Wavy Borders: How My Friends Saved My Quilt

I used to attend semi-annual quilting retreats with my quilt guild in New York. The only scheduled events were meals. Everyone got to sew when they wanted and worked on projects they brought with them. Wandering around and talking to others was part of the fun. It was a good way to take a break, see what everyone was up to, get new ideas, and learn different techniques. But I think the best thing about it was how much everyone helped one another.

Quilting retreat; woman sewing on a quilt with others in the background working and talking.
1999: At the retreat, hard at work on my quilt.

I was at this retreat, determined to finish my second bed-sized quilt, when I got an unpleasant surprise. I stitched on the borders exactly as I had done it for my first bed quilt, but for some reason, the borders came out horribly wavy. I didn’t realize that I’d had beginner’s luck the first time around. My slap-dash method only worked once.

One of my friends looked at the quilt with me, then explained how I had gone wrong. I needed to measure everything and cut the borders to fit the quilt, carefully pinning them in place before sewing.

I was upset to hear this. To fix the problem, I first had to remove the borders, and I couldn’t stand the thought of all the stitches I would have to rip out. My full-sized quilt top looked huge and those border seams were long.

Overwhelmed by my mistake, I ran to the bathroom to cry in private. As I grew calmer, I decided I should switch projects. I’d remove and fix the messed up borders in the privacy of my own home. I couldn’t face doing it now.

When I returned to the sewing room, what I saw nearly made me cry all over again.

The back of a group of quilters removing borders from a quilt in progress.
My friends helping me remove my wavy borders. (I’m on the far right.)

The other quilters had put my quilt on a table they could stand around and they were all ripping out the stitches that held the border on. Once I got over the shock, I hurried to join them. With that many hands helping, it didn’t take long at all. I was grateful to them for taking time from their own projects to make it easier for me to fix mine.

Once the borders had been removed, everyone returned to their own sewing. Following the instructions I’d been given, I reattached the borders with much better results. I went home that weekend having met my goal of finishing the quilt top, but I never would have done it without the help of my friends.

Trip Around the World quilt on bed. Hey Nonny Nonny quilt and photo by Kit Dunsmore
The finished quilt, Hey Nonny Nonny. Quilt and photo by Kit Dunsmore.

If they hadn’t stepped up, I would have put that unfinished quilt aside for a time, if not forever. I was daunted by the task, not realizing it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared. I might never have finished the quilt. I might even have given up on quilting altogether.

Since then, I’ve gotten much more blasé about mistakes and taking things apart so I can sew them again. I’m also much more careful when adding borders. But most of all, I try to remember to help others, especially beginners. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when we are learning how to do something new.

Have you given up on something because it got too hard? Have you ever gotten help that made all the difference? What is your most memorable sewing mistake?

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