Sandwiching a quilt is a lot like making a sandwich. You have a backing, batting, and the quilt top – no condiments, no lettuce; just a simple sandwich!
I am writing this as we drive south to California for Thanksgiving at my oldest son’s home, and unfortunately, no pictures to share. Sandwiching is really easy and I hope my verbal descriptions are enough for you to construct the 3 ingredients for quilting. And I do apologize for the length of this post in advance!
The back of the quilt is a whole piece of fabric, either with or without seams, but approximately 4 to 8 inches wider and longer than the quilt top. For the sake of this discussion, I will presume you are using 44” wide fabric with a useable area (after selvages are cut off) of 42” and your quilt to is 60” square. Obviously, you must add fabric to make the back wide enough to accommodate the width of the quilt top plus let’s say 4” wider all round. You would need to purchase (60” + 8”) times 2, which is 136” or 3.75 yards for the length and 42” x 2 is 84” so 2 panels are sufficient for the 60” width of the top.
Here is the formula for figuring how much yardage to buy: LQT + E = ? ? < 84”, then ? x 2 = LOF needed
Length of quilt top (LQT) + extra for potential quilting needs (E) (4” to 8” depending on method and who is quilting it) times 2 if using 44-45” width fabric and QT + E< 84. If wider, it may be more cost effective to reverse your vertical and horizontal measurements and see which requires less fabric. Therefore, your backing seams would run horizontally instead of vertically. It is recommended you avoid backing seams that fall on the midpoint of either the top/bottom or sides of the quilt top to avoid stress on those seams where one naturally folds a quilt.
WQB (width of quilt back) is simply the measured width of the top + 4” to 8” depending on how and who is quilting it. Using the 60” square quilt, you would need the same width as length. So, using the cut of fabric purchased from the above paragraph calculation, cut the long piece into 2 equal pieces, each should be 68” long x 42” wide after selvages removed. One piece will be used whole. From the other piece we will need 68—42 + 2” = 28”. The 2” is added to account for seam allowance in sewing the fabrics together. I use ½” seams on the back rather than ¼” as it is easier to press them open and have them lay neatly. The amount added is equal to the number of seams you will have in the back x 1”.
If you are wanting to use only 2 panels in the back, you will cut your second panel 28” and sew it to the full panel length. Some women prefer to split the narrower panel in to two equal pieces, so the back is balanced, especially if they are using a solid or other background where the quilting will be the focus. In this case, you will cut the width to be 29” (we added another seam”) and sew one 14 ½” panel to each side of the full panel.
My personal criteria is to look at the size of the needed addition. If it is under 18”-20”, I will opt for one seam. Anything wider and I go with 2 seams unless the backing fabric is so busy the seam isn’t going to show. You will establish your own guidelines as you progress in experience. There is no right or wrong way to piece the back. Right now, the big thing is to piece backings with leftover fabric from the quilt front and/or use any extra blocks to make the back interesting. I encourage you to do this if you feel confident in putting different size cuts of fabric together to make the size needed. These backings can be fun and sometimes give the quilt double “fronts”.
Now that we have a back the correct size, cut your batting the same size. Packaged batting is a good way to go when starting out. Use the size closest to what you need, but not less. Keep all leftover batting for another project. They can be fused or stitched together to make bigger pieces – a subject for another post!
IF YOU ARE SENDING THIS TO A LONGARM QUILTER TO QUILT FOR YOU, TOTALLY IGNORE THE PARAGRAPHS FOLLOWING REGARDING BASTING THE 3 PIECES. CONTACT YOUR QUILTER AND PREPARE YOUR TOP AND BACK PER HER/HIM AND OTHER REQUIREMENTS THEY MAY HAVE.
Basting your sandwich: (just realized there is another food term used in finishing up a quilt!)
There are several ways to baste a quilt – by hand with basting stitches, safety pin pinning, straight pin piecing using point caps or not for those who don’t mind being stuck over and over, and you could even put little plastic tags (like what you have to cut off sometimes if price tags, etc. are attached to something you buy with this method) through the layers with a basting “gun” and red tags found online and in some stores like JoAnn’s. Or you can use spray temporary adhesive made for fabric. This works best with a design wall.
For those with design walls, try this method. Prepare the back by pressing. Then take the back outside if possible and spray the wrong side of the back with a temporary adhesive made for fabric. Place it right side against the design wall, avoid stretching. Attach the batting to the adhesive, again careful to not stretch. Next the top goes outside for spraying on the wrong side and placement on the batting, leaving the appropriate edges around. This is where you can use your long quilt ruler to smooth the top. Start at the center and with the edge of the ruler, smooth toward the edges just enough to remove any wrinkles. No further basting needed unless you want to be sure it won’t come apart. Then see how to do that in the following paragraphs.
Now you have back and batting the correct size, it is finally time to make a sandwich – as long as this blog is, you may need a real sandwich to continue! Press backing seams open and lay it right side down on a surface large enough to accommodate the size, if possible. Most use the floor, but if you have a ping pong table set up, that works well. Get the fabric to layout smoothly even if it means tapping it to the floor or surface you are working on. Don’t stretch it, but it works best if taut. On top of the secure backing, you now place the batting. If the batting has lots of wrinkles or heavy creases, you can run it through a dryer cycle to help it relax.
Backing is now snug under the batting, carefully lay the top RSU (right side up) with the extra batting and backing equally (or close) around the perimeter. That is a quilt sandwich! The more time you take on this part and the basting, the happier you will be with the end project! If your quilt top doesn’t look square, take the time to square it up, however know quilting may get the quilt a bit out of square and will need to be squared when trimming. If square before starting quilting, you are less likely to need to do it again to any degree.
If using large safety pins, they have some made bent for ease of use in basting, you will start from the center and pin out toward the edges, smoothing the fabric as you go so there hopefully won’t be any folds in the quilting. When I used this method, I would place my hand next to each pin and use that as my measure for the placing the next pin.
If using straight pins, use the large ones with heads you can see. I know they sell little caps that look like new pencil erasers in lots of colors you slip over the point once the pin is in place. I have not used them, but anything that would stop me getting stuck is a smart invention!
If using the plastic tag method, follow the directions with the components needed to use this clever way of basting. I will admit I have one and used it several times before I got my midarm and longarm. It didn’t work as well as I expected because my quilts were never as thick as the length of the tag.
Basting is the method used by quilters long ago. Simple long stitches, like a couple inches or so long, are sewn from center to edges. If machine quilting, it is important to watch that the basting stitches do not catch on the foot of the machine.
So, you have your sandwich ready at this point to quilt. You have many options for finishing your quilt: tying, hand quilting, home machine quilting, or quilting by a longarm quilter. If you have watched any of Angela Walter’s You-Tube videos, you can see how even a beginner can quilt on a home machine.
I will be posting more and shorter posts on different subjects of interest to quilters, such as binding, batting choices, piecing batting, thread and needles, and so much more. You will find them under a section I will title Education.