The Importance of Correctly Adding Borders to a Quilt

I want to talk to you today about adding borders to your quilt. Adding borders correctly is key to having a quilt that is square, and that has a nice professional look when finished. It is also easier for you or a longarmer to quilt, as the borders won’t be wavy. This will make you, or the person quilting your top very happy!

Why did I decide to address the topic of borders today? Let me show you.

Wavy Border

Can you see the waviness of the border print? Here’s a better shot. In the next picture the quilt top is laying flat on the floor. Seriously. This is flat.

Wavy Border on Quilt

I was given this top and asked to put on two additional borders – a 4″ black border, and a 10″ red print border. After I add the borders, I will be quilting the top. If I don’t address the wave in the top now, it will be impossible to quilt without having puckers, seams, tucks, and a nowhere near square quilt. This is why it is really important to keep your quilt blocks as square as possible, and to measure correctly when adding borders.

(I asked the person who gave me this top if I could use it here as a teaching topic and she happily agreed. She inherited the top and was not the maker.)

I’m going to share with you how I measure for adding borders. There are many ways; this one works well for me.

The key to adding borders that help keep your quilt square is measuring correctly. I’ve seen many quilters just measure the side of the quilt the border will be sewn to and cut the border to that length. Please, DO NOT do that! Also, please don’t sew on a border strip and then cut it to length. Unless your piecing is darn near perfect, you will end up with wavy, wonky borders.

The problem, as you can see in the pics above, is that there is so much waviness that the measurements will not be the same on each side of the quilt. In this quilt, the bottom of the quilt measured 73-1/2″, the top measured 73″, and the center measured 72″. There’s a 1-1/2″ difference between the size of the center and the size of the bottom.

Now, to help this top I can do one of two things. I can take those three measurements, add them up, divide by 3 and use that length to cut the border. In this case, that’s a lot of math with some really funky numbers. Instead, I opted to use the center measurement and cut both side borders 72″.

Then, I marked the center of the border strip and the center of the side of the quilt I was working on. I matched the border center to the quilt center and pinned it, then matched each end of the border strip to the ends of the quilt and pinned them. You can see I’ve got a lot of waviness to deal with.

Now you’re wondering what I’m going to do with that 1-1/2″ at the bottom, right? In a lot of quilts, there won’t be that much difference and the extra bit can be eased in when sewing on the border. This one required a bit more work.

I had to unpick a section of the print border and add a seam in that print to take out some of the extra fabric. It’s a lot of extra work, but it will pay off in the end.

After adding the two side borders, I measured the top through the center from side to side. This was the length I cut the pieces for the top and bottom. Here’s a graphic showing you how to measure your quilt top:

After fixing the black print border, easing in the excess, and sewing the first black border strip, this is what the quilt looks like:

Still not great, but getting better. I added the second side border in the same way, measuring 72″. Then I measured the quilt horizontally through the center and added the top and bottom borders.

I did the entire process a second time, to add the red print border. Here you can see that the borders are now straight, with no waviness:

Now, there is a lot of puffiness in the pieced center of the quilt. The blocks are not square, and the seam allowances are not a consistent size. Here you can see the puffiness in one of the blocks:

It will still be a challenge to quilt this top, but I find it is easier to quilt the puffiness out of quilt blocks, than to deal with really wavy borders. I will be quilting a meandering edge to edge design. Hopefully, once the quilt is bound and washed, the uneven quilt blocks will be less noticeable.

There are tons of tutorials and videos available online that can help anyone learn how to add a border to a quilt top. It’s an important step that should be given as much thought and consideration as the piecing of each block. And while this is in no way a tutorial, I hope you find the information here helpful.

This was the project that I had to get finished before I could do any more playing with the ombre fabric I showed you on Monday. I won’t be quilting it until after Christmas, so now I’m free to play all I want! 🙂

Just for fun, while I was sweating away on these borders this is what it was doing at my house:

Some of those snowflakes were huge! They looked so pretty floating through the air. Fortunately, it didn’t last long and we didn’t have any accumulation. Instead, we just have super cold weather!

Now, on to a totally different topic. I found this today and thought it was so cool I had to share.

Did you know you can ‘Gift’ a class from Craftsy to another person? How cool is that? Just find the class, hit the “Gift This” button, fill out the info and bam! another holiday gift taken care of. And, you can schedule when you want the class delivered. So, if you’re like me and always forgetting what day of the month your best friends birthday is on (!!) you can schedule the class to be delivered on that day!

(Yes….I’m a BAD friend, but in my defense her daughter’s birthday is two days later and I always get them mixed up! LOL)

So, if you want to give someone a class on quilting, knitting, cake decorating or any other craft, click this link to find out more.



About Beth

I'm a wife, mother of two, and lover of all things crafty. I love to cook up new things in the kitchen and in my craft room, and sometimes get "licking the spoon" mixed up with "licking the fabric"!!
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12 Responses to The Importance of Correctly Adding Borders to a Quilt

  1. lapaylor says:

    you have done a great service with this!. I remember in the beginning just sewing on strips then wondering why I had lettuce leaves instead of borders. LeeAnna

  2. I love the term “Friendly Borders”. They wave! And the biggest issue to contend with, like you are dealing with here, is when there are multiple borders, The ripples become problematic as they flow outward. I’m glad you could bring this up, and the proper way to fix it. Even an expert quilter has had this happen in her or his course of learning.

  3. Great post about borders. I will admit that I sew a border on and then trim to size if it is only one border is to be added. I know that it is not proper but luckily have not had too many issues with it.

  4. Kate says:

    I was so lucky to have a great teacher when I made my first quilt. Adding borders and easing in fullness can sometimes be a pain, but you end up with something that’s usually quitable. Thanks for sharing the reminder.

  5. Jasmine says:

    This quilt looks so pretty with the new borders. Good luck with the quilting.

  6. I totally agree, the borders make such a difference when done right. I have a tutorial where I went through the “why” we ask for correct measurements, making two identical quilts, adding borders the right way to one and the wrong way to the other and showing the difference. Recently I had to put pleats in a quilt border to take up two inches in the middle as well as offsetting the corners and easing in a lot of fullness. It is just so much easier to quilt a well pieced quilt and flat border!!

  7. Great post, thanks for sharing. It’s super cold here as well, but leaving for warmer climes in a couple of days. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  8. Tish says:

    The weather looks quite the same here. I’m okay with more snow, but less ice would be great. A great reminder about adding borders. I can admit that I love the easy route of just adding the border and trimming, but the little bit of extra effort 100% pays off in the end.

  9. Bonnie in Va says:

    It always amazes me how many people just measure the side of a quilt. Some have good luck with it but it definitely is luck. Good luck when you begin quilting this one. Hopefully you won’t have tucks and pleats. I do like the colors a lot!

  10. acbeier71 says:

    Beth – This is a great tutorial, even if you don’t mean for it to be. Some one said it is important to build good habits – and this is an important one. Great job. Stay warm. It’s frigid here too. Happy Holidays!!

  11. Little Quiltsong says:

    Great tutorial! You did a wonderful job with this quilt!

  12. Kate Heads says:

    This is a great tutorial Beth, especially for a new quilter, it’s important to get into good habits from the beginning. I was taught to go by the central measurement when I started, and of course accurate and consistent seam allowances are a great help. It pays dividend in the finished quilt. Merry Christmas.

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