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Using soft quilt backing fabrics

by CotoCoti
(Rhode Island)

CotoCoti writes...

I want to make a baby quilt for my niece and I want to piece the top with all cotton and then use a flannel or nice soft fabric for the back. Should I use a certain type of needle and thread for best results?

Thank you!

Julie replies...

Congratulations on the new baby in your family!

I love the idea of flannel as a backing for a baby quilt because of it's softness. A very nice touch (no pun intended) for baby.

I highly recommend pre-washing all the fabrics in your baby quilt to make them shrink. (Checking for bleeding fabric is another separate test.)

My experience is that the flannel fabric will shrink more than your regular quilting cottons. You won't want your niece to have any surprises when she washes the quilt. Prewashing 'equalizes' the fabrics.

Thread choices for flannel fabric...

As for needle and threads, I've used 50wt cottons like Aurifil or Superior Threads' 'Masterpiece' (which they've recently reformulated into a stronger 3 ply thread) for both the needle and bobbin with good results.

For my own quilts, I've also used monofilament thread in the needle with 50 wt cotton in the bobbin with no problem on flannel quilts.

I have had no issues with the monofilament breaking (my personal preference is for nylon monofilament thread). However, since this quilt will be going to a new mom, I suggest sticking with the 100% cotton threads. If the thread breaks, new mom has a better chance of seeing and doing something about it before it becomes a problem for baby.

Try a 75/11 or 80/12 needle with your 50 wt thread. My 'go-to' needle type is a Schmetz Microtex Sharp needle, but with the looser weave of the flannel, a Quilting, Topstitch or even a Universal needle of the same size should work just fine.

For a softer than soft quilt backing...

...many quilt stores are now selling an ultra plush fabric called Minkee--you'll see it spelled both 'minky' and 'minkee'. It is uber soft, feeling like a luxurious velvet.

Made from polyester fiber, it doesn't shrink when washed, but I would wash it either before or after the quilt is put together so that it is clean for baby.

With all the softness, it's a given that this fabric produces a lot of fuzz, both when you cut it and as you stitch. Do clean out your bobbin case more frequently to keep your machine running at its best. And while you're at it, brush away any fibers that have accumulated in your feed dogs, too. Keep your vacuum cleaner and lint brush close by.

Minkee is slippery and has a lot of stretch on the crosswise grain. Because of this, if you are a beginning quilter with no other sewing experience, I would advise not using this fabric, especially if you're working under a close deadline.

If you choose to use this fabric these tips should be of help:
  • Pin, and pin frequently (about 1 to 1-1/2 inches apart), to control stretch and slipperiness. That's both for piecing and quilting with minkee.

  • Because it is thicker, lengthen your usual stitch length a bit and test. If you stitch with a 2.5 to 3.0 stitch length, try a 3.0 to 3.5.

  • Use your walking foot, stitching with the minkee on the bottom right next to your feed dogs.

  • If you are piecing minkee, use a larger, 1/2 inch seam allowance as the cut edges will try to curl.

  • Use an 80/12 Universal needle.

  • Do not iron your minky fabric directly. The heat of your iron can 'emboss' it and leave the pattern of your sole plate forever on the fabric.

  • Minkee should be washed in cold water and then laid flat to dry. Include washing instructions for the new Mom so she knows exactly what to do.

  • Use a low loft batting, or even forego the batting for a quilt backed with Minkee.

  • Since this fabric is thicker than traditional quilting fabric, you will probably need to cut your binding strips wider. Try 1/2" wider and test on your practice quilt sandwich. Adjust as necessary.
And finally, remember to test out your basting technique, stitch length and threads on a practice sandwich before you even baste the actual quilt.

Good luck with your project. Let us know what you decide and how it turns out.

Readers, if you have more suggestions about using flannel or minkee for quilt backing, please use the 'Comment' link below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Comments for Using soft quilt backing fabrics

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Thank you!!!
by: CotoCoti

Thank you for your help!!! This is very helpful information and I can't wait to pick out the backing material!!!

You're most welcome!~~Julie


Sewing with flannel
by: Doreen

In the last month, or so, I have made 2 twin sized quilts (quilted on a domestic sewing machine) using a flannel for the backing. I do not preshrink/wash my fabric before piecing because I really like the cuddly, puckery texture that results when I do wash it after it is finally bound and before it is given as a gift. I, also, use an 80/12 Schmetz Microtex needle and like it. Batting is 80/20. Have not encountered any issues and love the results.

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