Cable border on small quilt with stars

Drafting Cable Borders

How can you get a cable border which is exactly the right size for your quilt? The first step is to know how to measure your quilt top:

First measure the border width.
Then, to calculate a suitable width for the cable:

Measuring Quilted Cable
Cable width
  • Subtract ¼”  for the outer edge seam allowance
  • Subtract at least another ½”. This will give a little “breathing space” around your quilting design on the inner and outer edge, and will avoid the need to quilt an area which has a seam allowance under it.

Now measure the length of the border without the border corner square (this is the Inner border length). Corners are worked out separately.

Measuring cable length
Cable length

You now need to work out a sensible number of cable lengths that will fit into your border length(s). This can either be done by maths, or by folding a long strip of paper – more details are in the Drafting Cables pack available in my Shop.

You need to adjust the length of your cable so that a whole number fits into your Inner Border Length. You may have a choice between two or three options – in a particular length and width of border, you could have a lot of short cables, which would look rounded, or a smaller number of more stretched out cables. Any ratio of cable width : cable length between 1 : 1 and 1 : 1.5 looks OK, but I think that about 1 : 1.4 gives the most pleasing proportions.

Cable style

Cable quilting designs can look very different, depending on your choice of shape and style. Look at the two cables below – both are the same length, and have the same number of strands, but because the first one is fatter compared to the length, it looks much more rounded.

Rounded cable design; same length as next image, but fatter.
Fat Cable
Thin cable design
Thin cable

Several of my antique quilts have cable designs.

Have a look at the Green & Gold Welsh wholecloth for an example of a very fat six-strand cable.

Green hand-quilted antique
Green & Gold Welsh wholecloth
Eight strand cable
Six-strand cable
Quilt made from long strips alternating between two colours
Strippy quilt with cables

Or at the Double-sided North Country Strippy Quilt for an eight-stranded fat cable

The number of strands that you include can also change the appearance: These two cables are exactly the same shape and size, but the second one has more strands.

My Cotton Reel Strips quilt below has two sizes of simple two strand cables; a smaller one for the sashing strips, and a larger one for the border.

Large and small cable designs
Two sizes of cable on this Cotton Reel Strips quilt

Drafting Cable designs

Have you ever tried drafting a cable design yourself? There are a few pitfalls which can make it tricky to get the shape and size you need with pleasing proportions. However, even if you don’t have a particularly mathematical brain, if the cable structure is broken down into a sequence of step-by-step instructions, it makes the process much easier.

Three strand cable with reference marks
Reference marks are placed on the grid to keep the cable symmetrical.

If you would like to try this out, I have developed a set of written instructions which explain how to draw the cable onto a specially designed background grid, which helps to get the shape correct.

Each step is shown separately with detailed diagrams, and there are various options to explore which can change the style of the cable. For example, in this cable, the lines don’t cross over, but twist like a rope.

White quilted cable
Under and over cable

But how can you get the size of cable you need for your quilt? The grid has been designed so that it can be stretched or squashed to whatever shape and size is needed. To get a fat cable or a thin cable, only the grid proportions are changed – the instructions are exactly the same.

The complete technique pack for Drafting Cable Designs is available in my online Shop for £8.

As well as step-by-step instructions for both styles of cable, and a variety of sizes of grids to practice with, this pack includes access to a Microsoft Word file of the Mastergrid, so that you can then print out a grid of whatever size you need (sorry, no version yet available for Apple computers).


Many quilters worry how to make their cable turn the corner – there are actually a couple of ways to avoid this completely, but if you decide to design an integrated corner, it does look really classy. The technique pack includes several design suggestions, and shows you how to draft corners that flow from your cables as well.

Red and white quilt with striped fabric
The Burglar

This quilt of mine, inspired by an antique Rob Peter to Pay Paul quilt, has quilted tulips in the centre panel, so I designed a special tulip corner for the five-strand cable border.

I have a particular interest in how quilting designs work at the corners – you can read more about it on a page about Border corners.