Often, the back of a quilt receives little thought. Once your top is finished, your batting purchased, there are things to consider when choosing your backing.
Choose your quilting thread first. If you want the thread to blend in, choose a backing which is similar in color and maybe a busier pattern such as a paisley or floral. If you want your quilting to show, solid-color fabrics will show off your quilting pattern (and your expertise).
Purchase fabric which is the same quality as that which was used on the top of your quilt. Extra wide quilt back fabrics tend to be slightly heavier than standard quilt fabric. While excellent for machine quilting, the heavier weight may make it a little harder for hand quilting.
How much fabric to buy depends on many factors. The backing should be at least 3″ larger than the quilt top on all sides. (If you are having your quilt quilted on a long-arm machine, this amount should be even greater. Always check with your quilter.) Traditional quilting fabric is 45” wide. Once your remove the selvage, you should assume 40” to 42” of width in your calculations. For any quilt larger than crib-size or a small wall hanging, you will have to piece your backing fabric.
Traditionally, two or three widths of fabric are pieced together for larger quilts. If I am using two widths of fabric, I avoid having one straight seam running down the middle. I place one width of fabric down the middle and split the width of the other, sewing two halves on with one on either side of the center panel. When sewing the backing pieces together, use a ½” seam allowance and press the seam to one side. Do not press the seam open as this causes weakness in the seam and allows fibers from the batting to migrate through the seam.
Most backings, it seems, are made this way. However, you do have other options. What if you want to be a little more frugal or creative with your backing?
Several years ago, quilter John Flynn introduced us to a method using a diagonal seam across the back to save on fabric. It works on quilts that need backing up to about 60″ wide. The calculation sheet we’ve added to our website takes you step by step through the math. For the “mathphobes” out there, we’ve also found an online calculator.
Let me show you some interesting backings from my staff’s quilts.
My new Water Wheel quilt finishes about 41″ x 46″. It would be tricky to get the backing out of standard yardage. But, there is an unused wide border print stripe in the kit. A standard width fabric (say 40″) could be divided and a border strip run up the length.
Or use leftover yardage and piece a strip that helps to make up the width as was done in this quilt for a small boy.
Sometimes, we have blocks leftover which didn’t make it into the quilt top. These are wonderful to incorporate into the back. This small wallhanging was made with blocks leftover from a basket quilt. There were still leftover blocks and they were pieced into the backing.
A yard and a half (all that remained at the shop) wasn’t enough to cover the back of this quilt. The aqua fabric used as the back also served as the quilting design for the center of this quilt which was machine quilted from the back. Remnants from an earlier quilt were pieced to each side (and pieced to make a hanging sleeve).