Sunshine Quilts

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Quilt Backings

How do you choose the backings for your quilt? I met a lady online . . can't even remember if it was through the blog or one of the many quilt groups I'm on. Her name is Jackie and she lives in north Louisiana but the funny thing is she grew up in Sulphur . . same place my buddy, Vicky, grew up. Sulphur is maybe 2 miles down I-10 from Westlake where I grew up. Back then (way back then), the world was a smaller place and I didn't know either of them. Westlake was such a small little place (still is), right in the middle of chemical plants and oil refineries .. the kind of place people drive through and say "Ughhh . . wouldn't you hate to live here?" But for those of us who call it home, it's a wonderful place. When I was home for spring break and attended the quilt show in Lake Charles, Jackie was there and we met in person and Jackie and I and both our moms were able to talk for a few minutes. Anyway, Jackie and I were corresponding via e-mail last week and got to talking about quilt backings and Jackie thought it would be a good topic and I think so too. Thanks Jackie!! So . . back to quilt backings. How do you decide what to use? My main method of deciding is: Which piece in the stash is big enough? I don't get real picky about backings. I don't mind using muslin when I'm doing an overall or a panto. I prefer to use a print when there are a bunch of stops and starts because no matter how careful you are on the longarm, stops and starts almost always show. Oh, yes, I could knot and bury all the thread tails but I'm not going to do that. I've had plenty of quilts in quilt shows with print backings to camouflage the stops and starts and have yet to receive a negative comment. In fact, the Glistening Rose Garden quilt has an ecru almost solid backing and it was in quite a few shows in 2004 and 2005 and won several ribbons and I didn't get any negative comments on the stops and starts. Here are a couple of my fairly recent poor backing choices. I was ready to quilt this one and had nothing in my stash. Didn't want to run to the quilt shop which is all the way across the Ohio River in Indiana so I went to Hancock's. Not what I would have chosen if I had been at the quilt shop but it worked for me. This is one of the quilts that was in American Quilter magazine a while back. The backing is pink. I had a whole bolt of this pink and heck, I kinda thought it matched. A friend was over and she was in love with the quilt and she looked at the back and said "Why did you use THIS?" I said "because I had it!" As a longarm quilter, I see all kinds of backings. It doesn't matter to me what people send so long as it's nice and square. Here are a few different type backings that come to mind.

  1. Sheets - Some longarmers refuse to use them. I've used them and some are woven so tightly that the thread just stays on top and doesn't sink in to make a quality stitch. Most are not straight . . no way you can tear them and get them straight. I honestly don't think sheets make a great backing for a quilt but I suppose if I came across the perfect sheet, I'd use it. To get a good quality sheet, you can probably buy an extra wide 100% cotton backing for the same price.
  2. Pieced - Some quilters piece a million little pieces together to make backings. I won't name names here but one is in the StashQuilts blog ring and likes cats and just went to Australia on her honeymoon! (Love your backings, Amy!) I'm not patient enough to do that but I've seen some very interesting and fun backings made from a bunch of pieces.
  3. Extra wide backing fabric - ahhhh, a longarmer's dream! No seams. Rip it and it's nice and straight. Good quality cotton so the stitches sink in and look like good stitches should. And, while we're talking about wide backings, Wilma at Christian Lane Quilters has a wonderful selection of extra wide backings. She and her husband are both longarmers and Wilma has been on one longarm list or another with me for a few years. A wonderful lady, wonderful service . . if ever you need a wide backing, check out Wilma's selection.
So, I guess you can really use anything you want to use. But, once you decide what you're going to use, how do you decide what color to use? Does it have to be some of the same fabric you used in the front? Does it have to match? Can the backing be something totally different? Here's a quilt I made for Chad's chemistry teacher. I found the backing fabric first and then made a quilt that somewhat matched the backing fabric. Isn't that a neat backing for a chemistry teacher? When I make Stack & Whack quilts, I always try to use some of the focus fabric in the backing because no one ever believes that all the kaleidoscope type designs came from that one fabric. I love making Stack & Whack quilts! So, I guess it all boils down to: It's your quilt and you can use whatever backing you choose! What initially started this was that Jackie had used a backing on a quilt and someone liked the quilt because they liked the backing and it matched their decor! They kinda ignored the front of the quilt. Judy L.


  • Quilt backs, I don't understand the hang up with them. Who looks at the back, it is the front that shows. I try to find fabric that is pretty nutral and on sale for a good price to use as back. I will use muslin, use it alot, but I do like printed frabic for the back. I dig until I find what I think goes with the top, but I don't loose any sleep over it. Great topic. Maybe we should start posting pictures of the backs with the fronts.

    By Blogger dot, at 7/13/2006 09:53:00 PM  

  • I love the discussion about quilt backs. I have several tops ready to quilt--they just need backing. I some large pieces of fabric - not quite big enough to back a quilt. If I piece them together I might be able to get them to a big enough size and reduce stash at the same time. Hmmmmmmm.

    By Blogger Norma, at 7/13/2006 10:06:00 PM  

  • I have to chime in here on this subject. I'm one of those people who really likes the back to be pretty and sorty matchy to the front. Not necessarily made from one of the front fabrics but one that co-ordinates nicely. I do like a print fabric because I'm not a great quilter and the print hides so many mistakes. :-)

    But that said I have used a sheet, I have used muslin, I have used whatever I had on hand that was enough, and on my current project I pieced a back and can see many more pieced backs in my future. Guess that will depend on how much trouble I have with all those seams when I quilt this one.

    Good subject, Judy, and I'll be checking back on your comments to see what other peoples responses are.

    By Blogger Nancy, at 7/14/2006 03:10:00 AM  

  • Almost all my BIG quilts are backed with extra wide muslin from my long arm quilter. She does wonderful work and uses all kinds of different colors and the quilting shows up really well! Small quilts I will send her co-ordinating fabrics to use. And, recently I have purchased a few printed wide backs specifically for tops as they are finished! Little Boy likes soft quilts so his quilts are backed in fleece or flannel. And, I just bought some more flannel for a few larger quilts - all washed - just got to trim the selvages off and get them seamed together... Guess I don't have any 1 answer to the question!



    By Blogger Evelyn aka Starfishy, at 7/14/2006 04:12:00 AM  

  • I'm with Dot. The back doesn't show so don't fret over it. On my first quilt I spent a lot of time doing a fancy border because I was a bit short of fabric. Now I wish I had just used something plain and saved the nice border for the front of something else where all my hard work would show.

    By Blogger joyce, at 7/14/2006 04:57:00 AM  

  • First my comments refer to the donation quilts I make which means they are for kids. I try to coordinate it at least a little bit with the front color wise. Pick something "fun" when I can and use something from my stash, the donation box or lately when my mom or someone has sent us. SO the whatever is wide and long or can be reconfigured to make it wide and long enough and IF the color is right.

    Failing that, it is muslin because I have a bolt of that on hand and can easily get my hands to two lengths without a run to any fabric store. The necessity thing rather than the aesthetic option.

    Nothing I obsess over, obviously but I make an entirely different quilt than you do. None of mine are going into a judged and juried quilt show.

    Now, for my own 30s sampler I am considering some of that extra wide repro stuff or will spring for some 30's repro for the back. I still don't know if I am going to hand quilt it but I would use a print anyway of it. It is, after all, one my few personal projects.

    Yeah, I am all over the map here--situational and practical choices which are necessary on a fixed income.

    By Blogger Linda_J, at 7/14/2006 06:01:00 AM  

  • Just a comment about Westlake, LA - my stepmother and her family were from there. My daughter spent many summers and weeks between Thanksgiving & Christmas with my Dad and stepmom while they lived there in the late 70's/early 80's. I visited once for a few weeks. Beautiful area!

    By Blogger Darlene - Dazed Quilter, at 7/14/2006 06:43:00 AM  

  • Judy, you mention going over to Indiana to a quilt shop; do you ever go to The Quilt Box in Dry Ridge KY? Haven't been there for so long, but what a wonderful shop it was and wonderful country setting.

    So far, I usually go to this huge stack of plain muslin feedsacks that I got one time at auction. I love how the fabric feels and after all of that work quilting, I really want to be able to see the stitching. Once my antique feedsacks are used up, I'll use plain muslin.

    By Blogger Karen, at 7/14/2006 08:11:00 AM  

  • I do like my backs to "go" with my fronts. Esp if this is a quilt to be used on a bed, or lap. The back is seen, then... (We are maybe not so good at making our beds in my house, so the quilt back had better match!) I used to have an LFS with an amazing 50% off sale rack, and I'd always start there looking for backing fabric. Then, they stopped carrying quilt fabric. Ack! I still comb sales for print backings.

    If I have leftovers from the front, I'll piece my back, but always in pretty big chunks. By the time I finish the top, I don't feel like piecing an elaborate back... For baby quilts, I often go with flannel. For me, though, the back fabric is usually a pretty important choice!

    It's fun to see all the different approaches mentioned in the comments. Great topic, Judy!

    By Anonymous Samantha, at 7/14/2006 09:10:00 AM  

  • I like the idea of a quilt being reversible - the front doesn't have to match the back and you get two looks for the work of one! My backs lately have been double-wide fabrics but I'm looking at piecing the next one - fairly "plain" but totally different than the front. I've used sheets in the past, but now I'm more concerned with specific sizes and sheets won't cut it.

    By Blogger Cat, at 7/14/2006 09:21:00 AM  

  • When I got my longarm I used wide muslin for the backs of all my quilts.

    I decided that I'd never use up my stash if I didn't stop using muslin for backings so I do piece a lot of my backs - usually not in small pieces however!

    By Blogger Mary, at 7/14/2006 09:56:00 AM  

  • My number one requirement is that it be flannel. I just think it makes the quilt so much more cuddly and there's such a wide variety out there it's easy to find something that goes well with the front.

    By Blogger Laurie Ann, at 7/14/2006 10:29:00 AM  

  • I tend to use something the "goes with" the front, so if a corner is flipped over on a sofa or something it doesn't scream at you. That said, whatever I have around that kinda fits that criteria would be my back....

    By Blogger quiltpixie, at 7/14/2006 10:31:00 AM  

  • Love this discussion! I use my stash for my backings...coordinate fabrics to the front or at least part of the front fabric onto the back as I always has leftovers. Always pieced backings, but big. I used muslin on the back in the 80's because I thought we were SUPPOSED to...I'd much rather have something pretty on the back now.

    By Blogger Maureen, at 7/14/2006 10:33:00 AM  

  • I'm all over the place, too. I've gotten over it having to be from the same line of fabrics or perfectly matching. Lately I've been using leftovers from the front on the back. That way I don't have to put any of that fabric back in my stash! :)

    I made one mistake on a backing that used leftover blocks from the front. It made Judy's job real hard the way I had that backing put together. Sorry, Judy. But I learned from that experience, so that's a good thing! LOL

    Good topic, Judy. I'll be reading all the comments here!

    By Blogger Vicky, at 7/14/2006 01:04:00 PM  

  • Most of the quilts I make are for charity and for those I look for something in the charity stash that is big enough or nearly big enough and not absolutely hideous with the front. Lately I've pieced some of the scraps from the front into a back to make it wide enough or long enough.

    When I'm making a gift quilt or a "keeper", I'm more particular about what I put on the back. I look for something that matches and it usually means a trip to the quilt shop as I do seldom have backing-sized pieces in my personal stash.

    By Blogger SusanB, at 7/14/2006 03:18:00 PM  

  • I use whatever I have hanging around! I buy discontinued fabrics at the quilt shop when they are priced way down (I can get some of them for $2 a yard). I'll buy whatever is left on the bolt for that price. I'll also piece backings if I want to use up some fabric pieces. I personally don't care whether the backings match the front or not. I have never and will never use a sheet.

    By Blogger Joanne, at 7/14/2006 05:15:00 PM  

  • I seem to use what is big enough from my stash or sometimes I buy just co-ordinating fabrics

    By Blogger Patty, at 7/14/2006 07:36:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the lesson on backs!

    What I'd like to know is... say you've got a mostly two color quilt; navy to dark greens paired with creams. Should you use a lighter backing (to go with the thread you use on the front cream fabrics) or a darker backing (to go with the thread you use on the dark colors) or does it matter?

    By Blogger ForestJane, at 7/14/2006 11:32:00 PM  

  • I like the backing to match the front of the quilt. It does not have to be the same fabric, but colour wise it should be a match. Double width fabrics are very very rare here, so I usually piece my backings - often from stash, randomly. Lately I have started using plain muslin too.

    By Blogger Hanne, at 7/15/2006 07:46:00 AM  

  • I buy sale fabric at my LQS to keep in a stack for backings. I get 3 or 4 yard peices and then try to match the tone to the tops. No white top and black backs. Such things like that.

    Good post!!

    By Blogger Judy, at 7/16/2006 10:16:00 AM  

  • I made pillowcases for my chemist husband and son from that mad cat scientist fabric. They loved them.

    By Blogger Kay, at 7/16/2006 03:15:00 PM  

  • I've used different things for back. It depends on the particular quilt & if I think people will be seeing it a lot.

    I've used up left over scrap strips & sections. I've used anything that is on sale. (always trying to blend in with the top) I've also been selective & used matching prints from the fronts, like for a trunk show, pattern sample, quilt show or gift quilt.

    Prints & florals are more forgiving on the back than plain fabrics in case there is a problem with the quilting.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/16/2006 04:54:00 PM  

  • Sometimes I have purchased enough fabric for the back, if I have found it at a good sale. But usually, I use leftover printed fabric from stuff I have already used on the quilt, and sometimes have to add other things from my stash. A lot of times, my back looks better than the front. (My quilt for Iris and my Mom both have that condition!) I love pieced backing because they add interest to the quilt, and sometimes make it reversible.

    But I did have a question. When I look at patterns, they have you use the length of the fabric for the back, so if your quilt is say 70" X 50", you would have to buy double, 140" since the width is more than 45". But that seems like you are wasting a lot of fabric. It makes more sense to me that you can cut half of it from the length, but then you could piece the rest from the width so you wouldn't have to buy quite so much fabric. I have done that before without any problems, but does mixing grains like that cause problems for people?

    By Blogger Shelina, at 7/16/2006 08:19:00 PM  

  • wOh heck, now you have me wondering what I have used for backs - sad huh?

    I hope your family is coping o.k. (I've onle been to the top of my blog lines the past couple of time I have tried....)

    By Blogger The Calico Cat, at 7/24/2006 11:05:00 AM  

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