Ask the longarm quilter

Why do I need my backing and batting larger than quilt top?

In this first of a series of blog posts I would like to address some questions that I’ve heard people ask about long arm quilting.

One of the big things that people always hear from the longarm quilter – I must have the backing 3 to 4 inches bigger than the quilt top on all 4 sides.

I know if you are quilting by hand or on a domestic sewing machine you don’t have to have the backing and the batting larger because you’re pinning the layers together, you don’t have it attached to the machine itself like we do with the longarm. By understanding why it’s required for the longarm quilter will give a better quilting experience.

Let’s take a look at how a longarm quilting machine works. They typically have three horizontal bars (some have 4) two of them are what the backing is attached to, bottom and top. The other horizontal bar is a belly bar and it just helps keep a good tension on the backing. (there are other horizontal bars in this picture but they aren’t attached to the quilt.


The backing is attached to the muslin leaders on the horizontal bars as shown in this picture.


The more space you give around the edge of the quilt the easier it’s going to be for the longarm quilter to attach it to the longarm quilting machine.

If you start out with a backing that is the same size or just a little bit bigger than the top you don’t leave room to attach it and still quilt the whole quilt.


So 3 to 4 inches more on the top and 3 to 4 inches more on the bottom than the quilt top is absolutely necessary just to get it loaded on the machine.

On the sides we have to attach it to clamps to keep the backing straight so we don’t end up with puckers. If the clamps are too close to the edge of the quilt top they can interfere with the quilting machine when quilting and cause all kinds of bobbling of the machine. Here you see examples of what it looks like to have it too small and how the quilting machine doesn’t have room to work.


Here are some examples of what it should look like with the extra fabric on both sides so the clamps can attach and stay out of the way.


And this last image shows what it looks like if you have plenty of backing fabric at the bottom also.


The batting also needs to be larger than the top but not larger than the backing.  I can always trim the batting if it is too large but harder to make it bigger if too small, although I have pieced batting together as needed with satisfactory results it is always best to do that before sending it to the longarm quilter.

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What if you don’t have enough fabric to make the backing bigger than the quilt top? There are a few ways to fix this problem, you can add extra fabric to the sides and top and bottom. Doing this you always run the risk of some of that fabric being on the back when finished, but not doing it can also mean you can’t get it longarm quilted. Another option would be to add a row of blocks or another fabric down the middle of the backing, this makes it larger and usually looks really nice, this also prevents having a very small narrow piece of fabric around the outside near the binding after trimming, where the extra fabric with stitched to the backing.

If I get a quilt in and see the backing is not big enough I can add muslin to the edges so that I can load it into the machine, I will charge extra for that obviously and I will not guarantee that none of the muslin shows on the edges of the quilt after trimming. If the quilt top and the backing start out the same size it simply is not possible.

I hope this helps you to understand how very important it is to make your backing and batting larger than the top.

Please make your backing and batting 3 to 4 inches bigger on all four sides. I cannot stress this enough! And lets

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