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


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