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The 4 Best Types Of Fabric For Quilt Backing

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When planning a quilt project, one of the choices that must be made is the kind of fabric that will be used as the backing, or the bottom layer of the three-piece quilt sandwich. The color can either match or contrast the quilt top, be a solid or a print, or be made from a neutral color such as white, black, beige, taupe, gray, or cream. But one of the primary decisions will be the type of fabric that will be used.

Basically, you can use any type of fabric you want, the sky’s the limit. But, some fabrics are easier to use and more appropriate for use as a quilt backing than others. As a quilter, I’ve been asked many times what is the best fabric to use as a backing.

In my opinion, the 4 best types of fabric to use as a quilt backing are:

  1. Quilting fabric that is 108″ wide
  2. 100% Cotton broadcloth
  3. Flannel
  4. Flat bed sheets.

1. Quilting Fabric That Is 108″ Wide

In my opinion, the absolute best fabric to use as a quilt backing is quilting fabric that is 108″ wide which will create a seamless quilt backing that will look fantastic, will be easy to work with, and will be easy to quilt. This fabric holds its shape even after washing, will not stretch from normal use, and will create a durable quilt with the potential to last many years if properly cared for.

No matter what size quilt you make, twin, full, queen, king, or a special size, quilting fabric which is 108” wide, and some is available in 110” wide, will provide a one-piece backing that will create a seamless lining unless you are making an extremely large quilt. I have made three quilts that were approximately 110”x110” and only had to add a border on two sides of the backing to create a backing that was exactly the size I required.

Quilt Made With Batiks
One of My Quilts- Made With Batiks

2. 100% Cotton Broadcloth

The fabric that I primarily use for quilt backing is 100% cotton broadcloth, which is a good choice because it comes in a wide variety of patterns and colors, and is easy to piece except for the largest quilts. 

Broadcloth was originally made from either cotton or wool, but is now available in many blends. This fabric is popular with quilters but is primarily used in making clothing, especially shirts, dresses, sleepwear, and playwear. When used in quiltmaking, it is best to use the 100% cotton broadcloth.

Quilting Frame with100% Cotton Broadcloth Lining
Quilting Frame with 100% Cotton Broadcloth Lining

3. 100% Cotton Flannel

Flannel is an excellent choice for a quilt backing that is not only attractive but makes a cozy warm quilt that is especially good for children and for anyone living in a cold climate. I have used flannel for almost every quilt I have made for my grandchildren because of the climate where they live.

Even though the 100% cotton flannel fabric is very popular in quiltmaking, one of the drawbacks of using flannel is that it frays, but this can be remedied by cutting it with pinking shears.

Flannel For Quilting
Flannel

4. Flat Bed Sheets

Using a flat bed sheet as a backing makes an attractive quilt because, like quilting fabric, there will not be any seams on the back of the quilt and the sheet is easy to prepare for quilting. Just be sure to use a sheet that is made from 100% cotton fabric. A cotton sheet is one of the most affordable alternatives that is easy to find anywhere.

Another huge benefit of using a bed sheet as a quilt backing is that no piecing is required as long as you have a sheet that is large enough to cover the entire quilt top with an extra 3 to 6 inches of fabric on both sides, top, and bottom. Cotton and flannel sheets can be used, however, a polyester and cotton blend sheet and a flannel sheet can both pill, so be sure to get the 100% cotton fabric with a thread count of at least 200, but a thread count of 350 to 500 would be ideal.

Flat BedSheet
Flat Bed Sheet

What Are Other Fabrics That Can Be Used For Quilting?

Keep in mind that any fabrics can be used in quiltmaking. I personally have made quilts from almost any fabric you can think of. Here are a few that I have either used or have seen used:

  1. Discarded clothing. The first quilt I ever made without my mother’s help was from fabric cut from discarded clothing. The fabrics were not all the same weight and I had a little shrinking going on after it was washed, but I was delighted with the project overall.
  2. The cheapest fabric on the market. While these fabrics are not ideal, the quilts will still look nice and, if cared for properly, will last for many years. And, you can often find fabric on sale that is very affordable, and even cheap, while the fabric itself is of good quality. I always take a look at the fabric sale rack of any store I’m in that sells fabric.
  3. The most beautiful Batiks available. These are my favorite fabrics because of the stunning colors and patterns, but the colors do run when washed and shouldn’t be used in the same quilt with lighter colors.
  4. Knit fabrics. Knit fabrics can be used to make quilts, but they are not as easy to work with because they stretch and lose their shape quite easily. But, by using a fabric stabilizer or basting spray along with the right tools, knit fabrics can be used in quilting projects.

Is Fleece A Good Fabric For A Quilt Backing?

Fleece is quite popular as a quilt backing. As a matter of fact, fleece can save you quite a bit of time and money when making a quilt because fleece can serve as the backing for your quilt and as the batting. And, as you already know, the batting is often one of the more expensive parts of the quilt. Just attach your quilt top to a layer of fleece and you are finished! 

Fleece also comes in wider widths than the standard fabric sizes, so it is often possible to use a backing of fleece that is seam-free. However, keep in mind that fleece is a very warm fabric and will create a quilt that is very warm. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you are making the quilt for.

Is Minky A Good Backing For A Quilt?

Here again, is a fabric that is quite popular because of its wonderful texture that is soft and plush. And, even though it is one of the more difficult fabrics to work with and sew and is quite expensive, with the right technique, Minky will definitely make a beautiful quilt backing.

The best way to use Minky as a backing for a quilt is to either use a stabilizer or pull Minky taut and tape down to a hard surface while making the sandwich. Miky can then be used as backing and batting or can be used as a backing along with a lightweight batting for a very warm quilt.

One disadvantage of using Minky as part of a quilt is that it is quite heavy and will make a quilt that is very heavy which could be a drawback to some people.

What Makes A Good Fabric For A Quilt Backing?

A quilt backing, often called the lining of the quilt, which is the bottom layer of the three-piece quilt sandwich, can be made from a solid piece of fabric with no seams, but is more often pieced from two or more sections of fabric. Here are a few things to look for in a fabric for your quilt backing:

  • It should be the same general type and weight as the fabric used for the quilt top. Quilts with fabrics of different weights will shrink or stretch at different rates when washed.
  • Any fabrics can be used in making quilt tops and backing, but the natural fiber fabrics like 100% cotton will handle much better and will be much more durable.
  • It should be a solid color unless it is available in one piece because it is difficult to match large sections of a print fabric.
  • Use fabrics that are colorfast and will not bleed into other fabrics in the quilt after washing.
  • The fabric type should support the theme of the quilt as in whether it will be a lightweight quilt to be used in warm weather or a heavier quilt for use in cold weather.
  • Fabrics that are light and thin like voile will not be as durable in a quilt as the sturdier cotton fabrics.
  • The backing should also coordinate with the quilt top as in a more fragile art quilt, a lighter weight fabric for a backing would be more appropriate, or a more durable weight fabric for top and backing should be used on a child’s bed. 
  • The color of the backing fabric should be considered when choosing the color of the thread that will be used in quilting the quilt.
  • It is better to use the same kind of thread as the fabrics you are using.

What Is Meant By The Term 100% Cotton Fabric?

Many of the fabrics made today are blends of two or more different types of fibers like polyester and cotton, polyester and rayon, or a wool blend. But, the term 100% cotton fabric means just that, there is no other type of fiber contained within the fabric except pure cotton.

There are many advantages to using cotton fabric, some of which are that these fabrics are durable, breathable, a comfortable weight, are hypoallergenic, and are pleasant to the touch.

Using 100% cotton fabric for quilting is beneficial to the quilter in the following ways:

  • It is easier to work with and to handle for quilting, 
  • It does not stretch easily, 
  • It will have less shrinkage than other fabrics,
  • It does not fray easily, and 
  • It is finished to the extent that it is much more colorfast than most other fabrics.
100% Cotton Quilting Fabric wBaby the Black Cat
100% Cotton Quilting Fabric w/ “Baby” the Black Cat

What Is Meant By The Weight Of Fabric?

The weight of quilting fabric is generally heavier than fabric primarily made to be used for clothing because the weave is denser and the thread count is higher. It is lighter, however than fabric used for upholstery which would be too heavy to quilt when added to the other two parts of the quilt sandwich.

Quilting fabric generally weighs 3-5 ounces per square yard, while clothing fabric can weigh from 2 to 3 ounces per square yard.

What Is The Thread Count Of Quilting Fabric?

The thread count of quilting fabric will range from 60-75 threads per square inch for a good quality fabric to 200 threads per square inch for high-quality quilting fabric. Batik fabric which is often used in quilting has 200-220 threads per square inch. However, please note that Batiks are not as colorfast as quilting fabrics and the colors often run during washing.

The thread count is not normally listed on fabric bolts. But, by lifting the fabric to the light, if you can see the light through the fabric, it is more than likely a lower thread count. The higher thread count fabrics are much more tightly woven and do not allow light to filter through.

How Much Bigger Should The Quilt Backing Be?

The quilt backing should be at least 6” wider on each side and on the top and bottom, than the quilt top, which means that the backing should be 12” larger than your quilt top.  The batting should also be larger than the quilt top, but it doesn’t have to be 6” larger. I would recommend making your batting at least 3” larger than the top on both sides and the top and bottom.

Be sure that your quilt backing is squared and both top and backing are ironed before putting your quilt sandwich together.

Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich
Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich

Why Should The Quilt Backing Be Bigger Than The Quilt Top?

The primary reason that the quilt backing must be bigger than the quilt top is that during the quilting process, whether it will be quilted by hand or by machine, the majority of the quilting frames that will be used require that the quilt be attached to the frame, and the backing must be large enough to provide enough fabric to attach to the frame so that the quilt top can be quilted all the way to the outer edges. The excess fabric can be trimmed after the quilt has been quilted and prior to hemming.

In some cases, however, part of that extra fabric is used as the hem itself without adding a separate hem to the quilt.

Standard Quilt Sizes:

Quilt SizeMattress DimensionsQuilt Size w/16”Drop
Crib27 x 5236 x 52 inches (w/4½” Drop)
Twin XL30 x 80 inches71 x 96 inches
Full54 x 75 inches86 x 91 inches
Queen60 x 80 inches92 x 96 inches
King78 x 80 inches110 x 96 inches

Should Quilting Fabrics Be Prewashed?

Whether fabrics should be prewashed before starting a quilting project is one of those highly debated topics in quilting circles. I never prewash because I like the look of the finished quilt after using new fabrics that have never been laundered. Once the fabrics or the quilt itself is washed, it doesn’t look like a new quilt anymore.

The other side of this prewashing debate calls attention to the fact that if the fabric is going to do any shrinking, stretching, or if the colors are going to run, it is better that all those things happen before the quilt is made. And, this theory certainly has merit.

My answer to the quilters who insist that fabrics be prewashed is that if the same type and weight of fabrics are used together in a quilt, then those fabrics are going to shrink, stretch, or run in the same manner and will not affect the integrity of the quilt. 

In my opinion, all quilters have to make the decision for themselves as to whether quilting fabrics should be prewashed. If you are a new quilter, I suggest that you try both ways and see which you prefer and not take anyone else’s word on which is the best way to go.

Where Can You Buy Quilting Fabric?

Quilting fabric can be purchased from your local fabric stores, from chain fabric and craft stores such as Joann Fabrics, and online from many Internet fabric stores such as Etsy. And prices of quilting fabrics vary widely, depending on the source, the type of fabric, and the fabric manufacturer.

For those new to quilting, going into a local fabric store or a chain store and actually seeing the wide variety of fabrics available and being able to touch those fabrics would be the logical first step in buying quilting fabric. It is quite difficult to choose fabric online and be sure it is the quality fabric that you believe to be purchasing until you become more familiar with choosing fabrics. 

Proper Care and Storage of Handmade Quilts

Six Homemade Quilts Stored in Cubby Holes

Care

  • Handmade quilts should never be dry cleaned as the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can damage them.
  • Wash quilts only when necessary, only in cold water, and on a gentle cycle. 
  • Always line dry handmade quilts, never machine dry, but do not hang in bright, direct sunlight.

Storage

  • Proper storage for antique and more delicate quilts includes textile storage boxes and tissue paper to place between the folds of the quilt. 
  • I like to store my quilts in a pillowcase that allows the fabric of the quilts to breathe while protecting them from dust and other foreign matter.
  • Store quilts in a cool dry area away from extreme high or low temperatures and away from direct sunlight.

Final Thoughts

Even though it is believed that the origins of quilting are from the 1400s in Sweden where only the wealthy owned heavily stitched and appliqued quilts, we are more familiar with the patchwork quilts made by the early settlers of our country when quilts were made primarily of fabrics cut from discarded clothing or feed and flour sacks and sewn together as part of a sandwich including a backing and batting and quilted with the primary purpose of keeping warm at a time when the only heating in their homes was a fireplace and there was no central heating.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift toward more decorative quilts often called art quilts which are being made with art and decoration in mind rather than warmth.

But, even though it is possible to make quilts from any type of fabric, the quilts that will be the most durable and will maintain their shape and color for the longest period of time will be the quilts that are cared for properly and that are made from the best quilting fabrics available.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss The 3 Best Types of Quilting Fabric for Looks and Durability.

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