Border Sizes

I’d like to again say that this is only what works for me.  The way I make borders is my personal preference, not based on some border school I’ve attended or any advanced design training . . it’s just the way I like for my quilts to look.  If you make quilts with one narrow, non-pieced border, or you make your quilts with 10 one inch borders . . so long as you like them . . that’s great!  My quilts are no better than your quilts; in fact, most of you make prettier quilts than I make.  I’m just sharing info I’ve been asked to share.

There’s a lot of talk about Fibonacci Numbers related to quilting.  The thought goes through my head as I’m creating borders . . sometimes, but I always do what feels right or looks right.  You can google “fibonacci numbers” if you want to learn more about it.  It’s truly an interesting concept though it doesn’t always work when you’re trying to get to a number that will work for a pieced border.

Here’s an interesting story.

Glistening Rose Garden

Glistening Rose Garden

This was the first quilt I ever designed totally from scratch.  I entered it in lots of shows when it was first made and it won lots of ribbons.  One quite famous quilter/judge happened to judge this quilt at two shows within a couple of months of each other.  I’m not going to say her name or the shows where this happened but the first time she judged it, and I’m not looking at the comments, though I did save them, she said something like . . the outer border is too wide for the quilt and the quilting overpowers the quilt.  It happened to win a fist place ribbon at that show though.  When the quilt came back from another show and I was reading the judges’ comments, I noticed this same person who had written the above comments at the first show, wrote this the second time she saw the quilt . . Excellent quilting in outer border. Nicely frames the quilt!  Go figure!  Then Bonnie Browning asked to use the quilt in her book, Borders & Finishing Touches 2 so my feelings weren’t too hurt over the first comments I received.

But, to me, that proved that I could do whatever I wanted to do with my borders.  And, honestly, I make the quilts I want to make and I make them the way I like them.  If they turn out nice enough, I enter them in shows but for the most part, I do not design a quilt, piece it and make it with the intention of it being in a show quilt.

A few hard fast rules I try to follow:

  1. When deciding on borders, my first decision is whether there will be a pieced border at some point.  If so, I have to decide the size of the blocks in the pieced border and my main goal is then to get the quilt size to where it will be a multiple of that number by the time I get to that border.  This sometimes take adding several borders prior to the pieced border.  Often the side borders will need to be wider than the top and bottom borders (or vice versa) to get the pieced border to work.  Suppose I need to add an extra 4″ (total) to the sides.  It’s easier to add 1″ to the sides of one border (both sides = 2 extra inches) and then add 1″ to the sides of another border (both sides = 2 extra inches so I now have those 4 inches needed) than it is to add 2″ to the two sides of one border.  That can sometimes make the quilt look  a little out of balance.  We’ll talk more about this later.
  2. I try to never end my quilts with a pieced border.  As a longarmer, I know the problems this can create.  Also, when adding binding, I sew it on using a 3/8″ seam allowance so if there are any points in an outer pieced border, I’m going to lose them.  So, I try to always add a non-pieced border as the outer border.
  3. Do you want your binding to be the same color as your outer border?  If so, you’ll want to end with that same fabric that you’re using for your binding.
  4. I look for a “framing” appearance when adding my borders.  You can see the example in the Peaches & Dreams quilt.  See how the center portion and the pieced border, are “framed” by the narrow orange border?  Then the entire quilt is “framed” by the outer orange border.


How many borders are right?  It’s up to you!  Don’t you love it?  It’s your quilt and as long as you’re happy with it, you can have 1 border or 100 borders . . whatever you want!  Let the quilt be your guide.



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    Great tips Judy. One question – why 3/8 for the binding allowance? Personal preference? I really like the first tip as when I design my own I do sometimes get stuck with an odd number by the time I get to the outside. This is when I fudge sashing or, ugh, compromise my idea! The wrong kind of fudge I know, but, with this tip, I might slow down long enough to get my border happy! Thanks.

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    I so appreciate that you take the time to explain all of your thinking to us….it is very helpful to me (and I’m sure to others). I LOVE that first quilt you showed in this post and had to laugh how the same judge made two totally different comments about it. I don’t know if this is true, BUT…I was told that before judging commences at a show, the judges are told by the show organizers WHAT to look for at that particular show…and they then judge the quilts according to THAT. If that’s true, maybe that could account for the same judge making such totally different comments about your quilt in the second show than in the earlier one. On my computer, the second quilt you were posting today didn’t show up…just an empty box with B1 in the top left corner. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d go back and find your Peaches and Dreams quilt in an earlier post to see what you are discussing about its borders, but…I’m lazy today. LOL

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    I so agree. I make my quilts the way I like them and if others, including judges, agree, so much the better. If they don’t it doesn’t matter because I made it to suit my preferences. The quilt I just posted has NO borders, because I was trying to duplicate one made by my Grandmother and she never added borders of any kind. That also created problems with points on the outer blocks, but it was made to make me feel good and remember her, not to win awards. Quilting should first and foremost be fun, otherwise why do we spend the time?

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    Well said Judy, and I love that green quilt, it’s stunning!

    I also do a 3/8th border… and I’m guessing the reason you do so is the same reason I do so… because that’s the easiest size to make with a Bernina walking foot! 🙂

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    It makes me wonder if the judges at a quilt show even really look at the quilts. What’s their criteria when judging and what makes them a judge? Have you ever judged a quilt show or would you want to?

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    neen says

    Judy, I have always loved that green quilt. (Can’t remember the name of it. ) Didn’t you show it at the VT Quilt Festival, one year, when I was white-gloving, and I dragged everyone over to it so they could meet you? What a fun day that was. I think that was when I met Vince, too. But, that quilt did good by you, even if someone didn’t like the border the first time they saw it. LOL

    Good work!

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    I just finished machine-binding a quilt after watching your tutorial…it worked like a dream, thanks.

    As for borders, I usually do a narrow “stopper” in a dark color and then a wide one. Or piano keys, I like to use up the fabric from my blocks in the borders!

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    Kathy says

    (Laughing) That story reminds me of taking my first baby to church, all stressed as a new mother. Some well meaning lady in the sanctuary told me I should cover him up, he was too cold, and then 10 minutes later came over to me downstairs at a potluck to tell me to take his sweater off, he was too hot. I decided right then not to question my mothering skills so much, and have since applied that attitude to the rest of my life. Thanks for sharing.