Because the Rainbow Improv Scrap quilt was a filler project for me, I shared a lot of my design process, thoughts, and asked lots of questions along the way via my blog and Instagram. I received a question from a blog reader that I thought would make for a good discussion about quilt design decisions:
[I w]ondered if some time you might discuss how you decide whether a quilt needs a border and what steps you go through when you are adding a border. -Rochelle
The question came after I sent an email saying that “pretty much everything about quilt making ends up being subjective” meaning that, for the most part, it often comes down to personal preferences. However, there are definitely considerations that I take into account when I am working on a quilt design or improv top like the Rainbow scrap quilt.
1. How big does the quilt need to be?
In the case of the Rainbow Improv Scrap quilt, I literally just started with my scrap bin and made it up as I went along. At first I thought I could possibly squeeze a small baby quilt out of all the scraps, but once the body of the improv piecing was put together, I was in love with the quilt top and wanted to keep it for myself (so selfish, I know). So then the question became, what can I add to the quilt that will continue to give the quilt structure, definition, meaning, framing, etc., and allow the quilt to grow into a comfortable lap / cuddle quilt for my sofa? That sounds like a lot to balance, but those were the general ideas I had in mind. I auditioned various fabrics around the quilt top. I thought that white or a low volume might frame it nicely. The low volume actually really competed with the improv blocks, and the white just wasn’t quite right. When I placed a thin strip of black from my scrap bin next to the colors and it really helped them pop, I knew that black would be a nice frame for the quilt for me. I then really liked the idea of extending the rainbow theme out into the border and raided my solids bin to see if I had enough different colors to make that idea work. With a quick shipment of one extra green from Renee @Quilts of a Feather, the border just fell into place. And gave the quilt more depth and meaning.
Another time you might want to think about upsizing a quilt top with a border is when you take into consideration how much a quilt will shrink from quilting and washing. I personally do not tend to pre-wash my fabric, so the combination of quilting and washing leads to a pretty consistent 7-9% shrinkage for me. If I know that I want a quilt to have a certain drape over a bed but am working with large quilt blocks (and adding another row or column would be too large), then I start to consider adding a border.
2. Does the quilt feel finished?
Again, the Rainbow Improv Scrap quilt is a great example of this. I was not done playing when the improv scrap blocks were pieced together. I just knew that the quilt was asking for something else. Because I was out of scraps, I figured it was time to continue the “improv” portion of the quilt and play with block / border ideas.
Sometimes a quilt top comes together, but there is one fabric that can really pull all the blocks into a cohesive whole. Recently, Jan @The Colorful Fabriholic has been working with some Block of the Month blocks and forming them into cohesive quilt tops. She found some really perfect border prints to pull the blocks together.
3. Preserving Points
I will add borders to intricately pieced quilt tops to help preserve crisp block points. There are also techniques that can be used when trimming a quilt square after quilting and prior to binding (leaving an extra 1/4-inch around the edge of the quilt top) to preserve points when adding binding, but I will also often choose a border for this very purpose.
4. Negative space
My 3 most recent quilt patterns have all had borders that extend the background / negative space of the quilt. This in effect actually works to make the quilt a size I desire, preserve points, and add an additional “floating” feel to the quilt design.
5. What type of quilt style are you trying to design?
Borders do make a quilt lean a lot heavier on the “traditional” quilt triad (traditional vs. art vs. modern). If you are striving to maintain a specific aesthetic with a quilt, learning more about that aesthetic will also help inform you if a border would be right for your design or not. Again, borders do not have to be used in a traditional sense: they can be added to add in negative space or create an asymmetric design which are very modern concepts.
6. Have you considered your binding? backing?
Occasionally I will have the *perfect* binding in mind for a quilt that coordinates beautifully in my mind with the quilt top and backing… only to place the binding fabric near the quilt top and realize it is not so perfect. One solution would be to find a different binding fabric. Another might be to add a transition border. Also I do not tend to think about the backing for a quilt until after the quilt top is finished. Sometimes the process of creating the backing is a strong enough influence to make me go back and rethink design decisions about the quilt top (removing or adding borders have both happened for me as a result).
7. Medallion and Round Robin Quilts
There are certain quilts that basically demand construction with borders. While not always the case (there are exceptions to every rule and I am not the quilt police!), medallion quilts and round robin quilts are typically constructed by adding borders to a central block. Again, this does not have to be the case, but if you want border inspiration, looking at image searches for Medallion quilts or Round Robin quilts can provide a lot of great ideas.
OK, that’s a lot of reasons to add or not add a border. Let’s take a look at some images of how different a design can look with and without a border.
I chose to add a border to the Triangle Transparency design to extend negative space, preserve points, and make the quilt a desired size. In fact, it really isn’t so much a border as integral to the block design itself, but you’ll have to buy the pattern for full details. 😉
I added a border to the Rainbow Improv Scrap quilt to make the quilt larger and because it did not feel finished.
I also went and pulled a handful of Quilt Design A Day (QDAD) designs where I used borders in the design. Mostly I used the borders to extend negative space and place the design focus off-center in each of the designs, creating an asymmetric design by adding a border.
I am sure there are many other good reasons to both add or *not* add a border to a quilt top. I’d love to hear from you in the comments your thoughts!