Friday, August 21, 2020

How to Prepare Quilt Borders

A couple weeks ago, I quilted a quilt that had a small to moderate amount of wavy borders, a common quilt issue. I managed to conquer them, though a refresher course on the correct way to prepare borders is in order.

First, I'll go over what not to do, then move on to the tutorial for the correct way to prepare borders. When we're all done, say good-bye to those wavy borders! 

How NOT to Prepare Quilt Borders

Though tempting, AVOID the slap and sew method - cutting the border strips, stitching them to the sides and trimming off the excess on the ends, then repeating those steps for the top and bottom. Yes, I've been guilty of doing it this way because it's fast and easy. But this is a big cause of wavy borders. 

How to Prepare Quilt Borders

This method assumes that strips are cut from border fabric, applied first to the sides, then the top and bottom of the quilt top. Instructions for dealing with pieced borders are outside the scope of this tutorial.

Follow along with the diagrams to properly prepare quilt borders.

Step 1 - Press the Quilt Top

Thoroughly press the quilt top! And I mean 'press', up and down, not 'iron', sliding side to side. Inconsistent block sizes, bias cuts, extensive piecing, etc all effect the flatness and squareness of a quilt. 'Ironing' makes those issues worse and can also cause seams to get folded in the wrong direction. So, a good, thorough 'pressing' on the backside helps immensely.

Step 2 - Check for Square

Measure the length of the quilt top along both sides and in the middle. Do the same for the width. If either of the three length (or width) measurements are off by more than 1/2", fix and repair any piecing issues, or re-square the quilt by trimming before continuing.

                            Blue=quilt top         Red lines=measuring tape

Measure top to bottom for side borders;      side to side for top/bottom borders   

Keep in mind this is different than checking for square as is done in construction. That method compares the two diagonal measurements taken from corner to opposite corner, and is best used when blocking a quilt.

Step 3 - Measure for Borders

Take the average of the three measurements (left side, middle, right side) for side borders.

 Measure sides and middle

Step 4 - Cut the Borders

Cut the side border strips to the average measurement from Step 3. If extra length is needed for the borders, join strips together with a straight seam, on the straight of grain. 

DO NOT sew the border strips together on the diagonal, as this introduces a stretching point, resulting in a wave. 

  Straight seam=yes   Diagonal seam=no

Step 5 - Mark Matching Points

Fold border strips in half, mark with a pin. Do the same with the quilt top, folding it top to bottom to find the center along the sides. Mark with pins.

Fold both the quilt top and the border strips in half again, marking quarter marks. A good rule of thumb is to have marks no more than 18" apart. If the quilt and borders are long, keep folding and marking to achieve the spacing, and enough marks for matching.

Middle and quarter marks in black

Step 6 - Pin

Starting with the center mark, and matching other marks, pin the border to the quilt top, pinning every 4-6 inches. 

Black lines are matching lines

Step 7 - Stitch and Press

Stitch each side border to the quilt top. I usually have the border fabric against the machine bed to control the quilt's pieced seam direction. When finished, press the seam toward the border for a thinner seam. Pressing it toward the quilt top increases the fabric buildup, and fights the natural lie of the seam.

Step 8 - Top and Bottom Borders

Repeat Steps 3 - 7 for the top and bottom borders, measuring the top, middle, and bottom of the side-bordered quilt top. 

Measure top, middle, and bottom (Step 3)

Middle and quarter marks in black (Step 5)

                                  Completed quilt top with flat borders

Congratulations - stand back and admire those flat borders! Though the process involves a few more steps, I think you'll find wavy borders can be a thing of the past. 

May your quilts be flat and square!

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  1. Let me be the first to say HURRAY! and Thank you. I have quilted forever and last week I had to remove a border because it waffled. I got lazy and didn't do the steps. But didn't know about the diagonal stitching. Now I do and thanks!

  2. Wavy borders seem to be a common issue with even experienced piecers. I know I slapped the borders on when I first started. Long arming has made me a true believer in perfect borders. My own quilts are just great. Other's have issues. I have even removed borders and redone them (for a friend). This article is perfect for explaining how to do it right. Thank you, Susan.


  3. Yes, yes, yes! That is the right way. It takes a little longer, but the quilt will lay straight. Also, the quilter will love you!

  4. I agree, Susan! Well worth the extra effort, adding borders this way.

  5. You are so right about this working for the best borders. Thanks again for linking up to Tips/Tutorials on the 22nd!

  6. This is so helpful! I didn't know that I should not make border strips longer by attaching them diagonally. I thought--since this is somewhat more difficult--that it was the "better" way. How often is it that the easier way is the correct way to do something? Thank you for sharing this knowledge. I'm about to add borders to a couple of quilts and now I am actually excited.

  7. Thanks Susan for the tips. It really is worth The extra effort by doing it this way.

  8. I'm a brand new quilter. Should I check for square as a part of construction BEFORE or AFTER adding the border? Before seems most logical to me but I'd love confirmation! Thanks!


Thank you so much for just made my day!