Border Quilting

January 24, 2011

Often after piecing/appliquéing the blocks of a quilt I lose steam and want to get the border on simply and quickly. Then, while  layering and quilting I’m so busy dreaming about the next PIMM (“project in my mind”) that I miss the “fun” of borders! Actually, I’m trying to talk myself into thinking of this as fun because I often fizzle out at this point.

Sometimes I can get excited about doing a bit of appliqué out there on the edge, and maybe a prairie point or 2, but seldom do I do a lot of border piecing. I once read that it takes about as many blocks to border a bed sized quilt as there are in the center. Whoa! Once I realized that was true it made the task even more daunting.

We all need to know ourselves and go from there. I enjoy piecing, but must admit I’m a bit odd in that I reallllllllly enjoy machine quilting. So……….. I’ve discovered I’d rather add simple borders which are plain enough to be able to be made extra special with stitching. We’ll get to more of that on Thursday :-).

When students reach the point of just wanting to get some borders on, my simplest advice is to add 1, 2 or 3 borders of different widths, making sure the widest is made from one of the interesting fabrics from the inside of the quilt. Typically it looks best if the widest border is the last one (these are generalities and don’t always work on every quilt).

Here’s a simple little Christmas quilt with 3 borders:

Now for the quilting. I still contend stitching in the ditch is the most difficult way to quilt because if you don’t stay in the ditch it looks lousy and if you stitch a set distance from the ditch, and parallel to it,  it’s easier to do and adds interest to the overall design. 

But I have a warning. If your outside edge is the least bit wobbly, quilting straight lines, parallel to the borders, can cause stretching and more wobble. By quilting “piano key” style lines perpendicular to the border some wobbles can actually be calmed down. These lines can be evenly spaced, but uneven spacing can add some interest too. They don’t need to be rigid either (please ignore the spiral quilting in the corner):

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I have a few ideas for adding some extra punch to simple border quilting and plan to share them on Thursday. Until then: do you love to piece intricate borders? Is there anyone out there who likes creating borders as much as making the center? Do you have a favorite plan of attack for quilting borders?


  1. I like to stitch in the ditch but I like your ideas for straight stitching down the border, and especially the ‘piano’ style. Now all I have to do is get that far – to the borders. UFO’s for sure.

  2. I made a quilt from a magazine pattern that had a pieced border of 1 inch strips. No Way! I found a cute striped fabric that worked just a well!

    • Great way to make a fabric “work” for you!

  3. Chris, you love machine quilting because you have mastered through much practice. I is now effertless for you. I would often feel very calm (almost Zen-like) when machine quilting. Most of my quilting now is done with my embroidery machine because of how bad my hands are. Maybe after the operations.

    I enjoy every aspect of making a quilt, including borders. They can dramatically change how the quilt will look or be expressed.

    I also love paper piecing & have a book “Foundation Borders” by Hall & Haywood I use a lot. Yes, it is time consuming making a pieced/appliqued border.

    I also just purchased software from Designs in Machine Embroidery to make quilting borders almost effortless. It uses an applique method ‘in the hoop’. I think similar to Replique.

    I try to use the chain method when piecing so if my fancy border uses pieces/fabric from the quilt, I piece & chain along with making the rest of the quilt so when I’m done piecing the quilt, I’m also done piecing the border!! If you know what border you want ahead of time, make the border first, the do the rest of the quilt. Hope this helps :D

  4. I agree with the “piano keys” idea. I use that often. I have also found that lines parallel to the border edge tend to stretch the border and then it doesn’t want to lay flat.

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