Saturday, June 28, 2014

Piecing a Quilt Back

When I picked the fabrics for this quilt, I decided to use this 2 yard cut I picked up in the discontinued section of my local quilt shop.  I bought it for quilt backing but for a much smaller quilt.
After I had I pieced the quilt top and realized I would have to add something to the backing fabric to make it big enough.  Pieced backings are a great way to use up some of those orphan blocks and add some visual interest to the back of your quilt.
I had several leftover blocks, so those were pieced together to be inserted.  This part is very straight-forward; just regular piecing. Let's go over how I pieced rest of the quilt back.  (For the record, this is not the only way to do this.  This is MY way of doing it.) There are very specific reasons I piece my backings this way. 

To keep these long cuts (about 2 yards long) straight, I tear my fabric.  Cut a 1" snip about 12" from the selvage edge.  (I never remove the selvages from the outside edges of the quilt back before quilting, I'll go over this more later.)  Tear the fabric from this snip the length of the fabric.
When I measured my row of blocks, it was long enough for the quilt, but just a little bit shorter than the rest of the backing fabric.  I pieced in some muslin just so it would match up.  This muslin is well into the excess (meaning waste that will be cut off after quilting but is required for loading onto the frame) for this backing.
Since I ripped the fabric, I put in a much wider seam allowance.  For smaller piecing I don't mind the 1/4", but for those long seams I think a seam allowance of 1/2" to 5/8" is more appropriate. 
These wide seams get pressed open.  These are the only seams I press open.  I am trusting the light scrim on the back of my batting to help prevent bearding through these seams.  I know some people press all their seams open, but I don't for 1/4" seams.  I don't think it makes a strong enough seam when it is pressed open and I don't care for pressed fingers.
With my row of blocks stitched in, I tested against the top.  There were some choice words and a long sigh when I realized I was still about 3" too narrow.  If I was not my own long arm quilter this would have been more like 9" too short, but I'll cover that another time.  I had to come up with another 3-4" of backing fabric with seam allowance.
I had about 1/4 of a yard of this turquoise fabric and a trimmed off 2" strip of the chevron fabric.  I decided to sew those two together and then trim the 10" by width-of-fabric piece into 4.5" rectangles.  Then, I sewed them together into one long strip.  I really like this detail.  The chevrons just peek out of that bold, solid strip.
I repeated the process of tearing for the other side.  This is where it comes down to personal preference.  I put the first one in at around 12" from the selvage edge.  I did the same with the second insert, but I could have put it much closer to the first.  Don't be afraid to vary this to create a pleasing backing.  Just avoid getting too close to the edges (to me, anything 6" or less is too close).  I always make sure I have a nice solid piece along the edges.  I don't want to have too many seams along the edges that might interfere when I go to attach the binding.
Again, I used a 1/2" seam allowance and pressed open.
Once it was all pressed from the back, I turned it over and pressed from the front.  Remember, if you can't press it out it isn't likely to get quilted out.
This is what it looked like before I pinned it to the leader for quilting.  Let's talk about those selvages for a little bit.  As you can see, I left them on through the quilting process.  Why?  Well, I have yet to meet a cut edge that is as stable as the selvage.  The selvage won't fray or stretch and is sturdier than the rest of the fabric. This means I have a stable and straight edge to pin to my leaders. I don't square up my backings.  I just make sure the two sides, those with the selvages, are parallel and I have enough extra (6-8") on either end for the clamps.  Besides, I know the selvage is waste, why not use it my advantage so I can start my quilting as close to the usable fabric edge as possible and cut down on waste.   

Piecing tips:
  • always match the length of fabric or width of fabric (warp and weft), most fabric stretches much more along the width than the length
  • sew longer seams before cutting (I sewed the chevron strip to the turquoise before cutting), it is easier to press and trim to size than it is to cut and sew to size
  • tear fabric to keep long edges straight, your ruler can't slip if you tear and this doesn't need to be exact
  • pressing towards the smaller or larger piece may be easier than the dark side, use your best judgement
  • keep most piecing seams away from the edge of the backing to cut down on too many seams building up at the edges
  • leave the selvage on to keep that stable edge to attach to the quilt frame leaders
If you have any questions about how or why I piece my backs the way I do, please ask.  If you want to know why I load the quilt frame the way I do, I'll be doing another post to talk about that.  If you want to know about long arm quilting service, just leave a comment and as long as you are not a "no-reply-blogger" I will get back to you through email.

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