The saying "I've got your back" is not always true. The definition of what comprises an adequate back varies from "quilter to quilter" or "quilter to salesperson."
Get to know what your longarmer likes to work with in terms of everything: backing, batting, threads, techniques, etc. Some longarmers take pride in their art form and want to express themselves. Others may just want to get through the backlog.
I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but if you want to win a prize for your quilt, you want to know what kind of longarmer you have. On the other hand, if you are doing charity quilts, being artsy may not be a high priority.
In terms of backing, I'm going to divide the discussion into the following six "C"s of backing. Each will be a separate newsletter.
- Construction, and
We will begin with Capacity.
Capacity refers to the size of the backing. Depending upon to whom you are talking, the proper size of backing varies widely. So, you need to know what your longarmer requests.
At Forever In Stitches we ask for a back that is 10" larger than the top. Put another way, we like to see 5" of backing beyond the top on all four sides.
We request this amount because we need:
- Room for the side clamps of the longarm machine;
- A place to test the thread tension with your actual back and batting [we supply a piece to mimic the top];
- Fabric that will suffice if the quilt top is not squared; and,
- Fabric to take into account any loss due to the processing squaring the back [which will be discussed in the Construction newsletter].
Ten Inches? Why So Much? Fabric Is Expensive!
We used to have a standard of six inches. However, the fabric produced today has become more and more off-grain. This means we need to square it. We have found that during the process of squaring a back, up to seven inches of usable backing has been lost. Thus, we increased the amount of the backing in excess of the top to ten inches.
If the backing is marginally close, then we will sew "sacrificial strips" onto the short sides to achieve the proper size. This will result in an additional charge, which will offset any fabric savings achieved by providing an insufficiently size backing.
Another factor that affects the size of the backing is that many rectangular quilts are not rectangular. Put in quilting lingo, they are not square. We have had quilts submitted where one side was thirteen inches longer than the other.
An additional example of this is there the quilt is really a parallelogram and drifts to one side. In other words, the top may be centered with five inches of backing on either side, but by the time the longarmer gets to the bottom, one side has no backing and the other has the entire ten inches.
If the quilt is longarmed with insufficient backing you run the following risks:
- Not having the quilt hang straight;
- Having the sacrificial strips show as part of your backing.
- Having improper thread tension resulting in crows-feet, spider webs, and birds' nests; and,
- Not having good stitching in complex designs when the side clamps are bumped.
Talk To Your Longarmer, Not Others
When you longarm 9,000 quilts as we have done, you run into a lot of different situations. When people bring in backing with their tops, they usually say "it should be large enough". "Should-a, Could-a, Would-a". "Should" is a word that should be bigger than just six letters.
One quilter related that the salesperson said the back was of sufficient size. It turned out that that the backing was 1" larger than the top, yet she argued with us. The original salesperson was an Amish salesperson in an Amish quilt shop. Sizing backs for hand quilting is entirely different than for longarming.
I am using this example because it is to the point. The salesperson you might be questioning may hand quilt, or they may machine quilt [i.e. quilt with a sewing machine], or they may longarm with different criteria, or they may just want to sell you the fabric knowing that it will be a few inches bigger than the top if it is sewn in five pieces, in different directions, and that's fine with her.
Buy Extra or Buy Later
How many times has a quilt you made turned out to be the same size as the pattern? I love Ruth's patterns because they are so accurate. Her Raggedy Ruth Designs™ patterns say the finished size to a quarter of an inch. For example, her new "
Puppy Dog Tails" Placemat
is 17 1/4" x 15 3/4" - that's exact! [Mine would never turn out that size!]
Also, often a quilter will say "I slapped on a couple of additional borders to fit my bed" or "I changed the borders." Yet, they still bought the backing for the original size.
Buying the backing after the quilt is completed will usually provide better results. The problem is that the matching fabric from the collection may be out of stock by then. So if you must buy that matching collection fabric for a back, then "buy extra".
Talk to your longarmer, and vice versa [longarmers talk to your clients]. Most longarmers are artists, too, and like to focus on their art and not on making up for improperly prepared backings.