We spend so much time on our quilt tops that our quilt backings are often an afterthought. Knowing what size to make your backing and how to properly piece it can make your quilt easier to quilt and also make you happier with the finished product.
What Is the Best Fabric for Backings?
There are no rules. Some quilters prefer to use fabric that matches the quilt top. Some quilters choose fabric from the sale rack of their local quilt shop (I’m raising my hand here). Some quilters use whatever they have in their stash. I’ve seen lovely pastel quilts with nonmatching neon backings and they were delightful, so matching isn’t necessary. When I don’t want the quilting to show on the backing, I choose a densely printed backing fabric. When I really want the quilting to show on the back of the quilt, which isn’t often, I choose a plain backing.
What Size Should the Backing Be?
I recommend that your backing be approximately 4 inches larger than your quilt top all the way around, so take the finished dimensions of your quilt top and add 8 inches to each dimension. The extra fabric outside the quilt-top edges gives you something to hold while you are quilting the edges of the quilt. If you have minimal (less than an inch) extra backing, you’ll have to move the entire quilt with just your fingertips. Moving the quilt with your whole hand on those extra 4 inches of quilt backing is less tiring for your hands and arms, and your quilting will likely look smoother too!
If you are anything like me, you have quilts in various stages of incompleteness going back decades. What if you don’t have enough fabric to make the backing as large as desired, and the fabric is older so you know you can’t buy more? Or what if your quilt fits neatly on a single width of fabric (or two widths of fabric) and you don’t want to buy extra fabric just for “extra”? Good news! Your quilt will still be fine; simply sew extra nonmatching fabric (you can use a cheap muslin for this purpose) along the edges and make sure to center the quilt top on the backing. Your backing will now fit the ideal backing size and the nonmatching fabric will be cut off after you are finished machine quilting. First confirm that your original fabric is large enough to cover your original quilt top, then center the quilt, and this method will work great.
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