Quilt Backing Fabrics for Beginners: A Complete Guide

After perfecting your quilt top, it’s now time to baste your quilt. For basting to happen, you need a quilt backing. A quilt backing uses either one piece of fabric or several pieces of fabric. 

Quilt backing fabrics are usually wider than regular fabrics and can accommodate queen and king beds. Consequently, fabrics are made specifically for quilt backings and are usually more extensive than the quilt top.

If you are hiring a professional long arm quilter, ensure to check the backing size requirements. Let’s proceed to an in-depth discussion about quilt backings.

What is a Quilt Backing Fabric?

Also known as a quilt backing or backing, quilt backing fabric is the bottom part/ layer of your quilt sandwich. If you are a beginner, a quilt sandwich is composed of three layers. They include:

    1. Top layer- Quilt top
    2. Middle layer- Batting
    3. Bottom layer- Backing

Using the three layers, you can learn how to make a t-shirt quilt and impress a friend.

Backings are usually more extensive than the quilt top to prevent shifting of the quilt during the sewing process. Most backing fabrics are made from cotton, while others are made from substrates like lawn, fleece, and flannel. 

How to Calculate Yardage for Quilt Backing Fabrics

Calculating yardage for quilt back
Image Source: Generationsquiltpattern.com

Yardage is a unit of measurement used by quilters to determine the size of fabric needed. The size of your quilt top dictates backing yardage. You can calculate the yardage for your backing either by:

    1. Taking manual measurements
    2. Using a quilt fabric calculator

The most efficient is manually taking measurements and calculating them.

When calculating yardage for your backing fabric, assume the following;

    1. The backing is 6-8 inches larger than the quilt top
    2. The backing is pieced with 0.5-inch seam allowances that are pressed open to reduce bulk
    3. The usable width of the backing fabric is 40 inches. If the backing requires piecing, deduct another 1 inch from the seam allowances.
    4. The grain length of the quilt backing runs vertically to add stability 
    5. No selvages present
    6. You have the best sewing machine for quilting

After assessing the above requirements, below are steps to follow when calculating yardage for your backing.

    1. Calculate the Size of your Quilt Backing

Start by measuring the width and length of your quilt top. After getting the final measurements, add 8 inches on each side to get the size of your backing.

Calculations:

      • Quilt top – 60 by 70 inches
      • Backing- (60+8) by (70+8) = 68 by 78 inches
      • Answer: 68 by 78 inches is the size of quilt fabric needed

      2. Calculate the Lengths of Fabric Needed

Under this step, take the final width from step 1 and divide it with the usable width of quilt fabric. 

Calculations:

      • Backing width- 68 inches
      • Usable width- 40 inches
      • 68 divided by 40= 1.7 inches

Note: If you get a figure with a remainder, round off to the nearest whole number

Answer: 2 lengths of fabric to create a quilt back

      3. Calculate the Yardage Required for the Backing

In this step, multiply the number of lengths of fabric with the final inches of the quilt backing and then convert your answer into yards.

Calculations:

      • 2 x 78=156 inches
      • Convert to yards:
      • 156 divided by 36= 4.33333

Note: Round up to the nearest 1/8 yard 

Answer: 4 yards is the minimum fabric needed to piece your backing.

In case you want to compile your calculations in a chart, look at the following table:

Quilt top length

Number of vertical strips required (40 inches usable width)

Calculations

Less than 34 inches

1

Quilt top length + 8 inches, divide by 36= yards required

34-76 inches

2

Quilt top length + 8 inches, multiply by 2, divide by 36= yards needed

76- 118 inches

3

Quilt top length + 8 inches, multiply by 3, divide by 36= yards required

If you need more understanding, watch the video below on figuring yardages for quilt backs.

How to Piece a Quilt Backing

Quilt backing fabrics
Image Source: Jaybirdquilts.com

Did you know how to make a quilt label backing using several yards of either matching or mismatched fabric to make a pieced backing?

    1. Gather your Quilting Supplies

Ensure you have the following:

      • Rotary cutter
      • Tape measure
      • Cutting table
      • Quilting thread
      • Sewing machine/ Needle
      • Seam ripper
      • A pair of scissors

      2. Choose your Quilt Backing Fabric

How to piece a quilt backing fabric
Image Source: Craftsy.com

The various quilt backing fabrics include cotton, flannel, and gray fabrics. Cotton is the most popular fabric due to its availability and affordability. 

Whether you choose a plain or patterned fabric, ensure that all sides of your backing fabric are at least 4 inches longer than the quilt top. If you want to know how to quilt as you go, use online tools like the quilt backing fabric calculator that help you calculate backing yardage in minutes.

      3. Remove the Selvages

How to piece a quilt backing
Image Source: Theruffledpurse.com

Before using your backing fabric, consider removing the frays and hanging threads along the edges to avoid puckering. The width is determined after the removal of selvages.

      4. Provide a Seam Allowance

Some seams may not line up when pieced together when matching patterns and prints. Therefore, you may need to shed the extra fabric from one side to give the pattern a continuous look after sewing. 

Leave a ½ inch seam allowance and press open.

      5. Check the Grainline

Flannel quilting fabric
Source: Sewguide.com

Before sewing, ensure that you test for the grainline of the fabric and match the fabrics accordingly. 

For instance, the crosswise grain is pieced into another crosswise grain to enable extra stretching. On the other hand, the lengthwise grain is sewn to another lengthwise grain for less stretching capabilities. 

      6. Sew the Seams Together

Depending on the size of your quilting project, the seams for piecing your backing run either vertically or horizontally. 

If you don’t want to leave any extra fabric, consider using horizontal seams between 40-60 inches. For quilts above 61 inches, vertical seams are used.

How to Back a Quilt

How to back a quilt
Image Source: Crafttakeover.com

If you are a beginner, finding ideas for your backing can be challenging. If you can’t access quilt kits, consider the following methods.

    1. Use a Pieced Strip

Is your quilt backing fabric not wide enough? Then you need a pieced strip! 

A pieced strip is a fabric added to the backing to make it slightly wider than the quilt top. The strip extends evenly around the quilt and adds color to plain fabrics.

The pieced strip is beginner-friendly and convenient for experienced quilters too.

      2. Patterned Background

Patterned backgrounds are often added to mini quilts due to their complexity in matching the patterns and fabrics. Nonetheless, if you want to go big, patterned backgrounds have no limit. 

When sewing your fabrics together to fit your quilt pattern, ensure the directions of the prints and patterns are cohesive. Ensure you know how to baste a quilt after choosing your pattern.

Watch this video on how to quilt in the background

      3. Use Extra Blocks

The extra blocks are a fun and fancy version of the pieces strip. The quilt blocks for beginners are leftovers from your quilt top that are used to piece together a strip for the backing. 

      4. Super Scrappy

Do you have leftovers or scraps from your quilt top? If yes, the super scrappy method is the perfect excuse for using your scraps.

By using the scraps to back a quilt, you get an eye-catching yet random style both for beginners and experienced quilters. You can learn how to make a rag quilt using the supper scrappy method.

Types of Quilt Backing Fabrics

Although backings can use any type of fabric sewing quilting, some materials have high thread counts thus limiting the success of the quilting process. Let’s discuss the types of fabrics for backing available today.

    1. Quilting Cotton Fabrics

The quilting cotton fabrics are made from 100% cotton material that is absorbent and medium-weight. Cotton fabrics are easy to use and clean making them ideal for a beginner. Cotton backing fabrics mostly come in 44 inch wide pieces while some are 108 inches wide.

      2. Wide Quilting Fabric

The wide backing fabric is a great option for finishing your quilt’s edges due to its massive width. They are mostly made from cotton and are commonly 108 inches wide. The wide backs are often available in simple designs and patterns compared to the quilt top.

The 108 quilt backing fabric makes the quilting process easier by ensuring you don’t need to piece your quilt backing. In addition, the 108-inch wide quilt backing fabric is a cost-effective alternative compared to the standard 44-inch wide quilting cotton.

      3. Extra Wide Quilt Backing Fabric

Apart from the 108 wide quilt backing fabric, other extra-wide backing measurements include 104, 106, 108, 110, and 120 inches.

The 120-inch wide quilt backing fabric is primarily used in large projects such as California king beds and sewed with experienced quilters. You can find the 120-inch quilt backing fabric Joann available in the stores today. 

      4. Flannel Quilting Fabric

Using flannel as quilt backing
Image Source: Kitchentablequilting.com

Flannel is a soft woven cloth made from cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers. Available in various designs, the flannel fabric is soft and cuddly hence ideal for making baby quilts.

Tips to follow when using the flannel backing fabric

      • Use a walking foot
      • Always prewash the flannel before the quilting process
      • Leave a ½ seam allowance during piecing 
      • Clean the machine regularly
      • Use spray starch in case the flannel fails to stretch

      5. Scrappy Quilt Fabric

The scrappy quilt fabric is simply leftovers from your quilt top, pieced together to create a backing. If you are a beginner, it’s important to note that this type of backing fabric requires a lot of seams.

The central dilemma with scrappy quilt fabrics is that they are available in various colors and textures. Therefore, ensure you match your quilting thread appropriately when stitching.

      6. Fleece Quilt Fabric

Fleece is a soft, warm, and lightweight material commonly used in crafts. Fleece quilts are made of several fabric squares. However, the fleece fabric limits the quilter’s creativity since the material is too thick to stitch compelling patterns. 

Watch this video on how to use fleece for quilt backing

How to Use Fleece for Quilt Backing

      7. Viole Backing Fabric

Viole is a light and transparent fabric used for making decorations like wall hangings. Since the material is highly fragile, strive to learn how to bind a quilt using the viole fabric.

      8. Quilter’s Linen

Gray quilt fabric
Image Source: Fabric.com

Linen is not the most incredible fabric when it comes to quilting. The material is a gray quilt fabric with a soft texture and relaxed feel.  However, the quilter’s linen has a similar texture to cotton.

Although the quilter’s linen is unpopular, most quilters use it. 

Factors to Consider When Buying Backing Fabric

    1. The Purpose of the Quilt

The primary purpose of your quilt determines the type of backing fabric to use. If your quilt is for outdoor activities, consider choosing floral and busier patterns and prints. The busy prints help disguise any tears, dirt marks, or stains on the quilt.

For indoor quilts, both plain and patterned quilts are suitable.

      2. Thread Color

Your backing should match your quilting thread used to avoid a messy presentation. If you are a beginner, strive to use the same thread color at the quilt top and the backing. 

      3. Size of the Quilt Top

The size of your quilt top determines the yardage for your backing. If you want to know how much fabric for a queen-size quilt is required, below is a comprehensive table guide. 

Backing Yardage Measurements

Bed Type

Mattress Size

(Inches)

Quilt Size

(Inches)

Backing Yardage

(42-inch wide fabric)

Crib/Baby

27 x 52

36 x 36

2 5/8 yards

Lap

N/A

48 x 62

3 ¼ yards

Twin

39 x 75

63 x 87

5 ¾ yards

Full/Double

54 x 75

78 x 87

7 1/3 yards

Queen

60 x 80

84 x 92

7 7/8 yards

King

76 x 80

102 x 102

9 2/3 yards

      4. The Brand

Just like any other product, consider buying backing from a reputable brand. That way, you are assured of high-quality materials, various options, and accurate measurements. 

You can find quality backing fabrics from brands like Joann fabric quilt backing

      5. Direction of Prints

Wide quilt fabric
Image Source: Blogtiedwitharibbon.com

When buying a backing, ensure to check the direction of prints and patterns in your pre-quilted fabric. If you are a beginner, avoid prints that need accurate matching to disguise the seam. Instead, opt for a busy print that requires blending.

If you are an experienced quilter, avoid large-scale quilting projects that require you to disguise the seam.

Frequently Asked Questions

    1. What Kind of Fabric is Used for Making a Quilt Backing?

The best and most popular backing fabric is cotton. There are also other options like fleece and muslin.

      2. Are Backing Fabrics Expensive?

Depending on the brand or the manufacturer, some backing fabrics are more expensive than others. Alternatively, you can buy quilting fabric bundles to save you the cost of repeatedly buying fabric.

      3. Can Bed Sheets be Used as Quilt Backings?

Although bed sheets are not recommended for large projects, they are suitable for small projects and beginners. Keep in mind bed sheets have a high thread count making it hard to hand and machine stitch.

      4. How Do I Make Sure I’m Piecing a Square?

If you want to know how to square up a quilt block, snip and cut along the fabric to reveal the grainline of the fabric.

      5. What is the Difference Between a Batting and a Backing?

Batting is the middle layer of a quilt, while the backing is the bottom layer.

Conclusion

If you think about it, backings provide an opportunity for the quilter to be as creative as possible. You don’t have to have a plain pattern on your backing.

As soon as you complete the backing, baste it with the quilt top and the batting. Happy quilting!

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