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!

T Shirt Quilt

tshirt quilt


There was no other title for this post. But this is seriously just the beginning. They, as well as related types of quilts (baby clothes, memorial), are becoming increasing popular. This being the case, there are also a growing number of people and companies that will make one for you, or provide you a kit. These quilts are most often not easy to assemble if they are done well. Whether you want to make one or HAVE ONE MADE FOR YOU, read and HEED…

1. KITS. I know it’s fun to do projects and learn new things. This is not something I would recommend for that adventure, unless you are really confident on your sewing machine. If you purchase a kit, be wary that the company sending it to you probably isn’t spending the high dollar for better quality material to send you. You often don’t have much in the way of choices for sashing, border or backing, they simply send you a packet after you pay and you do your best to follow the instructions included. They may not be sending you all the necessary materials to make a quality, lasting product.

The picture below features a Harley t-shirt quilt I made with each shirt block having a border, rather than using sashing. This works best for t-shirt quilts with similar colored shirts, or repeating themes (i.e. breast cancer walk shirts). But it’s a fun option you don’t have available with a kit.

2. LOW PRICE means you should be suspicious. And no, I don’t say that so people will come to me if I charge more than others. I say it because I have come to find that I generally get what I pay for. I mentioned above that all the necessary materials may not be included; I was referring to stabilizer. It’s a thin iron-on material that keeps the double jersey knit of a tshirt from stretching when you sew it. If that isn’t used, the quilt will quickly become misshapen. If you want it quilted, your quilter will cringe – these tops allow the shirts to shift around and beg for bubbles, folds and lumps in your quilt.

3. LOW PRICE (MORE) can also mean that your t-shirts will all be blocked together like big giant tiles. If the shirts are not very large, the decal or motif from the shirt will not cover much of that square. This could also indicate your quilt maker is only providing you the top, not a completed product. Batting (the center stuff) backing, the labor and materials for binding and quilting the product are all omitted from the price. Be sure you are aware of what the price really means.

4. “I HAVE 16 SHIRTS…”. Ok… I say this because many t-shirt quilt creators charge by the number of shirts. Do they really mean number of panels? Does that mean that no matter the size of the panel or final quilt, it’s about the number of shirts? While I don’t personally agree with this philosophy, it works for many people. Be aware that your t-shirt quilt maker may make assumptions, like that you want the front or back only from each shirt. The queen size quilt pictured here was constructed from 17 shirts (button down, t-shirts, sweatshirt) – I used the front and back panel from each and the sleeve from 2.


Bottom line = if you find the right quilt maker, you will be happy with the result. That person will help you to ask the right questions to ensure they know what you want out of the transaction. T-shirt quilts can be made out of any number of shirts, any size, even with traditional blocks tossed in here or there.

I will be posting instructions on t-shirt quilt assembly in the near future. If you have specific questions feel free to ask! Happy quilting!

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.