Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to be Visually Seamless

Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. 

Robert Bresson

A Tutorial for Matching Fabric Repeats in Borders

When you are making a quilt that is larger than 40" wide does the seam you have to add to piece the length of the border bother you?  Do you ever want to make it disappear?  Well here is the good news - with a little effort - YOU CAN!!!

This seam chops up
the birds and flowers.

Now the easiest thing to do is to cut the entire length needed on the lengthwise grain of the fabric however you frequently can't do that because for one or more of the following reasons:
  1. You don't have the required yardage to do this (that would require thoughtful planning and selection of the border fabric BEFORE the top is pieced).  A large bed sized quilt will take about 3 yards in length and you can't have chopped it up with piecing the center.
  2. If you have been quilting very long at all you know that the quilt picks the border not the quilter and what you thought would be the perfect border fabric before any piecing was done now just looks awful now that the center of the quilt is together.  So, even if you did buy the extra yardage for the border now you find it doesn't look right.
  3. Even if you have enough fabric for a lengthwise cut, those cute little birds, frogs, flowers etc. will be facing the wrong way on at least 2 borders.  I know, the directional prints are just too cute to pass up.
  4. Having to stare at the misaligned bold print, stripe or plaid in a border is worse than having to look at poorly hung wallpaper in your bathroom.

Look for the seam

Look closely at this border.  Can you find the seam? Yes there is one there. 

There it is!

Here is the backside shot to prove it.  Want to learn how to do it?

Now, let's back up a talk a bit about fabric repeats.  If you have ever done a Stack-n-Whack Quilt you have learned about fabric repeats.  They can run from about 5 inches to 23 inches apart. 

Look at the photo below.

Find the fabric repeat.

The lengthwise repeat on this fabric is 7 7/8".  Look at the lower right corner of the ruler.  See the bird's tail. Now look to the left and you see it again right before the 8" line on the ruler.

Now it helps to be a little flexible on the width of border you use.  If I had wanted a 6" border I would still have had to cut it a the 7 7/8" size.  If your repeat is 12" you could get 2 - 6" wide cuts and use one repeat for the top and bottom and the other portion for the side borders.  You'll have to do your own math because every fabric is different.

Cut your first strip.  In order to get an exact match across the entire width of fabric you will probably need to cut the remaining strips as a single layer.  To line up the match open the first strip and lay it on top of the fabric lining up the designs and then cut.  It takes a little more time but not much.  This is one case where close just isn't good enough. 

Find the crosswise repeat 

Next you need to find the crosswise repeat on the strips.  In the picture above you can see that from one flower stem to the next is 15" in this fabric.  Each fabric will be different.  You don't need to measure it, just know what to look for.

A little glue is needed.  You can use liquid or solid as long as it will wash out.

Take the left end of the strip you want to join to another and fold the edge back at a 45 degree angle and press a nice crease at the fold. 

Slide the folded edge of the strip along the right side of the strip it is to be joined to until the printed design lines up.  You may want to put a few heat proof pins in it to hold the position but not too close the the folded edge. Don't be concerned if the cut edges don't line up perfectly.  In the picture above you can see that mine was off about 1/8" at the top and about 1/16" at the bottom.  The nice thing about using a bias fold for this is that is gives a little.  It is common for the crosswise repeat to be off a little because of how the fabric is stretched during printing.  The bias edge can help you compensate for this.  Don't stretch it, just use the give to position it in the right place.  Try to join the strips that were cut besides each other.  The further away they were from each other in the yardage the more the crosswise repeat can be off a little.

Flip about an inch of fabric back along the folded edge.  Put a small amount of glue very near but not on the edge.  Don't use too much.  Try not to have it so wet that it goes through the top layer of fabric.

Turn the edge back down.  Realign the pattern so it is perfect and press.

Stitch the seam in the crease.  It may be a good idea to baste the first one you do so you can see where the best place to stitch is.  The weight of thread and the thickness of the fabric at the fold will make a difference here.  The choices of where to stitch are exactly in the middle of the crease or slightly to the right or left of it.  It will vary according to your fabric and thread.

A little hard to see but it's there.

Make sure you are trimming off the waste fabric here.  You don't want to cut off the wrong part after you worked so hard to get it done.  LOL

It is possible to do this with a vertical seam too.  Shorter crosswise repeats seem to make it easier.  I've done it many times with just pins and no glue.

Many times it is easy to make a seam less obvious just by shifting where the seam will fall by an inch or two.  In the pink border above the seam line is very obvious.

This is on the other side of the top.  The seam is below the space after the word 'harder'.  I made this top a number of years ago but I seem to recall that I didn't think of 'hiding' the seam until the first side was already sewn on.  You can see that I did a long lengthwise cut for the side border Santas and so I only had to 'work my magic' on the top and bottom Santa borders.

This technique is fun like a puzzle.  I don't do it very often but some fabrics seem to just demand it.  It works well with stripes and plaids too.  I hope you will try it out and let me know how it goes.

** Note - Additional pictures of the seams can be seen in the Now You See It  post.

I'd love to read comments here about this tutorial.  Do you think you will try it or do you match repeats already?  The comments on this post will not be in the Giveaway and you don't have to be a follower to make one.  


  1. This is brilliant! I read through this tutorial twice and it is amazing! Now I can choose those large print borders without them looking wonky where they join! Thanks so much!

  2. Wonderful, Awesome, I'm new to quilting and didn't know this trick thank you for making this tutorial, I pinned it here.

  3. I saved this post to "favorites" so I can find it again when I need to try this method. Thank you soooo much for the tutorial!!!!! Is it logic or magic?

  4. Wow! That is a great tutorial!

  5. This is wonderful information. I have saved it to a folder so when I do my next big floral border, it will be handy. Thanks so much for taking the time to show and explain how you did it. It makes perfect sense to me. Can't wait to try it. I think Sharon Shamber has rubbed off on you too - for use of the glue! lol.

  6. It's a genius way to match! My Fiance just asked me about this a week ago and now I know how to do it :) Before, I said it was too tedious, but with your tutorial it's not too bad! I pinned it to my tutorials board on Pinterest! Thanks so much for taking the time Patricia, and Happy Birthday to You! :)

  7. Great tut. I'm not ready to attempt this but it's wonderful and I'll know where to look for the tut when the day arrives to use/apply what you taught me. Thanks. I do follow you.

  8. Fab, fab tutorial, thanks for sharing on the Blog Hop :)

  9. Would never have thought of trying this, but you make it sound so straightforward.

  10. No he tenido este problema y debido a la traducción me ha costado un poco entenderlo. Voy a buscar una tela que me permita probarlo. Gracias por todas las explicaciones.

  11. Thanks for this very informative tutorial. I love large prints but I do not like to cut through the beautiful prints. Now that I know how, cutting my precious fabric should be much easier ... :) Pat

  12. Thank you for this - it's really clear and helpful!

  13. Hello,

    I would like to inquire whether you are able to create a very large thin white textile that is at least 8 meters by 18 meters in size.
    We need to use this textile as a light-diffusing white background for our concert stage.
    The textile should be absolutely continuous (one piece) without seams or any other visually dividing lines.

    Many thanks,

    CEO & Production Designer


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