Close Counts in a Pieced Border

A pieced border will require some calculation and maybe require you to draw out your ideas on graph paper.

Don't worry, quilting templates will help with the cutting. Cutting will be easy once you learn a few tips about this quilting technique!

Again, It helps to plot out your design because you will need to determine how many patchwork units it will take to make a border that fits your top. In other words, you will know before you start cutting how many patchwork units will be needed to go around the quilt top evenly.

  • Start by figureing the finished size of the quilt top. Measure the length and width through the center and subtract 1/2-inch from each figure for seam allowance.
quilt borders
  • Next find a number that will equally divide both of these measurements. If you cannot come up with a perfect number for each measurement, use close numbers. In this situation, close counts.
  • Variance of 1/2 inch or less will appear the same to the naked eye. For example, you could have 2 1/2-inch patchwork units for the width and 3-inch units for the length;
  • Let's say your width is 84 inches divided by 4 which equals 21 patchwork units. Now let's say your length is 92 inches divided by 4 which equals 23 patchwork units;
  • The finished width of each patchwork unit will be 4-inches.
  • When you determine the actual size of the patchwork unit, sketch your ideas on graph paper. You may want to continue the use of a pattern from the body of the quilt or you may want to introduce a new shape entirely different from any in the quilt top, either way is OK. But first try it on your graph paper to avoid disappointments;
easy quilt borders

  • Experiment with the length of the design using graph paper. If your repeated measurement of the pieced unit is the same size as the width, you will have squares. The first row in the image on the right is a square that measures 2-inches by 2-inches. Now come on, be kind, I hand drew this;
  • If your repeated measurement of the pieced unit is twice the size of your width, you will have rectangles. The second row of design in our image is 2-inches wide and 4-inches long;
  • Irregular triangles can be difficult to cut and stitch. Try using printed Thangles paper templates found at most quilting stores.
  • They come in 12 different sizes which are great for making perfect Half Square Triangles or Quarter Square Triangles or clicking here and follow our tutorials.
  • If the shape is irregular and cannot be cut easily with a rotary cutter or Thangles does not have the size you need, trace your border onto template material, add a 1/4-inch seam allowance and cut patchwork units using the template you just made;
  • With Quilt design software, such as EQ6, you can quickly and easily try different ideas for your pieced border. You can see how a pieced border will look when it is applied to the outer edge of your quilt top. You can even print out templates to assist you with the cutting. This is really the cat's meow and takes all the guess work out of all pieced borders.

Checkerboard Pieced Border Design

easy quilt borders

You can take the heart burn out of a pieced border by simply adding a plain border that will function as an equalizer to expand the quilt top to a size that is divisible evenly by another number.

This strip border will act as a spacer between the quilt top and the first border or between the first border and the second border.

The checkerboard design is really easy in a pieced border when using the strip quilting technique. You cut long strips of fabric, sew the edges together to create strip sets which are then cut one final time into shapes for quilt blocks.

Checkerboard designs form when blocks of alternating light and dark squares are placed next to each other in a pieced border. The checkerboard design occur automatically with blocks made of four patch, a five patch or a nine patch.

Strip quilting makes this design easy to construct. Try using a variety of fat quarters for quilting when doing a border. Several fat quarter pieces of fabric for quilting are often just enough fabrics to achieve the right effect.

Nine patch or five patch blocks are made in the same way. You only need to make two different blocks and place them side by side.

This shortcut actually improves accuracy and speeds up the pieced border process considerably. Strip quilting is another phenominal break through in quilting. It is as powerful to the quilting world as the introduction of the rotary cutter was back in the 80's.

  • Cut your strips across the fabric width (opposite the selvage) unless the direction of a print dictates otherwise;
  • Cut strips the width of your intended unfinished patches;
  • If the checkerboard finished pieces are 2-inches square then cut the strips 2 1/2-inches wide. This includes the 1/4-inch seam allowance to join together;
  • Your choice of fabric should be one light color and one dark color that has been used in your quilt top;
  • Align the light/dark strips right sides together, matching the cut edges;
  • Pin the strips along the cut edges to hold securely;
  • Use a small stitch and stitch slowly, keeping your eye on the 1/4-inch mark...not the needle;
  • It is extremely important to stitch a true 1/4-inch seam. Your fabric lengths will be 40 or more inches long and such a long seam may shift...good idea to pin;
  • Lay the unopened strip set on the ironing board with the darker fabric on top and the stitch seam away from your body;
  • Press using an up and down not drag the iron left to right as this will stretch the fabric and may cause the strip to be wavy...not good!
  • If there is more than two strips in your set, add the next strip (after pressing the first strips) using the same procedure as described above. Be sure and press after each strip. Generally, all seams are pressed in the same direction. You will understand why when the final seams are sewed together;
  • Multiple-strip sets tend to be wavy as a result of long seams. You can try reversing every other strip and sew from opposite ends when joining the long strips. Also be sure you use the appropriate pressing technique when pressing;
  • Finally, cut across the strip set perpendicularly using the required width. You will want to cut the same width that you cut the individual strips which in our example is 2 1/2-inches;
  • After the strip set is cut into sections, reverse every other cut to form the checkerboard pattern and be extra careful to stack each cut one on top of the other and place the stack to the left of your sewing machine needle to get ready to join together;
  • The simplest matching is snuggling the seam allowances together until you can feel with your fingers that the seams match exactly. This exact match is important. See, I told you that you would understand why the seams should be pressed in the same direction. The seams will nestle very easily;
  • Pin the sets at the seam and stitch using the strip piecing technique one last time.

Flying Geese Border

flying geese

The term 'flying geese' stretches my quilting imagination. I often see the sky full of geese flying in a triangle formation over the creek that splits our property.

You know when they arrive as they are very noisy. What a beautiful sight to watch as the mallards land for a drink and quickly disappear from sight.

A flying geese triangle is the backbone of a pieced quilt border. They also are used extensively and I might say very attractively in applique borders.

These triangles are easy to mass produce with a sharp rotary cutter, cutting mat and ruler. They even have triangle rulers to assist in this area. The other benefit is that your triangles will be very accurate which is a quality necessary for perfect piecing.

Before cutting triangles make sure you have the straight of grain on the outside edges of blocks whenever possible. That means the diagonal angle will be on the bias and will stretch so be careful when handling.

To calculate the size of a square needed to cut a half triangle always add 7/8 inch to the square. For example, if your pattern requires 3-inch finished triangle square, start with 3 7/8-inch square. Next cut the 3 7/8-inch square in half on the diagonal to make two triangles.

To keep the ruler from moving when cutting, use the index finger and press down firmly directly above the outer corner of the fabric. The object is to keep the corner of the square from moving as the cutter passes. Try not to allow the ruler to move, as the angle will be distorted.

To calculate the size of a square needed to cut a quarter-square triangle add 1 1/4-inches to the square. For example, if your pattern requires 3-inch finished square start with a 4 1/4-inch square. Next cut the 4 1/4-inch square in half diagonally then carefully lift your ruler and rotate the cutting mat so you can cut diagonally in the opposite direction to make four pieces.

The rule to remember here is if you cut the square once, add 7/8-inch; if you cut the square twice, add 1 1/4-inches to your pattern. Another tip to know is the ratio of length to width of a flying geese is 2 to 1. It is twice as long as it is high.

quilt borders

The flying geese quilt border presents several ways to turn a corner. In our image we choose a plain corner square which is one of the easiest ways.

When you butt the corners, the geese will fill the corner. This one requires a perfect fit and it gives a rather abrupt ending.

Try turning the corner with another pieced block different than flying geese. For example use a four patch or a square with a square on point.

Flying geese are directional and may change direction at the corners or in the center of each side.

If in the end the border is more than 2-inches longer than the quilt try adding a narrow 1-inch border before adding your flying geese border. This will increase the size of the quilt and the border will fit perfectly.

Suppose the border is too short for the quilt! This is a little harder to correct as you will need to tear out the seams between repeats and restitch.

One more thing that could go wrong...the border is too long for the side of the quilt. You can take slightly deeper seems between repeats if you only have 2-inches to contend with.

Scrappy Pieced Borders

quilt design

If you like the scrappy look and a quick border, try using all of the fabrics that you used in your quilt top to make your next pieced border.

Sew several fabric strips together either in uniform widths or random widths using the strip piecing method as explained above.

Once the strips have been sewn, cross-cut the strip sets using the desired width of the border plus 1/2-inch for seam allowance.

You can even position the scrappy border perpendicular to the quilt or at an angle to the quilt. Plan for a border that is at least the width of one of the internal blocks.

If you are using a pieced border, the pattern may affect the proportion of border to quilt so you may have to use two or more layers in your pieced border. You will never go wrong by using a solid strip before adding your pieced border. By doing so you make the quilt fit the border rather than the border fit the quilt.

Another good tip...don't press your border until you have sewn it to the quilt. While this may seem strange, the border remains elastic and can be eased or fudged to fit the quilt, if necessary. Pressing removes the elasticity and leaves you with a ridged border. Either way, be sure you pin very carefully making sure that the seam allowances are running in the right direction.

Another good provide an accent at the edge of the quilt use a dark or bright color to match that which was used in the quilt. This will be your first inner border. This provides an accent at the edge of the quilt, leading your eye into the outer border. If you add two borders use a lighter color first and a darker second to create an illusion of depth in the borders.

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