That way, if it stretches (as it can, even with stabilizer), it won’t be as devastating to your efforts to make a squared quilt.


A note on mitering your corners… If the outer corner is sewed in too tightly, you get this:

mitered corner, sewn in at improper angle

mitered corner, sewn in at improper angle

The quilt above had the selvage edge left on the outside of the border, which made it tighter than the fabric sewn into the quilt side of the border, creating A LOT of puff in the border.

What this meant was that I had A LOT of extra fabric to try to tuck into this quilt. But back to mitering… if you ARE going to do it, ensure you SEW it properly, because ironing it so that it LOOKS correct is not the same thing:

mitered corner that was ironed to look correct rather than being sewn correctly

mitered corner that was ironed to look correct rather than being sewn correctly

See how far my finger fits into this seam? There’s that much extra fabric I now need to tack down.

mitered corner excess fabric

mitered corner excess fabric

How do you prevent this? Again, I learned to sew with very little guidance, and don’t learn well from reading how-to books, so my method is, well, self-taught and not really technical. But it works for me: I sew the two border pieces on up to the 1/4″ seam allowance of the corner. I lay the quilt out top side up and then I fold one border corner under at a 90 degree angle and iron it. I carefully turn it over and pin it so the piece without the crease doesn’t shift from where it lines up with the ironed side. Then I take it back to my machine and sew along the crease. Then I lay it out and see if I got it right. If so, I trim the excess fabric inside the seam, if not I rip it out and fix it in the direction I was off.

Yes, my method is pretty… homegrown, I guess. There are zillions of resources out there if you want to find something more technical or specific on the process. My point in being this honest about my ways is that you don’t have to have a pHd in art, hundreds of dollars of classes and books or years of teaching experience to figure out a way to make it work. Just find a method that works for you.


When your border is larger than the quilt top center, there is then excess fabric to get worked into the quilting so that the top still squares up without wrinkles or tucks. The photo below shows the large amount of fabric that needs to be incorporated into the border. This can cause the quilter to have less options on how to quilt the border, or if following the request of the quilt maker, it can cause wrinkles (no bueno).

too much fabric!

too much fabric!

In this case it would have cost extra because I had to stitch in the ditch to hold the border down and keep it straight. Then I chose to do a close in meander because that helps to work in extra border without it being so obvious (feathers don’t work it in so well, in my experience).


Round Robin quilts can result in some amazingly beautiful quilts. But becase they are almost ALL borders, they can also be a quilters’ nightmare. I honestly hate saying that because I do love to quilt them. But it would appear that some people in the groups I’ve quilted the results of are not aware of this issue.

I have literally had to take out 4″ of fabric from one border that STILL ended up too long for the quilt top, but I was able to work the rest in.

The really tricky part of these quilts is that there can be loose ‘borders’ contained by smaller ones, which results in puffy areas within the top. How does that happen? Well, if you sew the border on without pinning and allow too much of the quilt top to pull through on the bottom while sewing the border to it, you CAN end up with a tight border.

My advice to you would be that if you like to be part of a round robin group, talk up front with your group about how they measure and sew their pieces on. That might help avoid uncomfortable or hurt feelings later.

I sure hope you found this helpful. 🙂 Happy quilting!


Bringing Out The Best in Your Quilt – A Longarmers Perspective

The basis for the title comes from my leadership training. Once upon a long, long time ago I was told to read a book we fondly refered to as “The Book of BOB”, BOB standing in as an acronym for Bringing Out (the) Best, but referring to people.

I was asked to lecture for a guild (coming soon!), and subsequently had to come up with a title for my speaking engagement about being a longarm quilter. This is what came to mind.

If you think about the title sentence, it does really make sense. It reveals that as a longarm quilter, I will give my perspective on how WE can bring out the best in your quilt. Yes, WE, meaning you and me, or you and whomever your quilter happens to be.

I know there are others out there that offer this same ‘speech’, but what I am truly offering is an interactive session with your group, and it doesn’t just address MY personal requirements and preferences. The good news is that this can apply to any two people that work together.

The bottom line is that this entire situation comes down to communication. If the quilt maker wants heirloom and goes to someone she used to have quilt for her that way a year or more back, how can she be sure that quilter hasn’t changed her style (this happened to someone I know). How are you SURE that your longarm quilter isn’t going to GO WITH IT when that’s what you tell him to do? Maybe “go with it” in his opinion means show quality detail, but that’s NOT how much you wanted to spend!?!

This post is a bit of a teaser, because I will be delivering this interactive seminar to the Land Of Lakes Quilt Guild in Lewisville on January 14, 2013 at 7pm. I will address:

what happens when you don’t carefully measure the blocks before piecing them

blocks of different sizes

what happens when you iron seams that are NOT flat…

ironing crease in seam

and a variety of things that can happen when you piece the back, when you don’t measure the borders and more. And of course, I will address how the longarm quilter can make these ‘issues’ disappear, like magic.

I will also provide guidelines and questions to ask each other so that interaction can go smoothly. That really should not be uncomfortable for anyone. And if you have questions, feel free to comment here!

ps. to ALL my customers, don’t worry – your quilts will NEVER end up in this type of discussion!!! the one pictured above was an old family treasure, and some other examples are charity or my own work, made in a way so I had some great examples to share!

my first quilt

Some people quilt because their mother taught them how, or their grandmother brought them to a bee when they were little. Some people take it up as a new hobby to try when they have some extra $ and time. I learned because of a wonderful woman named Stacia. For the life of me I can’t remember her last name, just that she’s in Silverdale WA somewhere.

Our daughters attended the same preschool at the local lutheran church down the street, and we began to chat one day when we were picking the girls up. I think the conversation began because my daughters name is Kaela and her daughter is Mykaela. The next day she invited me over. She lived across the street from the church.

I was working overnights, so I slept in the morning after bringing my daughter to preschool, and then spent the time with her during the day, so that next day I went to Stacia’s house with my daughter to play.

We lived sort of in the boonies. No sidewalks, no streetlights, no HOA’s. Lots of trees and overgrown grass and large lots. She had chickens running all over, and a big yard and garden. The house she was renting was old, built in the 1910’s. We chatted in the small kitchen for a while, getting to know each other. She told me about her hobbies and daily activities. She stayed at home with her 10 year old special needs child, her preschooler and baby girl. She told me about making quilts and canning the food from her garden and local markets.

I was intrigued. The next time I went over to Stacias, she started showing me how to do these wonderful things. That year I won a blue ribbon for my strawberry jam in the Kitsap County Fair, and my canning days were cemented in my yearly routine.

She also showed me how to make quilts, “country style”. What I mean is, she didn’t worry about squaring things up perfectly, or trimming or ironing between piecing to ensure everything was square. She sewed quilts for the comfort of her family and personal joy. And that’s what she showed me. Before we got into actually making a quilt together, she persuaded me to take a class at the local Joann’s, called Quilt In A Day: Delectable Mountains. Let me assure you this quilt is not made in one day.

So that was my first quilt, and here it is!

After that she showed me how to piece log cabin quilts, and patchwork quilts, which are pretty simple. She showed me how to sandwich and tie my quilts (which technically makes them coverlets, because quilts need to be quilted together), and how to bind the edges.

About a year later, I bought a new machine. I had been using my grandmothers dinosaur and I think the timing failed. Regardless my little machine from Sears has held up just fine for the last 10 years. I began to focus more on the 1/4″ seam allowance (I was closer to 1/2″, which made my king size quilt actually measure queen sized).

I found a little one block pattern at Joann’s while I was there for the class and decided that was my next task. The funny thing is that I have yet to finish this quilt! The binding is attached to the front but not the back. I tried quilting it on my little sewing machine with nylon clear thread and decided partway through that I was done with that. The girls used to play with it all the time with their dolls, not caring about the condition. It has obviously been washed a few times…

My point in this story is to share that we all come from different backgrounds in this hobby; we learn in different ways and we have different skill sets and preferences. I love to quilt the way I learned (with a few improvements), rather than precision and paper piecing. I have my own style and it is far from perfect, and I’m good with that.

So happy quilting my friends, whatever you are working on!


Seriously, this is SO cute!!!!! So here’s the story:

I was working at the shop (Quilt Country) and as always, shopping as I was cutting. What I mean is, customers bring their fabric up to the counter for us to cut. When I unroll the bolt I see what nearly always seems like a new fabric, and 99% of the time I love it! So I buy some of that fabric when we have a lull in activity.

A lady brought up this cute Noah’s Ark fabric, and I knew I had to have some. It was on the sale rack, so I knew it wouldn’t be around long. I cut one yard, and then decided I needed another one. 🙂 Later in the day another woman brought up this greenish fabric with fishes on it. I bought some of that as well, thinking it had to go with the other yardage.

I do make quilts for sale, but when I saw this fabric, I knew it needed to be for baby quilts that would be donated. I decided to use the EZ Breezy Pattern concept, to keep the cute animals on the whole panel intact.

So I found fabrics in my stash that matched the other colors in the quilt and cut them into 2.5″ strips and sewed them together randomly. Based on the panel measurements (I cut each yard in half, then cut off a 5.5″ strip for cornerstones) I cut those sewn-together strips to 5″ lengths. I pinned them to the center panel on the sides and sewed them on. Because I didn’t trim my center panel to an even width and length, I had to trim my bottom strip on each side before sewing on the cornerstones. Then I attached that to the center and VOILA!!!!

The beauty is that I have all my borders (the strips) already made for the other three quilts. I may put an outer border on it; currently it measures 31″ x 39″. Good baby size.

So right now my remaining question is this: Once I finish these quilts, should I give them to the local church? Or should I send one to four different people and ask them to give the quilts away to someone they think is in need? Then I get to share this warm feeling I have inside. What do you think?

How to make a quilt top

Sewing machine – check. Thread – check. Material – check. OK you’re ready!

Seriously that is all it takes. This example is for a random patchwork quilt. If you want to get complicated and paper piece to have precise 24 point stars, go for it. If you want to make a quilt from some pretty pre-cut squares, it is really easy. Really. Easy.

OK, back to easy. If you purchase a sampler pack of squares, or a charm pack, you will be given some number of squares that all match somehow, already cut to one size.

pre-cut pack of squares

To calculate the size of the quilt you will end up with from that bundle, measure one square (let’s say it’s 4.5 inches square), minus .5 inches for seam allowance (each seam requires .25 inch material for seam allowance). Ok so 4″ is your finished square size.

How many squares are there? Let’s say there are 50 squares. So you could make a quilt 7 squares across by 7 long, or 6 across by 8 long. Those options would bring you a 28″ square quilt (# squares times inches per finished square), or a 24″ x 32″ quilt. Might work if you know someone having a baby, but if you want it to cover your lap, you may want to buy 2 of those packs or more (in our example case here). You can always add a border at the end to stretch out your length.

Next step. Take two squares, put the right sides together and match them up so the edges are straight. Sew them together in as straight a line as you are able, with .25 inches seam allowance. There’s a little line on your hopper foot on the sewing machine where you can line that up. Again, keeping it easy. No need to backstitch, the seams will interlock as you go. Now before you go pulling your stitched squares out of the machine and cutting off the thread tail, STOP. Let it sit there, because you’re going to chain sew. Huh?

OK so you sewed a seam. Well, match up another two squares and give your machine pedal a tap to let it have a few ’empty’ stitches and then stick your next set of squares under the foot and sew them together!  You’ll just have a little thread connector between your square sets. As long as your number of squares across is an even number, you can continue to do this step until you run out of squares. When you are done, snip the threads between your square sets and get over to the ironing board.

Yes, you really do have to press the seams. Open, to one side or the other, doesn’t matter. Generally I do it towards the darker material, but just make the seams flat. Once you get through all of your square sets, it’s time to make some more seams!

.25" seam allowance, pressed to one side

Go back to your machine and sew! If you want to sew long rows of squares that match your final length, do it! If you want to sew square blocks of 4 squares and then sew them together, do that instead! Everyone has a method, and everyone has an opinion as to how it SHOULD be done. Do it how YOU want to do it, and you will find the method that works best for you.

Just know that you need to iron your seams flat prior to moving on, and if you have a seam that went wrong and is obviously crooked, pull out the stitches and resew it. You’ll be happy you did. Note in the photo below that the corners of the squares match up. May take you a little practice to get there, but ironing, and watching your seam allowances will most definitely help!

block of squares sewn together

This is really all it takes to make a quilt top. You can add a border of any size or not.