Quilting Blog

How to Make Quilt Backs + 9 Creative Ideas

You’ve finished the piecing on the front of your quilt, but what do you do for the back? What are the best fabrics to use in quilt backing, and how do you decide how big to make them? Should you choose a solid fabric or piece several fabrics together to make a large enough quilt backing? Let’s answer these quilt back questions and more!

What are quilt backs?

Quilt backing is the bottom layer of a quilt sandwich, which is topped with quilt batting and the quilt top.

Sizing for quilt backs

Most backings should be up to 4″ larger than the finished top on each side, depending on whether you’re quilting it yourself or sending it out to be quilted. If you’re sending it out, always check with the longarm quilter to see what size they prefer.

Buying or piecing your back

Quilts backs can be made from large cuts of coordinating fabric, such as the most common 44″-wide quilting cotton. If using regular 44″ quilting fabric, you can simply stitch together enough pieces to fit the length and width of your quilt back (more on that in a bit!).

Quilt backs can also be made from wider 90″ or 108″ cuts of quilting cotton, specially designed for backing large quilts. When using this fabric, it’s likely you won’t have to sew any fabrics together to get a large enough piece of backing.

If you have a bit more time, you can make a patchwork quilt backing with blocks, stripes, diagonal lines or any design you choose. We’ll give you some more ideas for pieced quilt backs, below.

Fabric options for quilt backing

Quilting cotton

Baby Boy Quilt - Craftsy Member Project

Perhaps the most popular quilt backing is plain or patterned quilting cotton. For crib-size quilts like the Baby Boy Quilt pictured above, you can usually use a single cut of fabric to cover the entire quilt back. This makes patterned fabrics are a great option!

Bed sheets

Giant Vintage Star Quilt, on Craftsy

Because they already come in large, bed-size pieces, sheets make excellent quilt backs! Vintage sheets, like this one seen in the Giant Vintage Star Quilt pictured above, can often be picked up at thrift shops and yard sales at a budget price. In addition to being larger than a normal cut of quilting fabric, solid and patterned bed sheets are typically soft, making for extra-cozy quilt backs.

Minky or fleece backing

Minky Quilt Backings - Craftsy.com

Soft and luxurious, minky fabric (also called fleece fabric) is a great quilt backing that can be used on baby quilts or larger projects. It’s available in textures such as the dimple fabric shown on the Brown Minky Baby Blanket above, as well as prints and non-textured solids. 

Tips for working with fleece or minky quilts backs

  1. Quilting stitches up differently only minky fabric than on regular quilting cotton, and the thicker texture may even make it more forgiving. When it’s free-motion quilted, fleece looks just as luxurious as any high-end fabric. 
  2. There’s no need to pre-wash fleece fabric because it generally doesn’t shrink.
  3. When cutting fleece, follow the nap and cut all of your pieces in the same direction. You can find the nap by running your hand over the fabric. According to Quiltbug, fleece fabrics curl to the wrong side when stretched on the crosswise grain.
  4. Since it’s a bit thicker, cut through only one layer of fleece at a time.
  5. Clean out your machine often when sewing with fleece, because it can deposit fuzz into your machine’s parts.
  6. When washing a finished fleece quilt, use a low-heat setting and steam to press your seams.
sewing quilt borders

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How to piece quilt backing for a perfect fit

If you have several yards of matching (or even mismatched) fabric, you can join this to make a basic pieced quilt backing.

How to Piece Quilt Backing

Photos via Lindsay Sews

How much fabric do you need?

To determine how much fabric yardage you need for a quilt back, visit Quilter’s Paradise and check out their free Quilt Backing and Batting Calculator. Just enter the dimensions of your quilt top plus the required overage (4″ on each side, so 8″ extra in both directions) and the calculator will tell you how many yards of fabric you need.

fabric for backing

Remember to account for the seam allowance — especially if you’re trying to match prints. For example, in the photo above, the blue circles will not line up when pieced together, so you may want to cut off a bit extra from one side so the pattern appears continuous when sewn together.

If you like, you can use a ½” seam allowance to make the seam more durable. Press the seam open to help it lay flat.

How should you sew the quilt back together?

The seams used to piece quilt backing can run vertical or horizontal depending on the size and shape of your project.

40 to 60 quilt backs61 to 120 quilts

When in doubt, check the yardage needed for both options and choose the one that requires less fabric. As a general rule, the charts above show suggestions for piecing quilt backs 40″ to 60″ with the seams running horizontal and 61″ or larger quilts with the seams running vertical, in order to maximize fabric.

Always test for the grainline of the fabric and join fabric along that matching grain. This means the crosswise grain will be pieced to another crosswise grain (more stretch), and the lengthwise grain will be sewn to another lengthwise grain (less stretch).

Making a reversible quilt

Reversible quilts are a great option for combining two of your favorite quilting patterns, one on the front and the other on the back, like this table runner project:
Patterned Holiday Table Runners

Photo via Craftsy member SaltwaterQuilts

You could also use the same patchwork design and switch up your fabric colors for a reversible quilt pattern that easily translates from one season to the next. How about a boy/girl quilt for newborn twins? Or a naughty/nice quilt for the holidays?

Stripe and Stars Reversible Quilt

In many cases, reversible quilts involve making two quilt tops of the same size, and layering them on either side of your batting to make a quilt sandwich. However, the quilt-as-you-go project pictured above is formed by joining individual blocks with batting and sashing, so the “pieced” quilt backing that is formed has a cool grid pattern that makes the quilt reversible!

The no-math method for pieced quilt backs

You absolutely can make a pieced quilt back, and it can be as precise and intricate as your quilt top. But if you’re looking for a fast, no-fuss way to piece a quilt back, try this method.

Quilt Back with Composition in Blues

On a design wall or on a large work surface, mark out the size you want the back to be with tape or pins. Lay blocks, shapes or scraps out to fill that space. Sew the pieces together and frequently check the size against the markings on the design wall to make sure you’re on the right track. If it’s not large enough, add another section.

9 creative ideas for pieced quilt backs

Want the back of your quilt to make a statement? Think of your quilt back as the perfect canvas for your next idea. These ideas for quilt backings will help you finish your next project in style and without breaking the budget!

1. Wide side stripe

DSC_0143_2

If you don’t have enough of a printed fabric to stretch across a quilt back, pair it with a coordinating solid fabric. To join large pieces of fabric along the lengthwise grain, cut them to the desired length and remove the selvages from the two edges you will join. Pin the fabric before piecing to be sure it lays flat later on.

2. Trio of equal stripes

DSC_0062

For this baby quilt, three fabrics were pieced together for a quilt backing. Since the quilt is only 36″ wide, the fabrics were easily joined along the crosswise grain. (If the selvages were still attached to the fabric, you’d see them on the left and right sides of the fabrics pictured above.) Use a long quarter yard or half yard of a print plus a coordinating solid to piece a simple yet pretty quilt back.

3. Off-center cross

Chevron Accent Quilt Back, on Craftsy

Photo courtsey of Fabric Seeds

The vertical and horizontal stripes and background fabric on this quilt back coordinate with the fabrics used for the quilt top. Adding stripes to a quilt back not only adds an interesting design element, but it can help you extend your yardage if you don’t have enough of your main fabric for the backing.

4. Add patchwork blocks

Piece Quilt Backing

The orange print used in this quilt back wasn’t wide enough to cover the whole quilt. To make it fit, the fabric was cut the fabric and a few patchwork blocks fill the space in between. This quilter made improv blocks in fabrics to coordinate with the quilt front, but you could also use quilt blocks leftover from another project, or sew a simple column from jelly roll strips, charm squares or other pre-cut fabrics.

5. A single extra block from the front

Lil Twister Quilt: Larger Pieces for the Quilt Back

Photo courtesy of Fabric Seeds

Another idea for a pieced-quilt back is to feature one of the blocks from the quilt top on the back. In this quilt, the mini twister block is framed off-center between four stripes of purple fabric. The quilt back incorporates negative space and is a minimalistic variation of the design on the front.

6. Scrappy improv back

Quilt Back with Colorful Stripes

Using scraps from the front to make an improvisational backing is another fun idea. This is a good way to experiment with different shapes and color combinations. It can be an “anything goes” type of improvisation or one that is more controlled.

7. Rainbow stripes

Rainbow Striped Quilt Back

The back of Elizabeth Dackson’s Color My World quilt features solid strips of equal width. While she used fabric with a subtle ombré design, you can create a similar look with solids or saturated prints.

8. Grid of large graphic prints

Quilt Back in black and white

The quilt back above makes good use of a collection of black and white animal batiks. The front of this quilt is really colorful with small piecing, so the back contrasts the design with large pieces separated by a calming black-and-white check.

9. Diagonal stripe

Quilt Back with Diagonal Piecing

Don’t have quite enough fabric to cover the entire back? Enlarge it with a diagonal stripe of a coordinating fabric from the front. To use this trick, simply cut the larger piece on the diagonal from corner to corner, then insert a strip wide enough to make the backing as large as you need it to be.

sewing quilt borders

Finish that quilt!

Take your quilts over the finish line with up-close video instructions for borders, backings, bindings and more.Watch in Craftsy Unlimited
FREE for 7 Days

14 Comments

Judy Stivers

Thanks for bringing all of this information to my sight again. It is a good refresher course.

Reply
Mary

I’ve been advised to trim the selvages when piecing backing.

Reply
Olivia

Yes, always.

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Jan

Thank you for your help on backing for my quilt.

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Celia

I definitely recommend trimming the selvages. They will pull the backing out of square. I am piecing a quilt back for a quilt 88×96. I have a pieced backing of 40×103 so far. I have a piece of fabric 40×66, how do i cut it most efficiently to add to my backing?

Reply
Youmara

I know this will be of great help to finish putting together my first quilt. Just waitng for my backing fabric in the mail.

Have a great day.

Reply
Kathleen Flournoy

I am quilting a twin sized quilt. Do I use the horizontal? I will be hand quilting it.

Reply
Anne Muirhead

I have a quilt top measuring 72 inches square, am I correct in calculating I will need 4 yards for the back?

Reply
Sandra Reed

I would suggest a backing at least 3 inches larger on each side of your quilt. At 72 x 72, you should prolly consider 4 and 1/2 yds of fabric.

Reply
Phyllis

According to quiltersparadiseesc.com 4 yards would work.

Reply
Lezley

Quick note for the layout of piecing. Long armers i use much prefer the seams are parallel to the take up roll bar, as it will only be “processed” once. If it is perpendicular, over the course of the quilting, a ridge can build up adding pressure or a pull of the quilt.

Reply
Vangie Brake

What a great article. Thanks so much This is definitely a keeper.

Reply
Renee Erbe

No to using sheets! They are milled completely different. For a quality finished quilt please use quilting fabric. Quilting it will be easier and look better. Remember percale cotton is different from quilting cotton. I do a lot of charity quilts and never use sheets. The way your finished product looks and feels is worth all the effort you have put into it so don’t shortchange yourself! 😊

Reply
Cath

I totally agree with Renee about not using sheets. They are all woven differently so you have an unknown that you are tossing into the works. Keep it simple for the one who is going to quilt it, even if that person it you.
I recommend finding a fabric that blends with the quilt top in color. The quilter will most likely pick thread that blends with the quilt top and not having to worry about the quilt back as well is always a good thing.
I don’t recommend doing a lot of piecing on your quilt backs. Again, you are causing too many variables for the quilter. I have had a couple of quilts that seemed to intermittently break threads for none of the usual reasons and I really think it was the combination of fabric layers, or seams that came together on the front and back of the quilt. Use the KISS method(Keep It Simple, ######) and save yourself or your longarm quilter some grief. Happy Stitching!!

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