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Longarming Hints, Tips & Techniques
Number 11
What Is A Squared Back?!?


This is the eleventh newsletter in a series of over thirty on "Getting The Most Out Of Your Longarming Dollar." That was the title of one of Ruth's talks at Shipshewana's Schoolhouse training sessions during their Quiltfest.

The purposes of those talks and these newsletters are to:

  • Allow you to get the best quilting results;

  • Have you end up with a work of art that you are proud of;

  • Anticipate the needs of your longarmer; and,

  • Make the longarming process easier on your longarmer so that they may focus on the quality of their craftsmanship.

Prior emails in this series can be found on our web-site: on the tab newsletters.

What Square Are We Talking About?

I have discovered when we talk about squared backs, we often are talking about different things. This newsletter will show you what we mean by "square."

We use a rotary cutter to cut our backings.

Some people gasp at the thought of using a rotary cutter. Cutting, whether with a rotary cutter or scissors, ignores the grain of the weave [if that's not redundant]. They believe that ripping the fabric will give fabric that will result in a square back. This approach is intuitive, but it ignores that the sides are stretched in the process of ripping.

We have come to realize that regardless of the method used to cut/rip off your back, that there is an underlying pressure that has been put on the fabric during its manufacturing and subsequent rolling and re-rolling of the fabric until it is on the bolts that we deal with in the quilt/fabric store. This underlying pressure results in a tension that can stretch the fabric out of shape.

Their are several videos already on the web [so I won't make a new one]. I searched under "squaring up a quilt back". One video is by Cindy Carey of North Star Longarm Quilting. The URL to click on or cut/paste into your browser for her video is


The technique is simple. However, you may be amazed at the amount of fabric that is cut off. One quilt that we did was a king, and we lost thirteen inches of fabric. Some may consider it wasteful. We look at it as getting a back that rolls correctly to produce a quilt that will lay flat and look its best.

This is one reason that we request ten inches of backing overall more fabric [five inches on each of the four sides], both horizontally and vertically.

These are the basic steps:

  • Press the fabric so that it is wrinkle-free.

  • Fold the fabric in half the long-way. Notice that if you must not have cut off your selvage and the selvage must be on the outer edge.

  • Hold your fabric by the corners with the selvage edges up. If the back is too long for one person's arm spans then get a second person to hold one of the corners. If a second person is not available, then use a clip and clip the corner to something immovable.

  • Check to see if the fabric hangs straight and that the bottom fold is smooth.

  • If the fabric does not hang straight, slide one side against the other while keeping the selvage edges together until an optimal result is achieved.

  • Keeping the ends pinched [i.e. the two sides of the fabric are held together so that they do not move], lay the fabric on your cutting table.

  • Make sure the fabric is flat on the cutting surface. If the fabric is too long for the table you can either visually estimate where the narrow part is or fold the fabric to fit the table. This is shown well in the video.

  • Cut the fabric at a right angle to the salvage, making sure that the cutting meets, or comes closes to, the narrowest part to be cut off.

  • Repeat the cutting on the other end of the fabric.

This is the procedure we use for every back.

Some Suggestions

  • If your backing has a directional print, you will notice that if you piece your back from a single piece of fabric that you have cut into two pieces, that they should lay the same direction.

  • If you are creating your back from your stash that, again, the fabric should lay in the same direction. However, because there are multiple fabrics with multiple internal tensions, an optimal result most likely will not be achieved.
Enjoy your blessings!
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