Quilt backing is the bottom layer of the quilt sandwich, a three-layer packet made up of the quilt top, batting, and backing. The backing is the layer we see when we flip a quilt over to take a peek at its reverse side. It's easy to make quilt backing, and the backing layer can be created from either regular quilting cotton or wide panels of fabric made especially for the task.
You might also hear quilt backing referred to as the quilt lining or simply the quilt back.
How Much Is Needed?
Quilt backing and quilt batting (the middle layer of the sandwich) are cut slightly larger than the quilt top to allow for the distortions and "shrinkage" that take place during the quilting process and to give a bit of extra leeway for squaring up the entire quilt sandwich when quilting is complete.
Most quilters agree that it's best to have at least three to four extra inches of backing and batting extending beyond all sides of the quilt. That means your backing should be at least 6" to 8" wider and taller than your quilt top, more if you prefer (and even more backing) to fold it and bring it to the front of the quilt to create a self-binding. That type of binding is not as durable as double-fold binding but is an option for quilts that won't receive heavy use.
Fabric panels must be pieced together to create a backing for large quilts, although some fabric manufacturers offer a nice selection of wide backing fabrics that allow us to have a seamless back.
Use the quilter's requirements for backing size if you plan to send the project to someone else for quilting.
Miniature quilt backing can usually be cut from a single width of regular quilting fabric.
Reversible Quilt Options
Make a reversible quilt by using a second quilt top for its backing. Plan to quilt by machine, since lots of extra seam allowances found in two quilt tops usually create bulk that makes hand quilting more difficult.
Consider pressing seam allowances open instead of pressing to the side when making a reversible quilt.
- Use a backing that coordinates with the quilt top if both will be visible during use.
- Choose a quilt backing with an interesting motif and then quilt from the back along the fabric's printed lines, to transfer the design to the front.
- A busy backing hides less-than-perfect quilting stitches on the back of the quilt.
- Don't feel limited—use any backing fabric that suits your needs.
How to Make Quilt Backing from Typical Fabrics
- Remove the selvages: Fabric selvages can often create little puckers along their length and should be removed before using fabric as backing. Determine how much width will remain after removing selvages.
- Cut a single panel backing: Regular quilting fabric is suitable for quilts up to about 35" wide. Not all fabrics are the same width—remember the 4" excess guideline. There's usually no need to remove selvages when a single panel of fabric is used since they will likely be trimmed away after the quilting is finished.
- Calculate yardage for a single panel: Measure the height of the quilt and add 4" to 6" (or chosen excess). Divide the figure by 36" to calculate required yardage. Add a bit extra to allow for shrinkage.
Most quilters avoid using two equally-sized pieces of fabric to make quilt backing because that technique puts the seam that links the panels together along the quilt's midpoint, where quilts are often folded. Constant folding might weaken the seam over time.
It's debatable whether or not it's true, or if it's just another viewpoint we've come to regard as fact. We shouldn't store quilts in the same folded position for any length of time because doing that can create permanent folds that are difficult to smooth away.
A popular appearance of a quilt backing is one that is made with a wide center panel flanked by two narrower panels, as shown in the illustration, but there are times when that arrangement might not be the best choice.
Design What Ifs
If your quilt is 45" wide, you'll need a backing that measures about 49" across. Let's say your center panel measures 39" after removing the selvages. You'll only need 6" more, and sewing 3" wide panels on either side of the center could make the backing look out of proportion.
One solution might be to use two fabric panels, one narrow panel sewn to a full-width panel.
How to Sew Quilt Backing Panels Together
Determine yardage length as instructed above. Measure the width of your quilt and add 4" to 6" (or chosen excess).
Design a backing to equal that width, adding 1/2" to each panel for each seam you'll use to sew it to a neighboring panel.
Cut panels to the length of your quilt plus 4" to 6" (or chosen excess).
Sew Panels Together
Sew panels together with a 1/2" seam allowance. Press seams open to reduce bulk.
Press backing before use.
Quilt backings needn't be oriented vertically on the back of a quilt, and when vertical panels are used, they can be different widths. Avoid placing a very narrow strip of fabric alongside a wide panel (mostly for balance), but an imbalance in some fabrics wouldn't be noticeable, as many fabrics blend nicely along seam lines.
You might want to avoid a horizontal arrangement of panels for heavy quilts that will always be displayed on a wall. In that type of layout, the crosswise grain of fabrics would run from side to side. Over time, the extra stretch of the crosswise grain might lead to a bit of drooping in the quilt. We doubt that drooping would occur in heavily quilted pieces, but it could be a problem in projects with minimal quilting.
When the backing is complete, it's time to sandwich it with the quilt top and batting before basting the layers to keep them from shifting. Machine quilters nearly always use safety pins to baste a quilt, but adhesive products and the traditional method of basting with long hand-sewn stitches are both popular methods.