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Choosing a quilt backing fabric

by Ellen
(Reynoldsburg, OH)

Ellen writes...

I am an experienced "sewer" and have always wanted to quilt. I plan on buying a sewing pattern to make my first quilt by machine.

How do you go about choosing a color for the back of the quilt?

Any guidelines?

Does one choose more than one color, or just one?


Julie replies...

Hi Ellen!

First, welcome to the Wonderfully Fantastic World of Quilting. You are going to have a blast!

In all honesty the choice is up to you! It is what makes YOU happy. I'll give you a couple of examples of things I've done to give you ideas.

When I first started quilting... backs were pretty matchy-matchy with the front of the quilt. Most times the backs were made from the same, exact border fabric I used on the front. The binding was also the same as the border fabric. The quilt will always look finished that way.

Then something happened...

I realized that for a quilt of any size, it was going to take two lengths of fabric to make the backing.

Cool beans! Total V-8 moment!

If I bought one length in one fabric and another length in a coordinating fabric...I'd have leftovers of TWO DIFFERENT FABRICS NOT IN MY QUILT to add to my stash.

So for awhile there I was using striped or stripped backs. I cut the two lengths of fabric into long strips on the lengthwise grain (to add stability to quilts that will hang) and strip pieced them together to create my back. The binding either matched the border, was contrasting (I love using a plaid cut on the bias) or was from one of the backing fabrics.

Then my stash grew...

...and grew...

...and grew!

It's not an unknown phenomena for quilters. I think of it as my 'Fabric Resource Center'. (big smile!)

Now I will frequently piece my quilt backs from leftovers from the front. It can be big old pieces—maybe there's even some fat quarters leftover. Sometimes it's merely an insert of scraps that have been stitched together. Sometimes it's leftover blocks stitched into rows and inserted.

But instead of buying actual yardage, I'm using up some of my stash or at least not adding new scraps to it.

The thing to be mindful of when you piece a back is that you've added extra bulk in places due to the extra seam allowances. Because of that, I do press the majority (if not all) of my backing seam allowances open.

The final consideration about choosing a backing fabric... what are you going to quilt with?

NOTE: It's easiest to balance the tension when you use the same 50-60wt thread in both the needle and the bobbin. That's how the sewing machines are engineered, that's how we SEW on garment construction we use the same thread needle and bobbin as a matter of course.

In quilting, though, there are always reasons to use different threads in the needle and bobbin.

If you've got a predominantly light colored top and you choose a light colored thread, the safest choice for the bobbin is the exact same thread—weight, brand and color—in the needle and bobbin. Then if there are any tension issues that pop up during quilting, they will be harder to see.

If you've used a dark fabric for the backing with this same light-looking quilt top, your instinctive choice would be a dark thread to match or blend in with the backing fabric. And it would be a suitable choice. The dark thread would camouflage any quilting bobbles—starts and stops, stitches that aren't 'perfectly' straight (perfection is over-rated though), etc.

The problem arises, if you have any tension problems, that that dark thread can actually show as 'dots' on the top of your quilt if the needle tension is too tight. The dark thread loops over the needle thread which is what causes the dots. To fix it, you have to rip out the quilting. Yuck!

So if this is your first quilt, you may want to use a background fabric that matches your quilt top in value—lightness or darkness— or in busy-ness. It is harder to see the quilting on a busy fabric. That way you can use the same thread in both the needle and bobbin.

The backing is one last place to express your creativity. You can choose to use it as such or choose a fabric that blends nicely and gets the job done. The choice is up to you and should reflect what makes you happy!

Readers, I'd love to read your opinions. Please do share them using the 'comments' link found just below.

Thank you!

Ellen, excellent question!

Comments for Choosing a quilt backing fabric

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Quilt fabric for the back
by: AnonymousTineke

I use a cotton duvet cover for the back of my quilts. Either one I do not use anymore or a new one, bought at IKEA (we live in the Netherlands). The fabric is not too thick and the value for money is great, not expensive.

Backing question
by: Ellen

Thank you so much for the detailed response! I am so excited to begin. And I really appreciate your comments about the thread color for the top and bottom of the quilt. I never would have thought of that. Thanks again, and I look forward to checking back in to see if there are additional responses.

From the Editor: You're quite welcome!

Quilting is just so darned much fun. I came to it from a sewing grandma and mom were both dressmakers...I'd been sewing since I was 5. NOW the problem is I NEVER do any garment construction. And I've still got 'stash' from that, too!

But there ARE worse problems to have so I won't go begging for trouble.

Good luck to you!

Don't forget I'm here if you have more questions.

~ Julie

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