How to piece a quilt backing

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You’ve made your beautiful quilt top and now you need a backing for it.  You can buy extra wide backings that make life simple, but what if you have a special fabric that is perfect for back, but only a standard width?  Or how about if you live too far away from your local quilt shop and you need to make a backing from what you have on hand?

So, here’s how to piece a quilt backing.

Start by measuring your quilt top from side to side and top to bottom.  You will need a backing that is at least three inches bigger on each side.  This gives you something to hold onto when you are quilting right to the edges of your quilt sandwich and adjusts for any shrinkage and shifting when you are quilting.

Remember that three inches on each side equals six inches all together.  For example, if your quilt measures 52 inches by 70 inches, you will need a backing that is at least 58 inches by 76 inches.

A standard bolt of fabric is about 42 – 45 inches wide.  So if your quilt top width plus your extra six inches equals less than 42, you can just cut a length from a standard bolt the same length as your quilt (plus 6 inches).  Easy!

But if your quilt width is wider than 42 inches, you need extra fabric.  We’ll work with that quilt we mentioned before that is 52 x 76, needing a backing of 58 x 76.  A standard bolt width is 42 inches, so this means you need an extra 16 inches of width.  You can go about this several ways:

You can buy three lengths of 58 inches (total 174 inches) and join them edge to edge.  You will have a piece 58 inches by 126 inches and two widthwise seams.

 

quilt backing 3 widths

You can buy two lengths of 76 inches (total 152 inches), cut one right down the centre lengthwise and insert the other.  You will have a piece 76 inches by 84 inches and two lengthwise seams.  This is the cheaper option and you will have one nice long run of your backing fabric.  Remember to factor in your seam allowances when measuring for your lengths.

split lengthwise

When you join your backing fabric lengths, it is recommended to always trim your selvedges.  Because they are woven differently and don’t stretch they can cause distortion in your seams.  They are also thicker which can cause problems when you are quilting.

It’s also recommended that you use a 1/2 inch seam allowance for this long straight seams.  Those two seams are going to carry a lot of stress, so a little extra seam allowance is like a little insurance.  And press your seam allowances open to make them as flat as possible.

So, that’s how to piece a quilt backing.  Please ask questions in the comments section if you need clarification.  We know maths isn’t everybody’s first love!

But – wait a minute.  What about if you have blocks left over from the front?  Or lots of strips and bits of pretty fabric?  Or you want to piece your label right into the back of your quilt?

Well, if you want to get a bit clever with your quilt backs, there is a free Craftsy class I recommend you watch.  Craftsy is a great on-line learning platform, and a wonderful sponsor of Quilting Focus, and Creative Quilt Backs is a free class available so you can give Craftsy a try and see if you like it.  Here’s the blurb:

“Finish your quilt with a flourish by creating a back that’s worthy of the front. Renowned modern quilter Elizabeth Hartman shows you a variety of easy ways to echo or complement your quilt’s design using large prints, strips, blocks or patchwork. Whatever your quilting style, you’re sure to find inspiration in this free mini-class.”

I watched this class and got lots of ideas on how to incorporate a bit of fun and interest into my quilt backings.  Elizabeth takes you through the math, which is helpful to watch a few times.  She talks about using orphan blocks, super scrappy backs and large scale prints (which I love showcasing on the back).  Give it a go if you need a bit of voom for your quilt backs.

Caveat:  If you are having your quilt professionally long-armed – consult your quilter as to how they need the backings sized and constructed!

Charlotte

About

Charlotte has been quilting for more than 10 years, making both traditional quilts and art quilts and loving both processes. She teaches and writes about quilting to help introduce more people to this awesome craft. She lives in Northland on a boat with her husband, two children, a dog, a cat and two sewing machines – fabric and stitch are her escape! You can also find Charlotte's writings on her blog The Slightly Mad Quilt Lady

Comments

  1. twemyss@orcon.net.nz' Tina Wemyss says:

    Gosh, this is the first time I saw a quilt backing with three lengths and that made me think I did mine wrong, I just added the extra to one side but I did do the half an inch seam as a quarter did not seem enough! So from now on I am going to do it this way! Love the way the left over blocks can be used as well although I do make sure the quilt backing is really smooth so the children can just be wrapped up in them without seams getting in the way!

    • Hi Tina,
      You didn’t construct your backing wrong, after all the goal is to get a piece of fabric big enough, and you did that!

      But there are a couple of good reasons for putting it together by splitting the length and putting some on either side. One, it makes the back symmetrically pleasing, and many fabrics have the pattern running lengthwise. Two, when your quilt is quite wide and you have to use almost the whole width of your second length of fabric, your seam will be almost directly centre, which is very eye catching, particularly if your fabric pattern doesn’t line up.

      On the whole though, decide what your quilt is going to be used for and out in the corresponding amount of effort. A show quilt that you are hoping to win a prize for deserves a lot more attention to detail than a quilt destined to be loved and used to death by the grandkids. Trust me, they won’t notice a pattern mis-match!

      Thanks so much for commenting, and have fun quilting!

  2. twemyss@orcon.net.nz' Tina Wemyss says:

    Thank you for the reply, and I got a fat quarter in the mail yesterday and just what I needed as I make a lot of Christmas things for Age Concern and the Hospice! I love the way you replied and I printed it off so can refer to it, many thanks and I don’t think my quilts are for showing, very practical as they get handed out in a hospital and you know how rough they can be on a quilt! I don’t do the intensive stitching I saw at the show as they need to be kept very cuddly for the clients! Nothing better than cuddling up to a nice quilt on an evening and doing a bit of handwork like the binding and watch Emmerdale, a series I keep hidden from the husband as he hates it with a vengeance like I do rugby, but we have Tivo so I can watch any time I like when he is not around making disparaging remarks, after all, my life seems so much better than theirs, hahahaha, constant battles would drive me insane! Am very peace loving! I am making Xmas balls out of the fabric you mailed to me. Thank you once again, Tina 🙂

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