Thing #1…How to properly apply borders to a quilt…

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a project…especially a large, time intensive one, sometimes I get so excited to get it done that I hurry up to get to the end.  Sometimes this means working on it more frequently, and sometimes it means not taking enough time to do things RIGHT.  

Unfortunately, when it comes to quilt-making, that last step before sending your top to the quilter can have a huge effect on how your quilt turns out!  Rushing through it, or simply not knowing the best method can cause all sorts of problems.  Wavy borders are a long-armer’s most dreaded adversary.  I want so much to enhance a quilt with stitching, and sometimes when there is excess fabric in the borders, the quilting seems to highlight the problem, making it seem even worse!  I try to notice this problem when I am measuring a quilt, but sometimes it isn’t obvious until the quilt gets on the machine…often times I will call a client whose borders are a tad out of shape, and she will say something like “just quilt it anyway”.  Sometimes the quilting does help to take up some of the fullness, but other times I have no choice but to create a few tucks, and drive over them.

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Wavy borders could be improved, or avoided altogether if a few steps were taken as the borders were applied.  I have to admit, I didn’t make this method up myself.  It has been gleaned from several quilting books, and patterns.  Many patterns leave out the step by step process, so I will share the process I use with you.

Step #1  Square up your quilt.  Like squaring up blocks, squaring the top is an often overlooked, but valuable step.  It’s pretty simple, especially if you are relatively accurate when piecing.  Just fold your quilt in half, and in half again.  Using a large square ruler, trim the corners so they are nice and square:




Step #2:  Before you unfold your quilt all the way, take the measurement across the quilt at the halfway point.  With your quilt folded in half, use your cutting mat to measure the width of your quilt at the fold.  I have heard some teachers say to measure it at several points and take the average of these, but as I said before…when I’m almost done…I get a little too hasty to spend too much time on one task.  This one measurement has always worked well for me, but if you’d like to try multiple measurements and take the average, be my guest.  Make sure you write down this measurement!
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Step #3:  The measurement you took in step #2 is a good representation of what your quilt width should be.  That is what the edges would be without any error, or stretching of bias.  This is the length you should cut your borders for the top and bottom of your quilt.  If my border strips aren’t long enough, I usually piece them together using a diagonal seam.


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(sorry about the wrinkles!)

Step #4:  This is the key to wavy border prevention.  At this point you have a quilt top and borders that are “made for each other” although the edges of your quilt may not be an exact fit.  The trick is, to ease any fullness you may have and spread that fullness across the width of your quilt.  In order to do this you need to match up the borders and sides at corresponding intervals. Take each piece (border and top of quilt) and fold it twice.  Each fold will represent 1/4 of the width of your quilt.  Either press or pin to mark your top and border. They are not easy to see, but the border strip in the following photo has 3 pins, one at the center, and one at each halfway point between the center and the end.  Make sure to place corresponding pins on the top and bottom of your quilt as well as each of the border pieces.




Step #5:  We’re getting closer!  Next, lay out the border strip on top of the quilt (right sides together) and pin these pieces together, matching the center and 1/4 points that are pinned.  Once those points are pinned, you may add a few pins between them being sure to evenly distribute any fullness you may have.




Step #6:  Time to sew on the borders!   Using a 1/4″ seam, and keeping your border on top, sew the border onto the body of the quilt.  If there is any fullness, either on the border or the quilt top be sure to ease it between the pins.  One way to do this is by holding the layers taught as you sew which stretches the shorter item a bit, you may also use a stiletto for equally distributing the fabric.


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The source of wavy borders is then caught in this seam, and  your quilt should turn out square and relatively flat.  Once both top and bottom borders are sewn on, it’s time to press.

Step #7:  I usually press so that the seam is toward the border fabric.  I don’t think it really matters much, but since I was always taught to press on the top of the piece, this works out better for me.    Lay the quilt on your pressing surface, border side up, and use tip of your iron to get into the seam and press it flat…pushing away from you.


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Step #8:  Now that you have applied the top and bottom borders, you can repeat the process from step #2, including your new borders in your measurement for the side borders.  Your quilt is now ready to be basted and quilted…or sent to your favorite professional long-arm quilt artist!


Please keep in mind, that accuracy when piecing will also go a long way toward contributing to a flat quilt without tucks or waves.  No quilt is perfect, but if your quilt top has a great deal of fullness due to inaccurate piecing, sewing the borders on correctly will not fix the problem. Due to bias pieces on the edge, or the piecing process, edges of quilt tops are frequently longer than the body of the quilt should be.  This method is meant to ease that discrepancy.

I hope this last tip was helpful.  What about you, do you have any tips you’d like to share?

Thing #6: How a quilt is loaded on the machine

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I recently had a delightful conversation with one of my most accomplished clients. We were reminiscing about the first time we met, during which I had volunteered to be her scribe while she judged a quilt show. During the time we spent together, I asked her so many questions that we were quite late coming out of the show and everyone was waiting for us! I remembered this with some embarrassment; however, she remembered it fondly. She shared that she appreciated my eagerness to learn. It is true, I have a somewhat insatiable curiosity about the world around me. I am always striving to learn more about things that I am interested in, and always feel better about something if I understand how it works.

It is because of this quirky part of my personality, that I wanted to share with you the process by which quilts are loaded onto the machine. Some may not care to read all the details I will share, but for others, I believe this post will fill in the blanks of how the quilting process begins, and may shed a little light on why some long-arm quilting policies exist.

When I receive a quilt from a client, the first thing I do is measure both the top and the backing of the quilt. Sometimes the quilt-maker will have marked the top with the dimensions (usually this is a small piece of paper safety pinned to one edge). I am a very trusting person, but I also believe you can never measure too many times.  The top measurements are what I use to calculate cost of quilting, and I measure the backing to make sure that it is at least 5 inches longer than the quilt top.

When it comes time to put the quilt on the frame of the machine, I measure the top and back again.  What’s that old carpenter’s adage? Measure twice, cut once.  In my case, I measure twice, and avoid a whole lot of heartache when I get to the end of a quilt on the machine. Once I have confirmed the measurements, the decision is made of how to put the quilt on the machine.  There are a couple of factors that go into this decision.  The most common deciding factor is which edge of the backing fabric is straightest, which is usually the selvage edges.

I’d say that 80-90 percent of the quilts I IMG_3746finish have one or two piece backings. Either they are fewer than 45 inches wide, the client has purchased an extra wide backing fabric, or the back has been pieced with one seam down the middle.  In  the case of a one piece backing, the quilt will almost always be put on the machine so that the back is attached on the selvage. Most often this means that the quilt top will be oriented sideways on the machine.  One of the benefits of this is that when the quilt is complete, because it’s been attached to the machine this way, the seam will usually not be centered on the back of the quilt.  Because most quilts are stored folded, and most quilts are folded in half first, this prevents some wear.  The seams are generally a weak point on a quilt, and if they are continually folded at the seam, it weakens it further.

If attaching a quilt on the selvage isn’t an option, either due to client preference or because a pieced backing needs to be centered, it is possible to attach the quilt to the machine frame the opposite way,  However, this means the edge of the backing usually needs to be trimmed to insure it is straight.


I use a wonderful invention called “red snappers” to attachIMG_3740 a quilt to the canvas leaders on the machine table.  They are a great time saver over the old end to end pin method, and I can usually get a quilt loaded onto the machine in about a half hour.  This is a significant improvement to the hour to ninety minutes it used to take.  The red snappers do an excellent job of holding the quilt top and backing onto the leaders so that an appropriate amount of tension can be achieved.  Also, since no pins are used to attach the quilt to the leaders I don’t run the risk of damaging the fabric with pin holes or tears if the back isn’t perfectly straight.  The only complaint I have about these tools is that my children often mistake them as toy swords, and I sometimes have to spend some time searching for them before I can use them  :).

The first component of the quilt to be loaded onto the machine is the backing fabric.  This is done by spreading the back out over the canvas pick-up roller and, after insuring it is centered, using the red snappers to secure it to the lower backing roller.



The backing fabric is then carefully rolled around the backing roller.  While it is rolled, any folds or fullness is carefully smoothed out, in an effort to prevent any tucks or fullness in the back of the quilt.  The same process is then repeated with the quilt top, which is attached to the top roller which you can see in the photo above toward the front of the quilting frame.

After both top and backing are securely fastened on their respective leaders, the batting is measured and cut and placed over the rolled up top in preparation for attaching all three layers to the pick-up roller.










The backing fabric is then pulled around the belly bar (yes, that’s what we call it) and fastened to the pick-up roller. This will serve as the foundation onto which the batting and top are then basted.


Tension is then added to the quilt sandwich by turning the top and backing rollers. And voila!  The quilt is ready to be quilted!
Loaded on the Machine