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Quilt borders won't lay flat

by Mary

Somehow the wide borders on my quilt tops don't lay flat when I layer the top to the batting and backing. Am I stretching it somehow in handling it?


When you get to the last step of completing your quilt top, I think all us quilters give a mental sigh of relief. This baby is almost done! JUST the borders left. Whew!

Except, borders can make or break the finished appearance of the quilt.

And while it's tempting to just cut really long strips, stitch them to the quilt top and then trim even, this is not the BEST way to add a border.


Let's face it. With the the pinning, piecing, pressing and general handling of the quilt blocks and top during it's construction, it's a rare quilt top that finished PERFECTLY square.

And herein lies the problem.

If every side is a different length, then adding a six inch border to each merely compounds the discrepancy, emphasizing the 'un-square-ness'.

For a quick check... see if your quilt's center is square, fold the bottom edge up to the top. Are they of equal length?. If not the quilt is not square.

Now check the sides in the same manner.

If there is a big discrepancy, personally, I'd take the time to find the problem and fix it.

Look at how the blocks were joined:
  • Were tucks pressed into the seams between the blocks?

  • Are any seam allowances too large or too small that join the blocks?

If these check out OK, then you'll have to move onto the blocks themselves to locate and fix the problems.

Learn How to
Measure Quilt Borders

Instead of measuring the outside edges to determine the length to cut your border strips, measure through the centers for better quilt borders.

Step 1Measure your quilt top center from top to bottom through it's center-most point.

Cut two strips equal to this measurement by the width of your finished quilt border plus 1/2 inch for seam allowances.

NOTE: If your quilt is a wall hanging, I strongly recommend cutting these first borders parallel to selvedge or on the lengthwise grain. This grain line is the strongest with little to no stretch. Your quilt will hang better and longer without sagging.
Step 2Find the midpoint of your quilt top and border strips. Mark each with a pin.

Match the ends and centers of the border strip to the top, align the raw edges and pin in place distributing the fabric evenly between pins. Remember that it is likely your border strip is a different length then the edge your are pinning it to.

If you let it, your sewing machine will help ease the longer to the shorter piece.

All you have to do is put the longer one right next to the feed dogs when you sew. (remember...biggie on bottom) The feed dogs will pull the fabric on the bottom through the sewing machine just a tiny bit faster than the fabric on top, helping you to ease the two pieces together.

Attach both left and right borders in this manner with a quarter inch seam. Press the seam allowances towards the border.
Step 3Measure your quilt center (with sides borders attached) from the left to the right edge through the center.

Cut two strips equal to this measurement by the width of your finished quilt border plus 1/2 inch for seam allowances.

Again pin mark the centers of the strips and the quilt center.

Match the ends, align raw edges and pin, distributing the fabric evenly between your pins. And remember, it is likely the border strip and edge of your quilt are two different lengths. Finding the center on both pieces helps you distribute the excess across the whole length of the border strip and helps disguise any easing you have to do.

NOTE: If your quilt is a wall hanging, I recommend cutting these top and bottom border strips on the crosswise grain or perpendicular to the selvedge. That way the lengthwise grain in running from top to bottom for your whole quilt. The lengthwise grain giving it extra support.

Attach both the top and bottom borders this way using a quarter inch seam allowance. Press seam allowances towards the border.

Sew with an accurate quarter inch seam allowance and this method results in a quilt top with square outside edges. The minimal distortion is contained in the center of the quilt top.

Implementing these suggestions should help your quilt borders lay flat.


Julie Baird

P.S. You may also be interest in this page on "Cutting Quilt Borders".

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