When it comes to quilting, I can finally play the piano, that is, the piano key border. I love scrap quilts best, and I like them best with a scrappy border. I've put slab borders on scrappy quilts when I'm pressed for time, and I'm almost always disappointed. When I take the time to make a scrappy border, I am always happier with the result. Piano key borders are the easiest of the pieced borders to me. I looked around my sewing room today, and what did I see?
A piano key border to go on a Christmas quilt.
A Piano key border on a hanger with the quilt center.
A piano key border rolled around an empty toilet paper tube, so it won't get wrinkled, waiting for me to assemble the quilt center from the finished blocks.
This is one of the four quilts that piano key border went on.
And here is another it went on. I already gave away the first it went on, and tomorrow I'll be putting it on the last of the four quilts.
I never measured how much piano key border I made, and after bordering four quilts with the massive length I had made, this is what is left. I think it might be just the right length to make a baby quilt backing a bit wider.
It is not uncommon for me to just make huge lengths of piano key border to use on scrappy quilts, and never measure how much I actually need. When I go to put the border on, I actually do figure out how long it needs to be, and unpick the seam at that length. If I'm a bit short, it's easy to cut a few strips and add to length. If I have too much, well, that's even easier. If I have a lot left, I can make a Chinese Coin type of quilt with the extra. A few feet left? I usually save that for when I need a quilt backing to be just a bit bigger. A little bit left? Well, that's usually the beginning of another piano key border!
I like a lot of the variations of piano key borders too, alternating long rectangles, with a shorter one with and an added square. Add a triangle to each one and get a picket fence, triangles on both ends and you can have a chevron border. There are so, so many ways to use scraps in a border, checkerboards, square in a square, almost any unit can make into a scrappy border on a scrap quilt. I never run out of scraps, so having lots of options is fantastic, and using even more scraps in the border puts those scraps to work, instead of taking up space in the sewing room.
You want to know the real secret though? If borders are hard for you to get right without waves, pieced borders are actually easier to get right! Now, that is only true if your 1/4" seam is right, and consistently right, but honestly, I have fewer problems putting on pieced borders than slab borders.
One of the above quilts is a double four patch. If I use the same size strips for my piano key border, as I do for the blocks, I will need four "keys" to border each block. I make my inner border with the same size strip, to make for easy math. If my quilt is 9x11 blocks, I start with the side borders, so I'm dealing with the 11 blocks. 11 blocks x 4 "keys" per block= 44 keys + 2 more keys to cover the top and bottom inner border. My side borders need to be 46 keys long. I count down 46 keys from my length of keys, and unpick the seam there (or just piece a border 46 keys long. I pin each end of the border one the side it's going on. Now I need to find the middle. What is half of 46? 23, so I count down 23 keys, and that seam is the middle of my border. With 11 blocks down, the middle of the 6th block is the middle of my quilt center. The inner border is not so wide I can't eye lining up the middle of the border, with the middle of my quilt center. Pin the center. From there I just keep pinning the middle of each area of the border, until I feel comfortable it is lined up well. Unless the quilt is very large, I usually don't use more than 5-7 pins per side, it really is that easy.
When I do the top and bottom borders, I do the same, but I either have to add cornerstones, or add however many keys I need to to cover the width of the side borders. In this quilt, the top and bottom borders were figured as 9 blocks x 4 keys= 36 keys + 2 keys to cover side inner borders=38 keys, plus each side piano key border was 3 keys wide, so add 6 more keys for a total of 44 keys. If I had wanted to use corner stones instead in the border, I would have only added the extra 2 keys to compensate for the inner border, then added a cornertone on each end.
If I want to add cornerstones to a border, a pieced border is the absolutely easiest way to do that. Slab borders with cornerstones are much more difficult to me.
I pin-basted Mamaw's quilt today, and a pay it forward quilt. I need to come up with two more backings to pin baste another two quilts next week, then I'll be on a quilting spree. I found I had four quilt centers just waiting for borders, and the outer borders were already pieced. They were literally just waiting for me to cut inner borders for them. Well, by the end of this week, those will all be quilt tops, and I'll quilt them as I get to them, but at least they won't be waiting for borders!