Fabric Depot Guide to Quilt Backs

A Guide to Quilt Backs

So, you just finished an amazing quilt top and are busy basking in the glow of all your hard work when you are rudely snapped back to reality with a burning question: How am I going to finish this thing?  Should I use a quilt back or just piece 45” of fabric together? How much fabric do I need? How much is it going to shrink?  Never fear, we have compiled some of our favorite tips and tricks to help you back your quilt like an expert.

How Much Fabric Do I Need?

To figure out how much fabric to buy for your quilt backing, you must first measure your top. There are charts available that can help you find the correct amount of fabric according to the size of your quilt. These charts are an easy guide and work best for any “standard” sized quilts. 

**Remember that if you are having a long arm quilter finish your quilt, you will need to add 8” to the length and width to accommodate the quilter.

 Here is a chart that you can use:

If your quilt is not within the “standard” range, then you will have to figure out the amount of yardage that you will need on your own. The general rule of thumb is to add 4” to each side (add 8” if you are sending to a long arm quilter).

For example: Your quilt top is 99” wide and 106” long. You need a quilt back that is at least 103”x 110” (just add 4” to each side). If you quilt back is 108” wide, you will need at least 110” aka 3.05 or 3 1/8 yards (110 divided by 36). We suggest you also add 1/8 yard for shrinkage which means you need to purchase 3 ¼ yards.

What About Using a 45” Fabric?

If you want to use a 45” quilting fabric and piece the back, you must look at your measurements carefully. 45” fabric has selvedges on each side, which should be cut off when you piece your back. Most selvedges are bulkier and tightly woven than the rest of the yardage. Leaving the selvedge on can cause the fabric to ripple, makes the seams thicker, and can cause all kinds of trouble with the back of your quilt, so cut it off! Removing the selvedge along with a ½” seam allowance will leave you with about 42” of useable fabric.

We also recommend piecing your back with horizontal seams, instead of lengthwise, will save yardage. Long arm quilters like horizontal seams because it eliminates a bulky area down the center of your quilt when it is rolled up on their long arm frame. Using our previous example (Quilt: 99”x106” Back: 103”x110”), our 110” long quilt would require 3 widths of 45” quilting fabric that are at least 103” long. For our quilt you would need to purchase 8 5/8 yards of fabric (103 x 3 = 309” divided by 36” which equals 8.58 yards.

Another way to piece a back for your quilt would be to use the scraps from your top as a filler between the 42” wide strips. For smaller quilts, this works well, as it uses up the scraps that are already color coordinated for your quilt.

Will It Shrink?

The fact of the matter is that most quilt backs will shrink. It is best to plan for about 1” per yard in length and some will even shrink in width.. Quilt backing fabrics are made with a lower thread count or fewer threads per inch and are usually made with yarn that is less processed than 45” quilting cottons. Sometimes it is impossible to tell how much a wide back will shrink just by feel. Many manufacturers use finishes on the fabric in order to make them feel more desirable. The only way to know for sure is to buy a piece, take it home, and wash it.

Should I Pre-wash?
Always pre-wash your quilt backs. Most of us are anxious to get our project finished, so a better way would be to purchase extra yardage to allow for the shrinkage. I suggest that you purchase an extra 1/8 to ¼ yard of backing to allow for this depending on how large your quilt is.

Will the Color Bleed?

To find out if a quilt backing fabric is going to bleed, take a damp cloth and rub it on the fabric (with the shop owners permission, of course). If the color transfers to your cloth, the fabric will probably bleed. Sometimes the bleeding dye can be set using a product called Retayne. Retayne requires hot water and soak time to set the dye, so if you don’t have a top loading washer, it will require something large enough to accommodate the process. Some fabrics will have a bit of over dye wash out on the first wash. I usually prewash in cold water with a Color Catcher, which are available in the laundry aisle at the grocery store. The Color Catcher will tell you whether you have a bleeding back or just a bit of over dye. 

** If you are buying quilt backing online, and are unsure, ask for a sample or buy a small piece to check the quality of the fabric before you buy for your project. These precautions will keep you from having a catastrophe with your finished quilt. Request Samples from FabricDepot.com here.

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