Finishing the Cat NotQuilt Border



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here. The link below takes you to the Cat Notquilt project.

The border is finished. Hurrah! Looking at the picture you can see the green rectangles marching all around the edges. They frame the cats and tie into the green rectangles in the fashion face and they do tie in with the green kittens and the darker green cat faced fabric.

quilt border

The border squares have been sewn in. All that needs to be done is to attach the quilt border.

The binding will be, as previously mentioned, dark green percale with some sea foam green parts as I don’t have enough dark green percale to go all the way around. The (mostly) dark green binding will finish tying all the elements together.

It is very clear that a border should be wider than the one that I have here on the cat NotQuilt. These days, when I lay out a NotQuilt, I assume that I will have a border eight to ten inches deep, not necessarily including the width of the binding. It just looks better to my eye framing the center design.

quilt border

This border is much too narrow to function well as a frame, and when I add the binding, it will get narrower still. Looking at the NotQuilt now, I can see that I should have bitten the bullet and ripped off ALL the cat fabric patches that were closer to the edge than ten inches.

Doing this would have given me a wider, more artistic border and I would have been far less likely to run out of my interstitial fabrics: the green kittens and the darker green cat heads. I would have resewed the cat fabrics on, spacing them more evenly and with less space between them, thus needing less interstitial fabric.

The finished results would have been rather different. It is impossible to say what the Cat NotQuilt could have been, other than the border would have been wider.

I might have used fewer solid greens to fill out between the green kittens and the cat head fabric. As it was, I ended up using four different greens as I didn’t have enough of any one fabric in the stash.

A Border of Rectangles

The border of rectangles ended up the same way: I didn’t have enough left of the four solid greens used in the medallion to go all the way around. I ended up using six MORE shades of solid green to finish the border. The lightest green was the most difficult one to handle. The fabric was sheer and showed the underlying dull rose and whatever piece of cloth it was encroaching on. In order to use this fabric, I had to fold it over; in effect sewing down two pieces of cloth instead of one. The finished result reads as a solid, very pale green.

When I sewed down the rectangles, I continued on as I had done before. I sewed patches down over the larger blank areas, leading to smaller and smaller areas of dull rose left to cover. I decided that I had to have a progression of rectangles all the way around. I know that the binding will cover some of this.

I chose my fabric randomly, other than at the corners. Those areas are all the same: a darkest green at the very corner, a marginally lighter green on each side, followed by a yellowy brown green on each side.

My only criterion for rectangle placement was that I not put the same fabric side by side. I tried to space them out. I also tried to alternate lighter fabrics with darker ones. I would pin a bunch of patches down, look at the NotQuilt spread out on the floor, approve or change a few, then get back to the sewing machine and sew them down.

When I had a bunch of patches pinned on, I sewed them down always working in the same orientation. I started at the top edge, working from left to right until I had gone all around the edge, finishing where I had begun. That way, I didn’t miss any pinned patches.

Doing this meant that it took several passes to finish the border. I would sew up to twenty patches on a pass, several on each side of the NotQuilt. No side got finished first. This also let me space out the material so my colors got used evenly all around.

Remaining Issues

I now have many, many tiny bits of solid green left. Since I don’t do true pieced quilts, I don’t know what to do with those tiny bits. Most of them are about two inches square or less. It kills me to throw them away, but they’re just taking up space. Storage space for everything is always at a premium around here and I can’t and won’t buy more fabric until I empty out some of the Rubbermaid bins. I suppose I’ll just leave that issue for another day.

Another issue that cropped up is my insistence on using fabric so that it runs top to bottom, right side up. Since I didn’t cut up the cat fashion fabric, I used entire pieces as they came to hand. Most of these pieces were pretty large and you can easily see the design motif.

The green kitten fabric made a terrific interstitial set fabric. It had a small motif and the design could be used in any orientation.

The darker green cat heads however, had a definite up and down. I wasted a lot of fabric orienting them on the NotQuilt.

cat notquilt border

Two kinds of cat fabric, but they have to be oriented differently

The other problem was that the cat head motifs were widely spaced on the fabric. If this fabric was used as a sheet, like on a blouse, it wouldn’t matter at all. You’d be able to see plenty of cat heads. But cutting it up for a quilt meant that, unless I was very careful, I would end up with patches that had no visible cat heads! Careful cutting ensured that each of these pieces has at least one cat head. That led to still more fabric waste. Many of the cat head patches have the cat heads off to one side. If I would have had fabric to spare, I would have cut the patches far more carefully, centering the cat heads. That would have used up even MORE fabric.

Solid-color fabric doesn’t have this issue. It doesn’t matter how you sew it: up, down, left, right, or wrong-side up.

Look Before You Quilt

The moral is to choose your fabrics carefully. If you want to see the motif, then you have to choose carefully, cut carefully, place carefully, and sew it down carefully. Expect to have a lot of strangely shaped scraps left over. A large motif, particularly one bigger than a dinner plate, may look just plain weird cut up into bits. Or it may look very abstract, but you won’t know until after you’re finished.

This may be why so many fabrics sold specifically for quilting have tiny design motifs. Huge cabbage roses won’t read as roses when cut into triangles one inch across but roses the size of dimes will still be roses.

One of the great joys of home dressmaking is that you can use gorgeous fabric that has a design that covers the full width of the fashion fabric. I have a shirt that is covered with life-size koi swimming in the pond, each fish being over a foot long with its corresponding width. When I cut up that leftover scrap fabric for patchwork, I lose every bit of the imagery.

That may not matter to you. Sometimes the results look pretty good. The problem is that you won’t know until you’re almost done and then if you really don’t like it, you have to a) live with it, b) cover it up with another patch, or c) rip it all out and start over.

This is another of the drawbacks of using scrap for quilts rather than buying cloth intentionally designed to be cut up into little bits.

On the other hand, taking creative risks with fabric you have on hand results to more interesting, unique quilts. Also, the spirit of quilting is not about going to the fabric store and buying new cloth. It is being thrifty and using up what you have.

Next Step: Binding

Sewing the binding on the cat NotQuilt is next. It, like the rest of the NotQuilt is repurposed scrap. Two shades of green percale sheet ends, to be precise, and of course, I do not have enough of either color to go all the way around.

The next blog post will cover what I do to fix that little problem.