Design your next quilt, starting from the back!
Designing a quilt from back to front
This is a free tutorial about how I like to work on quilts from the back to the front. With your finished quilt size in mind, build your backing first, create your binding strips second, mark your batting third, then finally enjoy piecing + quilting a beautiful modern quilt top as a last step. You may even want to try quilting as you go, to consolidate the quilting process. Get the tedium out of the way while giving careful thought to your design, and finishing more quickly.
The above images show the finished quilt backing for a small quilt using soft grey fabrics. I like to include a strip of design, using some of the fabrics from the front of the quilt. I print my labels on inkjet printable fabric, then piece them right into the decorative strip. Book my Quilt Labels to Love! lecture for more details about how I label my quilts.
I often use face binding for my quilts, especially those that will be hung on a wall. I really like the clean edge. For face binding, cut the strips 4″ wide from the length of the fabric (parallel to the selvage): the binding will not be stretchy. I like it this way, as it lies flatter. Press the strips in half so they end up 2″ wide. Roll up the binding and save it in a small bag for when you’re ready to finish.
Bonus: making fabric tabs for hanging a quilt:
To make fabric tabs to hang your quilt, start with a strip of fabric that is 6″ to 8″ wide, and about 12″ to 16″ long. Press in half lengthwise, then open up and press the two raw edges in towards the center.
As you see in the photo above, once the raw edges are pressed toward the center, fold in half and press again.
You’ll have four layers of fabric once pressed as shown above. Top stitch 1/8″ from the edge of the length of the fabric, so both folded edges are secured. You can then cut lengths of material from this piece to create the tabs. I make mine about 3″ to 4″ long.
The images above show the quilt backing, face down, on the left with the batting added on the right. I use a purple fabric marking tool (disappearing ink) to mark grid lines on the batting. This is where I will line up sections of the quilt top and stitch them down right onto the backing and batting. Some people call this “quilt as you go” and others call it “stitch and flip.” Whatever the name, I think it saves some time and also anchors the elements so that quilting is easier. Now you’re ready for the fun part!
Playing with fabric is really the best part of design! Here’s a fabric pull for this little quilt: mostly light grey textures plus some medium grey and pops of shell pink. I like to work improv-style, with a little planning. I will pre-cut some pieces of my selected fabrics, and sometimes pre-sew a few accent strips.
The above images show my accent strips on the left, with some machine pieced elements on the right… staged and ready to sew down onto my batting and backing. See how I break down the quilt top into sections?
I cut narrow 3/4″ wide pieces from the accent strip sets, and sew them into what I think of as my background fabrics. This gives little pops of color AND texture, because I often include my seam allowances on the FRONT of the accent strip sets. I love this little hint of added texture and surface design!
When I’m ready to starting quilting/sewing down the units, I start in the center, and work my way outwards. I use the purple lines to line up the elements of my design, overlapping them by a quarter inch with the fabric pieces. It’s a lot like sewing a log cabin block.
Stitch and flip! Place your center element face up, then your next adjacent element face down: sew along one edge using a quarter inch seam allowance. Your walking foot is the best tool for this operation. Once sewn along one edge, flip open the top fabric. Bam! You’ve just pieced AND anchored the quilt top element to the batting and backing.
Continue working your way around the quilt top, adding on the sections as you go.
As seen above on the left, once all the pieces are sewn down, you’ll have some wonky edges… just leave those there. This makes the perfect place to start and stop your machine quilting. The back, above right, will look something like this. Yes, I stitch right through my quilt labels, making them more integrated with the quilt back.
I like to use a mix of machine quilting using my walking foot, plus some big stitch hand quilting. My favorite threads are Aurifil 50 wt. for machine quilting, and Wonderfil #8 perle cotton for hand stitching.
Quilting done? Time for a fast finish!
Once you’re done with quilting, square up and trim your quilt. If using a face binding, I trim the quilt 1/2″ larger than my desired finish size. I stay-stitch around the perimeter, 1/8″ from the edge.
Cut 2 sets of face binding strips the same width of your quilt (shown top and bottom in the above photo). Cut 2 more face binding strips 1″ shorter than the height of your quilt. If you made tab hangers, fold them in half, and stitch them down 1/8″ from the top edge of your quilt.
The photo above-left shows the tabs stitched down along the top edge of the quilt. Next add the full-width face binding strips… align the raw edges to the outside of the quilt, the folded edges go to the inside. The above-right photo shows the top and bottom face bindings sewn down, using a standard 1/4″ seam allowance. Sew right off the edges of the quilt.
Last steps! Position the two side facing strips, center them along the left and right sides. Because they are 1″ shorter than the height of your quilt, you should have 1/2″ space top and bottom. Sew down with a standard 1/4″ seam allowance, sewing right off the edges of the quilt.
Trim back the corners, then turn the facings right side out. Steam press the edges so the facing strips are pulled completely to the back.
Using a milliners needle (I like size 10 from John James) and a single strand of sewing thread, blind stitch down the edge of the facings, connecting them to the back of your quilt. The facings create a frame on the backside. This is nice for wall quilts, as it helps the edges stay flat.
Enjoy your finished quilt! I hope you like this idea for getting some of the boring bits done first, saving the “beauty” bits for last. I find that I finish more quilts, more quickly, with this approach. I also enjoy the consolidation of piecing and quilting.
This demo includes a special PDF handout, which you can download below. The PDF includes some example designs for quilt backs. Simply scale the design ideas to your quilt’s size.
If you haven’t already, please contact me to sign up for my e-newsletter which comes out monthly, and follow me on Instagram for more ideas and inspiration. If you are a quilt guild member, please share my video preview with your guild leaders — perhaps they would like to book a workshop with me!
Thanks for reading, happy sewing!