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.
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.
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!