Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Measuring and sewing borders

 Look what I found this week.

Before I made Stellar Breeze, I made test units from scraps, then sewed them together to test the sashing width I was considering.  I went on to make the cover quilt for the pattern but this little test top was forgotten.

When I rediscovered it today, I thought it could use a border, which is serendipitous. This week's mystery quilt clue will include borders.  I was thinking about making a tutorial to accompany it, but I forgot to take pictures of the process when I added the borders to my sample quilt.  Now here's a top begging for borders and I can take pictures of this one in progress.  Serendipitous!

How I measure and sew border strips for my quilts

TIP #1 : Measure!  

It's so tempting to grab a strip that's longer than the quilt, sew it on then trim the strip even with the quilt top, slicing off the extra length.  Its easy and oh-so-tempting and sometime you can get away with it.  However, it can lead to stretching the border or the quilt top, leading to either cupping or waving borders.  It can also lead to uneven sides if there's more stretching or easing in the border on one side of the quilt than the other.

TIP #2: Skip the measuring tapes and rulers.

I simply smooth the border strip across the center of the quilt top, with one end flush with one edge of the quilt and the other end extending past the other side of the quilt.  I can do this on the design wall or on the floor, or a on table if the quilt fits.  It's important for the strip to run straight across, not at an angle.

Measuring directly with/on the border strip

I mark where the extended part of the border strip intersects with the side of the quilt.  (I might repeat this at the top and bottom of the quilt, just to check the width of the quilt doesn't vary drastically from top to bottom.  If it's off a little bit - less than 1/4" -  I'll choose a point halfway between the marks as the length to work with.)

Marking the border strip

TIP #3: Make sure that opposite borders are cut exactly the same length

Both side borders should be exactly the same length.  Similarly, the top and bottom border lengths  should match exactly.

In my experience, the best way to achieve this is to layer two border strips together, matching the ends at the end of the strip that was flush with the edge of the quilt while measuring, then cut both strips at once.  You can't see both layers in the photo below, but there are two strips there.  The marking pencil is pointing to the mark I measured earlier.

Layer two border strips

I line up my ruler with the edges of the strip and the mark I made when measuring the border length earlier...

...and cut.  I folded one strip back after cutting to show you there were really two strips there :).

TIP #4: Match centers and ends/sides

Matching the center and ends of the border strip with the center and sides of the quilt helps ensure that the border isn't stretched or bunched up at any point.  The easiest way to find the center of each is to fold them in half and crease the fold.  
Fold quilt and border strip in half to find centers

Crease the fold

You may have noticed in the photos above that I folded the border strip wrong sides together and the quilt right sides together.  I do it this way on purpose.  You can see the two creases below.  One is a valley, the other a ridge.  When I flip the border so the quilt top and border are right sides together the crease in the border will dip down into the crease in the quilt top to help me easily match the centers.

Matching centers by matching the center crease

I pin at the center crease, then at the end, then halfway between those pins, and again halfway between each pair of pins, and so on until I have as many pins as I like to keep things in place.  I repeat that on the other half of the border to secure that as well.

After sewing the border with a 1/4" seam, I press towards the border, then repeat to add the second border to the opposite edge of the quilt.

Opposite borders added

To add the remaining borders, I repeat all the steps above, smoothing the border strip across the quilt, marking the length, trimming both border strips at once, matching centers and ends, pinning, sewing and pressing.

Measuring the remaining borders

Completed borders

That's it!  Nice flat borders. I repeat these steps as needed to add additional borders if the design has more than one.

(Some of you may wonder why I don't just calculate the required length of the borders and use that to cut the strips. In a perfectly two-dimensional world, this would be fine, but tiny variations in seam allowance add up over a whole quilt and result in a quilt top that is not quite the mathematically predicted size.  It's best to work with the quilt top I actually made rather than the theoretical quilt top math predicted.  Also, measuring with the strips is so much easier than wrangling multiple rulers or a measuring tape that isn't quite long enough or won't lay completely flat.)

I'm not sure what's next with this little quilt.  It measures 35" square now.  I don't know if I want it to be a wall quilt, or if I should add some round-robin pieced borders to make it larger.  I have some other projects in the queue, so there's no rush making a decision about this one but I'll try not to let it disappear for another 4 years!

Happy quilting,



  1. What a great idea for measuring borders! This is a game changer for me. I also like to fold my quilts and borders so I have a valley and a peak. It gives me a good feeling of accuracy at least in one area.:)

  2. I’ll be measuring the border fabric this way from now on. Great idea!

  3. This seems to be a great idea for measuring borders. I’ve been meaning to try it. Donna Jordan from Jordan Fabrics also does it this way. I’ve always measured and then pinned the way you do. Can’t wait to try it this way.


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