Back in the Quilting Groove — Part 2

First of all, if you haven’t read last week’s blog, you may want to stop now and take a gander at it.  This is the second part of a two-part series on quilt backs.  If you haven’t read the first part (Back in the Quilting Groove), you may be a little lost navigating this blog.

This week we’re discussing some creative ideas for quilt backs.  This disclaimer goes here:  If someone else is quilting your quilt, please discuss any of these ideas with them before handing the backing, batting, and quilt top to the longarm or mid-arm artist.  They know their machine better than anyone else and they can readily tell you what will work best (or not at all) on their machine.  So, before any creative design decisions are made for the back, talk to your quilting artist if you’re not quilting the quilt yourself. 


Remember this diagram from last week?



This explains how to piece your back if you’re using standard 45-inch wide fabric.  The easiest way to get creative with your backs (as well as use up the left-over material) is to make each section out of a different fabric from your quilt.  Easy-peasy and you’ve just managed to eliminate left-over fabric which gives you a great reason to go buy some more. 

The next idea for creative quilt backs get mixed reviews.  I am going to list it, but I generally avoid this idea at all costs – and that’s using bed sheets as backing.  By all accounts sheets are plenty big enough to be quilt backs.  They are inexpensive, relatively speaking, especially if you get them from second-hand shops or thrift stores.  However, there are some drawbacks.  If you decide to go this route, and the sheets are printed, spread the bed sheet out and look at it closely.  Is the print on the grain?  Truthfully, with some prints, it doesn’t matter.  But if the sheets are gingham or checked or striped, and those are not on grain, it’s going to show like crazy and you’ll need to adjust the sheet to make the design run properly.  And that adjustment can throw the grain line off, which can throw the entire quilting process off.  As a rule, when I use sheets as a quilt back, I use them on small projects, such as baby quilts or crib quilts.  I haven’t encountered any issues using them in those, but a larger quilt project can have nightmarish problems if the sheet is off grain.

Flannel, fleece, or Minky fabrics are also good alternatives for backing.

I’ve used all of these before, and despite being stretchy, they load up on the long arm easily and quilt easily as well.  I’ve used these for winter quilts and for children’s and babies’ quilts.  There are a few things to remember:

  1. The quilting stitches will show up differently on these fabrics than on 100% cotton.
  2. There is no need to pre-wash these fabrics, if you are a “pre-washer.” They don’t shrink.
  3. Cut with the nap and cut all pieces in the same directions.
  4. Since they are thicker, cut one layer at a time.
  5. After you’re through, no matter what machine you quilt on, clean that machine.   This fabric is fuzzier and will deposit that fuzz in your machine.
  6. When washing your finished quilt, use warm water.

Another inventive idea is to use another quilt top for your quilt back, making for all intents and purposes, a reversible quilt.  This allows double-duty for one quilt.  This can be done, but again, this is one of those ideas that have a few additional considerations.

  1. An edge-to-edge quilting design will probably have to be used. Since it’s two different quilt tops, the quilting can’t be customized.   Find an all-over pantograph or computerized design and go with it.
  2. This is a definite “Consult Your Long Arm Artist Before Undertaking” design issue.  If the long arm in question doesn’t like multiple seams on the back, this is not the best idea.

Now let’s say you have some chunks of fabric left over from piecing your top, but you don’t have enough of any one fabric to go the width of the quilt as a strip of backing.  There are couple of options.  First, you could sew the pieces together, in random order, until the scraps fill the space needed for a quilt back.

quilt back 7

This looks unplanned, but it does make for a colorful back and it uses up all the left-over material.

The second design you may consider refers back to the horizontal and vertical piecing diagram above but plays with the dimensions. Make one of the pieces narrower than the other.  Make one of them off center.  Play with placement and dimensions to create something that’s just a little extra-ordinary for your quilt back.


Got left over quilt blocks?   Or enough left-over fabric to create a few more?  Incorporate those into the back.

This way you never have orphan blocks and are never stuck with the dilemma of what to do with them.  You don’t feel guilty about throwing them away and they don’t take up space in your sewing room.

There won’t be a blog next week, as it is July 4th Week for those of us in the United States.  Have a safe Fourth of July and regardless of your party affiliation, remember those brave men and women, both living and deceased, that fought hard for our freedom.  Equally remember the families who deal with their loved ones’ absences – both temporary and permanent.  Sometimes our country is a hot mess, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather live.



Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Backs for the Quilting Groove

I didn’t have jury duty.

I dutifully called the night before, as instructed, and was told by a disembodied voice that “Although you have a valid juror number, your services are not required at this time.”

Words cannot adequately express how happy I was.   I’m off the hook for at least three more years.  I have never been so grateful to be so unwanted.

So right now, I’m busily getting ready for a one-day quilt retreat with my guild and preparing for a raw-edge applique presentation that I’m giving to the Heart of the Triad Quilt Guild in Kernersville on July 2.  I’m there a month before Pat Sloan is, which I guess is much better than following after  Pat Sloan.  That’s kind of like a paint-by-numbers project after you’ve just been given art lessons by da Vinci.  I have my power-point presentation all loaded and my notes ready to print.  I’ve just got to finish making my samples and my handouts.  However, let me set all of that aside and talk about quilt backs for a few minutes.  Quilt patterns will tell you how much fabric is needed for the back, but like their little catch phrase. “Quilt as Desired,” a lot can be open to interpretation.

Years ago, in the mid-eighties when I learned to quilt, quilt backs were generally all muslin because that was all we had to work with.  The top could be fifty different ways of wonderful, but that back?  It was going to always be either plain white or cream muslin.  Period.  Most of us were hand quilting everything then.  Muslin was easy to needle and it would show your stitches quite nicely.

Today, things have changed.  There are fabrics manufactured extra wide, intended to be a one-piece quilt back.  Somewhere along the way we quilters got really creative with our backs and learned to piece them with fabric that had previously only been seen on the quilt top.  And from this, things only got prettier.  What used to be considered nearly an after-thought with a quilt suddenly became as showy as the front.  And I think that’s awesome.  In my opinion, a lot of quilters, once they get that center top done, consider the borders and the back a last gasp of effort. Don’t be that quilter…please…

I think that currently quilts and their backs can be divided into two categories:  Those that are destined to go to the longarm artist….and those that are not.  Let me emphatically state right now that any of this stuff we’re discussing in the rest of this blog – if you’re taking your quilt to a longarm artist for quilting,  please run any of these ideas by them first to see exactly how he or she wants you to set the backs up. Some longarms like vertically pieced backs.  Some like horizontally pieced backs.  Some are fine with a back that has lots of pieces, some are not.  And what works on my longarm may not work on another one.  Don’t just assume.  Talk to your longarm artist.

That disclaimer taken care of…let’s proceed.  The easiest back to deal with for both the person doing the quilting and the piecer are the fabrics that are wide enough for quilt tops and don’t have to be pieced.

backing fabric

Per rule of thumb, a quilt back should be at least 4 inches wider at both sides and at the top and bottom of the quilt top.  Most longarmers are happier if they have six inches as the margin.  The reason for this is that the back and the batting shrink a little in the quilting.  That extra margin enables the back and batting to be sufficiently big enough for the quilting process, whether the top is quilted on a stationary or moveable machine.  A fabric that is designed to be used on the back (extra-wide, generally 108 inches) can be cut as one piece so there are no horizontal or vertical seams for the quilter to deal with.  This is my favorite, whether I’m quilting a small quilt on Big Red or one on Loretta, my long arm.  And these fabrics are pretty, too.  Long gone are the plain muslin days…these fabrics are stellar.  I’ve purchased quilt backing fabric to use on my quilt tops.  No shame in that game.

What must be considered with this kind of backing fabric (as well as any other fabric used for backing) is the quilting itself.  If the fabric is a solid color, the quilting will be showcased on the back.  There is no design in the material to hide quilting mistakes, irregular stitches, tension issues, or poorly made tie offs.  So, if you’re confident in your quilting skills or those of your longarm artist, a solid-color fabric should be fine.  However, if you’re not confident in any of these areas, go for a printed background.  The design in the fabric hides a lot of quilting “goofs” and in many ways is far prettier than a solid color.

If you can’t find a quilt backing fabric that coordinates with your quilt, or you simply have fallen in love with one of the fabrics you used in your top, piecing the back may be the best option for you.  This is not hard to do, it’s just an extra step.  There also are a few things that are done differently from traditional piecing.

  1. Remove the selvages.  Selvages can create tiny puckers along their length.  Then measure the fabric to determine how much fabric is left after the selvages are removed.  Some fabric lines have really large selvages (about an inch), so this step is an important one in discovering how much material you will need.  You do not have to do this if you purchase quilt backing fabric.
  2. Measure the height of the quilt and add 8-12 inches to this figure. That 8-12 inches is your extra margin, depending how much you or your quilter are comfortable with.
  3. Divide that figure by 36 to get your yardage. Then add a little extra.  If you’re planning on binding the quilt with the same backing fabric, be sure check your pattern for how much is needed and add this in also.
  4. When sewing the pieces together, forgo the 1/4-inch seam and go for 5/8-inch or slightly larger.  The back of a quilt generally undergoes more stress than the front (especially if it’s hung — it bears a lot of weight) and that larger seam allowance helps it deal with the stress of quilting and the stress of simply being the back of the quilt.  Also, press this seam open.  This spreads the bulk evenly over the area and makes the quilting process easier and smoother.

In arranging the layout for the pieced back, it’s important to avoid having any of the seams in the center of the quilt – either horizontally or vertically.  The reason for this is that when quilts are folded, that’s where the crease usually falls.  Having the fold falling on the seam can weaken the seam over time.  Most quilters prefer having one large panel of fabric run down the center of the quilt back, flanked by two smaller panels.  But there are times when this may not be the best choice.  Vertical seams work well with quilts that are 61 inches and larger.  Horizontal seams tend to work better with quilts that are 40-inches to 60-inches wide.




However, remember, preference should be given to the machine that you’re quilting on.   Machines are very different from each other.  Loretta doesn’t seem to mind if the seams run horizontally or vertically.  Big Red likes them vertical.  Picky critters.

Couple of facts to keep in mind as you are piecing the backs.  First, cutting the backing lengthwise will help stabilize everything, including the borders (which should also be cut lengthwise when at all possible).  Do not under any circumstance cut some pieces of the back on the crosswise of the grain and some on the lengthwise of the grain.  Talk about a nightmare…everything will run wonky then, as some of the weight of the quilt will pull the seams in different directions along the grain lines.  And if the quilt is going to be hung for any length of time (we’re not talking about a quilt show hanging), you probably will want to cut the backing along the lengthwise grain.  Crosswise grain cuts will stretch over time and the quilt will sag in places.

Next week we’ll look at some creative ways to piece your back and a take a peek at some fabric alternatives for it, too.  Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam







Because I’m a Good Citizen…

The blog is  little early this week.  There’s a good reason for this.

I have jury duty tomorrow.

Well, that’s not quite entirely true.  I think I have jury duty.  I will know for sure tonight after 6 p.m.  when I call the pre-recorded line and see if my number is up is called.  Have I mentioned this is the ninth jury summons I’ve received since I moved to Guilford County in 1983?  I’ve only been excused for one – I had just given birth to my son.  And they saw my daughter’s recent cancer surgery was in no way, shape, or form a “necessary excuse” to have this one postponed.  Gotta love those tax dollars at work, folks. 

Since I’m working on an abbreviated time frame, and have no idea if I will have to serve in jury duty or be sat on a jury (God forbid), this week is lots of pretty pictures and lots of show and tell.

First, I want to share with you a few completely non-quilty pictures.  My mother, who you may remember is a stained-glass artist, made me something.  A little history on this.  Each Christmas my mother displays a beautiful stained-glass church she made several years ago.  She runs white lights in it and surrounds it with glass angels.  It is beautiful, as is everything she makes.  She and a friend of hers, Cheryl, made me one. It’s displayed in my dining room and I’m also going to surround mine with angels at Christmas.  Isn’t it gorgeous?

I’ve also been gifted a couple of antique quilts.  This sweet Sunbonnet Sue is from my friend, Susan.

And Matt and Anna found this quilt for me.

Both are hand-pieced or appliqued and hand quilted.

Now that you are well aware of my affinity for Feed Sacks, these next two quilts should come as no surprise.  I found both of these at the Asheboro Antique Mall.  They need a good cleaning, but both are in really good condition.  The Grandmother’s Flower Garde (a popular pattern during the 1930’s) is hand-pieced and hand quilted.

I think this one is a type of Dresden Plate.  It is  busy quilt, but the thing about this quilt that tugged at my heart strings is that backing and batting for this quilt is a heavy blanket – just like my great-grandmother’s quilt.  This also probably puts this quilt as being constructed locally (this seems to be a Piedmont North Carolina trend) and in the 1930’s (because during the Depression you just made do).


And after all the discussion on Stash Usage, I did have to replace some of mine.  I was running out of gray, so I purchased one yard each of these….


My landscape fabrics were also nearly depleted, so I ordered these.


And I found these Feed Sacks on Ebay at a reasonable price.  The dealer threw in the solid blue to match the red, blue, and green floral print next to it.


Finally, I received a thank you note in the mail from a former student.  I sent her a couple of baby gifts, as a new, little one is due soon.  April is one of those students no teacher ever forgets.  She excelled in her studies and could literally do anything  from bake bread to build a car from the frame up (which she did do, by the way).  Somewhere along the way, she taught me to knit and I’ve offered her quilting advice.  In the note, she talks about a quilt she’s working on and that we need to get together via phone or visit before she finishes it.  Pay it forward, quilters.  Teach someone else so the craft does not die.


Until Next Week…Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Using that Stash….

Before I get any further in this week’s blog, I do want to finish one of the topics I wrote about last week in Stash Happens.  Remember when I told you folks about my project boxes and how fabric purchased for a particular project went into those boxes?  Each project has its own box, and the fabric, pattern, and any notions go into that box.  What I failed to mention that I also cut the quilt out as soon as I get the fabric home, prewashed, and ironed.  Why?  Because if there’s a mistake in the pattern (and sometimes this happens) or I goof up (which happens more often), this is the time that the material is still available either on line or at my LQS.  If I wait a year or three to cut it out before I make the project and need more fabric (for whatever reason), I’m going to have a difficult time finding it.  Ebay has saved my quilting hide more times than not, but that may not always be the case.

Besides…when I’m looking to start a new project, it’s way more motivating to grab a project box with everything already cut out and know all I have to do is read the pattern through a couple of times and begin sewing.

This week I want to sort of continue our topic of stash, but let’s discuss the stash in context of how to use it in a quilt.  I’m an avid follower of Bonnie Hunter and love her scrap quilts.  I also had the wonderful opportunity to take a class with Augusta Cole last August, where she pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to make scrappy quilts.  In the past, I always had “planned” scrappy quilts – quilts that had a rhythm and although there may be many fabrics used, there was a definite placement plan.  Anyone that had quilted for a few years could pick that up.  Augusta challenged me to through caution to the wind and use any and all my scraps because in her world “Honey, it all goes together…”

And it does, and it can…but there are a few tricks to that trade and it concerns your stash and how you can use it.  But you have your stash for a reason and to have it sitting on a shelf (or in a box or tub) is not the reason you have it.

Remember last week in Stash Happens I discussed the fact that when I began to purchase yardage, one of the types of fabric I could purchase with no guilt after the debit card swipe was neutrals.  These are generally background fabrics in whites, beiges, grays, and blacks.



I realize that the definition of neutrals has changed in the last five or so years to include whatever color you’re using as a background, but for stash purchases, I stick to whites, beiges, grays, and blacks.

Use these neutrals to set your blocks or as sashing or as both setting triangles or sashing.  Janella Macbeth in her book Scrapstashtic Quilts calls these “Calm Down” fabrics and she also includes maroons, blues, turquoises, and browns in this group.  The “calm down” fabric lets you catch your breath between blocks and makes the scrappy parts “pop.”



There are a couple of more ways you can get those scrappy blocks to calm down and play nicely together.  One of those ways is to use several pieces of what I call “I Bought This Yardage for a Reason” fabric.  I call those fabrics that because sometimes I must specifically purchase those fabrics if I don’t have the colors I need in my stash.  Often times, these solids or small prints are in the same fabric family as some of the material that I used in my scrap blocks.  The quilt I made with the Fireneze collection last year is one of those quilts.  I did used the linen-look beige as one of the calm down fabrics, however the solid green and the orangey-coral also were used to calm down some very busy fabrics.


Another way you can get your scrappy quilts to calm down is to consider how to place your focus fabrics.  In my April 11, 2018 blog Unfocused Fabric and Answered Prayer,  I discussed different ways to use your focus fabric in great detail.  I mentioned that in the past, many quilters would use the focus fabric in the borders and sashing to pull the quilt top together.  However, that is really limiting the power of your focus fabric.  To make your scrappy quilt blocks sing in harmony, you may want to consider using the focus fabric in smaller amounts scattered throughout the quilt.  If you can use the focus fabric as the center square or on-point square in your block and frame the scraps around it, that can help pull your scrappy parts together.  Again, I am using this method as I complete Halo Medallion and I used it a great deal in Pieces of my Past – the same focus fabric, as a matter of fact (this is the pink print I purchased two bolts of that I talked about in last week’s blog).


As you’re purchasing for your stash, another type of fabric to make sure you keep on hand are dark-ish materials with small prints and medium prints with a dense background.  I use these a lot when I make quilts with sashing.  Honestly, I prefer my blocks set on-point, but there are times when rows and sashing are the best way to go.  The width of the sashing varies with the statement I want the quilt to make.  Skinny, dark sashing gives off almost a stained-glass vibe.  If I want to showcase my quilting, I make the sashing wider.  I also make it wider if I decide to make cornerstones in my sashing, as I like pieced cornerstones rather than plain squares (and if you use the scraps to make the cornerstones, it pulls the top together even more).


The thinner the sashing the more it unifies the quilt top and the wider the sashing the more it bisects it and causes each block to stand out.  An even wider sashing gives the blocks the appearance of “floating.”  And if you’re really antsy about how scrappy your blocks are, sash them several times with different “calm down” fabrics to pull the top and blocks together.  If the blocks aren’t touching, they aren’t fighting.

I hope I’ve helped you re-evaluate your stash – in the way you store it, buy it, and use it.  The average quilter has at least $6,000 invested in his or her stash.  With that kind of investment, it’s best to purchase wisely, use with abandon, and store it where you can get to it.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence,


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS — If you don’t have Scrapstashtic Quilts: Organizing Your Fabric Stash and ACTUALLY Using It by Janella Macbeth in your quilting library, consider adding it.  It’s a great resource!