Piece at the Borders

I still want to talk about borders for the next couple of blogs.  Why spend so much time on that last piecing element of the quilt?  Because borders, even though most of the time they are sewn on last, are just as important as the quilt center — and not just because they are one of the last squaring up chances you have.

In actuality, all borders are pieced borders.  They are pieces of fabric, rectangular in shape, that are sewn onto the quilt center.  But it’s what you can do with those rectangular-shaped pieces that can make your borders an exclamation point instead of a mere period in your quilt sentence.

Most (not all) quilt patterns will include the fabric needed for the borders as well as how big to cut them.  And this information is going on the assumption that your borders will be constructed from one of the fabrics you purchase for your quilt.  I’ll be the first to tell you that this will work fine.

It’s that “fine” you may want to examine.  Anytime a woman tells you it’s “fine” you know it’s not “fine.”  She’s just being polite.  There will most likely be some kind of argument later.

To me, if you have a great focus fabric that just pulls everything together, and you or your quilting artist have some great quilting chops that can feather and swirl the life out of those fabric borders, then go with it.  I’ve done that a time or two myself.  Note this quilt:

DSC00977 - Copy - Copy

This is my Finally at Piece with My Past.  The borders are constructed from a border print that coordinated with some of the Henry Glass fabrics used. I was more than “fine” with this.  It pulled everything together and my long arm artist, Shelle, did a wonderful job with the quilting.  Looking back at the quilt, with the fabric selection I had found, I don’t think I would change anything.

But….this quilt?

Farmer's Wife

This is my Farmer’s Wife that I completed last fall.  The pattern calls for plain borders.  But after all that piecing and work, I think putting plain borders on this little jewel would be a slap in its face.  It would be putting a period on the end of a sentence that clearly needs an exclamation point.

That’s what we’re going to begin to discuss with the next couple of blogs – how can you change up your borders to really complement your quilt and give it just one more pinch of pizzazz instead of looking like you just slapped some fabric on there because you were ready to be finished with this project?

Plain Borders

When you’re ready to veer off into a new creative dimension with your borders, it’s important to remember to keep the dimensions you need (see last week’s blog on how to do this).  Within those dimensions, a thousand creative opportunities exist and all you have to do is decide which design you want to use.  The first border type I’m going to discuss is the easiest, and that’s the Pieced Border.

I think of Pieced Borders as really long, rectangular quilt squares.  That thought helps me keep perspective.  The pieced borders can be a simple as adding cornerstones at the top and bottom corners:

Border with cornerstones

Or as intricately pieced as these.

Pieced Borders

How do you decide what to do?

First, examine your own skill set.  If you’re a beginning quilter, cornerstones at the top and bottom may be just the thing to keep you moving forward without intimidating you.  But if you’ve sewn and quilted for a while, don’t be afraid to mix it up.  One of my favorite ways to approach borders is to echo a block that is used in the quilt.  If your making a quilt center that has shoo-fly blocks in it, try echoing that in the borders, either as cornerstones or in the border itself.  Echoing blocks in the border always makes the quilt seem more pulled together than just plain borders.  And don’t worry if the blocks in the border aren’t the same size as the blocks in the center.  The eye will pass right over that.

Center block echoed in border

Here’s the way that works…


Take the finished size of the quilt top – both length and width and subtract ½-inch from each figure to allow for seam allowances.  Next find a number that will equally divide into both of these measurements.  Often, there will not be a perfect number that will divide equally into the length and the width, unless you’re quilt center is square.  If you can’t find a number that divides equally, don’t sweat it.  Just come up with the closest number you can – round up or down.

Anything ½-inch or less is not going to matter – the eye will never notice (unless you’re quilt judge).  For instance, let’s say the top and bottom border could be divided equally into 2 ½-inch patchwork units, but the right and left one can be divided equally into 3-inch patchwork units.  Make the top and bottom borders into the 2 ½-inch units and the left and right one in 3-inch units.  Honestly, the eye will not tell the difference.  It’s all going to work out just fine.

So, let’s say your quilt center is 64-inches in width and 72-inches in length and the pattern calls for 4-inch borders.  There’s a lot of good piecing in the center and one of the primary blocks used was half-square triangles.  You make the decision to echo that block in the border.  Since the border needs to be 4-inches wide, you begin to divide that width and length to determine how many 4-inch half-square triangles you need to make.  With these dimensions, 64 can be divided by four to equal 16 and 72 can be divided by four to equal 18. Now multiply 18 x 2 (right and left border) to know that you will need thirty-six 4-inch half-square triangles for those borders.  Now let’s work on the top and bottom border.   We know we need 16 blocks, but also remember the width is now wider because you’ve added a left and right border.  So, before we come up with that number, we have to add 8 (to allow for a left and right additions of 4-inches each) to 64.  Now we have 72.  Seventy-two  can still be divided by 4 and gives us 18.  Multiply 18 x 2 and we discover we need 36 blocks for the top and bottom borders.

That is one time the math worked out easily and evenly…but as any quilter that has a few tops under their belt will tell you, it doesn’t always happen that way.  Let’s take that same quilt center with the same length and width and determine we want 5-inch borders.  While we can certainly divide 64 and 72 by 5, the answers are mixed fractions:  64 divided by 5 = 12 ¾ and 72 divided by 5 = 14 3/8.

If that’s making your head hurt, don’t worry.  Instead of trying to figure out how to make the 5-inch squares for the border work for the quilt center, make the quilt center work for the border.  Simply add narrow, solid borders to the quilt center’s top and bottom and left and right to bring the measurements out to an even 65 and 75 – both which can easily  be divided by 5 for your pieced border.  On the left and right, you’d add a 1-inch finished strip (so cut it 1 ½-inches to allow for seam allowances) and on the top and bottom you will add a 3-inch finished strip (cut 3 ½-inches to allow for the seam allowance), to bring it to 75.  Then proceed as you did above.

These narrow strips are often used in quilt patterns.  Some quilters call them coping strips.  Some call them floaters.  I call them sanity.

Now let’s say you have a lot of scraps left over that you really want to use.  The scraps are fairly good-sized, but you want to use them up (because if they’re used up, it’s a great excuse to go fabric shopping and restock your stash).  Instead of making squares, you could always make rectangles.  Let’s take the dimensions of the first quilt center we were dealing with – 64 and 72.  Both of these numbers are also divisible by 8.  So, you make want to design rectangles, 4-inches tall by 8-inches wide as your borders.  You could piece them or simply make solid rectangles out of your left-over fabric.  The choice is yours.

My favorite pieced borders are checkerboards and piano keys.  They use up a lot of scraps and pull the colors of the quilt together nicely.


And don’t be afraid to mix up techniques when you design your quilt borders.  Echo blocks and applique motifs to make your border sing in harmony with your quilt center.  Above all else, don’t limit yourself to plain borders.  Consider borders a wonderful opportunity to let your creative juices flow and your imagination soar.  The skies are the limit!

There will not be a blog next week, as it’s time for the Annual Fields Family Vacation.  However, when I return, I want to talk about applique borders and mitered corners and then touch on one more usual border technique. All of these are a lot of fun, too.


Until later, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Heading to the Border…

When you’re reading through a quilt pattern, one of the last items on the list is the borders.  You may be directed to cut them out with the rest of the fabric but attaching them is generally one of the last things you’re going to cross off the quilt-to-do-list.  I say generally, because that is one quilt rule that can be broken, and we will do just that later on in this series of blogs.


Loosely defined, borders are strips of fabric that surround the outside of blocks and sashing/setting triangles (if either or both of those are used).  A single border can be used, or multiple borders can be made, depending on how large you want your quilt, the look you desire, or what the pattern calls for if you’re sticking to the directions.  I’ve always thought of borders as “frames,” so mine tend to always be dark.  However, this is not a hard, fast rule – borders can be any color and nearly any width.


But borders work not only as a frame, they also work as your final squaring-up tool.  Much like sashing works in this area, borders work in just about the same way.  Here’s how that works…


Let’s say you construct a quilt top that is 54-inches wide by 75-inches long. For this purpose, we’re going to only use one border around the quilt top.  The directions will tell you, unless you’re mitering the borders, that the border should be cut 75-inches long and 5-inches wide for the left and right sides of the quilt top (the left and right sides are normally sewn on first) and 64-inches long and 5-inches wide for the top and bottom borders.  So, you cut them out…

And they don’t fit.

Now what can you do and more importantly, what should you have done to begin with?

Let’s pause a moment and remember two important things at this point.  First, always important to square your quilt up after every step:  After every unit is made, after every block is completed, and after each strip of sashing (both horizontal and vertical).  If this is done, then the odds of your completed quilt top being truly squared up are in your favor.  But what if the measurements of that top come out 55-inches wide and 76-inches long?  It can happen.  You could have sewn a scant ¼-inch seam when you should have sewn a full one.  Your needle could have been in the wrong position.  However,  if you’ve already cut your border fabric, then either a) you pray you have enough scraps to piece your border b) you hope there still is some of that fabric at the LQS or on-line store c) you ask your quilting buddies if they have some of this fabric in their stash or d) hop on eBay  and hope for the best.  My general advice for all borders is cut them out when you’re cutting everything else out, but make then longer than directed.  It’s always easier to make something smaller than bigger.  It’s always better to cut something down to size than to stretch it to make it fit.


For all borders, no matter what kind or what size, there is a process to determining exactly how long to make them.  The first thing to do is press your quilt top.  Then lay it on a flat surface – floor or table works best.  A soft surface, such as a bed, may have too much “give” to get an accurate measurement.  Take a tape measure (the retractable metal ones work best) and measure the length of the quilt top in three places – a few inches in from the right and left side and then straight down the middle.  Add those three measurements together and divide by three to get the average – and that’s how long the left and right borders should be.


So, let’s say we take that quilt top that’s supposed to measure 75-inches long.  The measurement on the left is 75 1/2 – inches, the middle measurement is 75-inches, and the measurement on the right is 75 1/2 -inches.  Add those three together (226) and now divide by 3 – and you get 75 1/3-inches.  The left and right border should be cut to 75 1/3-inches.  If you had already cut those borders to 75 inches as directed, you could certainly ease the top into that, but it’s aggravating, and this can sometimes cause a “ripple” effect in the seam.  In other words, the border seam will look slightly puckered even though there are no puckers in the seam.  It’s just much easer to take those left and right border strips that were cut slightly longer and trim those down to 75 1/3-inches.

Measure length wise

I also pin my borders.  I know some quilters don’t – the simply line up the edges and let ‘er rip, but I’m more cautious.  I find the middle of the quilt top’s left or right side (in this case it would be at the 37 2/3-inch  mark) and place a pin in it.  Then I find the middle of the border strip and match that at the pinned location on the quilt top and pin from the middle out.  To me, this makes the border lie flatter.  Do this on both sides of the quilt and sew the left and right borders on.  Press the seam to the side (usually it’s pressed to the border side) and once again lay the quilt top out on a flat surface.  Take the tape measurer and repeat the same process to find the average length to cut the top and bottom border.  Then go through the identical process to sew them onto the quilt top.

Measure crosswise

That’s the easy part – it’s pretty simple to find the correct length of the border.  Patterns will tell you how wide to make the border.  But what if you’re designing your own quilt?  How wide is too wide and how narrow is too narrow?

Let’s go back and re-visit the Golden Ration that we discussed a couple of blogs ago.  The border should be the Golden Ration of the size of the block most commonly used in your quilt.  If your quilt is made primarily of 8-inch finished blocks with 2-inch sashes, that would make the finished size of the entire block 10 inches (8 + 2 = 10).  Multiply 10 by 1.618 and you come up with 16.18.  Now divide that by 4 (for the four sides of the quilt) and you get 4 inches.  The border should be 4-inches, finished, which means you cut it at 4 ½ – inches to include the seam allowances.  Now in that four inch ratio, you could do one 1-inch border and one 3-inch border.  Or two 2-inch borders.  You can make multiple borders as long as the sum of the widths equal four.

Quilt with sashing and borders

If wide borders aren’t your thing, you can take the size of the block (10-inches) and multiply it by half of the Golden Ratio  (.618) and you come up with 6.18.  Divide that by 4 and you have 1 ½ – inches.  That is the narrowest border that the Golden Ratio suggests.  And like sashing, your border width can fall anywhere between 1 ½-inches and 4-inches and it will look balanced.


However…what if you need your quilt to be wider and longer than the pattern allows for?


No problem.  Go for it.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind at this point.  The math is still important.  The border can be 1/3 to ½ the width of the finished block.  So, if your finished block is 10-inches, then the border can be between 3 1/3 and 5-inches wide.  That’s fairly close to the Golden Ratio, but it is a tad bigger.


If that doesn’t work, try the Fibonacci Numbers.  This is a mathematical sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the preceding two ones.  A chain of Fibonacci Numbers would be 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8.  Two is the sum of 1 + 1, 3 is the sum of 1 + 2, etc.  You can make multiple borders to finally arrive to the size quilt top you need, and as long as they follow the Fibonacci Number series, the top’s borders would look balanced.  And a Fibonacci Number sequence doesn’t have to begin with one.  It could start with 2 and be 2, 2, 4, 6, 10, 16, etc.


Let me throw this in here – remember what I told you about the Golden Ratio?  That folks like quilters and designers kind of have this ingrained in us and know when something is too big or too small?  At some point, if you’re adding multiple borders to make the top bigger, you will know just by looking at your quilt, when the borders are overwhelming the quilt top.  Then it’s just better to add more blocks to the top to make it larger and add the borders later.


In the upcoming blogs we’re going to take a look at mitered borders, pieced borders, applique borders, and adding borders as the rows are made.  I’m also planning to discuss altering the borders that the pattern calls for…because who wants to stick by the directions all the time?


Meanwhile, crunch the numbers and Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Summer Show And Tell

So, let me tell you about my summer…

At this point, you know that in North Carolina it’s been hot, and it’s been humid, and we just survived two weeks of monsoon season.  Seriously.  We had seven inches of rain in less than 36 hours.  I have trekked in mud and moisture for days, and while I am thoroughly glad to have the rain, I am also happy to see the sun again.

I have also spent far too much on household appliances – good money that could have been spent on fabric.  Here’s the set up…about 14 years ago almost every single kitchen appliance I owned, and the HVAC system died.  I replaced the washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and the central heating and air unit in one fell swoop.  I was Lowes Home Improvements very best customer that summer.

Fast forward until now.  I replaced the washer a couple of years ago when Meagan, Justin, and the grand darlings were staying with us.  A month ago, the dishwasher died on me.  Two weeks after that, I came home from guild meeting and thought the house seemed a little warm.  I turned the AC down a bit and went to bed.  When I woke up the next day, it was 80 degrees in the house.

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Eighty degrees and 56-year-old women don’t play nicely together.  Called the hubs, he came home and tinkered with the unit.  It did kick back into play but considering the disaster we had with the unit back in January, I called a repair tech.  His diagnosis?  The unit was DOA, and a new one had to be installed.  Fortunately, we could get one put in the next day.  At 9:15 a.m. the truck rolled into the yard and by noon the new unit was in and buzzing away.  However, by this time, it was 98 degrees in the house.  “It’ll take it at least 24-hours to get back down to 70,” the technician said.

And it did.

Meanwhile, the dryer conspired to die next.  For a week I hung laundry over every imaginable surface to dry.  The new one was installed on Wednesday, complete with steam unit.

The refrigerator is now held together with faith and duct tape.  I hope it gives my wallet a recovery period before it decides to die on me, too.

Despite all the appliance disasters, the waiting on repair technicians, and the spending of hundreds of dollars, I have gotten a little done in the quilt room.  So before we dive into blogs about borders and color saturation, here’s my summer show and tell.

I got the next set of borders on my Halo Medallion.


I changed up the dimensions of the floaters and put a super-narrow one on between the pinwheels and the flying geese.  While it does add a different aspect to the quilt top, I’m not sure I like it.  I’ll be darned if I’m ripping off what’s effectively three borders and redoing the whole thing.  I’ll learn to love it.

This is my July mini-quilt I did for the guild challenge.


And this is my August mini-quilt. Oh my gosh those circles were so freakin’ small.


I’ve decided I’m moving ahead with September’s – January’s challenge.  I know what I’m going to do for each month and I’ll simply somehow make it fit Matthew’s challenge.  They are taking a great deal of my time, but my motto has been always Go Big or Go Home – so lots of detail. However, after making eight of these, I can say my binding game has improved.

I am continuing work on My Grandmother’s Flower Garden and have gotten these hexie blocks completed:










And have begun sewing them together.


I have not pressed these yet.  As they are hand sewn, I’m not handling them any more than necessary.  Pressing can wait for a bit.

Remember this ruler?


I used it and an Aunt Grace jelly roll I won to make these:




I have about a half-a-dozen more to go and then will set them on-point with some additional pieced blocks in a quilt.  I imagine that will go to Quilt Retreat with me in October.

So that’s been my summer.  I have prepped hundreds of tiny pieces of Love Entwined and am almost ready to begin the next round of it.  And I’ve nearly completed a quilt on Loretta.  A couple of more passes and it will be ready to bind, label and hang.

Hope you have had a productive summer too!  And that all your appliances are alive and healthy.

Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!

Sherri and Sam



You Can’t Silence Fabric and Thread

What a time we live in…

Within a hot second of opening an app on our phones or tuning in to one of the too many 24-hour news channels, we can get caught up on world events.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m about tired of it all.  There’s a part of me – a large part – that wishes events and people would slow down.  I long for a past that was made up of three TV channels, no remote, and a phone that was tethered to the wall with wire and a cord.

Ah, the good, old days…

Quilts, you may think, do not necessarily fall into that area of nostalgia, because in many ways, quilts are nostalgia themselves.  There has always been someone making them and there has always been someone using them.  Items of a bygone era kept up for traditions’ sake, as another generation of textile artists pick up the patterns, put a modern twist on them (either through pattern modification or fabric selection), and keep the craft alive for future generations.  So other than “quilts for quilts’ sake” are they relevant?

I don’t often tread too deeply into quilt history, because there are many other folks, such as Barbara Brackman, that do it far better than I.  I study and read quilt history because the subject fascinates me, but I am no expert.  But I was asked a question recently, by a non-quilter, who wanted to know what place quilts held in women’s history, besides the obvious – a woman providing warm coverings for her household for the fall and winter months.  On the face, it would be an easy question to answer and I was tempted to give her a pat one —  they were a woman’s voice when all she had to use was a needle and thread.  But that’s only part of the place they hold – for if that was the only place they held, by this time in the women’s movement, quilting would be obsolete.

And it’s not.  It’s a $3.7 billion industry – annually.

So, you’ve got to figure, there’s more to it than just fabric, needle, and thread.

For years, long before we had the vote, long before women had any rights at all, we had opinions.  Historically, our identity was first swallowed up by that of our fathers and then by that of our husbands, but women had their own minds and used them.  At the beginning of the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams cautioned her husband to pay attention to the views of women, or down the road there would be hell to pay.

John didn’t, and there was….but that’s another story.

Despite the fact that we couldn’t vote until 1920, women had political views and those views often showed up in their quilts.  Before then, it may not have been “polite” for a woman to voice her opinion in a mixed group or pontificate about  the subject, but her needlework was hers and quite often her views were front and center on that quilt and the men were none the wiser.  Even before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 (if you’re female and you don’t know what that is, stop right now and spend some quality time researching it), women had been voicing their views through samplers, journals, letters and quilts.

Women took the task of quilting and used that – through imagery and motifs both appliqued and pieced – to show their political view points and often times their patriotism.  Eagles, laurel wreaths, flags, shields, stars, red-white-and-blue color schemes and patriotic sayings wove their way into quilt tops.  Sometimes these quilts were made for particular events – the Centennial and Bicentennial come to mind.  Other times they were for political campaigns or for major events in our country’s history.

Still other quilt tops have raw emotion stitched into them.  Anti-war quilts, the AIDS quilt, quilts that were made to commemorate 9/11 – the fears, tears, and prayers infused in those quilts are almost tangible.  Then at times women named a block that conveyed a political stance – Polk’s Fancy, Dolly Madison’s Star, Whig’s Defeat, Mexican Rose.  All of those have political connections and a quilt top made designed with one of those blocks throughout made a powerful statement.  When a woman could not voice her opinion in meetings or cast a ballot, no one could tell her what to sew.


I often wonder if the men had any clue at all….

Throughout our country’s history women have quilted for home and for charitable causes.  They wielded fabric and thread for a variety of reasons.  Now, at this point in history, while we may use quilts on our beds, there is no real reason we must quilt to keep us warm.  If one needs a bed spread or a comforter, a quick trip to Target or a point-and-click episode on the Amazon app can take care of that.

Yet, we still quilt.  In many ways this art form remains my voice.  Yes, I speak at townhall meetings, vote regularly, post far too much on social media.  But it is the time spent with fabric and patterns that probably reveals more of myself than anything else.  I can look at a quilt and remember what I was thinking about, praying for, going through.  I shudder when I think about what some of my quilts know about me that no one else does.

Likewise, the folks that I quilt with … they probably know more about me than anyone else.  For a woman has no sisters, I have plenty that hold that place through the DNA of fabric and stitches.  We’ve laughed together, cried together, and prayed together.  They are a source of strength and joy.

So what place does quilting and quilts hold in women’s history?  They were our voice when we didn’t have any.  They’ve been a source of artistic outlet and support group.  They’ve kept us warm and they’ve kept us sane.

They’ve said what we couldn’t…or wouldn’t.  Opinions, grief, joy, frustration, and anger have been sewn into quilt tops.  If those tops could speak, what sermons they would preach.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Sherri and Sam