What’s Behind Your Quilt


You’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating a quilt of which I am sure you are very proud.  Now that you are finished, have you pondered what you will choose for the back of your quilt?  What type of fabric are you going to use?  How large will it be?  Will you use one piece of fabric or will it be pieced?  These are all questions that you should consider.  Let’s get started.

Fabric Type

When it comes to fabric choice, there are many schools of thought.  Some say take the least expensive route because nobody will ever see it.  To others a muslin or bed sheet would be more than adequate.  For me the back of my project is just as important as the front.  I want to be proud of the entire creation hence I would strongly disagree with both of those philosophies.

Here’s my reasoning:

    • Nobody will ever see it  –  A quilt used on a bed is often folded back.  What do you see when it is folded back?  The underside of the quilt of course.  Doesn’t that make the back side just as important.  Would you make a wedding dress using the finest materials for the front, then finish it with less appealing fabrics for the back?  Quilts are often admired not only from the front but also from the back.  A fabric coordinated with the quilt top will make your quilt even more appealing and will add value.
    • A bed sheet will do just fine – Bed sheets are not at all appropriate and here’s why.  Simply put, the thread count of sheeting is much too high.  When machine quilting the densely woven fabric of a bed sheet, the piercing action of the needle through the fibers can cause threads to break.  Although a broken thread here or there may not seem an issue, multiple broken threads certainly are.  Over time those broken threads threaten the overall integrity of the structure.

Size Matters

There’s nothing more disappointing than a quilt back that is too small.  Make sure your backing fabric is at least 6-8″ larger than your quilt top.  For example:  If your quilt top measures 60×60 then your quilt back, before quilting, should be a minimum of 66×66.

How Many Pieces

In an ideal situation, all quilt backs would be a single cut of fabric.  That being said, quite frequently quilt backing is constructed from two or more segments.  In fact, some are even pieced from multiple fabrics.  No matter which method you choose the following is a list of helpful guidelines.

  1. Remove the Selvage:  The selvage edge of fabric is very densely woven and has no give.  Leaving the selvage in place would not only make your fabric more difficult to load on a long arm quilt machine it would also create uneven movement in your quilt.  My recommendation:  cut them off before seaming quilt backing fabric together.
  2. Seam Width:  If your backing will be fashioned from multiple pieces, of various sized fabrics, perhaps in the case of a scrappy pattern, 1/4″ seams are acceptable.  On the other hand, if your backing is created using large sections of material please use 1/2″ seams.
  3. Horizontal or Vertical Seams:  In researching this topic I came across, what seems like, just as many opinions as there are quilt designs.  In analyzing their suggestions I realized that most of them were not providing instructions for long arm quilting.  Since long arm quilting is the focus of my business and this site, I am going to tell you what’s best for a successful outcome with my machine.  Horizontal seams are my preferred choice.  Horizontal seams load much smoother than those sewn vertically.
  4. Press Seams Open or to the Side:  This too is a question with varying opinions.  Some would recommend that seams be pressed to one side or the other.  Some would say that pressing seams open is best.  Still others would say that it doesn’t make a difference.  Believers in pressing seams to the left or right claim those seams are stronger with less stress directed toward the stitching.  Those advocating the open seam press, point out that seams lay much flatter, thereby promoting a much smoother machine quilting experience.  Here again, because I am a long arm quilter I lean towards the open seam camp.  Anything that can be done to remove obstacles to the machine quilting process gets my vote.
  5. Press from the Wrong or Right Side:  When pressing open your seams do so from the wrong side.  This eliminates those stubborn seams that have a mind of their own.  You know the ones that chose to follow a different path.  Tackling them head on eliminates surprises.

Will the Exact Center of My Quilt Backing Match Up Exactly with the Center of My Quilt Top?

Nope.  When a quilt is machine quilted using a conventional sewing machine the quilt is generally quilted from the center out.  With a long arm quilter the quilt is either quilted from top to bottom or side to side.  Using this method it is nearly impossible to make the center front and center back meet.  Assume that this is not going to happen and you will be much happier with the outcome.

Should I Baste My Quilt Top, Batting and Backing Together Before I Deliver it to My Quilter?

Gasp Never, never, never!  As was mentioned with the quilt top instructions, your quilt sandwich will be loaded on three separate rollers.  If you baste them together your quilter must remove the basting before she can proceed.  Aside from creating extra work and causing her frustration, you may find yourself with a much larger quilting expense.

How Do I Let You Know Which Edge of My Backing I Would Like You to Use as the Top?

The best method, I believe, is to write the phrase “top of backing” on a piece of paper, then safety-pin that paper to the top of your backing.

One Final Note

As with your quilt top, if your quilt back was constructed from numerous pieces of fabric, it may be advisable to stay stitch 1/8″ from the outside edge, all the way around your quilt back.  This simple step can help maintain the integrity of your seams.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.  I hope you have found these tips to be informative.  Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

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