Would you like to learn how to match the print on your quilt back fabric to create a matching, uninterrupted pattern?
When you’ve gone through the hassle of sewing a fabulous quilt top it makes sense to finish it off properly with a beautiful, continuous backing.
Of course you could use a wide back fabric, but what if a different print has caught your eye?
This is exactly what happened to me when I sewed up my Mountainside quilt (seen below).
I loved all the Ruby Star Society teal fabrics and their motifs so much that I wanted the party to continue on the back. This tigeress print by Sarah Watts is pretty rad and I thought it would make a sterling quilt backing. (You can still find the light blue and purple colourways of this fabric at FQS*.)
If I’m feeling lazy I’ll often just sew a strip of a complementary fabric between two runs of yardage so I don’t have to go to the trouble of print matching.
But sometimes the fabric demands more! Sometimes it wants to become a large expanse of uninterrupted, patterned goodness. Who are we to say no?
Before you try print matching your quilt backing fabric
There are some things to keep in mind before you attempt to match the print in a fabric for a quilt backing.
It’s important to identify the repeat in the fabric – this is simply the area of pattern that is repeated over and over again to make the fabric pattern. This are is important to know because you’ll need to match up the same two areas of the pattern repeat in each of your yardage runs in order to make a seamless pattern match. (Well, not literally seamless, just figuratively!)
Sometimes this is easy to figure out. The repeats in the fabrics below are easy to spot because of the birds.
This one, not as easy. The hippos all look very similar. But if you check out their tails, it makes it easier to find the repeat (the two tails close to each other were a good focus point).
These Anna Maria Horner prints were harder because I kept looking at the little flowers. I was pulling my hair out until I focussed on the crescent shapes around the flowers. Every fourth one has a more rippled edge – that made finding the pattern repeat much easier.
You’ll need excess fabric to pattern match! In order to get the fabric pattern to match across both pieces of fabric, you’ll have some waste in both the length and width. (Not real waste, as the excess can be used for a binding or as scraps.)
If the pattern repeat is quite large, then you’ll need to have more excess fabric. If the pattern repeat is small, you won’t need as much. To be safe I like to make sure I have at least an extra half yard of length in my fabric.
Can I calculate exactly how much extra fabric I’ll need?
We can get pretty close.
Let’s say I need a backing for a 60″ x 80″ quilt. I have a lovely fabric with a print repeat of 9″ vertically and 12″ horizontally (see photo below).
Check the width. I know I’m going to need 2 runs of yardage as it’s 60″ wide. Because the pattern repeat is 12″ across the fabric, I could lose up to 12″ through pattern matching. I’m also planning to have this quilt long armed so I will need an extra 5″ on each side.
So I need 60″ + 12″ + 10″ = 82″. Two runs of yardage (WOF = 42″) sewn together are conservatively 83″ wide so no problems there.
Check the length. I could lose up to 9″ in length with the pattern matching, plus I need an extra 10″ for the long arm. So I need 80″ + 9″ + 10″ = 99″ in length. As I’m using 2 runs of yardage to get the width I require, I’ll need 198″ of fabric. This is equal to 198/36 = 5½ yards (I would round up to 5¾ yards, that’s just me.).
What you need to match a fabric print for a quilt backing
- Lots of fabric (see above)
- An iron
- A kid’s glue stick
- Pins (optional – more on this later)
Get ready to pattern match your fabric
Iron your fabric so it’s easier to get an accurate pattern match.
If you have a small pattern repeat you can trim the selvedges from the two edges you’ll be joining. You don’t want the selvedges in your quilt back as they are thicker and have holes in them. This can lead to batting poking through holes and the stiffer fabric can be harder to quilt through. If you have a light coloured backing fabric the text on the selvedge may also show through (or create a shadow), which isn’t the best. Plus, long armers don’t like it when you leave it on, and you know how much we want to keep our long armers happy!
Given the larger pattern repeat on my tiger fabric I knew I’d be trimming quite a bit away from my edges once I’d sewed the seam, so I left my selvedges on for the time being. Plus, I was more easily able to use the extra fancy strip alongside the selvedge as a pressing guide.
Once you’ve trimmed your selvedges take one of your fabric runs and press a half inch seam along the edge that you’ll be sewing to the other fabric run. I like to use a half inch as it’s easier to work with (quarter inch can be a bit fiddly).
My tiger fabric conveniently had a half inch decorative pink stripe next to the selvedge so I used that to guide my seam. I actually ironed about 2mm beyond the pink strip as I didn’t want to have any of it accidentally creep into my quilt backing.
Match the fabric print and secure
Here’s where we get to work!
Now that you’ve ironed your half inch seam, stay right there with your ironing board. You’ll want to use it to lay out your two runs of yardage, face up, and then match the just-ironed seam to the matching spot on the other piece of fabric.
Below you can see me positioning the ironed seam on top of the other run of fabric. I paid close attention to all the little details in the fabric print to match them to each other.
Once you’re happy that it’s a good match it’s time to break out the glue stick.
We’ll be using a glue stick to glue the folded-over edge of the top fabric to the other run of fabric. This will keep it secure while we sew it down.
Kids glue sticks are non toxic and wash out with water, so they are fine to use for this purpose. We only use a single swipe of glue so it doesn’t cause any problems with our sewing needle. No need to cake it on.
I like to work with about 12″ of fabric at a time. Lift the ironed seam and apply a swipe of glue to the folded over edge. Then put it back down in place, making sure the pattern is still aligned, and iron to set the glue. Don’t use any steam, just a dry iron.
I also used pins, placed about a hand’s width apart, perpendicular to the seam. (I forgot to take a photo of that, sorry.) This is important because when you shuffle the fabric down your ironing board to continue your glueing, the seam can be prised apart. These are long runs of fabric and there can be considerable weight on the seam, so it’s a good idea to support the glue with pins.
Put the two lengths of fabric right sides together
Once you’ve glued the entire length of the folded seam to the other length of fabric you can carefully lay it out flat on the floor. Now you need to flip the fabric with the ironed seam back onto the other fabric layer so they are right sides together. This will open up that ironed seam, so you can see the ironed seam line.
I did this starting at one end, removing the perpendicular pins in that area before putting the two fabrics right sides together. Then I used the pins to pin alongside the ironed crease. This gave extra strength to the glue. There’s a lot of weight in that quilt backing now, and pulling it up to your sewing machine might dislodge your glued seam.
I found the combination of pins and glue worked really well. The pins take up the bulk of the load while the glue makes sure the pattern stays exactly matched and prevents any slipping. Using only pins would be inaccurate, using only glue wouldn’t be strong enough. The two together are a dream team.
If you are print matching something small like a cushion backing, you could do without the pins. It’s just that a throw/twin size quilt backing is quite a bit of fabric and there’s no glue that could support that weight (except super glue, but that would ruin your sewing machine so don’t do that!)
Sew the quilt backing together
Once the entire length of your 2 pieces of fabric are right sides together and pinned you can safely transport it to your machine to sew.
You sew straight on the line of your ironed half inch seam. I used my zipper foot so I didn’t have to remove any pins as I sewed. I was very careful to make sure none of that pink crept over from the seam.
If you find it hard to see your ironed crease line, you can use a lead pencil and a ruler to draw it in to make it easier to see.
Once I’d sewn the seam I pulled out all the pins, opened the fabric up and checked that my pattern matching had been successful.
I was happy with my results, but if you want to readjust any part now would be the time to unpick (shudder), reposition and resew.
Trim your seam
Now that you have a lovely print-matched seam you can trim away the excess fabric. This is where I removed the selvedges I didn’t cut away before. As I mentioned I prefer a half inch seam for my quilt backings. You can see the “wastage” cut away due to the pattern repeat below. I saved that and turned it into quilt binding.
Once your seam is trimmed, you need to press it. The easiest way is to press to the side as it has been glued together. However it’s really not hard to pull the two fabrics apart if you prefer to press your seams open. I pulled my seam open – although I did put a bit of waste cloth between the fabric and my iron as I didn’t want to get any glue on the iron. (Honestly I don’t think it would have transferred as it was already set, but better safe than sorry.)
Once you’ve pressed your seam, turn your fabric over and admire the beautiful, pattern matched seam you’ve just sewn!
The bottom tigeress is spot on. The one above may have received a tummy tuck. So not perfect, but honestly it’s really hard to see across a large expanse of tigers:
Square up your quilt backing
Once you’ve ironed your seam it’s time to square up your quilt backing. The two runs of fabric will be offset, as you see below:
You’ll need to trim off the excess top and bottom to get a square quilt top. My preferred method is to use my tiles to square. It’s easy to lay it out and then use the grout as a guide for my scissors.
If you don’t have tiles you can use a combination of long rulers and large square rulers (for the corners) to make sure your backing is square.
Again, these off cuts are great for binding!
Now you have a lovely pattern-matched quilt backing, ready to be sent off to the long armer with your quilt top.
When your quilt comes back from the long arm, don’t forget to marvel at how good your quilt back looks!
Have fun with fabric print matching
Matching up prints in fabrics isn’t just for quilt backings. You can make plenty of other fun projects such as cushions and table toppers. Just think how hidden your cushion’s hidden zipper will be if you pattern-match the surrounding fabric!
If you’re sewing masks (the version with the central seam in the front) you could make use of pattern matching there.
Some fabrics are just so pretty (especially the ones with metallic details), they would look fabulous shown off in an embroidery hoop* on the wall. Perhaps with a few hand stitched accents?
Most fabric lines come with at least 2 fabrics of the same design in 2 different colour ways, so there’s a world of options. This Jennifer Sampou collection* (due out soon) has such pretty fabrics, with many pattern matching opportunities.
Many designers who’ve been around a while also have a range of patterned basics which are perfect for this sort of thing. There can be 3, 4, 5 of the same pattern in different colours. Tula Pink’s True Colours* comes to mind.
And then there’s Kristy Lea’s first collection with Riley Blake, called Create*. I love the look created by pattern matching 3 of her prints (navy, white and black).
The hexagons seem to float off the fabric!
Now you’re ready to match a print fabric for your quilt back!
Now you know how to match a fabric print for a quilt back it’s over to you, dear reader. If you have a favourite print you can use it to create a uninterrupted, patterned quilt back. Or perhaps start with a smaller project, using up some prints in your stash. Whatever you decide, have fun with it!
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