Your 1st quilt: backing and basting

We’ve covered basics, cutting, and piecing and we’ve completed our 1st quilt top! But we still haven’t made a “quilt.” To make this quilt top a quilt, we first need to construct a “quilt sandwich” by attaching batting and backing to our quilt top.

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First you need a backing for your quilt. I like to create quilt backs that are simpler and faster than my quilt tops but are still attractive enough to make the quilt reversible. Here are a couple of common ways to achieve this:

  • use a large scale print that you love (Amy Butler and Anna Maria Horner both design fabrics that are perfect for this)
  • add a couple of simple stripes
  • use up orphan blocks from this quilt or other projects

I also always consider purchasing yardage to have in stock for quilt backs whenever I find a particularly good deal ($5/yd or so).

For this project I chose two fabrics from the front design and made a couple of stripes.

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If you are feeling overwhelmed at this point in the process, definitely feel free to use a plain backing! If you made a small quilt like this one a fat quarter is perfect. If you made a bigger quilt there are extra wide solid fabrics available for this very purpose.

Your quilt back needs to be bigger than your front because there will inevitably be some shifting of the layers during quilting. Usually you would add a total of 8 inches (4 per side) to the length and width of your quilt when you make a backing for a larger quilt. For this small project you really only need an inch or 2.

A quick anecdote to help you remember to make your quilt back bigger than your top. When I made my 3rd quilt I decided I was too good for directions and tried to work from memory. I made my quilt back and top the exact same size. Some shifting occurred during quilting (it always does) and the backing was about a half inch too small in a couple of spots. You already know that I tend to live with my mistakes rather than spend hours fixing them. I just had to pull my binding reeeeally tight to get it to close the gap. I wish I had a picture to illustrate this but I gave the quilt as a gift. Don’t worry, a non-quilter would never notice the difference! And now I really never will forget to make my backings nice and oversized.

Now we have a top and back but we still need the middle: the batting. I haven’t experimented much with different types of batting. I would like to, but that’s another tutorial for another day. For now, I can tell you that I usually use Warm & Natural cotton batting. I like it but I’d like to experiment with some other options. In particular, I’ve heard that batting with a little polyester in it causes less “crinkle” after washing. I like a nice crisp quilt so for me that’s intriguing. I’ll be sure to update this when I test that theory.

You should cut your batting bigger than your quilt top but smaller than your backing, maybe about half way between.

Now we need to get these layers attached to each other. I always use basting pins for this. Some people have good results with spray basting but for whatever reason that has never appealed to me.

Lay your backing on a flat surface wrong side up. Tape it at the corners and every 6-8 inches in between. Pull the backing taught (but not tight) as you go.

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Now lay out your batting on top of that and smooth it out.  Lay your quilt top right side up on top of that.

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Now pin the 3 layers together, placing the pins about 3-4 inches apart. When you’re placing your pins, you should be mindful of how you’re going to quilt the top so they don’t get in the way. In general I try to keep the pins in during the quilting process because it keeps the layers more stable. Plus it’s annoying to constantly be stopping to remove pins.

Start in the middle and work out to the edges.

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For this quilt I’m planning to quilt 1/4 inch on either side of all seams. When placing my pins I’ve tried to avoid those areas.

I’ve assumed in this tutorial that you will be quilting your quilt on your home sewing machine. If you plan to have it professionally quilted, do not pin it! Hand quilting also requires a different basting process (thread basting). We’ll talk more about that in the next tutorial.

Bonus tip: save your batting scraps. You can make Frankenstein batting by abutting 2 straight edges and using a zig zag stitch. Perfect for small projects like this!

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There you have it! We’ve got a basted quilt sandwich all ready for quilting. That will be our next lesson.

10 thoughts on “Your 1st quilt: backing and basting

  1. Loving the blend of the greens for the backing. It’s good advice if someone is overwhelmed or just ready to be done with a quilt to use a solid piece of fabric, but I will say that once a quilter has come up with a few gorgeous pieced backs, it’s a little hard to go back to plain ones 🙂 It’s a nice place to play with color combos.

  2. Loving your series Sarah! I learned my lesson the hard way too many times on backing!!! Go big and don’t worry about wasting. I got tired of trying to fix those short areas. Super cute stripes on the back too:)

  3. Pingback: Barn door quilt along: week 5 | Sarah Quilts

  4. This is wonderful. My daughter and I are working on our first t-shirt quilt and it is quite large. I think we are going to go with a colorful patterned sheet for the backing and was wondering how we were going to pin get all the layers together. I love the idea of starting in the middle and working outward to the edges. That is going to make this project a lot smoother! Thanks for posting.

  5. I’m new to quilting and the only backs I’ve done is making the back look like the front 10″ or 7″ aquares. Thanks for sharing how to put a full piece on the back! One question will you quilt in each square? What is the rule of thumb , how far apart does the quilting need to be?

  6. I am taking a quilting class for beginners. I have been doing embroidery and needle point most of my life but wanted to learn something new. Because of my background I have been many steps ahead and flying through. I just got bit in the butt! I did not wait for the class before I finished my quilt – I tried to work it top to bottom. Attaching as I went. I have a puckered mess now and I must take it apart and reattach.

  7. Great, simple directions. I have made a few small quilting projects but that was years ago and I forgot everything! I want to do things right so I will have a good chance at success and a beautiful finished product. Here goes!

  8. Making my very first quilt by reading books and the Internet. Found this VERY helpful, especially since I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to do this by myself.

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