The Best Way to Piece Your Quilt Back
By: Joyce Mitchel
DbarJ Quilts etc
Most people who wish to piece a quilt back and by that I mean sew strips of fabric together that will compliment the quilt top, will just sew a long seam that will run down the middle of the quilt back. Although this works, it is not the best way to accomplish the task. If quilter’s would sew their seams across the width of the quilt they would be much happier with the outcome.
The following is a list of reasons why seams across the width is the better way to sew fabric together for your quilt back.
1. When the seam is sewn to go the length of the quilt you don’t have to sew
as many pieces of fabric together. But, this seam will cause the back to
pull funny when it is put in a frame or on a quilting machine reel. The
middle of the back, where there is several thickness of fabric will roll up
shorter than the outside edges and cause these edges to sag. By sewing
the seam across the width of the quilt the back will roll up even, because
the seam will be horizontal with the reel.
2. When the back is sewn in the lengthwise fashion, usually the salvage is
left on the fabric pieces. This just adds to the thickness of the middle,
not to mention that there is 0 give to the salvage. This is also eliminated
when the seam goes across the quilt. Although it is always best to cut
away the salvage, it will only be a problem to hand quilter’s in the
3. The straight of the grain does not stretch, whereas the cross grain of the
fabric has just a little give to it. If you make your seam go lengthwise,
you need your back longer than the quilt top be several inches (I prefer
8″). When you piece a top you normally have bias pieces as well as a
verity of others, some of the pieces may be quite small while other are
larger. Every one of those seams are going to have a little stretch in
them even when cut on the straight of the grain because of the pull on the
stitches. It is not unheard of for a quilt to sometimes grow as much as 2
inches in any direction because of the fact.
4. When you put a quilt back on the reel of a machine quilter, in order to
stabilize the quilt you put clamps on the sides while quilting. The cross
grain of the fabric will always have a little stretch in it. If the clamps are
attached to the cross grain of the fabric then the mere weight of the
clamp will cause the back to stretch a little more wherever it is attached.
5. Putting the cross grain going the length of the quilt also will help you
when you go to bind the quilt. Those long sides will not be as likely to
turn out wavy.
6. Many times when someone is piecing their back, in order to get it wide
enough for a queen or king size quilt they will have to sew three strips of
fabric together. One of the strips may just be 8 – 12″ wide. Now you
end up with one side of the back wanting to roll up shorter and you will
have to fight with that droop the whole quilt.
In conclusion: Are you saving money or fabric? Not really, when your Quilter calls you up and tells you that she still has quilt top but the back is a little short. I would say if your were going to do the quilting yourself, go ahead and place the seams wherever you wish. But, If you are asking someone else to work on this quilt then be kind and thoughtful and try to relieve some of the struggle by sewing your seam across the quilt.
I hope this has helped you in some small way with your quilt making process. Unless you have ever used this method and seen the end results of the quilt, you are probably wondering what the big deal is. All I am asking is that you give it a try, you just might like it.
There is not a lot of fabric torn at fabric shops even today, but if you do not want your fabric torn then be sure that you let the clerk waiting on you know that. I personally do not like my fabric torn but I know that there are those out there that think it is the way to go. Their argument for tearing fabric is that it will always rip in a straight line or on the weave line. They are correct but then you have to cut away about an inch of your fabric to straighten up the distortion that the tearing makes in the fabric. Of course you could always do as some of them do and leave that distortion on and cut your pieces from it and then fight to add them to your quilt. Or you could trim off the distortion and waste that inch of fabric, just make sure that you buy enough extra to replace what you are cutting away. It is your quilt and your decision, one suggestion would be for you to take some scrap pieces and try tearing them and see what you end up with and what you can live with, then decide.
There are many ways to go Shop Hopping that will get your name in the prize drawing, but I guess you have to ask yourself what you want out of the experience.
If all you want is your name in the prize drawing that is fine but you should try the slower paced version at least once to see what you are missing.
My shop participates in a shop hop that has 8 different shops involved. Because of the landscape of the part of Missouri that we are from and the roads connecting the shops it makes for a very long drive. We have made it into a 3 day hop so everyone will have time to see all of the shops. Myself if I was shopping this hop I would make it a 2-day event and schedule a night out half way through.
You may be wandering why I would make it take two days, well that is because I like to shop and see what each shop has as inventory. Even before I owned a shop I was this way and am still with other stores in the area, I’m sure the True Value store wanders why I have to wear out the floor on every isle when I come in. I want to know what they have so if I need something at a later date I know where to get it. This holds true with quilt shops too, each shop has it’s own inventory and offers you a different shopping experience. I would want to take my time to see just what each shop had to offer; I may need to come back at a later date for a notion, craft item, or something.
I see so many during hop that come in the shop, never look at anything, just get that stamp and maybe purchase the block kit. And I say to each there own but it just doesn’t seem very enjoyable to me.
As a shop owner I love to talk quilting and I mean with everyone, so when you are in and out of the shop in a hurry then I miss out on visiting with you, finding out were you are from and helping you with all of your quilting needs.
How about the next time you shop hop or if it is your first time you take a few minutes and stop and see the fabric.
With today’s fabrics and the techniques that go into making them this is becoming a matter of personal choice. Long ago, in a day gone by, you had to pre-wash all fabric because the colors would run; there was no question. But today the techniques for producing fabrics have changed greatly and most fabrics do not have to be washed before using. I would suggest that you test your fabric if it is something that you are worried about, or just wash it all if you are unsure and don’t want to test. Mostly it is the hard dyes that need pre-washing, such as dark reds, forest greens, navy blues, blacks; anything that has a large amount of dye added in order to get the dark rich colors. To do a simple test just clip a small piece of the fabric and put it in a little bowl of warm water; if you see a little dye run out of the piece then you will know that you should wash this fabric before cutting. One rule of thumb though for you to remember is that if you wash one piece in the quilt top then you should wash them all [just not together]. Also remember if you wash the top fabric then be sure to wash your backing and if your batting is not polyester or pre-washed cotton and such then you should also wash it. There are a lot of products out on the market to help you in setting the colors in your fabric so that after you wash it you will have the same great look that you bought the piece for in the first place. Just ask your local quilt shop owner to help you.
The first thing that you want to do is pick out your focus fabric, this could be a fabric that you wish to use primarily throughout the quilt or maybe just on the borders to tie the whole quilt together. Then from that fabric you will be able to pull colors that you can use for your complementary colors. If your primary piece has a bright look to it then you will want to go with a white or black background piece to enhance this brightness. If your primary piece has an antique look to it then you will want to go with an off white or brown background. If you are one of those who say that they cannot put colors together then stop worrying because the fabric designers have made it easy for you. Along the side of the fabric, in the selvage, they have placed colored dots. These dots each have a color that is used within the piece of fabric. Some of these colors are not clear to the eye but when you check the dots and then look at the piece again you will be able to find them. One trick that I like to do is to use one of these less seen colors as a secondary color and watch this color just come popping out of my primary piece. The thing is that you can use these dots if you are worried about exact shade or color coordination.
My recommendation to a beginner quilter is that they pick a pattern or a quilt project that will go together the easiest and fastest. I am plenty happy if the first quilt a person ever makes is a big block quilt, which is one that they just cut large squares and sew them together in a random pattern. I feel that the first project that a person undertakes should go together quickly so that they see it finished soon after starting. I have seen so many beginners who never make it past the cutting, and then there are those who get the cutting done but give up before it is pieced. These beginners sometimes never go back to that project or quilting
When I teach a class of beginners the ABC’s of quilting I always have them start with a strip pieced project so that they can mix up the cutting and sewing and therefore they do not get burned out on cutting. They always think that I have lost my mind having them cut all of those strips. When they start sewing they will point out that what they are sewing doesn’t look anything like the quilt that I showed them that we were going to make. It is always fun to see their excitement when they can finally see the blocks forming and then the top.
Everyone loves the way a “Mariner’s Compass”, a “Double Wedding Ring” or a “Stack and Wack” quilt looks, just to name a few of the more accomplished patterns, but unless you have been sewing intricate garments all your life then the seams in these will drive you crazy. There is a lot of time for you to build your skill level up so that when you do take on these projects you will be completely happy with the end result.
No, you do not have to use or choose 100% cotton when making a quilt. Many quilts down through the generations have been made using other fabrics and even mixing them at times as in the Crazy Quilts and Scrap Quilts. But I would like to give you a few reasons why as a beginner it would be a good thing for you to use 100% cotton. I stress the 100% because there are some blended fabrics out there and as pretty and bright as they may be, they are harder to work with for several reasons. So watch the tag on the bolt and learn to recognize true cotton when you see one. Another thing that you will want to watch is the thread count, the higher the count the better the finished product. You can easily tell if the thread count is low simply by holding the fabric up toward a light. Here are some of the facts about using cotton; you will have less distortion, this will make it easier to square up your blocks and make quilting your quilt a lot easier. Your finished quilt will lie flat and finish square. Cotton holds a press or crease better, so when you press your pieces you will not have the seams wanting to roll up on you. There is better give and take with cotton, meaning that when you are sewing with it you can make minor adjustments without them becoming major pains. It has been found over the years to reduce the batting bearding. This is when the batting tentacles want to stick out through the weave of the fabric. Cotton is easier to hand quilt and more comfortable to work with and to use afterward. Sometimes the blended fabrics will cause irritation to the fingers and hands while quilting. Cotton is a softer fiber so it doesn’t irritate and is more comfortable to sleep under as well.
As soon as friends and family members hear that you are starting to quilt, they will all want you to make them a quilt. This is great and one of the reasons that you got started anyway was to share your talent with others. There are some rules that you should apply to yourself at that starting point so that you do not get yourself into a project that you cannot do satisfactorily. First you should always be in control of what you are going to make. That means that you always pick the pattern that you use; others will not know how much skill you have and they may pick something that you are not able to accomplish just yet. If the skill level is too hard then you will not enjoy the project and therefore you will not do your best work because you will just want to get it done. Also you always choose the fabric; you want to make sure that the fabric will be something that you are used to using so that you can make a beautiful project to give to them. If someone asks you to make a quilt for him or her, the only thing you ask them is what color they would like for it to be. Then you can choose a pattern and fabric that will use the colors they suggested.
So you have finished your first quilt top and have decided that you would like it machine quilted, where do you go from here?
First you need to take a good long look at your quilt top and decide just how much this quilt will always mean to you. If you decide that maybe you didn’t do the job that you wished you had and do not want to spend much on the quilting then you can choose a quilting service that doesn’t offer much in services or talent. But, if you decide that you want to make this quilt as special as it can be (because quilt tops tend to take on a new life after quilting by a pro) then choose a quilting service that offers you choices as well as directive advice.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone brings a quilt into the shop and they are amazed at the input that they have and the advice that they receive. Usually they have taken their quilt to a service that is short on service, there color choice is one, white, and their batting choice is one or none. Then there is the design that is going on the quilt and there again they are left out of the process. At DbarJ Quilts etc and others we let you choose between freehand quilting or pattern quilting, we give you multiple thread choices to enhance you quilt in different ways, we have batting choices that will suit how you are going to use the quilt and different backings so you can enjoy the back as well as the front. By going to a service that offers you choices you are in complete control of the outcome of the look of your quilt. I always tell my clients that it is not my quilt so why should I make it mine by taking over the final design decisions.
As a note aside: I need to tell you that many of my out of state customers do want me to make choices for them because they are not able to make it to the shop to see thread and such for themselves. Usually when I get an out of state job their first quilt is a small test quilt to check out my decisions. I have yet to have one say she didn’t like what I have done and larger quilts soon follow.
Lastly, your quilter should always be mindful of your budget. She should ask you questions about the importance of the quilt, is it a gift or just for yourself. She should make clear her pricing on different options so you can decide which you might afford. And if you ask for a written estimate she should be prepared to give it to you, remember it is an estimate not a final bill.
Quilts are made up of love, hope and joy and deserve to be quilted by someone who looks at them that way, not just as today’s paycheck.
Have you ever went to a quilt show or viewed some of your friends quilts and wondered why their quilt looked better, flatter and squarer than yours?
Look at your quilt top; is there tucks, gatherings or folds? That is the greatest indication that your quilt is not square. You did not square as you went while creating the blocks and then you did not check to see if your blocks where square before placing them together in your quilt.
I teach all my students to square as they go, which means that when you make a unit such as a half square triangle, flying goose or four patch you press that unit and then square it to size. It is well known that as you sew and press you are also stretching. Yes it takes a little extra time to square as you go but the end result is what you are after. I recommend the rulers that I have designed for this process, as they will give you the best result in the least amount of time. The “Square-Up Ruler/Template”, “Square-Up 2 Ruler/Template” and the “Rectangle-Up” are the best for square as you go quilting and then you end up with a good ¼ inch seam allowance all the way around your block.
You may say, “But I just enjoy the sewing part”, that’s o.k. But it you decide not to square up then please remember that your machine quilter did not put those tucks and gathers in your quilt and they were something that you added.
Every quilt can look as good as a Quilt Festival Quilt Show quilt if the piecers would just take a few extra minutes to square up.