Pieced Backs

Not too long ago, Frances asked, in one of her podcast episodes, about making pieced backs and whether there was a tutorial.

I didn’t look for one, but I knew I had a back to make soon (for the Stepping Stones), so I thought about taking the opportunity to make a tutorial.

As I have mentioned in the past, once the top is finished, I am done with the project and want to move on. I love piecing. The other parts, such as making the back, making the binding and label, quilting are all dull for me. However, I have found that the Finishing Fairy does not visit my house and I have to do my own finishing or finish by checkbook.

My first step was figuring out how I make the pieced back. The basic premise is easy: sew pieces of fabric together until you have a piece large enough to accommodate the quilt.

What I realized is that it isn’t quite as easy as a step 1, step 2, etc tutorial. I sew bits and pieces together as I am making the quilt that end up larger when I am ready to sew the back together. You aren’t going to have the same size pieces as I have. So, this will be more like a guide rather than a tutorial.

I am a firm believer in not buying new fabric just for the back. Yes, it would be easier, but I have a lot of fabric and I might as well use it. I try to use the largest pieces possible as well as the pieces I have sewn together while making the quilt.

The first thing I do is make a label. I make my labels using a word processing program (Google Docs would work just fine) and then I print the piece out on paper backed fabric. I have also used the stitch letters on my sewing machine to write out a label.

The label will be sewn into the back, so as soon as I peel the fabric off the paper I start sewing. Know your paper backed fabric  and ink so that you know whether the ink will wash out immediately, over time, or not at all. I use fabric backed paper from Dharma Trading Company and my regular ink jet printer.

Tip #1: larger pieces make the back go together faster

When I made the back for FOTY 2010, I purposefully used really large pieces. That was the best back experience of my life, because it went together really fast. I suggest you start out this way with pieced backs so you don’t lose your mind. This is your fair warning!

Tip #2: As with blocks, sew from smallest to largest.

I start with the label and surround it with fabric until I have about 1.5′ from the right hand side of the back and about the same from the bottom.

I sew the label into the back so if a quilt is stolen, the label cannot be ripped off without ripping out the quilting.

Tip #3: Plan to leave extra fabric around the edge if you want to longarm. 4″ on all sides is usually sufficient.

Once I have one corner completed, I sew across the bottom of the quilt back until I have a piece the desired width. I make the width generous as I don’t want to go back when I think I am finished and have to sew on a strip to a long edge.

Tip #4: Coordinate your backing fabric with the fabric pieced into the front.

I use fabric that will coordinate with the front, though it isn’t necessarily the same fabric. If I have a lot of leftovers that I don’t think I will use in another quilt, such as in Stepping Stones, then I will use the leftovers for the back.

Tip #5: Leaders and enders techniques make the process of sewing the back go faster.

Where possible I will sew smaller pieces/shards (not schnibbles! I am not advocating doing something that will send you to an insane asylum) of fabric together using Bonnie Hunter’s leaders and enders technique. Now, I have not taken a class from her, so visit Quiltville, Bonnie’s blog or buy her books to learn her methods. My idea is that I put pieces/shards through the machine after the regular pieces for my top so I can get those to ironing board for pressing faster (discussed previously in this post). Also, this alleviates the need to put a scrap piece of fabric through the machine to keep your feed dogs from eating your triangle corners. Finally, it minimizes scraps added to the scrap pile.

Red Journal - Closed
Red Journal – Closed

As I have discussed on different occasions, I call the end result of sewing bunches of scraps together randomly mosaic quilting. I use the leaders and enders method to facilitate the mosaic quilting result. I made the entire cover of the red journal by using the leaders and enders method to get a mosaic quilting piece. I enjoy sewing like colors together to make new fabric. If I have nothing else to do or I can’t think or I am stressed out, it is a good activity.

How does this relate to pieced backs?

Mosaic Quilting for Pieced Backs
Mosaic Quilting for Pieced Backs

I do the same thing, but on a larger scale. When I am finished piecing the top and am definitely working on the back, I find pieces that fit together and sew them. When I am piecing the top, I sew the smaller pieces into larger pieces and then use the larger pieces for the back.

Mosaic Quilting for Pieced Backs
Mosaic Quilting for Pieced Backs

Tip #6: Skip sewing small pieces together if you have not done so prior to finishing the top.

I just want to finish, so if I have not sewed smaller pieces into larger chunks prior to starting the back, I skip it. It drives me crazy to have to stitch little bits together for no other reason than making a back. Why this doesn’t bother me when I am using them as leaders and enders, I don’t know.

Tip #7: Backstitch

Any seam that will be on the outside of the quilt or not crossed by another seams gets a few back stitches. All of my handling rips out those stitches and then I have to go over them before giving them to my longarmer. To alleviate the process I backstitch. I backstitch more than just the outside seams as sometimes I don’t know what will become an outside seam.

Finally, I sew chunks the same width as the first chunk (with the label) until I have a piece the same size as the top with an additional 4″ on each side. Depending how how small the pieces are, the back can take me 4-6 hours. I am slow, and get cranky when I do this.

Alternatively, you can just buy a big piece of fabric and put it on the back. 😉