Creating a Quilt: Part 5 – Backing and Basting a Quilt

To piece a backing or not to piece a backing? Many people don’t realize that Shakespeare’s original idea for Hamlet was about a young quilter being driven mad by the various design decisions one must make during the quilting process, but the queen ordered him to go in a different direction. Alas. But seriously, this is one of the many questions we must ask ourselves as we’re getting ready to put together our quilt sandwich.

I am always very impressed with the Instagram posts I see of quilts with beautifully pieced backings, while at the same time thinking, “That is an awful lot of work for something that will rarely be seen.” By the time I’ve put together the quilt top, I generally want to take as little time as possible putting everything together because I really want to get to the quilting. That means I usually opt for a simple whole cloth backing.

However, for this particular quilt, I had a bit of a dilemma. By the time I had finished piecing my quilt top, I still had a good amount of yardage left over of the pear fabric. I thought it would be fun to use that for the backing, so I went ahead and pinned my completed quilt top to my design wall and taped an outline around it so I could make sure I had enough fabric to use as the backing.

Surprise, surprise — it wasn’t quite enough fabric, which meant I either had to go out and buy more, or I could take my scraps and piece together a back. I opted for the fiscally responsible choice. My first idea was to make a super scrappy section of the backing, which would have been totally fun but was going to take way more time than I wanted to spend on it. Then I realized I had a nice long strip of the pear fabric that could be used as the centerpiece. I went ahead and surrounded that by some long strips of the gray and black I had left over, and — voilà! — I suddenly had a very cool-looking, contemporary quilt back to complement my very cool-looking, contemporary quilt top (I mean, very cool looking in my opinion at least).

Once the backing was complete, it was time to make the quilt sandwich. Just as a reminder, a quilt generally consists of the top and the backing with the batting in between. Because this quilt wasn’t terribly large, I was able to clear out a space on my apartment floor and tape the backing down. I put a safety pin in the very middle of the backing so that I could line up the batting and quilt top, ensuring everything was perfectly centered.

You may also notice that my batting looks a little wonky. That’s because I am a firm believer in using every scrap of batting I have before opening a new package. That means using the zigzag stitch on my sewing machine and “Frankenstein-ing” all my batting scraps together.

Once everything was laid out, I pin basted all three layers together. Pin basting is how I originally learned to baste, and it’s really my preferred method at this point. I am very reticent to use any sort of adhesive with any part of my quilting process, so I plan on sticking with pin basting until my body forces me to pick another way to keep my quilt sandwich together. By the way, for those of you who might not know, basting a quilt sandwich is how you keep all three layers together during the quilting process. If you didn’t baste the layers together, they would shift all over the place while you’re quilting them, and your end result would be quite a mess.

Now that everything is pin basted together, it’s time to start thinking about the overall quilting design, but I will save those ponderings for a later date. Going back to the original question at the top of this post, how do you feel about pieced backings? If you do piece your backings, is it for artistic reasons or is it because you don’t want to waste any fabric? I’d love to hear the stories about your own process, so please share them with all of us in the Comments section below! Happy crafting!

Published by Andrew Ve Hansen

I live in Brooklyn with my husband. I'm obsessed with all things quilting! Some of my other interests include taking advantage of all of the culinary delights this city has to offer, hanging out with my friends, board games and tabletop RPGs, reading, watching movies and tons of TV, crafting, and going to the theater (especially musicals).

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Andrew, I often piece backings because I don’t have enough of the main fabric! That said, I’m very fussy about what fabric to choose because even though it’s “only the back”, if the quilt is actually in use on a bed, you get to see the backing often when the quilt is tossed back etc, and I like it to look good that way as well. The only time I ever rushed my choice I compromised by wanting to get it ‘today” and I’ve been disappointed ever since with how that one looks – but learnt from my mistake. For me a quilt is art on both sides. Not as critical for a wall hanging or table runner, but I’ve never made either of those. As for basting, I use a basting gun (if it’s good enough for Jen Kingwell, then it’s good enough for me!) That said, I only baste for hand quilting and don’t know if that would work for machine quilting (which I can’t do – I have to send to a professional)

  2. I often piece the back for various reasons. To use up fabric left over from the pieced front, to continue a theme, to make a quilt reversible, or there wasn’t enough of the main fabric I wanted to use. I’ve done this almost from the beginning and have continued. I like the graphic center of your backing.

  3. I had never thought about piecing a backing together. I guess I had assumed it was considered bad quilting. But now I have seen some wonderful pieced backings, beautiful and well-designed. So I am in favor. Also, sometimes I lay out the king sized quilt my mother made me with the back side up. It shows off the quilting so much better, and makes for a nice change for my bedroom.

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