Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Need a Trim?

Wayyy back in November, Lois had asked how I would trim a quilt with large pieces and no border. How would I square it up?

The quilt in question!
I'd promised a tutorial, but many of the pictures I took while trimming her quilt turned out blurry. Once a quilt is trimmed, retakes are impossible, so the tutorial was shelved.

Last week, another borderless quilt finally arrived! It doesn't have gigantic piecing, but the trimming process is very similar. 

I'll use pictures from both quilts as I attempt to describe my process.

My aim is to give the illusion of perfection. 
  • Seams should appear to be parallel with the edges of the quilt. If something is a tiny bit off, nobody will notice, but if it's way off - yikes! Let's not do that.
  • It is important to cut square corners (90 degrees). 
  • It is also important to measure, measure, measure! If a quilt is meant to be 56 inches wide, it should measure 56 inches wide at the top, bottom, and everywhere in between! Same if it's meant to be 76 inches long...make it so!

Linda's borderless quilt, ready for trimming.
Step One:
Start with a corner. Place a large, square ruler over the corner. If possible, align it with both a horizontal AND a vertical seam in the piecing. (With large piecing you may need to measure out from a seam in several places to align the ruler - see photo, below). 

The outside edges of the ruler should be at the outside edges of the quilt top (obviously!).

Measuring out from a seam to the edge that will be cut.
Before cutting anything, I add extra rulers in both directions from the corner. They should butt up against the square ruler on the corner AND follow the edges of the quilt. If they don't, adjust all three rulers until you are satisfied that your corner will be square and true to the quilt.

To trim the corner, I cut about 5 to 8 inches in both directions along the outside of the square ruler. (My first corner is cut in the picture, below.) This gives me a true 90 degree corner as my starting point.

Preparing to cut the long edge of the quilt.
Step Two:
Lay a line of rulers along the edge you intend to cut first (shown, above). I like to start with one of the long sides. Getting that right sets me up for success with the rest of the quilt.

At this point, I measure the width of the top in several places, including across both ends. I want to find a number that will become my target width. I am also checking to see if I need to adjust my rulers before I cut! 
  • How straight is the piecing? 
  • Is the quilt relatively square to begin with? 
  • If not, how can I make it look square? 
  • If I make that first cut, will things look wonky on the other side of the quilt?
  • Do I need to adjust anything?

The first side becomes the reference point for squaring up the rest of the quilt, so I want to be very sure of my decisions before I start chopping.

Remember to keep an eye on the seams when lining up the rulers. I try and keep seams parallel to the edges of the quilt, if possible (as in the picture, below). This is where you might have to "fudge" things a bit if the piecing isn't perfect, and that's okay.

When I'm happy with how everything looks, it's time to cut. After each cut, I slide my cutting mat forward (under the edge of the quilt), being careful not to disturb the rulers on top.

Keep an eye on your seams. Try to keep them parallel to the quilt edges.

Step Three:
Skip to the opposite side of the quilt and cut it parallel to the first. Time for some accurate measuring. 

The target width for this quilt was 56 inches, so I lined up the outside edges of all my rulers (where I would cut) exactly 56 inches away from the side I had just cut.

Thanks to the extra care I took when preparing the first side, the rulers also line up nicely with the piecing on the second side. Yay!

In the picture below, you can see that I had cut around the second corner. Just ignore that! It didn't hurt anything, but was completely unnecessary. Corners will be dealt with when the final two edges are trimmed.

Preparing to cut the second long edge of the quilt, parallel to the first.
Step Four:
Cut a third edge. Doesn't matter which one you choose, just pick one. Align rulers along the edge, as usual. Try to keep the edge and the piecing seams parallel, as usual.

Extend the rulers beyond the quilt top and use the lines to ensure 90 degree corners (like in the picture, below - see how the line exactly matches the edge I had already cut?).

Again, before I cut anything I measure, measure, measure the length of the quilt to find a target number for the next step. This is your chance to decide how best to handle things if the quilt is not perfectly square. Do you need to cut a bit more off one end or the other?

Rulers extend beyond the corners.
Use the lines on the rulers to make 90 degree corners.

Step Five:
Cut the final edge.

Repeat the process of measuring and aligning rulers with the target number on the tape measure. Remember, if it is meant to be 76 inches long, make sure it is 76 inches long at both outside edges and across the middle!

Align the rulers with the piecing as much as possible, and check that the corners will be square. (Line up the cut sides with the lines on the rulers.)

Measuring exactly 76 inches from the cut edge to the edges of the rulers.

Once the final cut is made, you should have a lovely, squared up quilt!

What if the piecing is ginormous?

Use the exact same process as above, only you will need to measure out from a "landmark" seam (preferably one that extends the full length of the quilt) to help you align your rulers along the first side.

22 inches from the seam to the edge of the quilt.

What if there's a "gap" in the seam line you are using as a landmark?

Bridge the gap with a second ruler, and measure out from where the seam would be if it had continued.

Extend the "landmark" seam using a second ruler.
Measure out (22 inches, in this case) to the edge of the quilt from there.
Once your rulers are laid out along the first edge, remember to step back and check your line before you cut. If you make the cut, how will the edge of the quilt look in relation to the piecing? Does everything look right, or does something need to be tweaked?

After that first side is cut, remember to jump across to the opposite edge next. Use the side you just cut as the reference point. Measure, measure, measure, lining up your rulers for the parallel cut.

Lining up for the third edge - making sure both corners are square.

Cut the third edge, making sure corners are square. Use a landmark seam that extends the width of the quilt to help you keep the edge of the quilt parallel to the piecing (photo below).

Measuring up from a "landmark" seam to keep things looking straight.

And, voila! Another nice, square quilt!

This method works extremely well for me, but I cannot guarantee it will work perfectly for everyone who tries it. There are many small decisions to make along the way, and every quilt is different, so results could vary. Please use your own best judgement and common sense when squaring up your own quilts!

I'm hoping everything I wrote makes sense . . . I'm so sick with a head cold right now that I can't really be sure! Need something clarified? Please ask!

Linking up with:
Linky Tuesday @ Freemotion by the River

Try, Learn, Grow!

P.S. I love hearing from you, so don't be shy! Comments will be answered by email where possible.


  1. This helps me understand squaring up! Thank you!

  2. Lovely quilting on both of those.

  3. excellent tutorial thank you much

  4. Thanks for explaining that so well. I will take more time and use more rulers in future!

  5. Well thought out. The quilt on the frame and then squared up on the floor sure looks great! Love the large piecework.

  6. information was great and very easy to understand. I am new to long arm quilting and do some quilting for others and have a hard time squaring up the quilts before and after they are quilted. do you have an easy way to get these on the frame and quilted so they end up at least close to square. I have told clients that when I get the quilts out of square they will come back quilted as is.
    thank you Lindandmurray@msn.com

    again thank you for the great information and look forward to seeing more of your work

  7. Carole, this is a great tutorial! I am not a fan of borders but man do they make the squaring up process a lot easier :) I'm going to need to start using more rulers :)

  8. Thanks for this tutorial, I've never made a quilt without a border but if I do I shall now know how to cope with squaring up.


  9. Thank you for this, it'll be my go-to tutorial from now on!

  10. I hope your cold is feeling better by now, and I think it's very impressive you wrote such a detailed and clear tutorial with one!

  11. Lots of crawling around on the floor involved in squaring up a quilt. King-sized quilts require a king-sized room, lol! Hope you're feeling better by now.

  12. I have often wondered just how to *properly* trim and square up a quilt. Even though I'm a big googler, it never occurred to me to google this particular thing - I guess I am too gung ho to finish already when I get to this point in a quilt ;-) so, thanks very much for sharing!!
    (Your floor is so so beautiful!! and CLEAN :-)


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