To a lot of quilters, borders tend to be an afterthought. I consider them to be the frame of the quilt so I’m here to tell you that you can have a lot of fun with borders! You can also use borders to increase the size of a quilt or use up fabric if you are the type of quilter that wants to “use it up”. Quilt borders can be plain or pieced. They can be coordinated or completely scrappy. They can also have appliqué! Let’s cover some of those options this week.
Measuring your Quilt for Borders
My first recommendation is to measure your quilt top to get the exact measurements needed for your border strips. An accurate measurement is a good way to keep your border from turning out wavy or distorted. Even if the pattern you are making gives you measurements for the border strips, this is a good step not to skip. Here’s a brief explanation on how to do this.
- Step 1: Measure your quilt top vertically in 3 places. On the left, in the middle and on the right. Add those numbers together and divide by 3 for the average. (See diagram below) That will be the length of the border strips for the sides.
- Step 2: Attach the side border strips and then measure the quilt top horizontally in 3 places. Through the center and on the right and the left. This will be the length of the border strips for the top and bottom. (see diagram)
- Step 3: Add the top and bottom borders:
Once your quilt is measured, these are the easiest borders to do. You can do just one color and one border, or you can do several. I like starting with a skinnier width and then do a wider width on the outside. It gives it a bit more dimension. I did this with my Christmas Dreams quilt:
I also matched the binding color to the inner border strips for some coordination.
Here’s an example of a one color, one strip border with cornerstones in a different color on my quilt, Follow the Stars. Still does the job and it also extends the secondary design.
Combination: Pieced and Plain
Next up is a combination border. It can either be a pieced border on the outside of a plain border, which is the most common, or a pieced border framed by a plain border. The plain border first can serve the purpose of getting your quilt top to a measurement that will be right for the pieced border. Here’s a few examples:
In Scrappy North Stars (above), there is a thin black border strip to frame the central design and then I used the scraps from the blocks to make a piano key border.
Here’s a pattern with the pieced border first, then the plain border. To be able to do this, you need to make sure your center part of the quilt top is meticulously pieced so the measurements work for a pieced border. This is an example of a pieced border first in my Trinkets quilt.
Combination: Pieced or Plain Border mixed with Appliqué
The next type of border I like it is a combination of a border, whether pieced or plain, with an appliquéd border. As you know, appliqué is one of my true loves! I have fun adding it to quilts, especially in the border area, to add a flourish. Here’s one of my favorites from my book, Blooming Patchwork:
For this quilt, I started out with a plain border that I used as the “canvas” for some floral appliqué. Then I finished it off, framing the appliqué, with a pieced border. Another option is to combine the plain border with the appliqué like I did in Crisscross Cabin Blooms.
Pieced Only Border
Another border option is to just jump right to a pieced only border with no plain borders. These can be challenging because you have to make sure your quilt measures exactly the size you need for the pieced border to fit. So it may take a little math! I wanted to do this for my Star Struck pattern because I thought the pieced geese border framed to star block center of the quilt in an interesting way. It almost looks like a star burst.
Unique Borders & Piecing
Now for some unique stuff I have tried. One of my “tricks” is to create a border that appears to continue the pattern of the quilt to the borders. For the quilt, Paper Chain, I took an element of the block and created a pieced border on the other side of the plain border.
This almost gives the illusion that the quilt pattern can continue on and on.
On this next one, Starlit Path, I did a pieced border that just has some flying geese units at the right intervals to mimic the design in the blocks and create some movement.
Some Final Thoughts on Borders
Here are some fun pieced borders that are a bit unusual. I had fun coming up with these and I think they add a lot to these quilts. Most of the time, I will do really unusual borders on smaller quilts first, like wall hangings or table runners before trying it out on a large quilt.
The above are some unique ways to use up the scraps from your quilt. The pieced border doesn’t have to contain the same size pieces. That is true scrappy fun!
Sometimes a quilt doesn’t need a border. If your pattern and secondary design are busy and beautiful on their own, your quilt might not even need a border. An example of this is my quilt, Twinkling Log Cabin:
No border needed here, but I added a little whimsy by finishing it with a scrappy binding. I just can’t get away from the scrappy!
That’s all I have for this week. I could go on and on for pages more on borders I have done, but I think I touched on a variety of good options here to get you started. Let me know in the comments what you do for borders and if you have tried any of these that I have talked about. I will draw a winner from the commenters and you will get my newest pattern, Star Wheels:
The drawing will be on Monday, November 15th. Good luck!
I usually opt for plain borders, but I have done some pieced borders when I have the time. I definitely want to do some appliquéd borders in the future. Love those.
You have WONDERFUL ideas for borders! Plain or simple. Love how you coordinate them to the center. Great ideas! thanks!
Donna S says
Your borders are so creative! Great ideas. Go wonderful with your patterns.
Enjoy your blogs so much…very creative and instructive. Enjoyed the border ideas a lot! Thanks for sharing your expertise!
Pat Mosley says
Loved seeing so many different ways to border a quilt. I’ve done plain, multi width plain strips, some pieced, flying geese, and several with sawtooth borders. You have me thinking about some other options.
I do mostly plain borders… But I have put applique in my plain borders which is so much fun! I also quilt pretty heavily on my projects so make lovely quilted designs in my borders. I love the look of the pieced borders but am intimidated by trying to make it fit and match my quilt pattern. Your quilts are beautiful inspirations!
I have always used a plain border, but now I am using a border with half square triangles to add some interest!!
Thanks for your great ideas!!
Mary K Kindred says
I have tried a pieced border without a pattern and had trouble figuring out how to size the border blocks (pinwheels) to the size or length I needed. And then there’s the problem of how to join them at the corners. I decided I need a pattern the next time, but you don’t often see patterns for pieced borders. I think they’re beautiful in your pictures.
Patti Levine says
I typically go with standard borders because of the math involved to create something more complex….would like to learn new borders techniques….love your quilts and borders!
Judy Buzby says
Great ideas, and starting on a smaller project to audition the border is such a good way to see what how it works.
Melanie Kenyon says
Thank you for the inspiration!
Trudy Walker says
I enjoy your informative blog articles so much—many thanks! The unusual borders on your quilts take them to the next level and I am inspired to look at my next project with a different eye and take on the challenge.
Carol Evans says
Thanks for the ideas and the encouragement to do something instead of just plain, boring strips at the sides, top and bottom. I’m ready to try some of these on my next projects.