So you want to make a handkerchief quilt with a custom drafted swag border!


So you want to make a handkerchief quilt? There are so many different ways to use all those beautiful vintage hankies you’ve been collecting. I’m in the process of finishing my quilt top and want to share my progress. I’ve included a brief picture filled tutorial of sorts near the end of this blog if you’re wondering how to create a custom swag for your borders.

To start you need to decide how many blocks you’re wanting. I began with the idea of a 3 block by 4 block quilt top but quickly revised my plans to a 4 x 5. At this point I also decided I wanted a 6″ finished border on all sides.

Not all vintage handkerchiefs are the same size and not all are square. Once you’ve decided on the number of blocks, sort through your hankies and determine the size of the LARGEST handkerchief.

Do not determine your largest hankie until you have laundered, starched and pressed each one!!!

My largest hankie is 13 1/2″  and is pretty much square. This largest piece determines the bleached muslin block size for EVERY BLOCK going forward.  Before you do any cutting of your bleached muslin or solid white fabric you also need to think about how much of the white fabric you want to show around the sides of the handkerchief. I decided that I wanted 1/4″ to show around my largest hankie to I cut my muslin into  14 1/2″ squares.

Here’s the math: the hankie measures 13 1/2″. Add 1/4″ to show around hankie makes 14″ and seam allowances of 1/4″ each makes a 14 1/2″ unfinished block. With me so far?


The smaller the hankie the more your white fabric will show.


So it’s time to attach your hankies to your solid white background fabric. Note that I said “solid white” fabric. Hankies are thin and if you were to choose a print of some sort or even a white tone-on-tone fabric you will get unwanted shadowing and you will be sad.  I experimented with using both a straight stitch and a teeny tiny zig-zag stitch to attach the hankies. The zig-zag stitch looks nice but takes FOREVER!!!! Just warning you: you’ll be crazy sick of zigzagging around all those lovely tiny handkerchief scallops. Just do a medium length stitch super close to the hem of the hankie.


Thread! You’ll probably know by now I’m a HUGE fan of Wonderfil Deco Bob and Invisafil. The Deco Bob is 80 weight, the other is 100. For this project I used the 100 weight Invisafil. It is wonderful as it crosses over different colors as it takes on the color beneath it. You couldn’t ask for a better thread!

So, the picture below shows all the handkerchiefs lined up like little soldiers. They’ve each been stitched into the 14 1/2″ white bleached muslin squares and with the help of my sweet friends at retreat, they are in the order for stitching. How did I decide on the order? I wanted the “visually heavier” handkerchiefs to hold the 4 corners. After that it was left up to how well they “played” with each other.


About sashings: I knew I wanted soft pink sashings with the bleached muslin cornerstones. I chose a solid soft pink for the strips. Each sashing strip is cut 1 1/2″ by 14 1/2″. Each cornerstone is cut 1 1/2″ square. After seam allowances I will have a 1″x14″ pink sashing strip around each block and a 1″ finished white cornerstone.


Sew your rows together first with a sashing strip both at the beginning and the end of each row of 4 hankies.


After your rows are completed make a long sashing strip beginning with a white 1 1/2″ square followed by a pink strip, etc. etc.. Sew this long strip to the top of each of your rows of hankies. Remember, you’ll need to also sew one of these long strips to the bottom edge of your last hankie row.



Here’s a picture of the hankie rows sewn together and custom sized swags machine appliqued to the top border. My design wall placement didn’t allow me to get a picture of the entire quilt top.

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So…how do you draft a custom swag for your quilt top borders? I’m giving you lots of pictures below in what I hope will be a good enough explanation for you to charge ahead!

You’re going to need a few tools:

  1. graph paper helps but is not mandatory
  2.  pencil
  3.  some sort of large curve tool and
  4.  some sort of circle(s) tool. I have some longarm clear acrylic templates I’ve used to help me with the large curves and a RAPIDESIGN┬« R-440 Template for my circles.
  5. a teflon pressing sheet
  6. freezer paper
  7. spray starch
  8. iron

The picture below shows a custom swag that will measure 12″ x approx. 5 1/2″ when finished. You’ll see I’ve drawn my first arc for my swag.


I’ve shifted my set of oval templates up and will draw my second arc. Why do I have blue painters tape on my oval acrylic templates? First so I can keep them all held together and second so I can find them when they’re laying on fabric.

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Ok, so now we’ve drawn both the top and the bottom arc.


It’s time to use our circle template to make the swag bumps.  Choose a circle size of your choice, paying attention to the circle side and top and bottom hash marks, place your circle on the top most arc, center your circle on your half way line and draw your half circle. The mechanical pencils below are pointing to the 3 important hash marks.  See how the circle is lined up on both the “half-way” mark for both the arc and the swag length line.

Warning!! Do not position your swag bumps (circles) so that they touch the top like of your drawing! Leave at least 1/4″ space!


Here’s what your first swag bump will look like:


For the placement of the remaining circles you can use the hash marks as your spacer between half circles.


By time you reach both the right and left outer edges of your top arc, you may have to use the “fudge-factor” technique of swag bump placement. Just do what looks good to you.

Next step: you don’t want a straight line in between the bumps. You’ll need to free-hand a dip between the circles, either above or below the arc line. For this example I chose to place my dip below the arc.



It’s time to erase the pencil lines you don’t need any longer. And look what you’ve made, a custom sized swag pattern for your beautiful handkerchief quilt top border!


If you’ve never made/used a freezer paper template before, well, you’re in for some fun! There are many methods you could use but this is what I do:

Iron three sheets of freezer paper together. The size of the three individual sheets needs to be a bit larger than your finished swag you just created. For the above swag my three freezer paper sheets would measure something like 13″ x 8″.

On your ironing surface, first step is to position your teflon pressing sheet. On top of the pressing sheet place one piece of freezer paper SHINY SIDE DOWN and without steam, lightly press. Repeat with the remaining 2 sheets, SHINY SIDE DOWN until you have a nice firm layer of three sheets. ***Important: let your newly created stack of papers cool! Give the stack 2 or 3 minutes before your proceed. Once cooled, slowly peel the freezer paper from the pressing sheet.

With scissors, cut out your graph paper swag on the pencil lines. With the freezer paper stack laying shiny side down, place your cut-out swag on the stack, trace around the swag edges and carefully cut out your new template. Smooth cut edges are key so take your time with this step. Be sure to keep your graph paper template in a safe place as you’ll need it if you need to make a 2nd or a 3rd freezer paper template.

Position your new freezer paper swag template on your fabric and with a medium temp. iron press it into place. The paper will stick to your fabric.



When it has cooled to the touch, trim around all edges leaving at minimum 1/4″.  Here’s what your cut out should look like:


Using a rather heavy handed spray of the starch, make sure your fabric edges are a bit wet. Begin folding the top starched wet raw edge over the template and press into place.


Here’s a pic of the top edge folded over and pressed:


Important! At the inside dip of each of the swag bumps you’ll need to make 3 small snips to allow for the dip or the concave part of the template. Snip almost but not quite to the template edge.  Spray again with the starch and begin to slowly fold in and press these outer edges. Slow and steady all the while keeping your finger tips out of the way of your iron tip.


This is what your swag will look like when all the edges are starched, folded over and pressed, you can snip away the little pointy parts at each end of the swag:


Here’s what your swag will look like on the right side of the fabric:


Here’s the scary part: you need to remove the freezer paper template. Find a spot on the smooth arc edge, carefully pry up the paper edge and pull it away from the swag. Yes, your edges will get rumpled but don’t worry! Once your paper is removed, lay your swag right side down, re-position your edges, give it a quick press with your iron if needed. Warning!!! Do not spray starch your swag at this point!!! You will lose most of your hard work!! (Ask me how I know…) If you feel you must starch again, do it when you flip your swag over to wrong side down/right side up!


And you’ve just created your first custom sized swag for your handkerchief quilt top border! Congratulations!! Simple, easy and straight forward! How many freezer paper swag templates should you make? I usually make 2. These templates are used over and over again until they no longer stick to your fabrics. You’ll notice my template is brown in spots; that’s because I’ve used it maybe 10-15 times already.


For this project I’ve chosen to machine applique with a tiny width zig-zag set at a medium to medium/long stitch once again using the fantastic Wonderfil Invisafil in white.

Are you ready to start your own vintage handkerchief quilt top? I feel like I used WAY too many words in this tutorial! Hope all the pictures help! Don’t be the slightest intimidated about drafting your own swag, once you’ve done one you’re a pro and well on your way to a fantastic quilt border!

Happy quilting,


ps: Please-oh-please use the comments section to post your questions! If you’re wondering about something, chances are so are lots of other people!


The Process: “Basket of Flowers” Guild Member Challenge Piece

The Quilt Guild of Greater Houston’s Member Challenge as part of the show May 5th and 6th was to follow the theme “Joyous Flora” in a 24″x 24″ presentation piece. This is my entry:

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***Update 08/03/17: This piece was accepted into the Embellished juried competition at the IQF in Houston this Fall!*** ­čÖé

Three area Quilt Guild representatives served as our judges for this member challenge, each awarding a Judge’s Choice ribbon to their favorite entry. I was fortunate enough to received such a ribbon!

But where did this project start? For years I’ve been collecting vintage damaged crocheted doilies that incorporate flowers and leaves into their design. After soaking to remove stains, etc. I carefully took apart the damaged crochet and saved the valuable parts. About 80% of the pieces are vintage, I crocheted the rest, filling in needed flowers and leaves. 5/16/17 Update: people have asked about the saved crochet pieces unraveling. In general the flowers and leaves are “self contained” little pieces. The original creator would knot the end of her crochet thread as she finished each piece.

I’ve had in my mind for about 3 years what I thought I might create with these saved bits and pieces, so when the Guild Member Challenge came along, I knew just what I wanted to make.

The backdrop for the piece is a vintage white table topper measuring approximately 23″x 23″. The edge has a lovely manufactured white trim, the interior has both cut work as well as embroidery.

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Here are the particulars: the batting is Hobbs Poly Down white, single layer (if I did this again I would have double batted with a white 80/20 below the Poly Down) white (bleached) muslin directly below the table topper and again, white bleached muslin as backing.


Thread: Wonderfil Deco Bob 80wt., color 104 in the needle, the bobbin thread is a white 70wt. poly.

Marking pen for this project: a black Frixion pen by Pilot. Yes, I know all the warnings etc, regarding these pens but I still choose to use them in certain circumstances.


I don’t often stitch the spine of my feathers, but did for this project.



I’ve also been collecting vintage crochet baskets for a few years. I felt confident I’d be using the green basket below.


I did a trial layout and saw that the green basket distracted from the flowers.


On to Plan B: the ivory basket:


A few months ago I spent an afternoon dying several pieces of vintage trims. I knew I would need flower stems for this project, I knew I could crochet them but in the end it seemed simpler to use the Rit Dye.

Once the decision was final about the ivory basket, the next step was to secure it to the quilt and intertwine the ivory satin ribbon around the handle.


So, you know Elmer’s School Glue is your “quilting friend” right? If you purchase the white School Glue, it washes out. Yes, there are other “quilting glues” on the market but how can you beat .97 cents for this plastic bottle? I used tiny dabs of the glue to hold the flowers, leaves and stems in place until I could hand tack them permanently into place.


Where did I do all this work? Why at my longarm of course! It is height adjustable and made the perfect work table for this project!


After all the motifs were permanently hand tacked in place, I hand stitched white pearls into most of the flower centers.



With everything secure except the basket bow streamers, I carefully folded back the white outer trim, pinned it in place and did all the parallel line longarm quilting to finish this part of the project.


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I’m now finished with the quilting and the arrangement so I took it off the longarm, trimmed the edges and began to decide how to add a bit of subdle bling to the outside trim.

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Again, pearls were hand stitched to the outside white trim. I chose a brighter white pearl than is found in the flower centers. I used a long bead needle and again, the white Wonderfil Deco Bob thread.


Finished! Well, finished with the exception of the binding, the label and the sleeve…

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The 2 pictures below show the piece as it was hung on Thursday evening at the quilt show set-up.

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I’ve included this picture to give you an idea of the depth of the piece.


And here it is again, project complete, ribbon attached and ready for the show to begin!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post!

Happy Quilting,


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