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Susan Beal from West Coast Crafty is a craft writer and teacher in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Modern Log Cabin Quilting and Sewing for All Seasons: 24 Stylish Projects to Stitch Throughout the Year. Her latest book on sewing with Pendleton wool, Hand-Stitched Home, is out in September.

Susan also has a popular Log Cabin Quilting series on Creativebug and teaches at CreativeLIVE. Susan joined us in spring to show how to Design Quilt Blocks with Threadbias, and she’s back with tips for using border prints in your sewing. Border prints are back in a big way, in pretty new fabrics from many of our favorite designers. Susan shows you border prints in apparel today, and she’ll be back with more tips for border prints in other items this September. (By the way, this is Susan’s third Laurel dress and ninth Barcelona skirt!)


Border print fabrics are wonderful, and they add such gorgeous, vintage-inspired detail to handmade skirts and dresses… But cutting and sewing with such specific designs to work around can be a little trickier than a non-directional print or solid. I wanted to share just a few tips and ideas for sewing with two of my favorites– both brand-new beautiful Cotton + Steel prints, from Melody Miller’s Mustang collection and Alexia Marcelle Abegg’s Hatbox line. Read on for my suggestions on cutting and sewing with border prints like these, and a Cotton + Steel giveaway!

I chose these two prints dreaming of summer dresses for myself and for my six-year-old daughter, Pearl. I used Melody’s understated mint green and gold dot with a border of colorful, showy flowers for my sleeveless Colette Patterns Laurel dress, and Alexia’s exuberant blue and white floral lawn with hot-pink border detail was perfect for a Made By Rae Geranium dress for Pearl. We managed to pull off a very quick photo shoot first thing in the morning, just after I finished her dress, and she was so excited to wear it right to camp!

For an ultra-simple shift-style dress like my Laurel, I started by finding a good center point in the border print– a hot-pink and red larger flower in the overall floral line I wanted as a focal point of my dress design. I marked the halfway point and pressed the fabric sharply there, selvage to selvage as shown here, so I could pin my dress front paper pattern there. Remember, to keep the border print at the hem of a dress or skirt, you’ll be cutting your fabric perpendicular to the way you might typically use it in a project; the crosswise grain will be vertical, and the lengthwise grain, parallel to the selvage, will be horizontal.

Pin your dress front and back pieces (or other pattern pieces) so that the eventual hem will match neatly lengthwise; mark your pattern pieces before cutting so they’re aligned correctly. Since there’s no woven selvage edge to use at a center back, you’ll want to finish the long, straight raw edges of the fabric. I used a narrow zig-zag, as shown.

Sew your dress as you normally would, being sure to align the border print sections very neatly. Here’s one more detail of that center back section in the finished dress. Where I’d normally use the selvage, you can see the narrow zig-zag edge instead.

I used a very simple single-fold hem so as much as possible of my border print showed. As you can see in this photo, the selvage makes a very striking design for the inside of your dress hem!

I thought the pretty Laurel, with its simple, clean lines, was a perfect choice for a high-contrast border print. For even more tips on making this dress special, the free Colette booklet of 9 different pattern extras includes details on making it with a lace or eyelet border, a beautiful choice.

I also sewed a simple matching headband with a 3″ strip of the fabric, cut selvage to selvage, stitched longways with a 1/4″ seam allowance. I turned it right side out, and tied it like a vintage scarf.

And I even made a skirt for myself! I managed to eke out my super simple version of Amy Butler’s wonderful Barcelona skirt with my leftover yardage! I left my center crease in the skirt for this photo so you can see where I pressed my fabric to mimic the off-the-bolt fold, and I zig-zagged my center back edges the same way that I did for my Laurel dress.

For Pearl’s Geranium, I also made a sleeveless version. A party dress with a full skirt like this is even easier to make with a border print; it lends itself perfectly to the straight-across hem, and looks so pretty as a contrast against the main section of fabric. I didn’t bother to find a center point of the border print, since the gathered waist and full skirt of the dress make the fabric pattern hang so differently than a simple shift.

I sewed a simple matching sash with another 3″ strip of fabric, the same way I made my headband. Pearl loved that part!

I left the sash ties unhemmed, to clearly show the border print at one end, and used pearl snaps instead of buttons, which really gave the dress a light-hearted, summery feeling.

Cotton + Steel and RJR Fabrics have generously offered a fabric giveaway to one Sew Mama Sew reader: 3 1/2 yards of Melody Miller’s beautiful mint green gold dot with the amazing floral border. To enter, tell us what you’d sew with this gorgeous fabric or share your favorite border print project you’ve made or seen. Your comment enters you to win!

Thanks so much to Sew Mama Sew for the chance to work on this fun project, and to Cotton + Steel/RJR for the generous fabric giveaway! I’m excited to write about using border prints in pretty home projects and accessories next month, with another chance for you to win some very special fabric.