Assembling Your Backing

Let’s talk backing. Assembling your backing should be as painless and easy as possible. I don’t know about you, but by the time I get done with my quilt top, I want to spend as little time as possible on the backing. I’m too excited to have it done! Most patterns come with backing instructions and requirements, but just in case, here is the math to calculate how much you need!

Width of Quilt + 6″ = Minimum width of your backing
For Example: My quilt is 50″ wide + 6 inches = My backing should be at least 56″ wide.

Width of backing / 36″ = How many yards wide you need
Example: 56″ wide / 36″ = I will need my backing to be at least 1.556 yards wide.

Now, take the length of the quilt + 8″ = Minimum length of backing
Example: 60″ long + 8″ = My backing should be at least 68″ long.

Fabric typically comes in a 44″ WOF (width of fabric), your backing length will measure in increments of 44″. So, if you need at least 68″ of length on your backing, then you’ll need two rows of the width (1.556 yards), making the length 88″ long. Since you need two rows of the width (1.556 yards x 2), you would need to order a total of 3.112 yards. I would round up to 3.25 yards just to be on the safe side.

You can also get extra wide fabrics instead, which typically come in 102″, 108″ or 120″ wide. If you get something like this, then you would only need to buy the 1.556 yards.

Why the Extra Space Around the Backing?

As a longarmer, I have seen backings of all shapes and sizes. I am here to tell you that there IS a right and a wrong way to do it. In order to longarm your quilt, the longarmer needs to use the first inch or two at the top and at the bottom of the backing to pin to the canvas rolls. This holds the backing in place and centered. Then there are clamps on either side of the quilt which hold the sides and keep it stable while stitching. On top of all this, as the machine stitches, it causes some shrinkage of the fabrics. This is why there needs to be plenty of clearance and extra backing around your quilt top. If you cut your backing too close to the size of your quilt top, it could cause major problems and a frustrated longarmer.

So do your favorite longarmer a favor and give us those extra couple of inches all around!

Assembling Your Backing

Now that you know how much fabric you need, it’s time to piece it together. Follow the picture tutorial on how to get it all ready to go!

Fold backing at cut in half.
Your fabric will come in one continuous length (folded in half lengthwise- leave it folded). You’ll want to fold it half and cut along the folded end.
Two equal lengths of backing
Now you have two lengths of fabric that match.
Lay pieces on together, RST. Pin along one edge.
Unfold the fabric and lay them right sides together. Pin the two layers together along one edge.
Sew along pinned edge.
Sew along the pinned edge. Be sure to give yourself a large seam allowance (I like to leave at least an inch) so that the salvage is within the seam and wont show up on your backing.
Press seams.
Press your seam in one direction. I like to press towards the bottom of the backing.
Quilt edges need to be squared and evened.
Now we need to square up the edges! You’ll notice that you may have some uneven sides, especially where the seams are.
fold backing into square to line up uneven edges.
Fold up your backing as square as you can with the rough edges lined up on one side. You can see in the image above that the edges are not all the same, even though I have it folded square.
trim edges with a straight ruler
Using a long straight ruler, line up the top and bottom of the folded backing with the ruler. Then, cut along the uneven edge.
You are now done assembling your backing.
Now you are done assembling your backing and you are ready for the quilting! If you want to be extra nice to your longarmer, you can press out all the harsh creases.

Special Note: Assembling Directional Fabric for Backing

What if you are one of the Type A’s out there (like myself) and want your directional fabric facing the same way as your quilt top, you’ll need to do it a little differently. It’s all done with the same math, but opposite directions. Since you’ll be working in increments of 44″ for your width and your length is the yardage you need.

Now, let’s take the same measurements we used for the previous example for a quilt that is 50×60. Since the top is 50″ wide, you’ll need two widths of fabric (each measuring 44″ for a total of 88″ wide). Here’s the math to find the yardage.

Length of quilt top + 8″ = inches needed
For example: 60″ long + 8″ = 68″ needed

Convert the 68″ into yards
68″ / 36″ = 1.889 yards

You need 1.889 yards in length, and you need two widths of fabric.
1.889yd x 2 = 3.778 yards needed. I would round up to 4 yards.

When piecing your backing the conventional way your seams will be horizontal, running from side to side. With directional fabric, your seams will be running vertically, from top to bottom. Be sure to press your seam. Since your backing is now way wider (88″) than is necessary, you should cut off the excess. It needs to be at least 6″ wider than your top, so it would only need to measure 68″.

88″ width – 68″ needed width = 20″ of extra width
20″ of extra width / 2 = 10″ to cut off of each side of the backing

By folding the backing in half along the seam, you can make one 10″ cut on both sides at once. Please be sure to take the extra step to cut off all that extra width to save your longarmer some time. We have to pin along the entire width, and 20″ of extra length is a pain! So help a sister (or brother) out!

Wrapping Up

I know when you quilt your quilts at home that you need to sandwich the layers together. Stop. You don’t need to do that for your longarmer. They are just going to pull the layers apart. Save yourself the time and effort. Just make sure all your seams are pressed well and your backs are straight and squared! I hope this helps you guys make great backings! Now go forth! Assemble those backings and make your longarmer proud!

3 thoughts on “Assembling Your Backing”

  1. Thank you so much for this information on quilt backings. I’ve never had a longarm quilter tell me anything about how my backings should be except for 3” to 4” larger all the way around. I’ve had, over time, 3 different longarmers quilt my tops. They have all been wonderful and have done a super job that I’ve been happy with in every way. However, I read an article some years ago about keeping quilts “forever” and how the seams on the backing are important to the longevity of the quilt. The article stated that having seams down the center of the back (whether vertical or horizontal) would eventually be a weak spot because most people fold a quilt in half and then probably in half again and then fold it down further and store it. The quilt may sit for months or years that way, eventually stressing the seam. The seam line may eventually weaken since it is part of the fold—either way you fold it. The article suggested leaving one panel of fabric whole, and cutting the other panel in half (vertically or horizontally, whichever you need based on how you use the first panel) and sewing it to the sides of the initial panel. Of course, like you mentioned, leave a bigger seam allowance for trimming the selvage edge and the press the seam either open or to the side. This way the seams are away from the center line and won’t sit in a fold for an extended length of time. It is something I’ve been doing for 5-6 years now and, even if I piece the back, I keep in mind where the seam will go. I understand this is someone’s opinion but it made sense to me. I think it is worth a consideration and will seldom create a problem with your backing. Quilts at my home sit in a closet for months at a time and I rarely take them out and refold them. (My bad, I think!)

    1. Interesting! I’ve never heard of this. I know the seam is in the middle of the back when you construct the back, but it usually is not in the middle of the quilt, once you put the top on. The backing, when constructed the way i outlined, will be 88″ long. Most tops are not that long. So the seam usually ends up in the lower 1/3. So I guess it works out! Thanks for your suggestion!

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