Is it possible to be a modern quilter and a traditional quilter at the same time? Ask designer Julie Herman. She’s the founder of the Philadelphia chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild. Her modern-quilt blog, Jaybird Quilts, is followed by thousands. Her easy modern quilt patterns have been featured in nearly 20 publications, from McCall’s Quilting to Quiltmaker and Quilts and More. Yet her designs frequently rely on simple, classic quilt blocks—stars, rails, cabins, geese. Julie has one foot firmly planted in the modern-quilt community. But the other foot is clearly in traditional quilt design.
Julie started quilting in 2002, after borrowing her mom’s sewing machine. She sewed more than 200 quilts on it before buying one of her own. Along the way, she began questioning certain quiltmaking “rules”—one of them being that every quilt should be finished with a border. Julie’s philosophy? Study the rules, then thoughtfully break them as needed. She’s deconstructed the rules for quilt borders in her new book, out this week, Skip the Borders.
Of all the rules and regs of quiltmaking to be broken, why borders? Julie explains her philosophy in this excerpt from her book.
I’ve always compared borders on quilts to frames on photos or paintings. But who says you have to frame everything? Sometimes artwork stands better on its own. Sometimes a frame serves only as a distraction. Think of canvas oil paintings—many start out as canvas stretched over stretcher bars, and that’s just how they remain. They never get a frame or multiple mats. And they stand strongly on their own.
Which isn’t to say frames are never necessary. They can give weight to the art and finish it. The same goes for quilts. Borders can finish a quilt and add impact. But many of us put borders on a quilt simply because we think we’re supposed to. Often we make a table runner without a border, but not a larger quilt. Why is that?
Yes, borders are an easy way to make a quilt bigger, but what if a design is better without a border or frame? What if adding a border would just be a distraction?
Borderless quilts are not new, but they have enjoyed a resurgence within the last few years. Initially I created borderless quilts out of a desire to avoid cutting and sewing borders. I quickly realized that some designs needed borders to feel complete. That idea led me on a journey of discovering how to eliminate the frame and still have a quilt design that was strong enough to stand alone.
Placing highly saturated colors in the position that’s usually considered background gives the design a new life in “White Stars.”
Once I got to thinking about all of this, I started to sketch ideas for quilts without borders. In the beginning it felt like coloring outside the lines, but I quickly realized that it was more like coloring in the lines—but just having fewer lines. Taking away the borders meant that the quilt needed to have a strong structure and be able to support itself and stand alone. Many sketches didn’t work for one reason or another—often because the design of the blocks gives the impression of a lot of movement. Think of a complex quilt made from spinning Pinwheel blocks. A quilt like that needs a border to help visually contain all that’s going on in the design.
Whether you’re already pushing the limits, or this book is your attempt at breaking out of what you know, or you haven’t made a single quilt yet, I hope you will learn something or try something new. Keep learning, keep growing, and join me on this borderless quilt journey!
Break the rules to fit your quilt—those sound like words to quilt by, Julie!
Have you broken any quiltmaking “rules”? Or do you take a more tried-and-true approach to your quilts?
Tell us your quilt story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Skip the Borders eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. (You can also purchase Julie’s book here, and if you do, you can download the eBook for free right away.) Good luck!
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Thanks to all who entered the drawing! The randomly chosen winner is Claudia, who said:
“Yes, I’ve skipped the borders more than once. Several of my Hoffman challenge pieces have not had a border because I wanted them to appear as a picture or photo, or a “slice” of a greater picture. I’ve long been a believer in “always” isn’t the best answer for a question. Yes, I take my own road.”
Claudia, we’ll email you a special coupon code for your free eBook. Congratulations!