Sunday, January 10, 2010 wide do I go?

This year I have had emails asking  how to determine the size or width of the border on a quilt.  I have researched it over the years and even have a couple of books on borders.  A lot of inspiration and how to info, but not a lot of help in planning the width or how to decide.   Finally I researched  the principals of design in art, since quilting is my visual art form.   There are 6 main topics here:  unity, variety, balance, contrast, proportion and pattern/rhythm.  From  these I figured out "my formula" that pleases my eye. 

First:  I like to use a narrow sashing--usually 1 inch--to stop the  block pattern and for contrast.  Often in my quilts it is black or a strong accent color to bring out a color in the body of the quilt.   Also for unity the narrowest border should be closest to the center of the quilt.  For my watercolor quilts because they are much smaller in size, I will usually use an inset  "piping style" piece that ends up 1/2 inch. 
The inset piping piece is cut 1 1/2 inches and folded in half wrong sides together.  It is sewn to the body of the quilt top with the raw edges matched and the folded edge toward the center.  The folded edge is not sewn down.  It gives the effect like a  mat on a framed picture.     This photo shows a cream inset piping and  a very narrow dark red sashing and then a dark border. The contrast stops the eye and the color of the piping puts the eye back in the center.   This was a round robin poster project from last year.  Four different quilters created  1/4 of the center, using a variety of techniques. 

Second:  The  width of the  border should be at least one-half to two-thirds the size of the quilt block used in the quilt.  This proportion keeps the eye on the center of the quilt which is the most important.   The overall finished width of the border should not be larger than one quilt block.
 In the scrappy mountains quilt top the finished  blocks are 8  inches by 9 1/2 inches.  So  to be pleasing to my eye, the overall border should be no more than 8 inches and the outer fabric no more than 5 inches.   I finished adding the borders today and very pleased with the result.  I used a black sashing--1 1/2 inches wides to stop the pattern, and a 5 inch outer border.  That makes a total border about 5 1/2 inches when finished.   I promise to quit blogging on about this quilt and get it quilted soon.

The photo on the left shows a scrap quilt I love, but the border is too narrow overall.  Its just not one of my most successful quilts.  The quilt uses 2 blocks, a snowball block and 9 patch variation.   Both were 6 inch blocks.  The first border (the zig-zag area) is 3 1/2 inches and I used a 3 inch final border of floral fabric.  My thinking was the border would be almost equal  to the block size, and I should not make the outer any larger.  Wrong!  When I look at it now, it seems unfinished, out of proportion, off-balance.  Because I did not stop the design with a sashing, the out border needed to be larger than the inner one. Just one more thing to keep in mind.
Third:  There are always exceptions to the above because each quilt tells its own story and has its own rhythm.    See the above photo and description to understand this.  If  I was adding applique (or a type of pieced border)  to the quilt, the outer border  should probably  be wider to keep the overall appearance in balance.  

So, my general rule/formula is a border about 2/3 the size of the block used, and be prepared to rip it out or add to it if needed!  When I find the absolute for border width, believe me, I will write the book.  Until then, happy stitching.

1 comment:

juanita said...

Hi Debbie
I enjoyed reading your comments about borders. We recently had a lively discussion about borders in my quilting class. My quilting teacher Elaine Quehl wrote an article called To Border or Not to Border in the fall 2009 issue of SAQA. I couldn't find the link to it but she sent us the following sites with interesting opinions on the question. Ellen Lindner's January 2009 and February 2009 newsletter articles at discuss the pros and cons of borders. Lyric Kinard's tutorials at gives some ideas for mounting small pieces of artwork.

For me, finishing is always a challenge.I try to decide whether to add a border,frame my work or just add a narrow binding..Should my artwork spill over the border, should I add glass to a matted and framed piece...etc. I try to find what looks best and go with it. It is a never-ending issue.

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