How to Choose and Calculate Backing for a Quilt

Your quilt top is finally done! Yay! The finish line is approaching, but first you need to choose a fabric for the back of the quilt. Choosing a backing is personally one of my favorite parts of making a quilt, allowing you to show off one beautiful print or solid and tie the whole “look” together. Here’s some tips for choosing the right fabric to back your quilt, along with a handy chart to help you calculate yardage. Remeber: if you’re sending your quilt out to a longarm quilter, they will need the backing to be about 6″ larger than the quilt top.

Story Newspaper Wideback from Windham Fabrics sold at Pink Castle Fabrics

Piecing vs. Wideback 

Backing with standard 44″ wide fabric often requires piecing if the quilt is larger than 44″ (to figure out how many yards you need, see chart at the bottom of article.) Wideback fabrics are designed for backing and often come in widths varying from 90″ to 108″, eliminating the need to piece. Which one you choose is up to you– using standard 44″ gives you a much bigger variety of prints to choose from, but piecing will require buying significantly more yardage and a seam up the back of your quilt. Widebacks come in a more limited selection of prints and colors, but they provide a smooth, seam-free backing.

Left: the ever popular “Story Newspaper” wideback

 

Substrates

Regular woven quilting cotton is the most common backing for quilts, as it comes in a wide range of colors and prints and has the same smooth, clean texture as the quilt top. That said, there’s a few other options on the market, such as minky, flannellinen, or other wovens.

The semi solid gray fabric shown at right is Manchester Yarn Dyed Woven by Robert Kaufman— see how the slightly crinkled texture makes this baby quilt look extra snuggly?

baby quilt by Brenda Ratliff
Circular Quilting at Pink Castle Fabrics Keep Quilting in Mind

Think about how the quilt will be quilted– simple straight lines? an intricate swirl design? A really bright, busy backing print may obscure quilting lines, but a simple plaid or check can really enhance a grid or line quilting design. A neutral solid makes these bubbles look ready to pop!

Direction of Print

Be mindful of directional prints for quilt backings. Stripes or obvious 1-way designs will have to be very carefully pieced and the yardage may have to be calculated differently to ensure the print is going the direction you want it to.

Directional: Squirrels at Lunch in Teal 

Non-Directional: Fossil Rim Terrain in Yellow

Squirrel and Fossil Prints at Pink Castle Fabrics
Liberty of London Quilt by Brenda Ratliff

Solid Colors

Solids make great quilt backings, allowing you to really enhance your favorite color in the quilt and show off quilting lines, like the bright green Cotton Couture backing on a Liberty of London quilt pictured at left. Solids are also good for woven fabrics with an interesting texture, such as double gauze.

Choosing a Print

My favorite trick for choosing a print quilt backing is to pick one of the prints used in the quilt top, or at least a fabric from the same collection. I tend to gravitate towards larger scale prints and unique prints that I would like to see more of; the pie plate print on the back of this Sunset Strips quilt creates visual interest while looking harmonious since it’s from “Pie Making Day,” one of the collections used in the quilt.

Sunset Strips Quilt by Brenda Ratliff

How to Calculate Quilt Backing Yardage for 44″ Wide Fabrics

1. Measure each side of your quilt. In this example, I’ll be using a lap sized quilt, measuring 60″ by 56″.

2. Look at the measurements;  Since both 60″ and 56″ is more than 44″, you’ll need to piece the backing.

3. Since 60″ is the closest to 44″, you’ll use the width of fabric to piece the backing horizontally through the middle of the quilt. Divide 56″ by 36″ to get yardage for the first piece– a little over 1.5 yards, so we’ll go up to 1.75 to be safe. If you’re sending the quilt out to a longarm quilter, they’ll need the wide margin. Double 1.75 to get the total needed yardage: 3.5 yards of backing fabric is needed.

If you don’t feel like doing the math, you can use this handy (and Pinterest pinnable) chart of common quilt sizes to help you buy fabric. If your quilt is in between sizes, choose the next one up to make sure you have enough!

Quilt Backing Cheat Sheet from Pink Castle Fabrics