How to Create a Beautiful Quilt Backing

Barb likes to add fun surprises to the back of the quilt.  In this quilt, Strawberry Wine, she has added a green backing to a predominantly red quilt.
Barb likes to add fun surprises to the back of the quilt. In this quilt, Strawberry Wine, she has added a green backing to a predominantly red quilt. | Source

Sneaking a glance at the back side of the quilt

Come on, admit it. After you are finished admiring the front of the quilt, don't you want to take a sneak peek at the back of a quilt? What's hiding back there? Does it look as good as the front of the quilt, or will it show some serious errors the quilter is trying to hide from you?

We are so curious that most quilt shows have white gloved attendants that will show you the back of the quilts that particularly pique our interests.

People do look at the back of a quilt, so when you are choosing your quilt backing, you may want to take these ideas into consideration.

Solid or Print?

You can choose any design on your backing fabric. Many experienced quilters prefer solid or a light fabric so that their quilting stitches will show beautifully on the back of the quilt. Beginners will generally prefer a print that will be able to hide any flaws.

Choosing a Quilt Backing

There are three layers to most quilts, the front of the quilt, which is called the top, the middle layer which is generally the batting or wadding, and the bottom layer which is the back. There are some basic requirements for the back of the quilt.

The main function of the back of the quilt is to help enclose the batting. The backing should be of the same type of fabric as the front. You want the whole quilt to shrink at the same rate to avoid distortion. It should also be the same quality fabric as the front of the quilt. Even though it won't be looked at as much, it will generally get the same amount of wear and tear as the front of the quilt, maybe just a little less. After spending all the time with the front, you don't want the backing to deteriorate before the front.

The backing fabric is initially bigger than the front of the quilt to allow for some shrinkage that happens during quilting, and to provide some insurance to make sure that the entire front of the quilt is backed. You don't want to wind up a couple of inches short, leaving your batting uncovered.

How Much Fabric Do You Need for the Back of a Quilt?

The amount of backing fabric you will need depends on how you will finish the quilt. Generally, you take the measurements from the top, and add a few inches per side for the backing.

How many inches? If you are going to send the quilt to be machine quilted on a long arm machine, you will need to follow your machine quilter's requirements. They may ask you to provide 5 or 6 inches on each side beyond the measurements of your top.

If you are going to quilt it yourself on a domestic sewing machine, you will be able to get by with 3 or 4 inches on each side.

If you are planning on using a fold over binding, where you use the backing as the binding by folding it over to the front, you will need 5 to 7 inches beyond the quilt top to do that. I always have leftover backing fabric when I am done making with the quilt, and I just save that for a scrap quilt, so it isn't being wasted. To me and most quilters, having extra fabric is much preferable to not having enough.

The amount of fabric you buy for the back of the quilt will differ, depending on the size of the quilt top, and the amount of extra fabric you want beyond the quilt top. You can use this fabric calculator from Quilter's Paradise to determine how much you need. Please note that this calculator is for the standard size of quilting fabric, and not the wide backing fabric.

Barb has pieced two different pieces of pink fabric for the back of this quilt. Most of the backing is one piece, but there is a small strip on the left that is another, but similar, fabric.
Barb has pieced two different pieces of pink fabric for the back of this quilt. Most of the backing is one piece, but there is a small strip on the left that is another, but similar, fabric. | Source

Piecing a Quilt Backing

You can buy fabric that is specially designed for the backing. It is made wider than the standard size of quilting fabric, which is about 40" to 44". Unfortunately, this backing fabric does not come in as big a variety of prints as the standard quilting fabric, and it might be harder to find and more expensive, depending on the availability of quilt shops in your area.

If you don't have fabric that is wide enough, you can piece your backing. Simply trim off the selvage and sew another piece of fabric on the side. You can use the same fabric, a coordinating fabric, or a variety of different fabric. I like to take leftovers from the front of the quilt, and piece them together for the back. In this way, I am sure that the fabric will match the quilt, and I am making good use of the fabric I do have. I also don't have to find a place to store this fabric, or find another use for it.

Since it is just the back of the quilt, and not a lot of people will see it, you can feel free to be creative and combine whatever pieces of fabric you want to use.

I took leftover pieces from the front of the quilt and used them up on the back of the quilt.
I took leftover pieces from the front of the quilt and used them up on the back of the quilt. | Source

Save Money on Your Quilt Backing

Quilting fabric is expensive, and the back of the quilt is the part that will not be seen very often. To save money, you can buy less expensive fabric for the back. You shouldn't skimp on the quality of the fabric, because you want the quilt to last, but you don't have to pay a designer top dollar for the part of the quilt that not many people will see. You can back your quilt with bleached or unbleached muslin, which does not have a pattern on it at all, or you can use fabric that is no longer popular. One hundred years from now, people are probably not going to know that you used last year's fabric this year.

The back of the quilt is also a good place to use up the fabric you have sitting in your stash that you may not like as much. Use it up, and you can make room for more fabric.

You can also use up any leftover patchwork blocks or strips that were remaining from making the top. Instead of throwing those out or trying to find another use for them, simply add them to the back of the quilt. It makes the quilt more interesting, and you are saving money.

Quilting Without Marking Your Quilt

Marking your quilt for quilting can take a long time, so if you can find a fabric that has an interesting pattern, you may be able to use it as your quilting guide. If you choose a fabric with straight lines like stripes or a plaid, for example, you will be able to quilt from the back of your quilt, following these lines, and not have to mark the top at all. Fabrics with swirls or waves also make great candidates for quilt backs used in this way.

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

Even though the quilt backing is not something everyone will see, adding a special piece of novelty fabric will really let the personality of the quilter shine through. It adds a touch of whimsy and intrigue. By using a print that showcases the theme of the quilt, you can really make the quilt stand out.

When I thought about writing an article about the backing, I immediately thought of Barb Vedder. She often adds novelty and other creative ideas to make the back of her quilts very interesting. Some of the photos here are of her quilts, but be sure to visit her blog for even more ideas.

Barb's use of interesting fabrics for her quilt backs allow her to show her personality and whimsy. This one looks like a collage, but is just one piece of fabric.
Barb's use of interesting fabrics for her quilt backs allow her to show her personality and whimsy. This one looks like a collage, but is just one piece of fabric. | Source
I added a small fish cut fussy cut from a bigger piece of fabric to add interest to this otherwise boring pieced backing.
I added a small fish cut fussy cut from a bigger piece of fabric to add interest to this otherwise boring pieced backing. | Source

Fun Things to Add To The Back of Your Quilt

Note that you do not have to use a whole piece of expensive novelty fabric for the back. There are many ways you can add interest without a great deal of expense or time.

  • Add a touch of whimsy with a small cut of particular section of the fabric, called a fussy cut.
  • Embroider a quotation or Bible verse
  • appliqué a special symbol that has meaning to you
  • leftover blocks from the front of the quilt
  • leftover blocks from other quilts
  • an envelope or pocket for a secret place to hide a note or emergency cash
  • a piece of fabric from clothing that has special meaning
  • a note or special wish for the recipient
  • quilt label or documentation of the quilter's name and date made

Sometimes the back of the quilt can wind up as pretty as the front.  Barb appliquéd  the building fabric and the moon on a plain purple background.
Sometimes the back of the quilt can wind up as pretty as the front. Barb appliquéd the building fabric and the moon on a plain purple background. | Source

Reversible Quilts

If you have a lot of quilt tops that need quilted, a reversible quilt is a great way to finish them both at the same time. A reversible quilt will take up less space, and can be very convenient. If you make a seasonal quilt, for example, you can simply flip the quilt over to display the next season.

I have also seen reversible quilts that were mirror images of each other at quilt shows, although those would be very difficult to line up correctly.

How to Finish a Quilt Back

Once you have chosen your quilt back, you will need to sandwich the quilt. Find a large surface. A large set of tables at a church or quilt shop works well. Use binder clips to secure the fabric to the table. If you cannot find tables, the floor works as well. I use painters tape to secure the fabric to the floor.

Lay out your backing, right side down, and smooth it out. You want it to be flat and even, without stretching. Secure it with binder clips or painters tape. Put the batting on top of it, and smooth it out. Then lay the top, right side up, and smooth it out. Once you are satisfied that your sandwich is smooth, you can baste it. Use medium size safety pins, or specially designed curved safety pins. You can also baste it by hand using large running stitches.

Quilt as desired. Trim and square up the quilt. Then bind it.

Choosing a Quilt Backing

The back side of the quilt can be a great place to save money and use up old pieces of fabric, or it can be a place to show your personality and whimsy. Whichever you choose, it will showcase your quilting stitches, and help enclose the batting, and let you finish your quilt so that let the top of the quilt get the spotlight.

That is, until someone asks, "What's on the back of the quilt?"

© 2012 Shasta Matova

More by this Author


Comments: "How To Finish A Quilt Back" 18 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 2 years ago from USA Author

Thank you. The back of a quilt is a great place to try out new ideas and add some interest.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

This looks so beautiful and so creative.

Thanks for sharing the details. I would love to try this.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Faythe. I often just rush through choosing the back just so I can get a quilt finished, but taking the time to think about it adds a lot of interest to a quilt.


faythef profile image

faythef 3 years ago from USA

Great hub...voted up.. I agree the back of the quilt is very important..I am bookmarking this page..lots of great info here..thank you


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

BJC, the key to remember is that when you are a beginner, you can't expect to show expert quality. It is completely acceptable to make mistakes, even master quilters make them. The key is just to forgive yourself and move straight to fixing them instead of beating yourself up for it. Absolutely try again; make a small wall hanging and do it for the fun of it. Thank you for your visit and comment.


BJC profile image

BJC 4 years ago from Florida

I've tried quilting but never been successful at it:( my ex in-laws were all into the quilting, but your article has spured an interest and I may try again.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Glimmer Twin Fan, I don't like having to do a lot of piecing of one fabric for the back, but if they are different, and I am doing it for the design, then it doesn't seem like as much of a chore. So I use a lot of different fabric as well for the back. It's either all or very little piecing.


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

Great hub. I love using tons of fabrics on the backs of my pieces. Adds a little interest and uses up fabric to save money! Voted up.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Vellur, aren't Barb's designs so great - be sure to go to her blog and see the fronts and more of her quilts. She also does other crafts, and her blog is just fun to read.

Maddie, when I was starting out, when I showed people my quilts, I would secretly hope that they don't think to look on the back, but now that I am adding special surprises, I often turn them over to make sure the backs get seen as well.

Thank you both for reading and commenting.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

teaches12345, once you decide on what fabric to back your quilt with, be sure to come back for the hub I am now writing about how to bind the quilt. A new backing and binding will extend the life of your old quilt considerably.

alocsin, I naturally want to look at the back to see the quilting, and am delighted when the quilter has added a special surprise for me.

unknown spy, thank you. I naturally thought of Barb when I wanted to talk about quilt backings. And her quilts are even more lovely on the front than the back. Be sure to look through her blog to see such treasures.

Thank you all for reading and commenting.


Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 4 years ago from Oakland, CA

I grew up hand-quilting, and my mother always told me that the true test of the quality of the work was to flip it over and look at the back. I know your tips will help so many quilters out there ensure that they pass this test with flying colors!


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Great ideas to make a quilt decorative and bear more wear and tear. The two Barb Vedder's designs are awesome. Very useful and creative. Voted up.


unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

Wow what a wonderful hub about quilt. they;re lovely.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Georgie. Most people don't think much about the back of the quilt as they try to finish off the quilt so that they can move on to the next quilt, but it doesn't take a lot of extra effort to make it interesting as well. In fact I have one quilt that my family likes better from the back than from the front, and I just put some pieces together.

Thank you I Am Rosa. I am glad you found this useful enough to share.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I never even thought to look at the back of a quilt bause I naturally assumed all the good stuff was in front. Now that you've clued me in, I'll be taking a look at the back as well. Voting this Up and Interesting.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I have a quilt that needs this and now I know how to do it with care and good quality. I love my quilt and it is so comfortable and warm that I would hate to have to toss it because of the backing with small tears. Thank you for sharing.


I Am Rosa profile image

I Am Rosa 4 years ago from Canada

Great info - shared with quilting friends :-)


Georgie Lowery profile image

Georgie Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

This is an interesting Hub. I learned a little about quilting when I was young - we had an older woman that lived next door to us that we canned "Granny" who had a big quilting frame in her spare bedroom. To her credit, she tried to teach me how to do it.

I never knew that so much thought and care went into the backs of these beautiful pieces. I already had a healthy appreciation for quilters, but that's been multiplied thanks to your Hub!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working