Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sizing Your Sashing and Borders

The question was asked of me, "How do you decide on the size of your sashings and borders?" It's a very good question. You can find all kinds of guidelines in books - from using "fibonacci" rules for sashings and borders (where each border grows, equivalent to the sum of the previous two, so a 1" border followed by a 3" border would be followed by a 4" border and then a 7" border...) to using multiples of the size of units within the blocks (e.g., 2" squares within a block would dictate using 2" borders or sashings). I don't consciously pay attention to rules, though.

I am morely likely to look at the set of blocks I intend to assemble into a quilt, and ask them what they need. Sometimes a set of blocks says, "don't crowd me!" and other times the blocks may whisper that they want to stay close together. I nearly always "audition" various widths of sashings -- I lay out the blocks and try out different sashing widths and fabrics until I think I have the right combination of both width and color. Often, there is more than one "right" answer, so I may also think about how I am going to quilt the quilt after it is put together.

With borders, I go through the same process: I lay out the same blocks, now assembled into a quilt top, and audition various widths and colors of fabrics. After a good amount of playing, one of the choices becomes the "winner" and the rotary cutter runs to do its job before I change my mind.

In The Night Before Christmas, I knew that the appliqued blocks were all very "busy." There is a lot to look at in each block, and so the blocks really needed to be separated, lest they become a jumble of competing images. The old adage of "No fighting!" works in quilts, too. I chose a 4" sashing because that was the smallest size of cornerstone I wanted to make, knowing that I wanted to use a pieced block in each cornerstone unit. I chose pale off-white as the color because it looked like a bed of fresh-fallen snow, which was appropriate to the story -- and it didn't fight with the images. It gave them some breathing room. I also know that I want to quilt the sashings with a feathered vine -- and that the vine will look better with that same "breathing room" around it.

When it was time to decide on the final borders of The Night Before Christmas, I had the blocks all sewn together with the sashings, and I started laying out fabrics in varying colors and widths. Reds were too domineering for the quilt. Multi-colored prints (e.g., a Christmas print) were distracting. A single border did not frame the quilt well. Inset pieced borders seemed to fight the cornerstones. The outer borders of any quilt are, for me, much like mats and a picture frame: you want them to showcase what they surround and add to it, not subtract from it.

So, in a rather large nutshell... that's how I decide the size of sashings and borders. I often lecture before guilds on "the design process" and describe the set of mental exercises that have gone into many of my quilts. Each time I give that lecture, I focus once again on how I actually make design decisions. Much of it is simply what appeals to me visually; wish as I might, I have yet to discover a magic formula!

By the way - if any of you are interested in making this quilt, I have started a Yahoo! Group called "Night Before Christmas." I hope will be a forum to support those of you who choose to make this quilt. You can find it by going to

appy sewing -

1 comment:

  1. I am sure that my experience as a quilter is much smaller than yours, but what you described is the 'method' that I've come to. It does take time and attention, but so far it has worked well for the quilts I've designed and made. Most have been crib quilts for grandchildren; one is a double bed size for my own bed, and I'm about to start a king size quilt for my daughter's bed.