Don’t laugh, but I often struggle with quilt backing. My quilts are often rectangular but not with a huge difference between the width and the length of the quilt. They are always wider than the 42″ that is the normal width of fabric so the quilt backing needs to be pieced. Somehow I often end up sewing the two pieces of the quilt backing together along the wrong edge so that they do not make the right sized rectangle.
Making the quilt backing
Through bitter experience I have now found that the safest way to piece the quilt backing is to draw a simple diagram. The quilt backing should be about 2″ wider than the quilt top all round, so that means adding 4″ to the width and length of the quilt top. The beginner quilt measures 74″ square so the quilt backing will need to be 78″ square. I use 42″ as the standard width of fabric although it is often a little more than that, but that just gives me some spare for safety.
For the quilt backing I need to cut one piece of fabric 78″ by the 42″ width of the fabric. That is the left compartment in the diagram above. The right hand compartment needs to be 78″ minus 42″ wide, which equals 36″. So the second piece of fabric needs to be 78″ by 36″. for this I cut another 78″ length of fabric by 42″, then cut off 6″ along the 78″ length so that I was left with 78″ by 36″ for the quilt backing. The 6″ by 78″ strip that was discarded will be used for the binding of the beginner quilt.
Join the two pieces of quilt backing with right sides together and using a 1/4″ seam. Press well both along the seam and along the lines where the fabric was previously folded.
This is a simple quilt backing because it is for the beginner quilt, but in general the quilt backing does not have to be plain.
Variations for the quilt backing
Sometimes I have put a small version of the main quilt top design in the middle of the quilt backing. Then I put a strip of backing fabric either side of the small pattern and the blocks above and below will be the same size as each other and usually can be cut from one width of fabric.
This Celtic quilt was made using a quilt as you go method and I used different colour fabrics for alternate blocks to give a checkerboard effect on the quilt backing.
I have seen some lovely quilts with stripes and squares used for the quilt backing, but the one reservation that I do have is that the more seams that there are in your backing, the more chance there is that may end up with seams from the quilt top and the quilt backing crossing each other and that can give you quite a bulky area.
One further point to consider when choosing your quilt backing is whether to use plain or patterned fabric. Pattern fabric will not show up your quilting stitches so much (hide any mistakes) while plain fabric will show your quilting stitches clearly (showcase the quilting design).
Frequently I wait until I have finished the quilt top before I choose the quilt backing fabric. Sometimes it’s not until you have seen the completed quilt top that you can decide whether to use the colours of the quilt top of choose something completely different, whether to go for plain or patterned fabric. It is at this stage that I usually choose the binding fabric for the same reasons.