pieced quilt backing

The Ultimate Guide to Pieced Backings

Pieced backings can range anywhere from using the same fabric and piecing it together to be big enough all the way to a fun combination using up fabric left over from the top or even random fabric left over from other quilts.

But should you do it if you are sending it to a longarm quilter to quilt? And my answer is – yes if you want to piece the back it is perfectly fine.

I get questioned about if they are ok but not very often am I questioned about how is best way to do it, so let’s talk about why and how.

Why would I want to piece my quilt backing?

You can piece it for many reasons and here are just a few:

  • If you don’t wish to purchase wide backing fabric.
  • If it uses up extra fabric and/or blocks left over from the front of quilt.
  • If you are short on fabric and need to piece it together to make it big enough
  • You can use many different fabrics to make a colorful and fun back.

There are a few things to keep in mind

No matter why or what kind of pieced backing you plan on making.

  • Your finished back must lay flat after you sew the pieces together
  • The finished back needs to be 3 to 4″ bigger on all sides than the top if you are going to have it longarm quilted
  • Please avoid making a seam that will fall near the edge of the quilt top when placed on top of it.
  • I can’t guarantee I can perfectly center the top over the backing so don’t expect it.
  • It is best if you make long seams go horizontal or if I can load the quilt sideways you can seam it vertical. 
  • Your seams must be at least 1/4 inch (if you are using left over blocks) and I often use 1/2 inch when seaming yardage.
  • Press open seams if possible.
  • Always cut off selvage edges in seams, they pucker and don’t give like the rest of the fabric.

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What is the best practice for piecing your quilt backing?

There are a lot of ways to piece a quilt back. I will tell you my favorite ways.

If you have yardage that isn’t wide enough to cover the back of the quilt then you will need to cut and sew it together to fit.

All the same fabric used for quilt backing

All People Quilt has a great downloadable table to help you estimate yardage needed so I figured there wasn’t any reason for me to recreate a table. You do have to either sign up for an account or log into an existing one (no obligation or emails) but it is worth the extra effort. 

If is fairly simple to do (this technique works if your fabric isn’t directional or if you don’t care if it is).

Estimate your yards needed by measuring your quilt width and add 6 to 8″ on to that measurement and multiply that times 2.  That will be a lot of yardage but I will teach you how to make it manageable.

If your fabric is right side in and you don’t have to worry about direction able fabric follow these instructions and we will have a finished quilt backing in no time.

Do not cut it in half yet, I keep it in one long piece till after I sew the seam together. I used to cut the fabric yardage in half and sew the two pieces together, pinning and trying to keep it matched and make sure the ends met up and that I was accurate cutting it into two pieces. I don’t have to worry anymore because it always comes out perfect with this technique.

I use the one piece and I open it up entirely to it’s full 45″ (or whatever width fabric is) width.  Then fold it lengthwise matching the selvage together (same side selvage), match up the two ends of right side of fabric together.

Now here comes the best part, just line up that end to end and start sewing a wide seam allowance along the selvage edge (I typically allow myself 1/2″ inside the selvage because I will cut the selvage off after I am done). Do not sew right on the selvage because it will not give as much as the fabric and your backing won’t lay flat. Sew the length of the fabric using the selvage edge as your guide, it is a great way to hold onto all that fabric because it is sturdy and won’t distort the seam if you pull on it. Continue sewing the two edges together aligning the selvage edges and before you know it you will be to the center fold.

I usually stop about 1/8″ before I get to the fold and backstitch (this leaves allowance to cut the fold and not cut your seam)

How about that, you sewed a perfect backing seam and you didn’t have to measure each piece.

Now to press and trim. Take the backing to the ironing board and press the seam to set the stitches and then trim off the selvage (either with rotary cutter on the cutting mat or with scissors) just leave the 1/2″ seam allowance. Then trim the middle folded short edge so you can now completely open up the fabric, you are almost done. Next you need to press that long 1/2″ seam open.

Now your backing is finished and ready to send to the longarm quilter.

Estimate your yards needed by measuring your quilt width and add 6 to 8″ on to that measurement and multiply that times 3. You will need to fold it lengthwise into 3 as shown in graphic here. It will help if you have someone to help you, if not then laying it on a table will work.

fold fabric into 3 equal parts and cut apart as shown.

Once you have it evenly layered in 3 layers you are going to cut across the fabric width at the folds so you have 3 pieces of fabric the width of your quilt back.

Match up the selvage of two pieces and sew them together, pinning as needed. start sewing a wide seam allowance along the selvage edge (I typically allow myself 1 because I will cut the selvage off after I am done). Do not sew right on the selvage because it will not give as much as the fabric and your backing won’t lay flat. Sew the length of the fabric using the selvage edge as your guide, it is a great way to hold onto all that fabric because it is sturdy and won’t distort the seam if you pull on it. Continue sewing the two edges together aligning the selvage edges.

sew two pieces of backing together

Sew the other piece onto the one of the other selvage edge in the same way as previous seam.

sew the final backing piece

 Now to press and trim. Take the backing to the ironing board and press the seam to set the stitches and then trim off the selvage (either with rotary cutter on the cutting mat or with scissors) just leave the 1/2″ seam allowance.  Next you need to press that long 1/2″ seam open.

Now you have a finished back that is plenty big enough for the longarm quilter to load on the longarm.

 

If you don't want to piece your backing yourself, I would be more than happy to do it for you for a small fee.

Scrappy pieced quilt backing

Your backing needs  to be 3 – 4″ larger on all 4 sides than the top. Measure your top and add 6 – 8″ to that measurement and make sure your scrappy backing is at least that size.

When piecing a backing there are a few things I can pass on that will make it easier for the longarm quilter and will save you some headaches after it is quilted.

Make the edges square just like you did for the quilt top. This allows the longarm quilter to load it on without having to square it up. The more a longarm quilter has to do to get the quilt on the frame the more it is going to cost you.

Make the backing 3 to 4 ” bigger on all sides just like you would any other quilt backing.

If you are only short a small amount – anything less than 8″ I recommend cutting the backing in two and sewing a contrasting piece down the middle. This avoids having a small piece on the edge that might interfere with the binding by making it too thick and it also looks more pleasing than having a narrow slip of contrasting fabric on the edge by the binding.

Trim off any selvage edges in the quilt backing. I do this on all backings.

Press your seams open and STARCH them front and back. I use liquid starch that I dilute and put in a spray bottle, you can use whatever starch you prefer. This keeps the seam flat and I don’t have to worry about it flipping when I am loading it.

One thing to remember – if your backing has thick seams where quilt block come together (as in a pin wheel) there can be problems with quilt thickness if that area is in the same place as thick seams in the quilt top. This can cause problems when the longarm needle hits it. If you have thick seams you can use a wooden clapper placed on the area after pressing with the iron, or hitting it with a mallet also helps. Sounds harsh but it works.

If you don’t have enough of the same fabric to make the backing then you can make it scrappy.

Here are some examples of pieced backings.

I encourage you to do a search on Pinterest for scrappy quilt backing and you will find a huge variety. 

A few thoughts before I go.

There are some who say you ‘must’ use only fabric that goes with the quilt. I say that if you don’t have any fabric that goes with it, it’s fine to use something that doesn’t go.

Some will say ‘never’ use sheets. I say use cotton sheets that are good quality but not too high thread count if you want to, even used sheets work. (be sure to get them larger than your finished quilt will be)

There are going to be some who say you ‘must’ always keep directional fabric in line or that you have to match up the design so it isn’t noticeable. I say only worry about it if it bothers you. 

If you follow my recommendations above you should have a great quilt backing to send your longarm quilter.

Happy Sewing!

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