Several years ago, my pre-teen, non-quilting, independent, determined, self-assured (you get the picture!) daughter decided to make a quilt for her best friend’s birthday. After asking my advice on a pattern, she decided on a Log Cabin. For hours she cut and sewed strips together in a “somewhat” log-cabin style. I popped my head in and noticed that none of the blocks were the same size, and–as a result–all the edges of the quilt top were uneven. I made some (obviously unwelcomed) comment and was quickly told that it was NOT a Laura Nownes quilt so it didn’t have to be PERFECT!
Yikes…did I feel guilty! What was I thinking? As it turned out, she just trimmed and straightened the edges, often cutting off half the blocks, and then added a border. It turned out to be a very charming quilt and her friend just loved it. Isn’t that all that really matters? Yes, of course, unless you have different and PERFECT expectations in mind (which many of us apparently do).
After this experience, I try my hardest to keep my thoughts to myself unless asked for advice. I know from years of teaching that how to add borders and keep the edges of the quilt top straight are two of the questions I’m asked most often. So, in case you ever have challenges with this step, here’s my “two cents.”
First, let me say that it’s rare that quilt tops are perfect. There are just too many variables involved in making them. There are, however, some steps you can take to help correct any discrepancies and achieve great results. Just work carefully and take your time. (These steps generally take twice as long as I think they should.)
1. ALWAYS MEASURE. Lay the quilt top on a flat surface and use a plastic tape measure(not cloth, as they can stretch) to determine the length of both sides as well as down the center. You may end up with three different measurements. If so, you are not alone. Take the average measurement of the three and cut two border strips this length for the sides of the quilt. Note: If I have enough length of fabric I will cut the border strips on the lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvage edge) as there will be less stretch than if strips are cut on the crosswise grain (from selvage edge to selvage edge). I do both, but just be aware that there is a difference.
2. Mark the center points (and quarter points if working on a big quilt) with pins on both the quilt top and border strips.
3. This next step is best done on a large pressing/ironing board. Place one border strip, right-side up, onto the pressing board. Then place the quilt top, right-side down, onto the border strip, aligning the center-point pins. Secure the ends with pins also. Carefully press the two together to eliminate any fullness. Add more pins to secure.
4. Check to see if the edges are flat or if there is more fullness on one side. Have you ever heard the term “baggy bottoms?” It simply means that the bigger/longer piece (either quilt top or border strip), the one with the extra fullness, is placed on the bottom when joining. If the edges are flat, with no fullness, I prefer to stitch with the border strip on the bottom so I can monitor the seams in the quilt top as I sew. (The seams tend to flip over less if I can see them on the top.) If, however, there is fullness on the quilt top, I’ll flip it over and stitch with the border strip on top. This allows the fullness to work in as I stitch. Press the edges again and add more pins, if needed, before stitching.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to pin and stitch the opposite side border. Press the seams in the direction of the border strip.
6. MEASURE AGAIN, this time taking three new measurements across the width of the quilt: the top edge, across the center, and along the bottom edge. These measurements will include the side borders. Take the average measurement of the three to cut border strips for the top and bottom edges.
7. Use the same pinning and sewing technique as described above for attaching these borders. Press the seams in the direction of the border strips. Your bordered quilt should be the same length on opposite sides and the borders should hang straight.
Now, on to basting…..
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
P.S. – BTW, the beautiful quilt at the top of the post was made by one of my students using my Sunrise/Sunset pattern. She removed the wavy borders, and with careful measuring and re-stitching, the problem was corrected.