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This snippet was published in Machine Quilting Unlimited's 'Ask Kimmy' column. Copyrights held by Kim Brunner and Meander Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Starts, Stops, and Quilts With Girlish Figures was first published in the July 2011 issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine

Dear Kimmy-

I am having trouble keeping the side borders of my quilt straight as I go along and my finished quilts always seem to dip in at the sides. Why is this happening and how can I fix it?

Kimmy says- This is a very common problem with a super easy solution. Before we get to the fix, though, let me answer your ‘Why’ question and then I’ll tell you the ‘How.”

The most common reason that quilts ‘hourglass’ is because they were loaded on the machine at the incorrect width. This happens when the outer edges of the quilt are wider than the center and the quilt is initially pinned on the quilt frame at the wider measurement. Here’s an example: Let’s say I have a quilt that is 90 inches wide through the center. However, the borders of this quilt were heavily pieced and they ‘grew’ during the piecing process so, instead of measuring 90 inches wide like the center does, the borders are 92 ½ inches wide. Because I was feeling rushed while loading this quilt, I did not take the time to measure it properly and was therefore unaware of the size difference. I load the top on the machine, smoothing that oversized border out nicely as I go and pinning it on at 92 ½ inches. Everything is great as I first start quilting, but after one or two advances I begin to see that my quilt is drawing in at the sides. This is happening because I’ve moved past that overly full border and am now working on the interior of the quilt, which is only 90 inches wide. This ‘drawing in’ effect will continue all the way through the quilt until I come to the bottom border, which will flare out again to the 92 ½ inch width, causing my quilt to look like it has a lovely girlish hourglass figure and ruining my whole day.

To avoid this, I should have measured the quilt in two or three places, as this would have shown me that my borders were just a smidgen too big for the rest of the quilt. To correct this problem, I would have pinned my quilt on at 90 inches and eased in the excess border fullness as I quilted, ending up with a finished quilt that was 90 inches wide from top to bottom. Pieced borders are not the only thing that causes this problem; you can also have issues with solid borders that were cut incorrectly and you can even create this problem yourself by stretching the edges of the quilt as you load it.

Now that we know the ‘Why,’ let’s talk about the ‘How.’ Once you’ve loaded the quilt at the correct width, it’s easy to keep it that way if you have the right tool. I use a zero-center measuring tape which is, in my opinion, the slickest thing since eyelash curlers. Here’s how you use it; lay the measuring tape out on top of your machine’s belly bar, carefully placing the zero center of the measuring tape at the center point of the belly bar. This part is important, so take the time to make sure that the zero is in the right spot. Pin the tape in place at the zero so that it cannot shift. Working your way from the center to one end of the belly bar, smooth the tape out so that it lies nice and flat on the bar. When you get to the end of the machine, take note of which number on the tape is sitting on the very edge of your machine’s frame. Remove the tape from the belly bar.

Next, you will need to attach the tape to your machine’s frame. As you can see in Photo B


I have stitched a short piece of Velcro (the soft part) on the underside of my tape and I stick that soft Velcro in place on the sticky Velcro that attaches my machine’s clamp straps to the end of the machine. When sticking the tape in place, make sure that you position it so that the number that was sitting on the edge of the frame in Step One is sitting on the edge now, thus ensuring that the zero center of the tape remains lined up with the center of your frame. Firmly press the Velcro in place so that it does not shift.

If you do not have a machine that uses Velcro to attach the clamp straps, use a couple of small 'bulldog' type clamps from an office supply store to attach the tape to the side of your machine. Carefully line up the tape so that the zero stays in the center of your frame, wind the end of the tape loosely around the end of your frame, and securely clamp it into place. I use two of these small clamps and place them side by side so that the tape is held securely and cannot shift out of place.

Okay, so now you’ve got a measuring tape stuck on the end of your machine’s frame. What next? Here comes the cool part; the tape that I use (Colonial brand ‘Longarm Centering Tape’) comes with twelve little sliding tabs that can be used to mark the correct measurements for any number of things on your quilt. In Photo C


you can see that I am using a sliding tab to show me where the edges of my side borders should lay. (there’s a second tab at the 32 ½ point on the other side of the zero center to show me where the quilt’s left edge should be) I can also use the tabs to mark exactly where I want sashing strips to lay, or where I want a central seam line to hit, or where I want certain elements of blocks to be positioned. With each new advance of the quilt, I lay the measuring tape across the quilt top, making sure that everything is sitting right where it should be. Once it's all lined up, I move the tape out of the way and let it fall to the floor at the side of my machine. At this point I can begin to quilt, knowing that everything is right where it should be. Easy peasy pie!