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How to Make Quilt Backing from Any Fabric

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What is Quilt Backing?
How to Make Quilt Backing

Piece fabric panels to make quilt backing.

© Janet Wickell
It's easy to make quilt backing, and the backing layer can be created from either regular quilting cottons or wide panels of fabric made especially for the task.

Quilt backing is the bottom portion of the quilt sandwich. In other words, backing is the fabric we see when we flip a quilt over to its reverse side. You might also hear quilt backing referred to as the the quilt lining or simply the quilt back.

Best Quilt Backing Measurements

Both backing and batting (the inner layer of the sandwich) are cut slightly larger than the quilt top to allow for distortions and 'shrinkage' that takes place during the quilting process, and to give some extra leeway for squaring up the entire sandwich when quilting is complete.

Recommendations for the amount of excess batting and backing vary, but most quilters agree that it's best to have at least 3-4" excess extending past each side of the quilt. That means your backing should be at least 6-8" wider and taller than your quilt top, more if you prefer (and even more backing if you plan to fold it and bring it to the front of the quilt to create a bound edge. That type of binding is not as durable as doublefold binding, but is an option for quilts that won't receive heavy use.

Miniature quilt backing can usually be cut from a single width of regular quilting fabric, but fabric panels must be pieced together when we use those fabrics to back larger quilts. Some fabric manufacturers offer a nice selection of wide backing fabrics that allow us to have a seamless back -- an excellent choice if you find a fabric that suits your project.

Reversible Quilt Options

Make a reversible quilt by using a second quilt top for its backing. Plan to quilt by machine, since lots of extra seam allowances found in two quilt tops usually create bulk that makes hand quilting more difficult. Consider pressing seam allowances open instead of to the side when making a reversible quilt.

Quilt Backing Design Ideas

  • Use a backing that works with the quilt top if both will be visible during use.

  • Choose a quilt backing with an interesting motif and then quilt from the back, along the fabric's printed lines, to transfer the design to the front.

  • A busy backing hides less-than-perfect quilting stitches.

  • Don't feel limited -- use any backing fabric that suits your needs.

How to Make Quilt Backing from Typical Quilting Fabrics

Remove the Selvages

Selvages create little puckers along their length and should be removed before using fabric as backing. Determine how much width will remain after removing selvages. (See Understanding Fabric Grain)

Cut a Single Panel Backing

Regular quilting fabric is suitable for quilts up to about 35" wide. Not all fabrics are the same width -- remember the 4" excess guideline and keep in mind that you will remove selvages.

Calculate yardage for a single panel:

  1. Measure the height of the quilt and add 4-6" (or chosen excess).

  2. Divide the figure by 36" to calculate required yardage. Add a bit extra to allow for shrinkage. (Decimal Conversion Chart)

Make Pieced Quilt Backing for Larger Projects

Most quilters avoid using two equally-sized pieces of fabric to make backing, because that technique puts the seam that links the panels together along the quilt's midpoint, where quilts are often folded. Constant folding might weaken the seam over time.

I'm honestly not sure if that's true, or if it's just another viewpoint we've come to regard as fact, like pressing seams to one side strengthens a quilt. After all, we shouldn't store quilts in the same folded position for any length of time, because doing that can create permanent folds that are difficult to smooth away (see 5 Ways to Safely Store Quilts.

I prefer the appearance of a quilt backing that's made with a wide center panel flanked by two narrower panels, as shown in the illustration, but there are times when that arrangement might not be the best choice.

If your quilt is 45" wide, you'll need a backing that measures about 49" across. Let's say your center panel measures 39" after removing the selvages. You'll only need 6" more, and sewing 3" wide panels on either side of the center can make the backing look out of proportion -- and place side seam allowances awfully close together.

One solution might be to use two fabric panels, one narrow panel sewn to a full-width panel.

Another option is to sew panels in a horizontal configuration, although I don't recommend that method for large quilts that will be hung -- the stretchier crosswise grain would lie from top to bottom and could potentially become a bit distorted over time. Just remember that you are in total control of quilt backing layout. Construct a panel that works best for your quilt and the fabric you intend to use.

How to Sew Quilt Backing Panels Together

  1. Determine yardage length as instructed above. Measure the width of your quilt and add 4-6" (or chosen excess).

  2. Design a backing to equal that width, adding 1/2" to each panel for each seam you'll use to sew it to a neighboring panel.

  3. Cut panels to the length of your quilt plus 4-6" (or chosen excess).

  4. Sew panels together with a 1/2" seam allowance. Press seams open to reduce bulk.

  5. Press backing before use.

You'll find a few more backing layout options on page 2.

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