Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wavy and/or Uneven Borders - What To Do?

 Awhile back I promised I would discuss how I handle wavy and/or uneven borders.  First things first.  I do EVERYTHING in my power to avoid having wavy and/or uneven borders in the first place during construction of my quilt top because they are a bear to quilt on any machine, especially a longarm.  Here are a few things that can be done to ensure ALL borders are the same size without going to alot of extra time and effort - my border shortcuts, if you will ;-)

Border Construction Shortcuts

  • Utilize the law of averages, i.e., once the quilt top interior has been completely constructed, pressed and ready for external borders, take 3 measurements - one across the top edge-to-edge, one across the center of the quilt top E2E, and the final measurement across the bottom of the quilt top E2E.  Add ALL the resulting totals together and divide the sum by 3 (total number of measurements taken).  Example:  top measurement = 100", center measurement = 101", bottom measurement = 102", so 100" + 101" + 102" = 303" divided by 3 = 101", and that's the measurement you use to cut your top and bottom borders.  Do the same for the side borders AFTER you have attached the top and bottom borders or vice/versa, if you attach your side borders first (like I generally do) and then add top and bottom borders - either way works very well.
Here's a great video showing exactly what I'm talkin' about:

  • Use the feed dogs on your machine to ease out fullness in the quilt top or borders or both.  Generally speaking, I usually sew with my quilt top down next to the feed dogs of my sewing machine and my border strip on top while attaching it to the quilt top, applying just enough tension to the border strip to keep it taught while sewing - not so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, just taught enough to keep the edges from furling during the sewing application.  You will find if you consistently use this technique that your borders will stop 'waving at you' and you'll be the envy of your quilt guild with the straightest hanging quilts at the show!
  • Once your borders have been attached to your quilt top, ensure your quilt top is nice and square by measuring diagonally across the quilt top from each top corner edge across the center to it's opposite bottom corner edge.  Both these measurements should be roughly the same.  If the measurements are off alot, go back and repeat the first two steps which means you will need to do some un-picking, but it'll be worth it once your quilt top is ALL nice and square!

Quilting those Wavy/Uneven Borders

Pinning a wavy border in place prior to easing and basting down - a wonderful dressmaking technique
Again, first things first.  While consulting with your quilting client either in person, over the phone/fax or email, examine the quilt top thoroughly by spreading it out evenly on a large flat surface, preferably a table, but somewhere nice and flat so that you and your client can both examine the quilt top front & back together, (if at all possible, if not you may need to take a few pics and email or fax them to your client) and discuss any potential quilting issues that are evident or may arise, i.e., puckery or crossed or pulled seams, quilt top needs pressing, and wavy and/or uneven borders.  NOW is the time to discuss these issues prior to making any final quilting decisions, not after it's loaded onto the quilt frame for the longarm to quilt ;-)

If any issues are apparent, (like the ones pictured above/below), give your client the option FIRST to remedy the quilting situation by allowing them  to take their quilt top and address any potential issues that have become apparent - like re-stitching seams, pressing the top, or removing and re-attaching any uneven or wavy borders.
Another 'wavy' border pinned in place - plenty of fullness to ease in

Wavy borders eased in place and basted down ready for quilting
In most instances, the client will opt to address any quilt challenges themselves rather than risk a bad quilting outcome on their precious quilt heirloom, or incur any additional quilt top prep charges prior to loading on the longarm for quilting.  NOTE: Please see Quilt Top Preparation for further information regarding Quilt Top Prep Guidelines.  However, there will be situations that will arise when you will indeed be required to deal with wavy/uneven borders.  One particular instance involves charity quilts or quilts constructed by newbies, including children, among others.  For various reasons, the quilt top creator may not be known by the quilter (as in a donated quilt top) or the quilter may not have access to the creator, possibly due to the heirs of a quilt top wanting it to be quilted in honor of a passing relative or friend. In any event, the longarmer is now faced with wavy/uneven borders.  What to do, what to do?
  • Don't panic - wavy/uneven borders are practically a staple in the quilt world and the sooner a longarmer learns how to quilt out those wavy/uneven borders, the better. 
  • Do NOT stretch or pull the quilt top or borders excessively  trying to even everything out.  Easing 1" or less is optimal, anything more and alternate quilting techniques will need to be utilized. 
  • Learn the 'tricks of the longarming trade' quickly.  There are several quilting techniques and designs which can be utilized that will quilt out the fullness in a wavy border and will practically make those wavy/uneven borders seem straight as a string.   
    1. One of those tricks is stipple quilting or stippling for short.  Stippling eats up a lot of excess fabric making it almost undetectable to the naked eye.  I once quilted a vintage quilt top I inherited that was almost 12" longer from one side to the other - the creator had left out one whole 12" block on one side.  I solved most of the problem by stippling it out - here's a link to that story w/pics:  There Was A Crooked Quilt.. 
    2. McTavishing quilting is another wonderful quilting technique that will work very well in such a circumstance, and one of the primary reasons I came upon this quilting technique when I was faced with more than one charity quilt top that had fullness, not just in some of the borders, but in various parts of the quilt top itself and I didn't want to stipple everything again, so I went hunting for quilting alternatives.  McTavishing works much like stippling, and can even be combined with stippling and other quilting techniques to gobble up ALL that extra fabric fullness and even out a quilt top.  The more fullness in the challenging area, the denser the quilting technique needs to be.  Alternatively, quilt less densely in alternate areas and borders that may not have as much fullness to help keep everything balanced and even.
    3. Continue to experiment with new and vintage quilting design ideas and combine various techniques to bring a whole new aspect to your quilting challenges, keeping it FUN and interesting.  Professional quilt artist, Pam Clarke offers some wonderfully creative quilting innovations for solving those wavy/uneven borders.  Check out this video for even more quilting ideas for those challenging borders for longarm beginners and veterans alike:  

  • Do Practice and Don't expect perfection right out of the shoot - Practice does indeed make better and better.  Doctors 'practice' their entire careers, why should you be any different?!
  • Last but not least - Don't forget to have FUN!  I like to make a game out of how well I can quilt out a challenging section in a quilt while applying a new technique or a combination of a mastered technique while incorporating a new one, and then reward myself with some chocolate either way ;-)
Good Luck with ALL your quilting ventures and drop me a line sometime and let me know how you're doin'...


  1. Okay, going for the chocolate now.....:-)

  2. Chocolate seems to cover alot of challenging/stressful bases for me, too ...;-)