2 common backing troubles

April 22, 2014

When it comes to quilts, piecers and quilters focus most of their attention on the quilt top. Some quilters go the extra mile to create a back that is as interesting as the front (sometimes to the frustration of machine quilters, who must fight quadruple seams, centered designs, or even thread color and tension concerns).Those scenarios are perfect topics for future columns!

Today we are focusing on some of the backing troubles that can derail an otherwise wonderful quilt:

Backing fabric that is too small

It can happen to the best of us … even when you measure twice and cut once your backing ends up being too short! When you plan the backing size for your project, allow for an extra four inches on all sides of the quilt. If you are densely quilting the project or using thick or lofty batting, add another 3 inches to the bottom of the backing.

Quilters using domestic sewing machines to quilt their projects begin in the center and work their way out toward all four sides. This reduces pleats and puckers in the backing as all the fabric slides out away from the center. However, longarm quilters begin at one end of the quilt and travel down its length or width. The quilted portion accumulates on a “pick up” roller. This set-up causes the quilt top to shift farther down than the backing fabric, increasing the likelihood of running short on the other end.

Try placing a colored sheet of paper on top of a stack of white sheets of paper. Roll the stack into a tube with the colored paper inside the tube.Notice what happened when you reached the other end of the stack? The colored paper and all the other layers shifted much more compared to the outer-most sheet. That’s what happens to your quilt sandwich on a longarm frame.You need much more backing fabric at the bottom of the quilt than at the top. So if you have planned on four inches on all sides of your quilt,don’t “center the quilt on the backing. Instead, situate the quilt so that you leave only an inch or so of the backing at the TOP of the quilt, and allow the extra inches to help you out at the other end.

Backing fabric that is not square

For longarm quilters, backing fabric doesn’t really need to be truly “square.” But you DO need the two edges that you are attaching to your frame to be straight AND parallel to each other.

To see if your cutting worked, try folding your backing in half along the imaginary center line that you will use as a guide for mounting the fabric. Use a few pins to keep one of the edges you will mount to the frame aligned with itself. Now move to your frame and stand at the front side of your frame. Toss the fabric across the frame, keeping the pinned edge toward you. Allow the other end to fall over the pick-up roller and on to the other side of the frame.

With this fabric still folded, drag the backing slowly toward you, allowing the pick-up roller to smooth out the backing as you go (readjust any bumps or wrinkles on the other side). When the opposite end finally reaches your table top, walk to the rear of your frame and check the “unpinned” edge. Did it stay even with itself or did it shift? You may need to do this more than once to make sure. Re-trim the unpinned side so that it is straight and parallel to the pinned side.

Happy Quilting!