Coping borders to the rescue!

When you make quilts using improv techniques, you often end up with blocks and pieces that don’t quite match. There are a couple of ways to resolve these issues. Let’s look at a few and their positive and negative results.
The red circles on this version of Row Houses indicate some of the coping borders that I added to help fit the houses into their spaces. Note that they aren’t all the same size or color, but they blend into the theme and background of the quilt.
Cutting or trimming is the fastest, easiest way to handle mismatched pieces. Just chop off the parts that don’t work: Measure the smallest piece and cut everything else down to that size. It’s fast, easy, straightforward, and it straightens or squares up the blocks at the same time! However, there are some downfalls. Of course, your pieces can become quite small and won’t fill in as much of the top. You may need additional blocks or settle for a smaller top. Also, anything cut off goes back into the scrap pile. (Ugh.)
Adding to the block is another way to make your blocks match. This method does the exact opposite of cutting. Using fabric that matches the block(s), they become bigger, making the top bigger. But there’s no guarantee that “correct” measurements are in the cards. You have to either measure carefully or trim the new block to the size you want. It’s using up scraps, though. So there’s that advantage.
In this small piece from Citrus Sherbert, I used three coping borders, yellow, beige, and orange. Different colors, different sizes, and something that rarely works: prints, but these tone on tone prints read as solids so they work.
Coping borders are exactly what they claim to be: Borders of any size that bring the block(s) close to a size you can use. For clarification: squares, borders, sashings, and backgrounds can all be used as coping pieces, and for this article the terms are interchangable.
The advantages of coping borders are many. Of course, they help uneven blocks fit into a space. The coping pieces can match the block or the background depending on your color choice. When the coping piece blend with the background they almost disappear. When they match the block colors, the coping pieces stand out with the blocks, making the blocks more prominent. This allows you the advantage of creating blocks of any shape or size. However, coping borders can add another layer of design. Audition a variety of borders and backgrounds to determine how much you want them to stand out from or shrink into the background. Plus, all coping pieces can be miniature repeats of a motif if you create small blocks to use as your coping piece.
Here’s what I might call a desperate coping border. After sewing in the half circle, I realized that the piece was not straight, was not a half circle, and needed an odd, angular shape. Coping border to the rescue. I was able to keep the whole, half-circle, straighten it a little, and fix that weird opening. No math needed! I cut a rectangle wider and longer than the space, sewed it in, then trimmed it to square up the block. Viola! Finis!
Coping borders have few disadvantages, but they can take away from the blocks or the entire quilt. Odd colors and prints are especially troublesome. Borders can “warp” or misshape the top if not put in carefully. And, they can become cumbersome and overbearing in some quilts if overused. Keep in mind, though, that it’s your quilt. You get to make the final decisions.
The slivers of green began as coping strips and morphed into a design element that makes the quilt.
Coping borders can be easy to incorporate into your quilt if you take your time making decisions. Here are my steps: 1. Choose color(s) for the borders; 2. Determine the approximate size of the border; 3. Cut the border fabric about an inch longer and wider than your measurements; 4. Stitch the border in place. 5. Trim as necessary to fit your block into its place.
I used coping borders on both ends of the rows for this quilt so that they would all be the same length. I’m making two quilts with this BoM and one will be a row quilt. I’m fairly certain that the rows will not match. I mean, why would they?
I wait to trim borders when I’m ready to sew them into place. I’m notorious for randomly changing my mind and moving things around. Once, I cut a piece out of a “finished” top, while it was on the long-arm. In my thinking, it’s never too late…though I’ve never unstitched a finished quilt to make changes. Have you?
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