Sunday, September 15, 2013

Backing up isn't just for computers...

I've gotten a bunch of questions about making a quilt backing, so I figured it was time to share my way of doing it.  This doesn't mean this is the only way, or the right way or anything like that.  Part of this is my way because I've found it works for me and part of it is based on the limitations of my long arm frame and machine.  Please, do your research and find what works for you.  If you will be taking your quilt to someone to quilt make sure you know their requirements.  I"ll also share how load the long arm frame for quilting.
First, we start with the top and backing that a friend asked me to quilt.  I picked out two threads that I thought would be good for this quilt.  This time, I went with blending threads.
I was provided four yards of 44" wide flannel for the backing.  The quilt top was 57" by 97".  I immediately realized there was going to be a problem.  Now, I could outline all the math involved.  Let me just sum up by saying "this wasn't going to work!"

DISCLAIMER:  I know the maker of this quilt top personally.  She is a friend and trusts me with her quilts.  I couldn't get away with this kind of editing on just any quilt.  Do not try this at home.

I ended up ripping off the bottom row of her quilt, making the top 57" by 86", still too long to fit comfortably within the fabric I had.  I still needed it to make the backing long enough to accommodate the top.  I also had to dig up some coordinating fabric from my stash to make this add-in strip wide enough to work with the rest of the backing.  Okay, back to making a backing.

Cut the backing in half to create two 2-yard pieces.  Make a snip about 1" long so you can rip the selvage edges (there is a visual guide for finding your selvages on my deviantArt page, if you need help with that.) from one side of each backing piece.  You don't want to leave the selvages in your quilt back, they could distort the backing since the thread density is usually higher in the selvage.  Press your fabrics (yes, do it before you sew, it's easier than wrestling four yards of fabric on your ironing board to get the creases out) and sew the two backing pieces together using a 1/2" to 5/8" seam allowance.  Press this seam open.  The backing should be at least 6" larger on each side.  This means that if your quilt is 60" wide, the backing should be at least 72" wide.  I'll touch on this again later in the post and why it is important.  That long seam is across the width of the backing, not the length.  I will not create or use a backing that has a vertical seam. 
I put a pin in the center of the back and take it to the long arm frame.  I match up that center pin with the center of the leader and pin it all along this edge.  This is where leaving that selvage edge on there comes in handy.  Sure, we're just going to cut it off later, but for right now it will hold these pins better than a cut edge would.  Also, there is no need to make sure this edge is straight.  I trust that the selvage edge is straight enough for my purposes.

Then, I roll the backing onto the take-up bar until the other end will be easy to pin to the backing bar on the other side of the machine.  Here, you can see the back of the strip I had to insert between the two pieces of backing fabric.  The wide seam allowance is pressed open to prevent problems while quilting.
I pin all along the bottom edge just like I did with the top.
Now, I roll all of the backing onto the backing rail, the closest to the front of the machine.  This rail is also called the belly rail, because it should be about belly height.
Fold the quilt top in half and lay it on top of the batting.  I usually do this, since I buy batting by the roll.  This is Warm & Natural in the 90" wide.  Here, I'm using it lengthwise, which is perfect.  I cut this one a little narrow and I was a little nervous once I got it onto the long arm.  If the quilt is small (say 38" x 45" or so) you can get closer to 2" on all sides for the batting.  If the quilt is bigger, like this one, you really should leave 3" on either side.  I press that center crease out of the batting and set it aside.  Press the top one more time.  This is the last chance to get things straight.  Once it is quilted, there isn't much one can do about... well, anything.
I pin the leader along the bottom edge of the quilt top.
Then, roll the top onto the rail and get the batting underneath.  This is where the batting being wider is important.  If you're going to pin baste something, you can use much less.  With the long arm, you have to leave a little extra to allow for variations in cutting and loading the frame. 
I've put some notes in here so I can try to make this make sense.  Those clamps along the side maintain tension on the quilt backing while quilting.  If the bed of the machine hits them while you're stitching along, you can have skips and jumps in the stitching.  To avoid this, the quilt backing should be 6" - 8" wider than the top.  Over on the left, there is a small arrow and the words "two blocked."  This is just showing that the sewing machine cannot travel any more to the left on the frame.  So, the machine needs room to move and room to move without obstruction.  Can I quilt something with less extra fabric for the machine to move?  Yes.  Will it be quality?  Likely not near the edges.  This is why I ask for extra fabric along the edges.  Sure, if you're pin basting and free motion quilting on your domestic sewing machine you don't need this much extra, but that isn't what I'm doing.
I load up the bobbin and do some test stitching along the edge.  This way I can get the tension right before I head into the quilt.  Nothing is more frustrating that trying to rip out stitches on a quilt.  Okay, there are more frustrating things, but this one is on my list of things not to do.  I test the tension every time I replace the bobbin. 
Then, I'm off to the races with the quilting.  I love being able to just jump in and quilt.  This one displays several different designs in the quilting.  This way the surface of quilt has interest and I'm not bored.  A bored quilter is never a good thing.
Here is the finished back.  The strip isn't quite in the center of the back.
Couldn't fail to share a picture of the quilting.  All sorts of different designs in this one.
There it is, all quilted.  Now, I'll roll it up and hand it back to my friend.

That is how I create backings and why I make them the size I do, load the quilt into the long arm frame, and get ready to quilt.  Please, if something is unclear or if you have questions, leave me a comment.  I'll do my best to answer your question or update the information to make it more easily understandable.

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