How to: Use less fabric for your backing

Hi everyone, my name is Jodie and I own a fabric store and I've written an article about how you can purchase and use LESS fabric. Why? Because I want you to be able to use the MOST BEAUTIFUL fabrics for your backing and make spectacular quilts. Hopefully this might make it just a little bit more affordable for you to do so :-) 

When I first started quilting, I would use any old fabric for backing not thinking quality mattered. But, the first time I used a gorgeous Cotton + Steel Rifle Paper Co fabric as my backing fabric, I realised how special a high-quality backing can make a quilt.

The reality is that brand-name backing fabric is expensive and you need a lot of it. However, if you are clever with your cutting (and don't care too much about directional fabrics), you can get away with a lot less. This blog post will walk you through how to cut down on how much backing fabric you need and save you money by calculating exactly how much you need.

Firstly, let’s address the stripy elephant in the room: matching patterns and directional fabric. Obviously it's probably best to avoid say a stripy fabric if you are going to use the techniques in this instructional. Ultimately the focus of the quilt is the front and that's what will be admired, not the back. How often will stretch and flash your whole quilt back for people to inspect the details of your non-matching patterns? I'm guessing not very often :-)

NB: This tutorial and calculations have assumed a Width of Fabric (WOF) is 42". Most fabrics are at least 44" including selvage - as such, seam allowances have not been mentioned/ included in the calculations as it is assumed the selvage will be used for the seam allowance. 

So how are backing fabric requirements usually determined?

Most patterns calculate the fabric needed to be multiple pieces of fabric next to each other side by side like this:

The the blue rectangle represents the quilt and the two pieces of background fabric are represented by the "stripy" fabric. For much larger quilts it may even be three pieces of fabric side by side. 

But why do they do it this way?

This is the most conservative method for determining backing fabrics and they obviously don't want anyone to run out of fabric- I promise you pattern designers don't have shares in fabric companies that are aligned to more backing fabric being purchased, nor are they spending their nights laughing evilly to themselves because they made you use more backing fabric than you needed to :-) 

Ok, so how do I calculate how much I need if I wanted to use less?

This tutorial has been broken into two parts- quilts that are 80" wide or less, and those that are over 80". If you have a quilt that is around the 80" wide mark, it may be worth reading both to make sure you can determine the best method for your quilt. 

For quilts less than 80" wide

The basic gist of how use less fabric is to do an extra cut, so you have one piece of fabric, on the left which is the WOF  x length (plus 2"-4"depending on how much overlap you like) and then you have two pieces that are turned around on their side and sewn together, like this:

Ok, I think that makes sense- so how do we figure out how much fabric we actually need?

The calculations below assume a 3" wide overhang on each side- if you prefer more or less, adjust accordingly. 

  • Step 1: Take the LENGTH of your quilt and add 6 inches
  • Step 2: (Take the WIDTH of your quilt and take away 36 inches)- then multiply this amount by 2
  • Step 3: Add the two together and covert to metres/ yards

Sounds a bit confusing doesn't it? So let's take a real life example- a 60" x 60" throw quilt. We will first walk through the calculation, and then you can either stop reading, or feel free to read on to understand why it is calculated in this way. 

A patten would likely call for 4 yards (two WOF x 66" then a bit of rounding) 

So let's figure out if we can get away with less fabric 

  • Step 1: Length: 60" plus 6" = 66"  
  • Step 2: Width: ( 60" less 36") x 2 = 48"
  • Step 3: 66" + 48" = 114" 

= 3.2 yards / 2.9 metres - so this can save you almost a whole yard!

I somewhat like maths and would like to know- why is it calculated like that?

  • Step 1: We take the length of the quilt and add 6 inches which is 3" overhang on both the top and the bottom ( 3" x 2 = 6")

  • Step 2: The reason we take away 36" from the width of the quilt is we have already covered 39" of the quilt with our first piece of fabric- (42" standard WOF less the 3 inches over hang on the left side).
  • We then we want to take another 3" away to take into account the extra over hang we will need on the right hand side. So 39" - 3" = 36"
  • So another way of looking at this is we are calculating how much extra is left on the quilt top that we need to cover, and then adding an extra 3" for overhang on the right hand side.
  • We then need to double this as one piece sideways won't be enough to cover the length of the quilt, so we need to add another piece (and you will likely have some leftover at the bottom). 

 

 

For quilts more than 80" wide

Now we will cover off on quilts that are larger than 80". NB: For quilts between 80-84" you are probably best to just follow the requirements in the pattern given its just two pieces of fabric next to each other, which will fit together almost perfectly with very little wastage (42" + 42" = 84") !

Backing requirements in patterns that are the larger sizes (eg queen, king or bed) usually assume THREE pieces of fabric are lined up next to each, like this

 

The quilt is the blue rectangle and the three pieces of background fabric are represented by the "stripy" fabric. 

The basic gist of how to save fabric is to do 1-2 extra cuts, so you have two pieces of fabric, on the left which is the WOF  x length (plus 4-8 inches depending on how much overlap you like) and then three pieces that are rotated 90 degrees on their side and sewn together, like this:

 

Ok, I think that makes sense- so how do we figure out how much fabric we need?

The calculation below assumes a 3" wide overhang on each side- if you prefer more or less, adjust accordingly. 

  • Step 1: (Take the LENGTH of your quilt and add 6 inches). Multiply this by two
  • Step 2: (Take the WIDTH of your quilt and take away 78 inches)- then multiply this amount by 3
  • Step 3: Add the two together and covert to metres/ yards

Sounds a bit confusing doesn't it? So let's take a real life example- a 90" x 90" bed quilt.

A patten would like call for 8-9 yards (three WOF x 98" then a bit of rounding) 

So let's figure out if we can get away with less fabric 

  • Step 1: (Length: 90" plus 6") x 2 = 192"
  • Step 2: (Width:  90" less 78") x 3 = 36"
  • Step 3: Add them together 192" + 27" = 219" 

= 6.1 yards / 5.6 metres 

That's a pretty big saving isn't it! :-)

I'm confused- why is it calculated like that?

  • Step 1: We take the length of the quilt and add 6 inches which gives us 3" overhang on both the top and the bottom ( 3" x 2 = 6"). We then multiply this by two as we will have two WOF pieces next to each other. 

  • Step 2: The reason we take away 78" from the width of the quilt is we have already covered 81" of the quilt with our first two pieces of fabric- (42" standard WOF x 2)  less the 3 inches over hang on the left side).
  • We then we want to take another 3" away to take into account the extra over hang we will need on the right hand side. So this takes us to 78" (81"-3")
  • So another way of looking at this is we are calculating how much extra is left on the quilt top that we need to cover, and then adding an extra 3" for overhang on the right hand side .
  • We then need to triple this as one piece sideways won't be enough to cover the length of the quilt, so we need to add another piece (and you will likely have some leftover at the bottom). 

Phew, are you still with me? I know there was a lot of maths in there but if you can work through it, it's absolutely worth it to save yourself some fabric. And if you still don't understand feel free to contact me and I can help you figure out exactly how much you need :-)  

 

 

 

 


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