This tutorial is to teach the why of putting on a border properly on a quilt. There are countless new and experienced quilters using what we call the “slap and sew” method instead of the proper “measure and cut” method. I thought I would show you the difference, and maybe convince you that the slap method isn’t a good one. In order to do a proper job showing the difference in the two methods, I needed to make a couple of samples to use. So, I did quarter-square triangles, mainly because it would optimize the bias edges and make the point clearer. So, I sewed up 18 of them, squared them all up, and set them in rows of three.
I carefully pressed them, seams opposing, so I could nest the seams. I assembled two mini-quits, identical in size. Note that they both have nice straight sides now. This will be important later.
I measured both just to be sure we were starting out the same. Yep, on track at 10 7/8 inches.
I cut one set of borders to that measurement.
I finger pressed each one in the center…
and did the same with the little quilt top so I could find the center.
Pin in place.
Sew with a quarter inch seam.
Then, for the slap and sew method, I just cut the same width border, 1 1/2 inches wide but much longer than I needed, then lined it up with the edge of the quilt top and sewed it on.
I used a lighter print so we can tell them apart. I tried to be as careful here as I could, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t overstretching the fabric, and I did the best I could not to distort it while sewing. I wanted a true comparison. At the end, I just sewed off the end of the top…
then whacked off the excess.
I pressed the first borders on both quilts and measured just to see. Look, we are already off, with the slap and sew border being just a bit bigger. Not much, but it will start to add up in a bit.
Next, I measured in three places to get the cross-wise border length.
The length was 12 7/8, just what it should have been after adding the first borders. So I cut the cross-wise borders to that length and sewed them on.
The slap and sew got slapped on. I measured in one spot first, not too bad at this point.
But look at the whole, the place where I got a 12 7/8 measurement is in the center.
See how much more fabric is there at the corners?
The whole thing seems to bow in in the middle and the lines are not straight. This is caused by stretching of the edge while applying the border fabric when sewing, and not meeting the exact measurement of the top. In spite of being ultra careful!!
Compare that to the measured border’s straight sides and nice right angle corners.
Now lets put on a second border to emphasize the point. The second border was the exact same fabric for both quilts, cut 2 1/2 inches wide, measured in three places for the first sides. I sewed it on with pinning to the middle and the edges, with pins between to keep the layers in place.
Now we go back after pressing, and measure in three places again.
Measurements are a bit different now, 16 1/2, 16 5/8, and 16 1/2. I decided to cut the crosswise borders to 16 1/2, as I had two measurements of that size and the third was just a smidgen larger. Cut and sewn. Note how flat it is, no wavy borders on this one.
Now, slap and sew, then whack the other one.
Here is where the difference is really apparent. Several things to note. First, the quilt with the measured borders is straight and flat. I put it face down on the slap method one so you can see how much bigger the slap method quilt is.
Second, the slap and sew has waviness in the borders indicating too much fabric on all four sides.
But the final proof is in the measurements. The measured border quilt is 16 1/4 inches square, just as it should be (after the 1/4 inch seam). But, the slap and sew quilt is 16 3/4!! And this is just one block. Imagine a lot of blocks at 1/2 inch too much border for each block! You can see now, how you will end up with problems. Lastly, I estimate that it didn’t save that much time either, it only took a few minutes to measure each side and cut the borders, well worth it!!
Imagine if you weren’t trying as hard as I was not to distort the fabric. And you have a king size quilt. Over the course of sewing 56 blocks for the king size quilt on my bed right now, this could end up being a lot of inches of excess fabric to deal with. Think I am exaggerating? Not really. I have seen borders that are several inches different in length between the opposite sides (which should be identical in length). This is how things like this happen, a quilt I recently quilted where the borders measured several inches too much. It was like a ruffle was put on the quilt. The only way to get it quilted was to put pleats in the border. It took four pleats per side to get all that fullness quilted. Plus, there were creases that just couldn’t be helped.
So, all this is to make the point that a properly sewn border will make a better quilt for you. Your quilt will lay flat and straight, hang straight on the wall, be easier to quilt, and not need the extra steps to cover up problems. This may also save you money if the longarm quilter doesn’t have to wrestle with it.
So here it is in a nutshell, how you should do a border for your quilt. Lay quilt top on a large surface or on the floor and measure your quilt in three places through the center of your top, average these numbers and cut the borders this length. If there is more than 1/2” difference, square the top again, or look for problems in the piecing that need to be fixed before adding the border. Fold the border and mark the middle. Fold it again and mark the quarter points, then once more and mark the eighths. Mark the quilt edge in eighths. Pin the border to the middle of the quilt. Next, pin each end. Match pins at the fourths and eighths and ease the quilt to fit borders. Finally, pin the rest of the border, making sure the fabric is spread evenly. Sew. Press. Repeat measuring, cutting, and pinning for the crosswise sides. Repeat as often as needed for the number of borders you have. Download a pdf of these instructions – How to Apply Quilt Borders
Please feel free to share this wherever you like, just give credit back to my blog. Please feel free to point others to this post that need some help with borders. Please do not copy any pictures or information. You may share the link on Pinterest, just credit the blog From My Carolina Home.
Did you know that how you measure is also important? See my newest tutorial on Another Lesson on Measuring Borders for additional information to increase your accuracy.
Do you need to miter the corners of your borders for a strong print? See my tutorial on Mitering Printed Borders, complete with instructions on how to calculate the fabric needed.
Thanks for reading and happy quilting!
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