It’s Hip to be Square (and other backing thoughts)


Let’s talk backing.

Poor backing, it can sometimes be an afterthought. So much time and energy goes into making a beautiful quilt top, and then you finish and you’re like, “Oh yeah… backing.” For your longarm quilter though, backing is the first thing we think of when it’s time to load a quilt. In this post, I’ll share everything you ever wanted to know about backing fabric specifically for longarm quilting. For today, backing is the star!

1. It needs to be square!

If you’ve ever looked at a Quilting Services page on a machine quilter’s website, I would stake the farm* on the fact that at some point, “Square your backing!” or the equivalent is said. What does this mean? A square backing is one in which the top and bottom edges are parallel, and the sides are parallel. All four corners are 90º angles. There is no fullness- meaning if you spread that backing out on the floor, it would lay flat. No ripples or funky parts that won’t stay down.

  • Why does it matter? When I said backing was the first thing your longarmer thinks of, I wasn’t kidding. It is the first part of your quilt that gets loaded onto the frame. It is literally the foundation of the quilt sandwich- everything else rests on top of it. We pin the top and bottom edge of the backing to the top and bottom canvas leaders. These canvas leaders are on rollers that roll opposite of each other, so that we can get that backing taut. If the backing isn’t square, it won’t be nice and flat and taut. Part of it will be, but another part might hang loosely, or twist funkily. Don’t let all this talk of the top and bottom edges distract you- the sides are just as important! We have lines on those leaders to mark the center, and we find the center of the top and bottom edges of the backing (by folding in half and bringing the sides together) and match it up to the leader lines when we pin.

Here’s what it looks like. I loaded this backing unsquarely, for example purposes:

Messy floor... oops

Messy floor… oops

See how it’s all droopy and ripply and and the seam lines aren’t straight and it’s generally just crazy? I can’t layer batting and a quilt top on that to quilt it.


But see how nice and flat this quilt sandwich is? Underneath is a square backing that is giving me a great foundation for quilting.

2. It needs to be sewn with a 1/2″ seam. 

In piecing a top, 1/4″ is the gold standard, but that isn’t best when piecing a backing. Instead, use a 1/2″, and press it open.

  • Why does it matter? The rollers that I mentioned that roll opposite each other to get your backing taut put pressure on backing fabric. A 1/4″ seam is more likely to pop open than a 1/2″- so think of it as a safety measure. As for pressing it open, that’s simply to help eliminate some bulk in that seam.

3. It needs to be bigger than your top. 

Different longarmers have different requirements for how much bigger, so check with yours. For me, I ask for an extra 4″ on all sides, so a total of 8″. In other words, if your top is 62″ x 74″, your backing needs to be 70″ x 82″. Make sense?

  • Why does it matter? That excess gives us space to quilt to the edge of your top without the carriage of our machine running into the clamps that we attach to the sides. It gives us a place to test our tension. It’s a form of insurance that guarantees when we get to the bottom of your quilt top, there’s still plenty of backing left over and we’re not short. Basically, this is one of the most important things about your backing.

That about covers it. Those are the most important things you should know about backing fabric when you send your quilt to a longarm quilter. I hope that helps give a better understanding for why we ask for what we ask for. It’s not meant to be intimidating or a bunch of crazy rules to scare you off. What it boils down to is that we (I feel confident speaking for all longarmers here) want to do the best we can for you. We want to return to you a quilt that will make you ecstatic- and it all starts with the backing.

*I don’t actually have a farm. 

Valentine’s Day promo!

I posted this on Instagram and got a really positive response so far, so I thought I’d share the love over here, too:


That’s right! If you schedule a quilt with me by 2/21- you get your batting for free. It will be Quilter’s Dream, and we’ll talk about it when you contact me for details. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail at

thequiltingchamp [at] gmail [dot] com

Feathery Finish!

I just finished up the second quilt that Tracey sent me!




I really went to town on this one!

The borders were so much fun- I love a nice, wide border. It’s so much negative space that I get to go in and dress up. The effect of the feathers puffing up is awesome, I think. And quilting them this way- where they weave off and on the top- was quicker and easier than doing a continuous feather border. Honestly- I even like the look of it better this way, too! So that was a definite win.

Next, I have a slight gap between orders, so I’m going to see if I can squeeze a quilt of my own in there!


Fun in Borders

I got started on the second quilt from Tracey:


These borders are nice and big (my favorite!), so I’m doing big feathers that weave on and off of the quilt top and echoing around them. I really wanted the feathers to puff up and stand out, so around them I’m quilting densely: pebbles and swirls.



I am so happy with how they’re turning out. Feathers are my favorite!



Stay tuned! This one is going to be fun.

Rainbow Finish

Aaah! I love how this turned out!



I had a blast quilting this. It was so much fun to check out all of the fabric lines she used as I quilted along. As per usual, this is one I will send back with sadness that it doesn’t belong to me. ;)

But! Tracey sent me two quilts to quilt, so I’m moving on to her second one next:


I’ve got some ideas for what I’m going to do. I’m really excited about those appliqué blocks!

Rainbow Quilt Underway!

I got started on Tracey’s (of Traceyjay Quilts) Rainbow quilt that she sent me! Here’s a photo of the top from her Flickr:

Munchkin land WIPIsn’t it awesomesauce? I love all the fabrics that she used. I think the gradual color change from 16 patch to 16 patch is brilliant.

So! Here is what I’m doing:



IMG_2369 I really, really love the orange peel/petals in the 16 patch blocks. It’s giving some awesome texture with the colors. The white X’s were the first thing I noticed about this quilt, and I think they are a really fun secondary design. I had a really hard time deciding what I wanted to quilt in those, but I ended up going with some straight lines to make some geometric triangles. I’m resisting the urge to do more in those for now. One of the hardest things for me is editing my quilting. But with everything that’s going on in the colors, I don’t want to over-quilt and make those white X’s too busy. So, I am going to carry on with that for now, and take a look at it when the top is done. I’m betting once everything is quilted, I’ll be glad I kept them simple.

Farmer’s Wife Progress

I’ve #overgrammed this Farmer’s Wife quilt like crazy on my Instagram account, so I’ll try to keep it brief over here.

I was excited to quilt this quilt before it even got to me, but I didn’t think too far ahead for how I wanted to quilt it. I find that I usually do better picking quilting designs when the quilt is actually right in front of me. This one was so fun because every block is different, but I didn’t want the quilt to end up looking too chaotic or crazy, or just overwhelming to look at in a bad way. What I noticed immediately when I spread it out on my frame is that the blocks alternate in shape: diamond and square:

FullSizeRender I decided to frame all the diamonds with corner shells, and all the squares with curls. First, because it makes a cool secondary design, and second, because it gives the quilt cohesion. Even though that negative space is quilted distinctly, because it repeats over the whole quilt, it doesn’t overwhelm you because your brain expects it. That’s my theory, anyway.


farmer2 When it came time to quilt the actual blocks, I went with the same idea. There are a handful of quilting designs that I used throughout the whole quilt. I used them in different ways in different blocks, but there really aren’t a huge variety of designs at play in this quilt. Sampler quilts are by nature busy, but by using the same fabric line throughout and keeping the number of quilting designs minimal, it makes the quilt feel cohesive. It feels like everything belongs and goes.

That’s a little peak into my head, and my rationale for the quilting of this quilt. It’s nearly done now- only the borders remain! I will update with finished pictures soon.

Farmer’s Wife Start!

My dear friend Lindsey sent me her gorgeous Farmer’s Wife to quilt:

farmer'swife Isn’t it so cute? I love all the little blocks, and of course I’m obsessed with the fabric as a Bonnie & Camille superfan. ;)

My batting order arrived from Quilter’s Dream yesterday, so I just got it loaded up last night, but I couldn’t resist quilting a little bit before I had to go to bed.

IMG_2061 Oodles and oodles more pictures to come, believe me.