Non-border Borders….

We have talked a great deal about borders – how to properly construct them and some design options.  At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why is this crazy lady so obsessed with borders?”

Blame Susan.

One of my partners-in-crime has a history with other quilt guilds – she’s belonged to different ones in the different states she’s lived in and has even been President of some of those guilds.  She’s been around a lot of different quilters and quilts and has quite a few quilt shows under her belt.  We were attending a quilt show together (along with several other of our friends) when she whipped out some slips of paper and told us, “Write down the name and number of the quilt that you think has the best border treatment.”

I certainly wasn’t going to contradict Susan when she was on a mission.  I took my slip of paper and made notes.

Afterwards, she explained to me that she felt that sometimes when quilters get to the borders, it’s almost as if they give up.  Instead of transferring all that work, attention to detail, and creativity to the borders, the quilter just puts plain borders on her or his work of art just to be done with it.  “It’s almost like they just gave up,” she explained.

While I had never thought of it that way (I just assumed they were following the directions), I did realize that I disliked plain borders most of the time.  As I stated earlier, if you or your longarm artist have some serious quilting chops, plain borders can be made into a work of art.  Otherwise…they’re just plain.

Think of borders as a blank canvas.  All your creativity can be poured into them.  Just because the quilt instructions call for wide strips of fabric with no piecing or applique doesn’t mean you have to stick to the directions.  Always remember that quilt directions are suggestions, and as long as you can do the math, you can design them just about anyway you want.

However, with any design you chose for your borders, and however you plan on sewing them on, you’re dealing with long seams and lots of bulk.  It’s always important to have lots of room to support the quilt as you’re sewing, so the top won’t pull to one side.  If this happens, all you’re doing is battling the weight of the quilt and the seam won’t be straight.  But did you ever stop to think how much easier it would be if you could put the border on as you’re sewing the quilt squares into rows?  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could think of the border as other blocks at the beginning and ending of your quilt rows?  That way as you’re sewing the rows together, your borders would automatically be put on!

Can this happen?  Is this a possibility?

Yes.  And this is where my “Nonborder Borders” come into play.  This is not my idea.  Other quilt instructors such as the Pizza Girls, Cindy Williams, and Carol Doak have also had this idea.  Let me explain generally how this works, and then go into a little more detail.  Take a close look at this quilt:

Storm at Sea

This is a variation of Storm at Sea.  This is a beautiful quilt, and a Storm at Sea is on my bucket list of quilts.  There is a lot of movement and constructed in shades of blue and blue-green this would be a truly wonderful quilt.

Now, let’s pull in a bit and take a close look at one of the rows.

Storm at Sea Row

Can you see how part of the border is attached to each row?

Here’s a more detailed version.  Can you see the two Snail Trail blocks attached to the main block?

Close up storm at sea 1

Snail Trail                                                      Storm at Sea main block


This is still a pieced border, but it’s pieced in such a way that the border can be treated as the first quilt block and the last quilt block on a row.  When all the rows are completed and sewn together, the border is already on.  Word of caution here…it is absolutely vital with this process that you square everything up each step of the way.  Because the border goes on with the rows, there is no final squaring up prior to attaching the borders as it is in a “normal” border treatment.  There is no measuring the length and width of the quilt center to get an average, so you know how long to cut the border length.  So, while this is a great method, and makes life so much easier, just be careful to make sure you’re squaring up each step of the way.

If you plan ahead, you can use this technique on almost any pieced quilt border you want to make.  It takes a little forethought and sometimes you have to do some minor design changes, but to me, it’s worth it.  I suffer from fibromyalgia that affects my back and neck (mostly), so anytime I don’t have to wrangle with the heavy bulk of a quilt top and borders, life is easier for me.  And if you like the look of traditional borders, where the borders are a darker color than the center, you can still do that with this method – just change your fabric.


Section of Horizontal Layout


Let me encourage you to play with this technique.  Draw out your ideas on graph paper or use the Electronic Quilt software (my personal favorite) to sketch out some ideas.  There are two additional resources I would like to leave you with for this technique.  The first is Cindy Williams.  If you’re on Facebook, she’s there under the name of The Math Whisperer.  She has a simply wonderful book called Perfectly Pieced Borders that may be available through her blog.  She teaches at different retreats and quilt shows.  If you’re ever in a venue where she’s lecturing or giving workshops, do yourself a favor and take one or three from her.  I had the awesome opportunity to take two classes with her in Pigeon Forge in 2015.  And she’s one quilt instructor I’d jump at the chance of taking classes from again (something I can’t say about every class I’ve taken….).


The next resource is Carol Doak’s Creative Combinations: Stunning Blocks and Borders from a Single Unit.  These blocks and borders are paper-pieced but are easily adaptable to this “Nonborder Border” technique.


Once again, my usual disclaimer:  I am not employed by Cindy Williams or Carol Doak.  I have used their products and have discovered that their products and their customer service is stellar – if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t get my stamp of approval.


The year is quickly winding down.  I want to start a series on setting triangles, bias bars, and tension before we say good-bye to 2018 and the Year of Quilting with Excellence.  I already have next year’s theme in mind and you will see where all this emphasis in the basics will come into play.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS – For those of you  who know I live in North Carolina, we are hurricane ready!  Just finished my third trip to the store and Bill and I have bread, peanut butter, and water.  Sam has an extra disposable litter box and extra cat food.  This isn’t our first rodeo with hurricanes, but Florence is the biggest we’ve ever had to deal with.


2 replies on “Non-border Borders….”

I love this idea! That explains why I hate piecing quilts. Like you, applique is more fun. I will work on this. I never could figure out why I didn’t like pieces quilts, and I think you answered that for me. Think of you with this Hurricane. I’m hoping your safe. Would love to hear from you!

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