Many years and many miles ago, I was attending a quilt retreat in the White Mountains. It was late - Saturday night - and I was in my pajamas sewing down a binding in the grand ballroom. Seeing quilters pass me, I looked up to see a small, excited crowd around a table near the rear. Getting up to see what excited my carb-loaded, sleep-deprived companions, I spied a small lady, talking to the crowd, beaming ear-to-ear.
I regret that I forgot this lovely lady's name. I'm grateful I remember her technique. She was demonstrating the perfect 1/4" border. Done correctly, this border can really enhance a top or even just a block. Here is her story:
In the example below, I will demo adding a 1/4" red border to a quilt. There is a little waste, but the results are very well worth it. It's not as complicated as it may seem - I've loaded this post with pictures. Please disregard the cat hair - Ginger was very excited about this tutorial!
To begin, sew on the first border to your quilt using four 1 1/4" wide by length-of-top (LOT) strips. I've already done so in this picture.
Next, you need to cut your 2nd border strips. Calculate the strip desired and add 1" to the width. In this example, I wanted a 1.5" strip so I cut it 2.5" (I don't normally add such a small 2nd border but I knew I'd be adding several more borders to the final top).
This next step is optional but helpful - if the instructions aren't clear, it may make sense if you read ahead two steps and come back.
In this step, I turned my top over (wrong-side up). Aligning my ruler along the white/striped fabric (my original top), mark the border as seen below. Do this at both ends. You will use this as a stitching guide.
With wrong-sides together and raw-edges aligned, pin your next border to your top. VERY IMPORTANT: You will want to pin from the back, as seen below.
Here's the BIG TRICK. You will NOT sew on the next border along the raw edges, as normal. Instead, you will use the previous 1/4" seam allowance as your guide.
See how cool that is?
By using the previous seam as your guide, your completed product will be a clean 1/4" finished.
When you are done and turn your top over, the "front" side will look like this.
See what happens when I flip it up? Here's my 1/4"!
Trim excess before pressing. Yes, it is necessary to have this little waste. By having this excess width, it allows you to pin your borders firmly before sewing and gives your feed dogs something to grab as you move along. This prevents a wobbly, wonky border.
Now that I've added the top and bottom borders, I will repeat this process for the side borders. Notice I'm marking my borders to use as a guide when sewing. Note, if you are good at "eyeballing it", you can skip the marking stage.
Second border is complete.
Hope this was clear. Used correctly, this is a very effective accent to any top.