Why do we put borders on quilts? I think it all depends on the quilt itself and where it is going to live when finished. As mentioned before – the border doesn’t have to be the same all the way round the quilt either, sometimes a border is used simply to make the quilt large enough for the bed or space it is destined for; but often a quilt just ‘needs’ a border as a frame – rather as a picture does – to emphasise the pattern in the middle. Some designs don’t seem to need a border as much as others do and often with these, if we need the finished item to be bigger, we can perhaps float the centre by using a border that is the same fabric as the background – this makes for a larger quilt but without the distraction of a busy print or design around the main focus of the quilt or wall-hanging. To make it still larger you could add a thin border (or a flange border) of one of the main quilt colours after the background border and before adding another wide background border.
Sometimes a quilt needs to have more than one border. A narrow inner border and then a wider outer border – often the narrow border is a plain or tone-on-tone print while the outer border is a busier print. This narrow border creates a boundary between the two patterns – the main quilt design and the border print; it could be seen as the mount for a picture before it is framed.
Occasionally the quilt has even more borders – two, three, four – of varying widths and complexity.
Borders can be pieced. One common pieced border is the ‘piano key’ which uses up the scraps left over from the main quilt. These are cut into random widths and the same length before being joined to make a long enough strip to go along each edge. Jelly roll quilts are often finished with this type of border to use up any left-over strip pieces. Or the strips can be made into mini-blocks as in the middle example below.
Full or half-length left-over jelly roll strips can also be added lengthwise to make a quilt border as in this one.
If you have a directional print to use as a border this can be tricky, especially if you are a perfectionist. You would love the pattern to be the right way up all round the quilt and to match up apparently seamlessly at the corners – which means mitres, which use a lot of extra fabric. The way around this is to use ‘cornerstones’ – squares of a contrasting fabric, or a mini block, at the corners. These are also useful if you don’t have quite enough of that fabulous print make a border – and you can always add an extra square in the centre of each border strip as well. And sometimes a cornerstone is just what a quilt seems to need to break up the riot of colour in a busy vibrant print.
You can extend your blocks into the first border of your quilt – so it no longer looks like a border. Frame quilts take this to extremes.
You can use elements of your centre quilt design to make a pieced border.
You can make more intricately pieced borders. And I have made the first two, just not in those colours, but I can’t find the photos.
You can find plenty of ideas in a variety of books, magazines and online. Here are some of the books I found on my shelf – I have glanced at them from time to time over the years; honest.
Or you can skip borders all together and go straight to the binding. Your quilt – your rules!
But before I go – a quick tip for choosing border(s) for your quilt. Lay it out somewhere and put the fabric(s) you think you want to use alongside two edges – so they go round the corner, they don’t have to go the full length of each side. Stand back and take a photo. Adjust the widths, add cornerstones, take away a fabric, add another and keep taking photos. Look through all the photos and when you find a layout you think you like then try to leave it in place for a few hours and keep walking past it – do you still like it? Then go for it. I found a couple of photos from a recent quilt – a piano key border had been made but it needed more . . .
I think I went for the last one in the end.