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Quilt borders help frame your quilt and draw attention to your beautifully pieced quilt top. Borders can range from thick to thin and simple to complex. You can even add multiple borders if you want!
It may seem a bit daunting to sew quilt borders at first, but I promise it’s quite simple after you learn the basic steps.
Learning how to sew a simple quilt border is the foundation for branching out and adding unique and creative borders to your quilts.
In this post, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about sewing a simple quilt border.
Do all quilts need a border?
Not all quilts need a border, but there are a few reasons why you may want to consider adding one. A popular reason why quilters add borders to their quilts is that it helps frame the pattern and draw the eye to the center of the quilt. Think of it as a garnish – it adds a little something special and compliments the pattern.
A more functional (but still beautiful!) reason to add a border is to enlarge the finished quilt size. Adding a few strips of fabric can widen or lengthen a quilt to help make it the perfect size. Keep in mind that quilt borders don’t need to be symmetrical either! You can add a border to just one side or all four to help you get the look you want.
Whether it’s for function or for beauty, it’s completely your choice whether or not you want to add a quilt border.
Should you square up a quilt before adding borders?
To get the best results, you should square up your quilt top before adding borders. If you squared your blocks as you assembled your quilt, you may not need to straighten things up. But if the edges are a bit wonky, it’s best to do a quick trim using your ruler and rotary cutter.
If you need help learning how to square a quilt top, you can check out my tutorial!
How wide should a quilt border be?
Quilt borders can be any width you choose but if you need a guideline to get you started, try using a fraction of the finished quilt block size that you used in your quilt.
Using 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 of the quilt block size will yield different but proportional results. You’ll have to play around with proportions to see which size is the most visually appealing to you. When experimenting with how the border will look, I like to draw out my options on graph paper.
Personally, I think 1/2 or 2/3 of the block size is a nice basic border size. For example, if you used 12″ blocks in your quilt, you could use a 6″ or 9″ border width.
Is it okay to piece a quilt border?
Piecing quilt borders is perfectly okay and is typically needed in order to achieve the long length of fabric to frame a quilt. Unless you are cutting your border strips along the length of your fabric (or making a small quilt), you must piece your quilt border together.
If you need to piece fabric strips together to make a border, be sure to add a 1/4″ seam allowance to your measurements in every place the fabric strips will join. If you will add two strips together, add 1/2″ to your final measurement. If you will add three strips together, add 1″ to your final measurement.
This tutorial will show you how to create simple quilt borders, but many quilters add some extra flair to their borders by piecing small quilt blocks together and creating a secondary pattern. The limits are endless when it comes to creating quilt borders!
Should quilt borders be cut crosswise or lengthwise?
Quilt border fabric strips can be cut either crosswise (width of fabric) or lengthwise (length of fabric). Your choice will depend on how you want the final quilt to look.
Some quilters don’t mind the look of pieced borders. If you fall into that camp, cutting the strips as usual along the width of the fabric is a good choice. You’ll use less fabric if you choose this method.
If you want the quilt to have a more streamlined look, cutting lengthwise may be the right choice. Cutting fabric lengthwise will allow you to cut the long border strips in one piece, so you won’t have to worry about piecing the strips together. This will give your quilt a very nice finished look, although cutting lengthwise can be more challenging and will result in a lot of excess fabric.
HELPFUL TIP: If you need to piece fabric together to reach your desired border length, cut the fabric strips to the same length to introduce more symmetry to your quilt. For example, if you need a border strip that is 50″, cut (2) 25 1/4″ strips rather than (1) 42″ strip and (1) 8 1/2″ strip.
How to Make Quilt Border Strips
To make quilt border strips, use the same technique you would use when cutting strips of fabric for your quilt. Fold your fabric in half selvage edge to selvage edge and use a long ruler and rotary cutter to cut your strips to your desired width.
A bit more math is needed at this point if you will need to sew two or more fabric strips together to reach your desired length. You must add 1/4″ seam allowances in every place that the fabric will join another piece of fabric.
For example, if your quilt border will be 50″, you’ll need to piece together two strips of fabric. Fabric is typically only 42″ wide. You will need 2 strips of fabric to reach the 50″ length. Add 1/4″ seam allowance to each piece of fabric to account for sewing them together.
This results in a total fabric measurement of 50 1/2″. You will cut (1) 42″ strip, and then (1) 8 1/2″ strip. You can also cut (2) 25 1/4″ strips if you want the pieced seam to be in the middle of the border strip.
How to Join Border Strips
Border strips can be joined in two ways: on the straight grain or on the bias. I prefer to join my border strips along the straight grain so I don’t have to worry about introducing more stretchiness to the edges of my quilt.
However, a bias join can visually look better in some instances. Either way is correct and is up to personal preference.
To join border strips along the straight grain, line up the fabric strips end to end and sew them together using 1/4″ seam allowance. Remember to remove the selvages first! Press the seam open to ensure your border measurements are accurate. Pressing to the side can cause you to lose some length, especially if you’re piecing together multiple strips of fabric.
Which quilt border goes on first?
The side borders usually get attached to the quilt top first. Again, this is a personal preference (hey, isn’t everything when it comes to quilting?) but I personally think attaching the side borders first is more visually appealing.
How to Calculate Quilt Border Length
You may be tempted to use the final quilt measurements from your quilt pattern to calculate your border length, but I urge you to measure your quilt top yourself. Between cutting and sewing, the final quilt measurements can change from what is intended on the quilt pattern.
To calculate the border strip lengths, you’ll need to measure your quilt top. I recommend using a sewing tape measure, but you can use a long quilting ruler too.
Step 1: Press your quilt and then lay it flat on the ground or a large table.
Step 2: In this example, we are measuring and attaching the side borders first. To do so, take 3 vertical measurements of your quilt. One measurement about 3 inches in from the left side, one measurement down the center, and one measurement about 3 inches in from the right side. See the illustration below for reference.
Step 3: Average the 3 measurements. For example, if your measurements are 49 3/4″, 50″, and 50 1/4″ then the average will be 50″. This is the length that both of your side borders will be.
Using an average of the measurements will help you get the most accurate border lengths because your quilt will not be exactly the same length in every spot. Quilts tend to get wavy and stretched on the edges, especially if they are a large size.
Step 4: Cut your fabric to length. Remember to add a seam allowance to your measurement if you need to piece fabric strips together. Join your fabric strips together if needed.
Step 5: Sew the side borders to your quilt. (See the next section for detailed sewing instructions)
Step 6: Press the border strips in your preferred direction.
Step 7: Repeat steps 2 – 6 using the horizontal measurements of your quilt after you attach the side borders. See the illustration below to see where to make the horizontal measurements.
How to Sew a Border onto a Quilt
Step 2: Piece your quilt border strips together if needed. If your longest border is less than 42″ long, you will not need to piece your strips together.
Step 3: Fold your quilt in half and crease the fold to find the center. Fold your border strips in half and crease the fold to find the center. Pin the borders to the quilt starting at the center creased marks. Continue pinning to either edge.
HELPFUL TIP: You may need to stretch or bunch up the border fabric depending on the measurement of your quilt. These small stretches and bunches won’t be noticeable after the border is attached. If you find that you’re having to really stretch or bunch up the border fabric, your measurements may be inaccurate. If you’re having this issue, re-measure your quilt top and border strips to make sure the measurements are correct.
Step 4: Sew the border strips to the sides of your quilt. Go slow and use the same stitch length you used to piece the rest of your quilt.
HELPFUL TIP: Double-check that you have a full bobbin before you start sewing your border strips to your quilt. The last thing you want to do is not notice that you ran out of thread halfway through attaching the border strips.
Step 5: Press the border strips in your preferred direction.
Step 6: Repeat steps 3-5 for the top and bottom borders. Continue to repeat steps 3-5 if you have additional borders to add to the quilt.
Now you know how to sew simple borders to a quilt top! With these foundational skills, you’ll be able to build up to more intricate border designs. Do you have any questions or tips about quilt borders? Let me know in the comments below!