I Got Your Back- Tips for Making Quilt Backs

Ok class! Before we get started, I wanted to share the first thing that pops in my head when I think of backs:


I got jokes on backs for days, but running short on your quilt back is not funny at all. In fact, I have been known to get a little rowdy when this happens to me. Luckily, QuiltMom took me to school a long time ago on how to make a few different types of backs. We like rules and formulas around here, believe it or not. Structure is good.

The first back I’m going to share with you is pretty simple. If you’re making a baby quilt, and its shortest dimension is 36 inches, that will fit on one width of fabric. Fabric normally comes off the bolt around 40-44 inches, so I usually say 40 just to be safe. If it were me, I’d add 6 inches or so to the length of your quilt and that would be my longest dimension. Example: If my quilt was 36 x 45 (great baby quilt size), I would cut a 51″ piece. I’d probably ask the local quilt shop for a yard and a half, though, because that’s 54″ and I’d have a little scrap left over for an improv quilt or something like that.

Back to School Simple Back

Lovely. Just lovely.

The second back I’m going to share is a simple split down the middle. If your quilt is around 70-72ish inches in width , this is a great back because you still need some room on the sides to longarm quilt. Most longarmers like an extra 6-10 inches wider than the quilt top, so that it can be comfortably clamped on the machine without fear of hitting the clamps. When a longarmer hits the clamps, it’s like when you’re writing something and someone comes up next to you and bumps your writing elbow. PARTY FOUL. That 6-10 inches is necessary. Like the simple back, we’ll add 6 inches to the longest dimension, but we’ll cut two pieces instead of one. If your quilt is 70 x 90, for example, we will cut two 96″ pieces and sew them together down the length. I usually cut the selvages off right when I do this, because they are stretched tighter than the rest of the fabric and can sometimes draw your back in a little bit, which might create a pucker in the back for the longarmer. They may not like that. You may not like that. Cut your selvages, students!

Back to School Back 1

Simple enough, eh?

My favorite trick is the 3-piece back.

3-piece back

When I learned this style, it really empowered me, because before this, I was constantly running short and it was frustrating. If your quilt is bigger than one width of fabric, but buying two widths of fabric would be too much, the 3-piece back is your friend. The formula is simple. For this exercise, we’ll start with a  50×60″ quilt. Take the longest dimension of your quilt and add 6 inches to that dimension. (Take the 60″ and add 6″ to equal 66″.) Cut that. Then take that dimension and divide it in half. (66″ divided by two equals 33″.) Cut that. THEN HERE IS THE MAGIC. Split that piece of fabric on the fold. Then sew it side by side. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, cut it down the fold and then sew it right back down the fold. Don’t think I haven’t done it a time or two, so heed my warning. TA-DA! I’m a quilty wizard that just shared fiber magic with you.

I feel like I should share a few little tidbits for you too that have helped me understand some of the cause and effect of my quilting mishaps. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve quilted a few puckers or character flaws in the back of a quilt before and didn’t understand why. I called them “machine quilting kisses”, but it didn’t take away the pain.

*The amount of seams in your back or the direction of your seams can affect the way your quilt back rolls on the back roller. I normally load my machine with the longest dimension pinned to the rollers, so that I can quilt the largest amount of surface area. So when I pin a split back (example 2), it’s nice because that long seam ends up orientated horizontally, and becomes easier to tighten and stretch on the machine.

*Backs that have patchwork in the majority of the quilt may sag or hang differently than the top. This is for a variety of reasons. Take caution when making a patchwork back, but don’t let my warning stop you from your dreams. Live your life. Patch that back. Kiss the boy (or girl). You can do this.

*If you are at the very last pass of your quilt and you realize that your back is too short, don’t panic. Figure out how much more fabric you need to complete the task, and cut a few strips of that size and piece them together end by end. Then, gently take it off the machine and add your new strip to the bottom. Keep in mind that this is like patching a tire, and it may not always end up pretty or straight. Don’t beat yourself up- I’ve done this before too.

*If you are making the 3-piece back, and you want to make sure that the two short pieces are orientated in the same direction as the long piece, cut the printed selvage (where the designer name, design label and color swatches are located) off of the long piece and the non-printed (hole punched) selvage off the 2-piece and sew those sides together. Then cut off the remaining selvages. Test it with a half yard split into a fat quarter if you need to see this for yourself. Pretty neat stuff.

*If you’re not sure about getting your sizes right, drawing it out helps you visualize the dimensions. Draw a rectangle with your quilt top width and length written on their sides. Then add the appropriate additional amount to the back and draw an additional rectangle next to the first one with the back width and length written on their sides. Like dees right here.


I hope this helps you understand back making a little bit better. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at jessicakdarling at gmail dot com and I can try to walk you through your backmaking process.

Here’s the rest of the Back to School tour so you can gain more knowledge:

Sept 1: Peta Minerof-Bartos of PetaQuilts – So, Does that Diagonal Method for a Pieced Backing Really Work

Sept 2: Cheryl Sleboda of Muppin.com – The Quilter’s Knot

Sept 3: Teresa Coates of Crinkle Dreams – The Importance of Pressing

Sept 4: Cath Hall of Wombat Quilts – Color Coding for Paper-piecing

Sept 5: Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio – How to Calculate and Cut Bias Binding

Sept 6: Melanie McNeil of Catbird Quilt Studio – Credit where Credit is Due

Sept 7: Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts – How to Keep a Perfect 1/4” Seam Between Different Machines

Sept 8: Rose Hughes of Rose Hughes – Fast Pieced Applique

Sept 9: Megan Dougherty of The Bitchy Stitcher – The Care and Feeding of the Domestic Sewing Machine

Sept 10: Lynn Krawczyk of Smudged Design Studio – Make a Mobile Art Kit

Sept 11: Susan Beal of West Coast Crafty – Log Cabin 101

Sept 12: Sarah Lawson of Sew Sweetness – Zipper Tips

Sept 13: Jane Victoria of Jolly and Delilah – Matching Seams

Sept 14: Jemelia Hilfiger of JemJam – Garment Making Tips and Tricks

Sept 15: Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios – Curved Piecing Without Pins

Sept 16: Misty Cole of Daily Design Wall – Types of Basting

Sept 17: Kim Lapacek of Persimon Dreams – Setting your Seams

Sept 18: Christina Cameli of A Few Scraps – Joining Quilted Pieces by Machine

Sept 19: Bill Volckening of WonkyWorld – The Importance of Labels

Sept 20: Jessica Darling of Jessica Darling – How to Make a Quilt Back- you are here

Sept 21: Debbie Kleve Birkebile of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures – Perfectly Sized No-Wave Quilt Borders

Sept 22: Heather Kinion of Heather K is a Quilter – Baby Quilts for Baby Steps

Sept 23: Michelle Freedman of Design Camp PDX – TNT: Thread, Needle, Tension

Sept 24: Kathy Mathews of Chicago Now Quilting Sewing Creation – Button Holes

Sept 25: Jane Shallala Davidson of Quilt Jane – Corner Triangle Methods

Sept 27: Cristy Fincher of Purple Daisies Quilting – The Power of Glue Basting

Sept 28: Catherine Redford of Catherine Redford – Change the Needle!

Sept 29: Amalia Teresa Parra Morusiewicz of Fun From A to Z – French Knots, – ooh la la!

Sept 30: Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Victoria Findlay Wolfe Quilts – How to Align Your Fabrics for Dog Ears

October 1: Tracy Mooney of 3LittleBrds – Teaching Kiddos to Sew on a Sewing Machine

October 2: Trish Frankland, guest posting on Persimon Dreams – The Straight Stitch Throat Plate

October 3: Flaun Cline of I Plead Quilty – Lining Strips Up

Happy learning, y’all!

xoxoxoxo JD

2 thoughts on “I Got Your Back- Tips for Making Quilt Backs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s