Border Tutorial – Joining the Strips

It was mentioned in a comment on the previous post that the quilter cuts her border strips from the length of fabric and doesn’t have to deal with piecing seams.  I do not do that for several reasons.

  1. I do not tear strips lengthwise and having to get the whole length of fabric folded correctly results in more folds and I find that the folds are the places that cause the most problems with getting things straight.
  2. I’m almost always working from my stash and rarely have enough fabric to make strips long enough without having to piece them.
  3. Most patterns are written to cut the borders across the width of the fabric.  If we start whacking off the border widths, then that’s going to throw off the cutting instructions since you’re no longer cutting across 40″ of fabric.

Once again — there are so many ways to do everything.  Do what works for you.  I’m just telling you how I do it.

Now that all your border strips are cut, we need to join them to make the long strips.  Some will insist that joining the seams at a 45º angle is preferable to joining with a straight seam.  I can’t find any definite reason why one way is better than the other except to tell you that during my longarm days, when seams were joined with a straight seam, if there was any distortion at all in the border, it was real obvious that things weren’t completely straight when the seams were not done at an angle.  There is more waste and some will join seams at an angle if they’re 2″ or 3″ strips but make straight seams on the wider border strips.  My personal choice is that I do it consistently.  Whatever I do with one border, I’m going to do with all the borders, and I most always join with a seam done at 45º.  There are two exceptions:  (1)  Especially with a stripe but with any obvious design where joining at an angle is almost impossible to do and have a complete design flow and (2) When I’m running short of fabric and if I use an angle to join the seams, I will run smack dab out of fabric — in those instances, I will join with a straight seam.

Here’s how I join my seams with a 45º cut.

1.  For the first cut, make it a straight one.  That’s going to be at the beginning of a border.  Just square up the piece, cutting off the selvage.

2.  For the remaining pieces, and for the other end of that first piece, line them up perfectly straight and right on top of each other.  Stack as many as you’re comfortable cutting.  I mostly cut through 6 layers.  If you’ll look at your fabric strip, one end will have a white, or other colored selvage, with writing and color dots.  The other will just be the edge of the fabric with no other markings.  Pay attention to which end you lay down first.  Just so I can remember, I always try to lay the color dot side down first.  You’ll need to lay your strips with either all right sides up or all wrong sides down.  You can see how I twisted the fabric so that right sides are up.  This will result in all your angles going the same direction.

3.  To cut the end at a 45º angle, there are at least two ways to do it.  For both ways, line either the bottom or the top of your stack up with a horizontal line on your cutting mat.  Make sure everything is nice and straight!  Then line up a 45º line on your ruler with a vertical line on your cutting mat.  Cut along the edge and this gives you a 45º cut.  This is my preferred method.

4.  You can also line a 45º line from your ruler up with the bottom edge of your fabric.  This will also result in a 45º cut but I don’t use this method because you can see that you’re starting to cut (assuming you’re cutting from the bottom up . . away from yourself . . which is how I do it) right at the edge of your ruler.  This is a good way to chip the point off your ruler.

5.  There is a certain amount of waste when cutting the angle.  The wider your strip, the more you’re going to waste but . . it’s not waste if you add it to your scrap bucket!  These triangles can be squared or used for half square triangles or Mary’s Triangles or they can be cut into the largest square you can get out of that triangle.

6.  To join the strips at an angle, line two strips up so that the point is extending beyond the other strip.  The amount it needs to extend is the same as the width of your seam allowance.  If making a 1/4″ seam, the strips should extend beyond each other 1/4″.

7.  Make your seam, starting and ending right where the two fabrics intersect.

8.  Press the seam allowance open for a very flat join.

9.  That’s all there is to it!  After pressing the seam allowance open, I flip the right side up and press again there just to make sure everything is flat.


  1. 1

    Gwen says

    Is cutting them first and joining the bias seam a choice or is it more accurate than placing the strips at right angles, stitching on the 45 degree line and then trimming? Thanks for sharing all your helpful hints. I really prefer joining with and angled seam to straight. I think in most printed fabrics the seam is less obvious. I have also torn lengthwise strips and don’t have a problem doing that if I have enough fabric.

    • 1.1


      I have no idea which way is “better”. I always cut mine first but can see how not cutting first could be beneficial too.

  2. 2

    Linda in NE says

    I’ve found that you can do everything right, your quilt lays flat, and depending on your machine quilter it can still wind up with wavy borders. A friend with an older quilt machine used to quilt my quilts. She rolled them really tight to get a good stitch and if the borders were cut on the cross grain they were wavy after quilting no matter how carefully they were measured, cut or attached. She always told us to use the lengthwise grain so they wouldn’t pull out of shape so bad. Now that I have my own machine I use the crosswise grain and as long as I measure carefully they stay flat. I do make sure not to roll to tightly.

    • 2.1


      Yes, putting too much tension on any quilt on the longarm will result in waves. Like most anything we do, the whole process has to work together to create a good, finished object. Too much or too little of anything along with way can ruin the whole project. With machine quilting, it’s hard for a lot of folks to learn that the right amount of tension is what most of us consider not enough tension. It just seems right to crank that tension as tight as it will go but that’s not a good way to do it.

  3. 4

    Sharon Spingler says

    I have on occasion had to cut from the width of the fabric for borders and being an experienced quilter, have never had any problems. But the newer quilters tend to stretch as they sew and always end up with problems.
    I’ve never had any problems cutting from the length…….and have never, never, never torn the fabric. I just prefer the length cut but we will always prefer one method over another and that’s just fine. Whatever works best for the individual.

  4. 5

    karla says

    thank you Judy this is helpng me a loy i have problems with my corners and your instuctions are easy fpr me to follow