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How to Measure and Sew Borders to a Quilt

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Measuring Butted Side Borders
How to Sew Quilt Borders

Measure the quilt from top to bottom through its vertical midpoint. Cut or piece two borders to match that length.

© Janet Wickell

What Are Straight Sewn Borders?

Straight sewn quilt borders, also called butted borders, are quick and easy to sew -- that's probably why they are the most popular. Borders are sewn to the sides of the quilt, then to the top and bottom edges, extending straight across the ends of the first borders. 

It's not unusual for the four edges of an unfinished quilt top to all be slightly different lengths, because they're often stretched out of shape a bit from handling. Never measure a quilt's outer edges to determine border length, because adding borders of varying lengths will make the differences even more obvious.

We'll use a method that helps the borders support and square up the entire quilt.

Determine the Length of Side Borders

  1. Measure the quilt from top to bottom through its vertical midpoint.
  2. Cut two border strips that match the measurement exactly, using the width you've already determined looks best with the quilt. Borders made with crosswise grain strips are somewhat more stretchy than lengthwise grain border strips, but either type is suitable.
  3. Piecing for Length: If necessary, piece border strips end-to-end to achieve length. Strips lose 1/4" for each seam it takes to stitch them together, so allow a little extra length when cutting. Sew the strips together along their ends, press seam allowances open to reduce bulk, then trim the strip so that its length matches the measurement in Step 1.
  4. You can also opt to place a diagonal seam between pieced border strips instead of a seam that runs across each strip's width. Connect the strips with the same technique used for continuous binding strips (additional length is required).

Border Measuring Option: Some quilters like to measure a quilt's length and width in multiple spots, add those lengths together, and then divide the total by the number of measurements taken to determine an average. Borders are then cut to match the average length.

I've always had excellent results using the method explained in this tutorial, but try both techniques to determine which works best for you.

Adding Top and Bottom Borders First

Sometimes you will find that it's best to add top and bottom borders first to avoid the need for piecing those border strips. Use the same method, but measure horizontally first (rather than vertically) and start at the top and bottom.

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