Quilting Border Design

Lately, I’ve been pondering the science behind border design — in quilting. The border is what frames your quilt – just like a picture frame for a painting. A beautiful picture in an ugly frame can make the picture ugly. A beautiful picture in an extraordinary frame can make the picture extraordinary. Even the mat selection (that strip of color that you can put between the picture and the frame) adds or takes away from the over all picture. The border you choose should bring out what you have designated as the centerpiece and make it pop adding to the overall visual impact of your quilt. (Note: The center piece does not have to be center of your quilt.)

This pondering has not come about by coincidence. Every time I use a pattern I make an attempt at following the pattern, but then I change something. My current dilemma (a.k.a., project) has a block-pieced border and I have been staring at this quilt on my design wall thinking, “It doesn’t fit.” (By “fit” I mean it doesn’t look pretty to me – beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.)

Contrast, texture, complexity, and unity play their role in artistic composition. Quilts are your work of art. What you like is what you should choose, because, ultimately, it is your creation. It is also why most quilters cringe at doing commissioned pieces. When you look at art pieces, ask yourself: “What did you see first?” and “What did you see last?”. Do you think what you noticed and when you noticed it was what the artist intended? When did you notice the frame? All elements of composition should aid in enhancing your quilt.

Color (Contrast)

Light and bright colors pop. You’ll notice these first before the intricacies of darker elements. So, when you look at your quilt what do you see first and what color is it? It what you want people to see first?

Texture (Another form of Contrast)

Movement or items representing movement will always catch the eye first. Use texture to take the eye where you would like it to go. Texture can be with the fabric you use of with the lines you sew.


The complexity of a border should be less than the quilt itself – unless the border is your focal point. A really busy border (whether from pattern or fabric selection or even quilting lines) will draw the eyes to the border of the quilt and keep them away from the center. Just imagine a bouncy, wiggly child in a sea of stoic adults. ?

You can sew an amazingly, detailed pieced border but if you select high contrasting fabrics then it might be too contrasting (a.k.a, “busy”) for your goal or it might not. Too much quilting and too little quilting will, also, change your quilt’s complexity.


Your “big picture” view of your quilt. Step back, does everything belong? Or is there something you see that just doesn’t fit? (This is how I determined that it was time to veer away from the pattern.) I could have changed the highly contrasting colors in the pieced border, but the block chosen for the border, though it fit in theme, would have required introducing a few new colors to the quilt. I do not like introducing new colors in the border. I prefer to select a handful of colors already inside the quilt and bring those out into the border, which, seems to bring about a sense of completion to me.

So, after all this pondering, I have decided to not follow the pattern for my current project and apply a simpler border. Sometimes simplicity is the answer to complexity and in this instance simplicity matched my tastes the best. 😉

Happy quilting!


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