Recently, I was discussing borders with a lady after her quilt was done. I asked if she had measured the borders and she said yes she had. But they were too big, and it occurred to me that I have not yet talked about why you need to measure a certain way to get the result you need. I had Scrap Dance Waltz in progress, and used three blocks to illustrate this concept. So, do you ever ‘do the math’ when you are measuring your borders? I am willing to bet that 98% of you will say no. What I mean by this is figuring out what the border should be, then measuring correctly to see if it is close.
So here I have three blocks, each finishes at 10 inches. Three blocks x 10 inches = 30 inches + 1/2 inch for seam allowances (1/4 on each edge) = 30-1/2 inches. That is the target. So if I measure the border and get 33 inches, it isn’t right, not even close. So, I lay out the little 3-block quilt and measure in the middle. Guess what, just a smidgen under 30-1/2 inches!
OK, now I am going to pick up the quilt, and measure on the edge by sliding the quilt edge and the measuring tape in my hands and working down the quilt edge. You know, pulling both through my fingers at the same time, this should put the tape along at the same rate as the fabric right?
Wrong! Sliding both the edge and the tape through my fingers gave me a different answer. And it was enough to be a problem, 31-5/8 inches! I promise, I didn’t make this up, try it yourself to see.
More than one inch of excess fabric would be added in that border using that measurement, and it is only three blocks. Take that up to five or six or nine blocks and the numbers just get bigger. So, how you measure the quilt flimsy is important. How you measure the border itself is also important. Using the proper method, I measured the first border for the Waltz quilt. I needed 70-1/8 inches. I set up an extension of my cutting board with a chair and a cardboard sewing mat.
Measure the border by laying the measuring tape on top and carefully smoothing it. Slip the cutting ruler under the tape and be sure it is in the right place.
Then cut it to length.
Then just for fun, I ran the cut border through my fingers to measure it again just to see what would happen. Oh my, again the measurement comes out too long! Measuring the border this way will make it too short, and will result in excess fabric migrating to the middle of the quilt, in this case a full inch.
Here is a better look at the setup I use, with a director chair under the cardboard extender. I have the rose print border on the cutting table, which is the center one on the Waltz quilt. If you don’t have the space or a way to extend your cutting surface, then use the floor. You can also do a bit more math and fold the border in half to get it onto a table, just be careful where you cut.
Ideally, take three measurements on your quilt top, one in the center, and two more between the center and each edge. This picture is from a while ago, today I would use the center of each row as the measuring point on a nine block quilt. On larger ones, I’d measure the center first, then halfway between the center and the edge on each side of the center.
So, why take three? Why not just do one in the middle? Well, because while the center measurement is often the smallest, it might not be. It is much better to do three and take the average, and round that as needed. I hear fellow quilters whine a lot about the math, then whine that their quilts aren’t flat. Get a calculator, it isn’t that hard. Sometimes you don’t have to, all the measurements come out the same, that is golden! But often there isn’t more than a 1/2 inch difference between all three. Use the measurement that is between the longer and shorter measurements to cut your borders. It isn’t difficult to work in an extra 1/2 inch in a border, what is hard is working in two or three inches because it wasn’t measured right or it was done by the slap and sew method. (See my tutorial Quilt Borders Understanding the Why) But, know your target.
So, lets say that you all are doing the Scrap Dance Waltz quilt – this one. The blocks are 10 inches finished. What size should the first cream color border be across the top and bottom?
Answer – 5 blocks x 10 inches + 1/2 inch = 50-1/2 inches. Your measurement should be close, allowing for some variation in piecing.
OK, now do the vertical border, assuming the cream border is 2 inches finished width.
Answer – 7 blocks x 10 inches + 2 inches cream border on top + 2 inches for the bottom + 1/2 inch seam allowance = 74-1/2 inches. If you measure and get 76+ inches, they are definitely going to be too big. Go back and measure again, making sure you are not distorting the quilt while you measure it. If you get 75 inches or 73-3/4 inches, it is probably correct for your quilt, assuming that is the average of three measurements. You have a target to shoot for, so you will know if it isn’t right.
Once again, once you are completely done with your properly done borders, do this trick to be sure they are good. Lay the quilt on a straight flat surface with the inner border seam at the edge. A bed or a long table will work, or if you just don’t have that kind of space, use the floor. Bring up the bottom of the quilt up to meet the top, placing the border seams on top of each other, step back and look at the bottom of the fold. If it bows up in the middle like this one, you need to remove the borders, remeasure and try again.
It should look like this, straight across the bottom, indicating the middle and the sides are the same length, which will mean the borders are flat without excess fabric.
How about a New Year’s resolution to do your borders better in 2017? Whaddya say?
Update – This post has gone viral, LOL!! And I couldn’t be more delighted to get the word out. If you are visiting my blog for the first time, welcome! I hope you’ll look at my other quilting tutorials that are popular as well, just click on the Quilting Tutorials page at the top of the blog. I also have lots of projects too, on another page.
Thanks for reading and happy quilting!
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