Photo showing how to insert a strip into a quilt back to make it wider

How to make a backing for a quilt

This month on the blog, I am writing about making up a quilt. If you are new here (hello!), you need to know that last year I published instructions for making twelve blocks 12 x 12″ square, one each month. In the last couple of weeks, I have explained how to add sashing (between the blocks) and a border round the outside of the quilt top.

The size of the quilt backing needs to be larger than the quilt top. I usually allow 3″ extra all the way round, so the width becomes 6″ bigger than the quilt top and the length also 6″ bigger (let’s say 53″ x 66″ as an example).

It is possible to buy ‘extra-wide’ fabric which is specifically intended for quilt backs. This makes things very easy, because all you would need to do is to buy a length equal to your quilt top length plus 6″ (say, 66″).

Another option is to buy a new, 100% cotton flat sheet in a suitable size. You will need to cut off the hems at the top and bottom, but this will provide you with a single layer for your backing.

However, if you are using regular fabrics, which are 42″ wide, you will need to join them. The way to do it is to measure out 66″ from the fabric and use this piece (42″ wide) down the centre of the back and to cut a second. You would then cut a second piece of fabric 66″ long and cut this second piece vertically down the middle. Attach one half to the left of the first width and the second half to the right of the width. You will need to remove the selvedge edges from the lengths before you join them.

It makes sense to choose a fabric without a strong repeat pattern for your backing. If you have to match a pattern across the back, you might end up needing a lot more fabric. If the fabric you choose is a small all-over pattern, then all you need to buy is 66″ x 2 = 132″ so three and three-quarter yards will be enough.

Of course, you might have nearly enough fabric, but not quite. Then you can start to be inventive. For my version of the ‘Make a Quilt in 2019, I extended the width of some green and navy check fabric by adding two solid navy strips one quarter of the way in from the left-hand side and from the right-hand side. My checked fabric width was 48″ wide and I needed 48″ (the width of the quilt) + 6″ = 54″. So I cut my checked fabric vertically: the first piece 12″ wide, the second 24″ wide and the third 12″ wide. Then I cut solid blue strips 4½” wide and inserted them in between the checked pieces. I had to join the blue strips with a horizontal seam half-way down, but this is hardly noticeable.

Photo showing how to insert a strip into a quilt back to make it wider

It’s the front of the quilt that’s important, but a backing that complements the front in a harmonious way enhances the quilt. I once used some beautiful Japanese print fabric that I particularly liked, on the back of a quilt. I stretched it by inserting additional strips of blue fabric (using the method above) and some red oblongs to eek out the blue! Some might think it a waste of lovely fabric, but it always gives me pleasure when I look at it! Plus it’s on the back of a favourite quilt that I made with a friend, so I will always keep it!

Photo of a quilt to show how inserting strips adds to the width

Once your quilt back is made, you are ready to layer up your quilt. You will need to buy wadding (batting) that is 2″ bigger than your quilt top all the way round (so 4″ wider and longer than your top). You can find a tutorial on how to layer up a quilt here.

Next week: how to quilt a quilt.

A quilt entitled 'Make a Quilt in 2019' on the back of a sofa

Let me know what you think!

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