Applique and Mitered Borders…

If you’ve known me for any length of time, took a long look at my quilts, or have read this blog for several years you know one thing about me:  I’m the Queen of Applique.

Shortly after I learned to piece relatively well, my quilt teacher and mentor, Ellen, pulled me aside and said, “You need to learn to applique.”

“Why?” was my response.  I had learned to piece and was doing well with that.  Why throw another quilting formula into the equation?

“Because it’s fun and I like it.”  Meaning…Ellen wanted a partner-in-crime and I was it.

Luckily for me and Ellen and our quiltship, I liked applique as much as she did.  So much so that I generally have one machine-applique project and one hand-applique project going on at the same time.  Of all the classes I teach, applique has remained the most requested for years.  Of all the quilts I make, at least 95 percent of them have some applique on the tops.

So, it’s only natural that as we’re discussing borders that I bring up applique borders as an option for your quilts.  For me applique borders work their magic in two ways:  First, on a heavily pieced top, it can calm it down a bit and let the mind and eyes have a rest.  Secondly, if it’s an appliqued quilt center, the applique border serves to enhance that design.

In other words, appliqued borders are a win-win not that I’m the least bit prejudiced. 

Take a look at this quilt:

Flowers for my wedding ring


This is Flowers for My Wedding Ring by Judy Niemeyer. This quilt is a double wedding ring pattern, heavily paper-pieced.  The intersecting circles give the impression of constant motion.  Now stop and gaze at that border.  The applique border in this quilt works two wonders in my opinion.  First, it helps the colors in the quilt center to be pulled out into the borders.  Second, it allows the viewer to stop and rest their eyes.  There are places in that border where the flowers trail and spin and your eyes can follow that.  Then there are places where there is absolutely nothing going on and you can take a deep breath and rest.  I also admire the way she planned this border:  The flowers don’t ring the entire border but occupy two corners.  I also love how the flowers, vines, and leaves reach into the quilt center, pulling the center out to the border.

For me, viewing a quilt is very much like listening to good music.  There are places where there are a lot of motion, but those are balanced with spaces that are not so busy.  Just as music has crescendos and pianofortes, quilts will have spaces where lots of action is occurring, and those spaces need to be balanced with quieter blocks.  I find applique borders can provide the quiet a pieced center needs.

Now take a look at this quilt:

applique borders

This is an applique quilt by Erin Russek and I want you to notice how the borders work to pull the design in the center out to the edges of the quilt.  It’s a sweet, lovely quilt with some nice applique.  The flower, buds, and leaves in the border echo the design in the center.

DSC00977 - Copy - Copy

Now if I’ve done my job correctly, I have just talked you into trying an applique border.  So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty details and discuss how is the best way to go about the applique.  When I am working on an applique quilt center, if the blocks are pieced and appliqued (as in the At Piece with My Past above), I will piece the blocks first and then do the applique.  This way if the applique has to be centered into a square, I stand a much better chance getting that applique centered with no points of leaves cut off, etc.  If I appliqued before I pieced it, there is always the chance that points of petals or leaves could get caught in a seam.  Over all, I manage applique borders in much the same way:

First, after determining the length of the border, I cut those out and add about an inch extra.  I also make them about an inch wider than called for in the pattern.  I do this on the chance that as you applique (either by machine or hand), the fabric will “pull up a little” and make your borders smaller in width and length.  Any extra can be cut off with a rotary cutter after the applique is done, if you desire.

After I’ve cut the borders out of the material, I use a fabric marking pen (not the air soluble kind) to mark the exact finished width and length of the border as well as the center.  This shows me where the boundaries are for applique placement.  Then I usually sew the borders onto the quilt center.

I know what some of you may be thinking here…”That’s gonna be a lot of quilt to have in your lap when you applique.”  Notice I said that’s what I usually do.  I want to walk you through a couple of options on the applique borders.

I’m just slightly paranoid about chopping off tips or other parts of my applique if I put the applique on the border and then sew the border onto my quilt.  So, if my quilt center is a twin-size or smaller, I use the “Sew-the-Border-on-First” method.  Here’s how I go about that:

  1. Unless I’m using the needle-turn method, I pre-make all of my shapes.
  2. Then I make sure I have a clear drawing of my border, with all the lines in black ink. I make this drawing to scale, also marking the top, bottom, left, and right margins of the finished  These boundary lines allow me to line everything up.  I also mark the center of the pattern, as well as the center of the border fabric, to make sure everything will look balanced.
  3. I pin the pattern to the back of my border fabric and then glue baste my pieces into place. Sometimes this means using a light box, depending on the color of the border fabric.

This method works the best.  But if the quilt is large – double to California King, this is awkward.  You’re just working with a lot of bulk and that gets cumbersome and tiring.  So, if the quilt center is large, I use the “Prep-the-Border-and-Then-Sew-It-On” method.  Here’s how this works:

  1. Unless I’m using the needle-turn method, I pre-make all my shapes.
  2. I make a clear drawing of my border to scale, with all the lines drawn in black ink. It’s very important that on this drawing, the margins of the finished border are clearly marked, as well as the center.
  3. When I cut the border fabric for this method, I make it about 2-inches wider and longer. This is where extra caution comes into play.  These borders are constructed off the quilt.  If anything goes wrong – the fabric pulls up a lot or you’ve miscalculated – you’ve got some safety margin to play with.
  4. Draw the top, bottom, left, and right margins on your border fabric.  Do not use and air soluble marker.
  5. Lay the border fabric on top of the border drawing and glue-baste your applique pieces into place.
  6. Applique those pieces, trim the borders if necessary, then sew borders onto the quilt center according to directions.

Needless to say, if you’ve got applique pieces that reach into the quilt center, those will have to be partially sewn on the border and then finished when the border is attached to the quilt center.

Let’s discuss mitered borders now.  When I began quilting about 30 years ago, I would never have considered making a mitered border on anything – a quilt center medallion (as seen in my At Piece with My Past) or a quilt top.  They just looked too hard and that diagonal mitered seam on border had to match up exactly with the corners of the quilt center.  Beautiful, mitered borders appeared too difficult.  But once I learned how to do them, I discovered two things.  First, they aren’t hard at all.  They just required a different skill set.  And secondly, they really looked impressive.  While they do take a bit more time than “regular” borders, they definitely add the “WOW” factor to a quilt.


If you’re not exactly sure what a mitered corner is, take a look at a picture frame or a door facing.  There is a diagonal seam at the corners where the pieces of wood meet.  That’s a mitered corner.  You can get the same effect on a quilt – all it takes is a little planning.

  1. Go through the steps listed in the last blog to determine the correct length for your borders.
  2. Multiply the width of the borders times two.
  3. Add six.

For example, if my quilt center is 50-inches by 60-inches and my border is 4-inches wide, the equation for the top and bottom border length would be 50 + 8 + 6 = 64.  I would cut my top and bottom border 64-inches long and 4-inches wide.  For the right and left border length, the equation is 60 + 8 + 6 = 74.  I would cut my side borders 74-inches long by 4-inches wide.

This is where the planning comes in – if you decide you want to use mitered borders on a quilt pattern that calls for traditional borders, you will probably want to purchase at minimum an extra yard of fabric for the  borders, as mitered borders uses more material.


Once the correct length is determined, begin by sewing on your first border.  Fold the border in half to find the center, then find the center of your quilt top.  Match the centers and then begin pinning from the center out.  Repeat the process for all the quilt borders and sew them on, beginning ¼-inch away from the start of the seam and ending ¼-inch from the end of the seam.  Remember to back stitch or lock your stitches at the beginning and the end of these seams.



There are several different ways to make the miters, but here is what I think is the easiest way.  Fold the quilt top in half diagonally with right sides facing each other, to form a triangle. Line up two adjacent borders – such as the top border and the right side border, on top of each other with the fold of the quilt top so that it forms a 45-degree angle.


When the borders are lined up, take a ruler and line it up with the 45-degree angle and extend that angle onto the quilt borders.  Mark that angle on the borders with a pencil or other fabric-safe marker.  Pin in place.


Now you’re ready to sew the miter.  Locate the stitch line you made when the border was sewn onto the quilt top and begin sewing at that point.  This will prevent any gaps or spaces on the front.  Sew from the stitch line out to the end of the border, directly on the pencil line you made.  Backstitch or lock stitch at the end.  Unfold the quilt top and make sure that everything lies flat and there are no gaps.

mitered border close up

Trim away the excess border so that there is a 1/4-inch seam and press.  I find the miter looks prettier if this seam is pressed open.  Repeat on the other three corners, and you’re done!

Mitered seam pressed open

I hope you’ve come away from this blog wanting to try applique borders and not having a fear of mitered ones.  Both of those borders add so much to a quilt and are not that difficult at all.  They require a different skill set than other borders, but they really do add a WOW factor to your quilt.


Next week I want to talk about nonborder borders…


Until then….Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


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