SAL14 - Piecing Your Backing!

Dear Ruthanna,


This is the fourteenth in the series of emails based on Ruth Grihalva's April Power Point presentation to the String-A-Long Quilt Guild in Porter County Indiana. The title was "Piecing Hints, Tips & Longarming Issues."

Her comments are based on our experience with over 10,000 longarmed quilts in our 20 year history. Additionally, Ruth has published over 160 patterns, three books, and two tools under the nom de plume of "Raggedy Ruth Designs."

However, these newsletters are written by me, her husband, Rick. I am writing these from Ruth's presentation notes. Nonetheless, I will also be sprinkling my ideas in to add extra "meat" to the PowerPoint's slides' "bones".

SAL14 - Piecing Your Backing!

Intro -

In the prior thirteen newsletters, I have tried to distinguish between patchwork quilters and longarm quilters. I have referred to the former as "piecers" and the latter as "longarmers". Both of these are "quilters", and both contribute to the finished product: the finished quilt. From this point on I will refer to "patchwork quilters," or "piecers," as "quilters." I will continue to refer to "longarm quilters" as "longarmers." So, now we move on....

In this newsletter we will examine "pieced backs": how they impact your finished quilt. This is important because pieced backs can negatively impact how your finished masterpiece can appear.

This can happen for many reasons. One is because the quilter has purchased fabric for their quilt from far-away exotic places such as: Africa, Canada, Hawaii, Alaska, and Chicago. These are quilt shops that you can't just "drop in" to get more fabric when you didn't buy enough the first time. Also, the quilter often wants the theme of their quilt to be reflected on both sides: front and back!

There are also quilters who feel that, when piecing the backs together, they must use up all of the fabric in their fabric stash. They, therefore, make use of it on the backs of their quilts. I feel that this often detracts from the enjoyment of looking at the quilt, as it often does not enhance the theme on the front and there is no 'clear' space to view the quality of the stitching.

This becomes problematic for longarmers as they cannot see the back with any ease while they are quilting. The best solution for the longarmer is the use of plain extra-wide backing. However, for the quilter wanting a pieced back, the best solution is for the quilter to arrange the fabrics so that the focus fabrics and panels are not on the edge where they might end up being cut off, and also do not require exact centering.

I have discussed the desires for backing. Now, let's look at how a pieced back impacts the longarmer. We have previously discussed that quilters most often do not have consistent 1/4" seams. This affects the ability to line up the blocks accurately. As a result heavily pieced backs tend to bow in, or out. This makes lining the top with a pieced back with a border an impossible task, without performing major surgery on the back.

In a past email I also discussed the "top eating the back". In these cases where there is a border on the pieced back, the back's top border can be nicely aligned on the quilting frame and top. However, when the quilting gets to the bottom, the size of the border on the back will not match the size of the border on the top of the back. In some instances, the back's bottom border may end up being short and need to have other fabric added to it in order for the top to be completely quilted. This will destroy the intended beauty of the back of the quilt. I feel that the reason that a quilter creates such an intricate back is to make a beautiful, finished quilt, no matter from the front or the back. However, excess piecing and borders on the backs, will undermine that desire.

Also, when there are many back seams, it does affect the process of "rolling forward" on E2E quilts. After the advancing process, the longarmer aligns the designs on the screen with a known, sewn stitching on the quilt. However, the beginning of the new stitching lines up well at first, but by the end of the row, it often is stitching on top of the previous row.

When the desire for a pieced back is overwhelming, remember to have all of the grain of the pieces running the same direction, best from top to bottom. All of the pieces should be of the same fabric [quilter's cotton, hopefully]. Don't mix in fabrics, such as knits, flannels, T-shirts, fleeces, and so on.

When we took our initial longarming class from Loretta Benedict, 23 years ago, it was mentioned that busy backs make it hard to see the problems with tension and other stitching problems relating to tension issues. As a result of her class, when I look at quilts, I always look at the back of quilts so that I can see the beauty and flaws of the stitching.

Of course, there are many other ways that negatively affect the overall appearance of a quilt. Just one of those is using bed sheets for backing. This is because bed sheets do not have the same characteristics as quilt fabric. The sheets may have an excellent thread count, but the thread thickness is thinner. Also, the sheet has different coatings/finishes/sizings/etc. on the threads than does quilt fabric. This means that the sheet will neither stretch the same as the top, nor wash the same, nor shrink the same, as does the top.

Here at Forever In Stitches, we prefer wide to extra-wide quilt fabric for our backs. This assures us that the quality is OK. There are no problems with fabric direction. There are no problems with seams, and so on. One manner in which we assure good service, is that we always have wide backing in plain, neutral colors on hand for your request.

Discussion -

Let us examine some of the issues having to do with the fabric. After all, fabric has a grain, and therefore, a top and a bottom, as discussed in SAS #11 - Setting Triangles!. if you have two pieces of fabric to make a back and you plan to sew them length-wise, you do not have a problem, as both sides stretch uniformly.

On the other hand, if you have a back with different pieces laying with the grain in different directions [please refer to the right layout of illustration #40], as you put it on a longarm, you will get uneven results. The reason is that the fabric tension from side-to-side is different from that from top-to-bottom. This will result in different stretching as well as shrinkage characteristics.

The layout on the left in illustration #40 depicts what people often bring into us for a back. Now, we will sew a back, but we expect it to the trimmed and squared before it is brought to us. This one, obviously, has neither.

On the other hand, Forever In Stitches does not desire to sew together backs that are not prepared. We like longarming and we are professionals at it. This is shown by our satisfied customers, our producing multi-media training materials for the Innova Autopilot Mach 3, and training other longarmers.

For an additional comment on the layout on the left in Illustration #40, notice that the preferred placement is horizontal, or, perpendicular to the direction of sewing [side-to-side]. That is on purpose. When the seam(s) for the back are vertical [top-to-bottom], and as the quilt is advanced on the longarm machine, the thickness of the seam, as opposed to the single layer of fabric, starts to build up on the take-up roller, one seam on-top of the previous one.

The result is that the center seam is nice and taut. However, the sides of the fabric become looser and looser as the quilt is rolled more and more. I refer to the sides as "floppy". So what? When backing fabric becomes loose, or not taut, as is the case with floppy sides, it is subject to being pinched, pleated, or folded.

Take-a-Way -

Be careful of how you construct the back of your quilt. Just a hint, we do carry extra-wide backing in neutral colors.

What's Next?

The next email in the series will be titled "SAL15 - Improving Your Half-Square Triangles!"

If you would like to have Ruth give a presentation or workgroup to your organization, please let me know by email to [with your complete contact information, please] or by phone me at 567.208.3572, my mobile.

At Forever In Stitches, you know it will be good!

Al Fin

I trust that this was of assistance or interest. If you have any questions that need to be answered, on this or other longarming or quilting topics, then please write to me at or call me directly at 219.255.8085.

Thank you for your time and interest.

May The Lord Richly Bless You!
Rick & Ruth Grihalva
Join Our FREE Email Mailing List
At Forever In Stitches our goal is to further the art of quilting and longarming.
We thank you for your interest in our newsletters. We try to keep our newsletters informative, instructive, and enlightening, in addition to informing you of specials. Please join our private mailing list! Remember to forward applicable newsletters to friends who may benefit from the information contained in them!
Please note that a history of our newsletters, since the second quarter of 2022, can be found on our web-site:
Forever In Stitches, LLC
Perfect Corner Ruler
Raggedy Ruth Designs