Planning an Applique Border for a Pieced Quilt

Dear Jeana,
 Your comments in the “Sewing Room” portion of your website are both  thoughtful and valuable.  Like the appliqué directions in your book, they are clear, practical, and artistic. Thank you.
 My favorite quilts are those that combine piecing and appliqué.  I would  like to add an appliquéd border to a quilt center made of three inch blue and white basket blocks ( with a few bright yellow added to keep its maker from dozing off) .  Are there proportion guidelines I should be following?  Given the small size of the baskets, are there motifs you might suggest?  I usually have the border imagined before the quilt center, but this time I am stumped.

Again, thank you for sharing your talent and your knowledge.
Gratefully,  Toni B

Hello Toni. Thanks for asking. Actually it took me a long time to figure out the answer to your question and I am happy to share.

For me the question was “How do you make an appliqué border look right on a pieced quilt?” I had seen (and made, see quilt shown below) appliqué borders on pieced quilts that did not blend leaving the appliqué border—which had probably taken a very long time to make–looking like an afterthought instead of enhancing and balancing the quilt center.

The answer is very simple. It is simply matching the “density” of the appliqué pieces in the border with the “density” of the size of the major, or largest, patchwork piece(s) in the quilt center.

 In your case, a pieced basket has a fairly large half square that defines the “basket” shape. I would plan a border motif that is approximately the same size or “density” of that large basket half square.

 For example, an appliquéd five-point star, or any flower shape, that is approximately the same size as the basket’s half square triangle would balance the weight of the border with the weight or the density of the piecing.

 However, if you choose a thin vine with smallish leaves and berries as a border, they would not carry enough weight/density to balance the piecing……even though your blocks are a very small 3″ square.

 If your blocks were 3″ nine patches, the vine border I just described would look great because all of the individual pieces of both the piecing and the appliqué would be tiny, but if some pieces are large it is important to balance that large size in the border.

So, for your quilt, a vine border would work as long as some of the pieces along that border were large enough to balance the patchwork pieces. All of the pieces on the border would not need to be large, just the main focus piece such as a star, or a tulip, or a rose, etc.

 A swag border would also work; just keep in mind that you need to balance density between the quilt center and the border.

 Our minds are pretty amazing at knowing when the balance is right, so try drafting a few different swags or flowers, or whatever; when you get to the right size, your mind and eyes will say “that’s it!” and it will be right.

 I hope I have made this clear, if not feel free to contact me again and I will see if I can explain better.

 Meanwhile, good luck on your quilt.


Here are two examples of appliqué borders on a pieced quilt. One of them is right, the other wrong.


The Ocean Waves quilt has a grapevine border that is too open to balance the density of the quilt center (lots of busyness) Thus, the border does not balance with the quilt center.


The Rabbit Patch quilt is well balanced simply because the large bodies of the appliquéd rabbits in the border balance nicely with the large half square triangle if the pieced baskets.


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