How To Select Quilt Backing Fabric

If you feel confident with your quilting, try a thread with a color that contrasts with your backing fabric

Let’s talk about quilt backing fabrics. The back of a quilt brings the whole quilt together and acts as a unifying voice. Of course, a poorly chosen back can also wreck that voice and compromise how well the quilt ages. It is, generally, the largest swath of fabric in a quilt so it is no small choice. There are five rules you should follow when choosing the fabric to use for the backing of your quilt. 

Bliss and Blossom Quilt, designed and quilted by Angela Huffman of Quilted Joy

1) Your quilt’s destiny:

That sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it? It boils down to defining how it will be used. A quilt that will be on your college son’s dorm bed and washed very infrequently would get a different backing fabric from a quilt that is going to be hung on the wall of your living room. 

For the quilt headed to college, I’d choose a fabric that would hide dirt since I’m fairly certain it won’t get washed frequently. 🙂 Take a look at this one that would be a perfect choice. I’d also choose a fabric that doesn’t need any special washing instructions so if that magical day arrives and they do decide to wash it, it won’t bleed. I generally find that the fabrics which tend to bleed are deep reds, deep blues, and deep purples. Test your backing fabrics and consider pre-washing to eliminate potential risks for the harsh treatment the quilt is likely to get in the dorm.

Also, consider the age and gender of the recipient of the quilt. The backing I’d choose for my elderly aunt is quite different than the backing I’d pick for my male cousin who loves the outdoors. By the way, I’d choose this one for my aunt and this one for my cousin. 🙂

2) Themes and styles of the fabric from the quilt top:

Think about the themes in the fabrics used for the quilt top. Is there a geometric shape or theme used in the quilt top’s fabrics? Maybe the fabrics have leaves in them or perhaps geometric shapes? If the quilt top is from a particular genre like civil war reproductions then a batik backing would not be in keeping with the quilt’s top. 

The backing of your quilt is an extension of the quilt top. It doesn’t have to be made from the same fabrics but it should be consistent with the style of the top. For example, if it is a modern quilt that relies on solid fabrics for the top then I wouldn’t pair it with a toile backing fabric. 

If you are giving this quilt as a gift, consider how you could give a nod to the recipient’s personality or interests in the backing fabric. Maybe they’re a veteran and this backing would be a good choice? Maybe you are giving the quilt to a cat lover? Wouldn’t backing fabric covered in little kitties be fabulous? 

Kaye's Vintage Dresden Quilt after quilting by Quilted Joy

3) How confident are you in the quilting to be done?

A solid quilt back will show off your quilting skills. If you aren’t so sure you want to draw attention to your quilting then choose a fabric with a pattern to help camouflage your quilting stitches. Consider choosing a fabric for the back which has a printed design you can follow with your machine. Essentially you would be quilting it upside down where you follow the printed fabric using free-motion quilting. Be especially vigilant about looking for pleats and puckers if using this technique. 

Judging how confident you are in your quilting skills leads us right into the next rule or consideration to make. 

If you feel confident with your quilting, try a thread with a color that contrasts with your backing fabric

4) What color thread will you be using? 

On my APQS Mille longarm machine, I typically match the bobbin color to the top thread color. So, If I am going to use red thread, I wouldn’t select a white backing fabric. The quilting done with bright red thread would talk too loud for my tastes. Of course, you could put a different color in top and bobbin but you’d need to make sure your tension was spot on or you’d run the risk of having your red top thread pull to the back and make it look like your white backing fabric had the chickenpox.

Thread color drives many of my decisions when choosing a backing fabric. But, don’t be afraid of it either. One of my favorite quilts (pictured above!) has a hot pink backing fabric that I paired with lime green Glide thread. There aren’t that many chances you have to quilt in hot lime green so when the opportunity arises, take it! 

Melanie's Butterfly quilt, with longarm quilting by Quilted Joy

5) Seams or no seams? 

Here at Quilted Joy, we love using wide backing fabrics for our quilts. Most are 108” wide so they load onto a quilting frame very easily. Plus, the variety of quilt backing fabrics to choose from is incredibly diverse right now! We have more than 200 different choices available in our shop right now

You could always piece your backing. There are considerations to be made when piecing a quilt back, though, especially if you will be quilting it on a longarm machine. You may find this article from APQS to be helpful when piecing a quilt back. Because of the pitfalls that can be encountered in a pieced back, it can be easier and more foolproof to select a wide backing fabric to enhance your quilt. Plus, with so many choices out there you are sure to find a quilt backing fabric that is perfect for your quilt top!

Once all of the above questions are considered you are ready to choose the backing fabric. We recently implemented a swatch program for our customers so you can be sure the fabric’s color and fabric’s hand are the perfect complements to your quilt top. All of our swatches are labeled so you can audition them at home. You’ll find the swatch button on each product page of our wide quilt backing fabrics. 

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Angela Huffman- Triplet Momma. Quilter. Teacher. Thread Bimbo

I’m Angela- Co-host of the Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting PBS show. APQS Long arm Dealer and Educator. Triplet Momma. Designer. Thread Bimbo.

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