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Planning Borders for Quilts

Planning Borders for Quilts

So, you have a quilt top all pieced together, and it just needs something more. This is where borders come in. So, what borders should you use? Like everything in quilting, there are no hard and fast rules, only what you like. Today, I’ll show you some ideas, and ways to figure border size and number. The first question to ask yourself is - do you want the border to extend the quilt design from the center, or be a frame for the work? You can choose to only have the binding as a border, or add several borders. So which to choose, and how wide should they be? The answer will usually come from the top itself.

The first question to answer is, how large do you want the final quilt to be? If the goal is only a few more inches larger than it is without borders, a single border will probably do fine, particularly if you have a cute border print to use. If you want to add 10 inches or more, multiple borders will be better than one very wide border, but even that is only a guideline. If you want to do some custom quilting on a very wide border with swags and intricate quilting, that’s OK too. Negative spaces on wide background fabric borders can provide great opportunities for modern quilting.

So, lets begin with the minimum for a border and work up from there. In this quilt, no borders were used at all. The checkerboard units are part of the block. Here, the quilt has only a binding to serve as a frame. With very small quilts like mini-quilts, small wall hangings and placemats, this is often the best choice.

If your quilt has sashing with cornerstones, you may wish to continue that design as a single border. In this case, the width of the border is determined by the sashing in the body of the quilt. Adding binding in a contrasting color creates the illusion of a narrow border as a frame.

In the attic windows quilt below, there are two borders. The first green inner border was dictated by the green sashing between the windows. The block size is 9-inches, and a good rule of thumb for borders is to use a fraction of the block size - 1/4 or 1/3 - as the border size. The outer black border is 1/3 of the block, or 3 inches wide.

In this next example, a one-inch blue border creates an inner frame, while the larger 3-inch outer border showcases the lemon fabric. Using a strong color on the border will pull that color from the quilt top and make it dominant. The block size is 12-inches, so the final border is 1/4 of the block width.

While borders generally are placed with the smallest width to the interior and larger widths to the exterior edges, this isn’t a rule either. In the example below, a sashing is extended to the edge of the top, then a wider black print border is placed first, with a narrower pink print to the outside.

Borders don’t have to be solids or prints. Some of the more interesting borders are scrappy in nature. This quilt has the sashing extended around the quilt, then a scrappy narrow border is added, with a solid red outer border. Note that while the scraps are all the same width, they are different lengths.

The same concept is done with this fall color quilt, with the first scrappy border being 3-inches wide, while the individual scraps are lots of different lengths. Randomly putting these together makes great leader-ender bits for your piecing as you are assembling the blocks..

In determining the width of borders, many quilters use the Fibonacci Sequence to decide on border widths when using multiple borders. The Fibonacci Sequence is a mathematical sequence that is found in nature and creates pleasing proportions. It is found by adding the last two numbers of a sequence together to get the next one. Starting with 0 + 1 = 1. Then 1 + 1 = 2, then 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 2 = 5, and so on. So you get 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and continue in that manner. Just by using three numbers that appear in the sequence, the quilt below has borders of one inch, two inches and three inches.

Switch them around, and the quilt below has the first border at 2 inches, the middle at one inch, and the outer at three inches. Pleasing proportions in either arrangement.

Using the same Fibonacci sequence, the quilt below has a sashing extension border at two inches, the middle border at three inches and the final outer border at five inches. All totaled, this added 20 inches to the width and length of the quilt, bringing it up to the full size needed for a bed.

Again, using the 2-3-5 sequence from Fibonacci, the quilt below has an inner border of the background fabric to separate the rows from the border frame. The second border is all scrappy at 3 inches wide, then a 5-inch final border completes the top.

Another appealing border idea is to extend a block into the border, completing a line, a square or a star. This is particularly nice when blocks are set on point.

Your borders do not have to be the same all the way around the quilt. An interesting thing is to add asymmetric elements to a border. You can use anything your imagination can envision. Add a short line of flying geese offset to one edge like in this quilt below. This is a fun way to use up a few scraps left over from your piecing too. Anything goes here too, short runs of half square triangles, four patches, or simple squares all add interest to the border.

Finally, one of the easiest ways to complete a quick quilt is to add multiple borders to a panel or a small patchwork. In the example below, the half rectangles were sewn together as leftovers, then five borders were added. The first is a thin autumn print, then a checkerboard border, followed by another solid color, a scrappy border and a final framing print. In this case, the half-rectangle is the block, measuring 6 inches x 3 inches. The borders then worked off that proportion with the checkerboard at 4 inches (2/3 of the block size), then the next border at 2 inches (1/3 of the block size), followed by a three inch scrappy (1/2 of the block size) and a four inch frame. For round robin style quilts like these, almost anything goes, but using some method for determining the widths makes the most pleasing outcomes.

When applying borders, it is important to put them on correctly, so there isn’t excess fabric in the border. See my article on Madam Sew’s Blog Beginning Quilting - Adding Borders for a step by step tutorial on sewing borders. Use a 1/4-inch quilting foot for accurate seams. Cut your border strips with a Rotary Cutter 45mm, 6x24-inch ruler and mat, safety gloves, optional ruler grip.

Have fun quilting, and stop by my blog for more easy projects. If you are new to the Madam Sew blog, be sure to check out my complete Beginning Quilting series -

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  • I’m so glad that I read this blog on borders. This is the fist quilt I’m attempting on my own in years. I was working with a group but I moved to a different area. So I’ll probably be reading this blog a hundred times more. Thank you again.

    Linda Larochelle
  • Love this post. Very educational, insightful, and full of ideas. Easy to follow and well planned out. Thanks for sharing.

  • Loved this, Very informative and I don’t want to lose the advice. Had no idea so much went into borders, and they make the quilt.

    Liz Smith
  • Thank you for your information and ideas

    Sherry Clark
  • Carolyn Forman

    I'm a return quilter after having 2 mini strokes....your tutorials are helping me so much...I have lost my chain of thougt but am determined to conquer it again....

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