Sawtooth Borders

This morning Jim asked me about a decision I’d made on my Tree of Life quilt. I arrayed the sawtooth (half-square triangles) border asymmetrically and he wondered why. If you look at the photo below, you can see that the points spray “outward” but without being split evenly at the centers of the sides.


He wondered, in particular, if I’d done that because there are 15 HST on each of the long sides and 12 HST on each of the shorter sides. I could split 12 at the center (6 going each direction), but it’s hard to split 15 at the center, without some other creative adjustment.

The truth is, I hadn’t even thought of that. Instead, I knew I wanted to continue the whimsical feel of the center panel, and to create the sense that it erupted past the narrow red border. To me the HST give the organic feel of more leaves. One other reason is because I heard Jim’s voice in my head. He has often urged me to use asymmetrical borders, and this seemed like the right time to heed that voice.

I’ve talked about sawtooth borders before. In my post Pieced Borders I show lots of ways to use simple units in a variety of ways. Sawtooth borders are one shown. This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Different effects depending on value placement

In another post I showed you these four variations, which I auditioned for a small quilt.

Can give a cool effect, but probably not what I want for this quilt.

This one I kinda like…

Not actually wonky — these are just blocks I’ve overlapped.

Maybe too “sharp” looking?

The lesson is, try lots of different ideas when you’re using HST in a border. Though I didn’t try multiple arrangements for my Tree of Life, normally I would. I’ve been surprised more than once and chosen something I wouldn’t have expected.


12 thoughts on “Sawtooth Borders

  1. snarkyquilter

    I like the quirkiness of the different directions and sizes for the saw “teeth” – no surprise there. I recall Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran do similar asymmetries in their collaborative work.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      One of my students last spring was planning to do rings of HST, one bigger than the other, and she was comfortable with “wonky” endings and sizes. Someone suggested mixing the rings so left/top of the inner ring was smaller than right/bottom of inner; and outer ring was reversed. Total width the same but the effect was grand.

  2. KerryCan

    In the Tree of Life quilt, I like the idea that the asymmetry doesn’t scream at you–I think the effect would go unnoticed but more _felt_ (does that make sense?) if you hadn’t pointed it out.

  3. Thread crazy

    I do like the sawtooth border that you’ve chosen for the Tree of Life – it really adds to the center panel. As far as symmetry goes, I think it’s just natural for us quilters to tend to do more symmetry rather than following our instincts. In the past I’ve used piano keys and flying geese for borders but must admit I’ve not used HST or “sawtooth” as you’ve shown in your quilts. Saying that I now plan to do so in one of my upcoming quilts, so for that I say thanks!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I use a pretty small number of border blocks. This is one of my go-to ones. It can give a lot of movement through the line created, or if not in line (like on the EQ7 drawing above, the right border) there is movement in the tumbling. They’re pretty versatile. So you’re welcome!

  4. katechiconi

    I like the arrangement your instinct selected. It works well with the spirit of the centre panel. I’m guilty of too much symmetry myself; sometimes my eye rebels against spontaneity and wants order, but it’s not always the right thing for the quilt!

      1. katechiconi

        Effective, but so hard! I tried recently with Aimée, the medallion quilt I made for my sister in France, but the bloody thing kept forcing me to go back to symmetry. Partly it was my knowledge that she loves and prefers symmetry too….


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