Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pieced Quilt Backs

Sew Mama Sew's blog did an awesome February Quilt Month. At one point there was an open thread and someone posted a question that I would like to respond to here.

I saw some quilt backings that were pieced. I really do not care for the designs available on the backings. Any hints on putting together a pieced quilt back?

If you're just slapping together pieces of the same fabric to make a back the size you need in a fabric you like, you're in good company. Quilters have been doing that since the beginning. Consider piecing it diagonally (for a how-to check out John Flynn's The Story of the Diagonal Seamed Back).
I like to piece simple, bold, modern designs for the backs of more traditional quilts. For example, I backed a simple 30s reproduction one patch with a Josef Albers' square using four larger scale reproduction fabrics.
You can piece the back of a quilt just like the front of the quilt. I saw two very intricate two-sided quilts by Jan Krentz at my quilt guild meeting in February. Jan actually made two impressive quilt tops with Hunter Star blocks and made one quilt out of them. She said she didn't do it for an aesthetic reason, but to keep the weight of her suitcases within the airlines' limits.* So she gets to show two quilts for the weight of one while she's on the road. Genius!
There are two things to consider when piecing a quilt back.
  1. Due to the additional layer of seam allowances, if you're hand quilting it will be a little harder because you'll have to get through all those layers, and if you're machine quilting you'll have to be more vigilant about getting the bulk through the machine evenly. If you piece your back diagonally, when you look at the finished quilting, any variation due to the back seam will be less apparent because the variation is on the diagonal rather than straight vertically or horizontally (you know how the diagonal words are always the hardest to find in those find-the-word puzzles, same idea).
  2. You have to be more careful about aligning your back and your top when you're basting. To align your back and your top mark the center of each side of your top and back, then line up those center marks when you lay out your layers to baste. Also if your back design has wide, plain borders in a fabric without a noticeable direction (not lines, plaids, or orthogonal patterns), it will be less noticeable if your alignment isn't perfect. For the same reason, I also like to make the borders on the back intentionally unequal (for example one large asymmetric log cabin block).

Technicalities aside, approach designing the back of your quilt as another opportunity for creativity. Just because it's not on top, doesn't mean it never gets seen. At the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show the white gloved quilt angels were kept particularly busy showing the back of a quilt that had an amusing bit of sassy appliqué on the back. Your next quilt back is a great place to try something new.

Edited 8/21/2008 to add:
Pink Chalk Studio blogged her process of deciding how to arrange a gorgeous Denyse Schmidt style pieced quilt back. The photos and her description of what was going through her mind as she made design choices are very instructive.

Edited 1/21/2009 to add:
Weeks Ringle, of FunQuilts fame, dedicated a post on her new blog Craft Nectar to the wonders of pieced quilt backs. Her primary advice:
Be sure that the back and front of the quilt are square and in alignment because you don’t want one side to look fine and the other side to be out of whack.

Edited 3/18/2009 to add:
Kathy of Pink Chalk Studio meticulously documented her attempt to implement the John Flynn method to create a diagonal seamed quilt back. Her verdict: "it’s awfully darn fussy for the results I got and the amount of time it took to cut the fabric!"

* Apropos of John Flynn's column in the May 2008 issue of Quilters Newsletter.(back)

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