Fitting quilt motifs to borders

Here’s how I figured out the border quilting motifs for my niece’s baby quilt, Nap Time:

From the Quiltmaker Volume 7 collection of digitized quilt motifs, I chose this loop border for the quilt:

loop border

And this border corner:

loop corner

First, I sized the motifs in EQ to the border’s width of 4½”. Since the blocks were 6″ wide, I sized the loop motif to a 6″ length. Then I positioned the border motif on one side of the quilt with the loops facing toward the quilt and on another side with them facing away from it. I decided I liked the loops facing inward. EQ is great for planning those details before you get too far into things.

EQ border design

Time now to draft the borders.

My friend who works at an architectural firm bundles the trimmings from large sized drawings that come off the plotter. The paper is transparent vellum and it is fantastic for drafting borders. I use it to construct a paper border the exact size of the quilt’s borders and then transfer and fit the quilt motifs to it.

border paper

The trimmings measure approximately 6″ wide by 40″ long. If I didn’t have a friend collecting these for me, I would tape together sheets of tracing paper and it would take much longer to get the lengths needed.

If the quilt isn’t square, I always join enough paper trimmings to create one long side and one short side plus at least two corners, taping the sections together on the back.

taped border

For this quilt, I needed lengths of 47″ and 59″, although I usually include a couple extra inches for insurance. Then I joined them at right angles to simulate the actual border on the quilt top. (Note: The paper length in the photos has been shortened for this example.)

Using a 6″ x 24″ quilter’s ruler and a permanent marker, I drew a line all the way across the bottom of both lengths of paper, making sure the lines were perpendicular to each other.


Then I measured up 4½” from each line and drew another line parallel to it across the top.


This gave me the border width measurement for one horizontal and one vertical border. I drew all the way across in both directions to get a square where the two sides meet. This helps later when fitting the corner design.

registration2 closeup

Next I drew a dashed line ¼” up from the outside edge to indicate where the binding will be attached.

registration binding

I drew another dashed line ¼” from the top to keep the top and bottom margins equal so the motif will be centered in the space.

registration top

At this point, I was ready to print the loop motif for the border (plus the corner) to measure its actual size and verify that it will fit nicely within the 4½” border width.

print of border motif & corner

From top to bottom, the motif measured 3½”. This was perfect, as the distance between the two dashed lines measured 4″.

4 inch border width tape measure

A little more centering would be needed to find the place where the border motif will have an equal amount of fabric on both the top and bottom.

To calculate this, I subtracted the width of the motif (3½”) from the border width (4½”) which was 1″. I’d already measured off a total of ½” for the binding and an equal distance from the top, leaving another ½” to mark off.

Using a 6″ x 24″ ruler, I marked another line ¼” from the binding line, the other ¼” from the first line drawn from the top edge. Altogether, the loop motif would have ½” clearance top and bottom.

final centering lines

Next, I measured and marked the length of both the horizontal and vertical borders. For this quilt, one length measured 47″, the other measured 59″. (Again, I’ve shortened the paper length for this example.)

border lengths marked

Finally, I marked the center of each border length with a black dashed line as well as a diagonal line running through the corner square.

registration3 center and diagonal

With all the registration lines marked, it was time to begin transferring and fitting the loop border into the space.

I taped the border motif to the tabletop using blue painter’s tape.

tape border motif

Then I positioned one end of the border paper over the motif, aligning the bottom registration mark on the border paper (the line just above the black dashed binding line) with the bottom of the loop motif and began tracing–OOPS!

Fortunately, it occurred to me that I was going to have to flip the motif. If I didn’t, the motif would begin with a large loop on one end and finish with a small loop on the opposite end. I returned to EQ, flipped the image, and printed it.

flipped EQ border motif

After printing it, I slipped it into the correct position beneath the paper border and taped it to the table.

I positioned the paper border so the beginning of the first loop was just outside the corner square.

ready to trace, both ends

Now it was safe to trace the motif onto the border paper. For this, I used a mechanical pencil, keeping an eraser close by.

On the 47″ side, I traced one entire motif at each end. When I slid the motifs toward the center registration mark to add the next motif, this is how it was coming together in the middle:

meeting in the middle

You can see that two small loops would sit right next to each other. Symmetrical? Yes. Did I like it? No. I decided to trace a small loop in the middle of the center registration mark to maintain the big loop/small loop sequence in the motif.

small loop in center

Then I continued tracing the motif, working my way toward the center registration mark.

ready to connect

I used a large circle template to create a smooth connecting line on each side of the small loop in the center. I erased a portion of the lines on the large loops to make the connection look more natural.

connection left side

Here’s the final result with everything joined:

final connection

I worked the 59″ border the same way, adding motifs from each end, working toward the center and using a circle template to connect the loops. Here it is finished:

long border solution

The black lines on the photo indicate one motif repeat.

Whew! I know that was a huge post, and they won’t all be that long and tedious. I just think it’s good to know how to do something like fitting quilt motifs to your borders. Not only does it keep your brain engaged, it allows you to make your quilts truly your own.

Thanks for dropping by!


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Filed under borders, Electric Quilt

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