Ad Astra Quilting


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Baby, got [quilt] back!

Let's talk about quilt backs!

The quilt back is sometimes an afterthought to the quilt design. Something chosen in the spur of the moment. Day in and day out, a longarm quilter becomes VERY familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of quilt backs as so many different quilts are handled one directly after the other. So I will be posting a series specifically addressing quilt backs, including everything from choosing and piecing the quilt back to preparation for quilting.

Let's begin with choosing a quilt back layout. Imagine your quilt back like a photo layout in a book or magazine, will you choose a full spread of a single image, a dual spread with two images side by side, a triptych of three panels, or maybe a collage of different sized photos fit together.

The ideal quilt back is an extra wide fabric, these are typically around 108" wide and can be purchased in yardage to ensure plenty of length and width. Why are they ideal? Due to their extra width, these do not require any piecing (Side note, my least favorite part of making my own quilts is piecing the backing... Imagine, I have just finished the quilt top, I'm ready to quilt! Oh wait, I still need to sew a few long seams to piece a backing together.  Ugh...). This also means that your backing will be SEAM FREE, which is lovely for a long arm quilter! You see, seams add bulk, and we already have so many seams on the front of the quilt. Stacking seams on top of seams with a layer of batting in between is harder work for the machine, dulls the needle more quickly and even changes the tension slightly! But even more, when I am quilting, I can't see the backing seams. There is no way for me to insure that the backing seams are remaining straight once quilting has begun. However, I am not an uncaring person. I understand you have yards and yards of fabric in your stash, some of which will never see the light of day on the front of a quilt.

Therefore, many of us will piece together various bits of yardage from our stash. Most quilts can be covered by two widths of ~42 inch fabric aligned vertically on the back of the quilt. While this is the easiest solution, it creates a seam down the center of the quilt. The center of the quilt is shown to be a weak spot over time due to the way we commonly fold quilts or blankets. Since we want our quilts to stand the tests of time, we don't want to add a seam into an already weak location. Instead, sew the two widths of ~42 inch fabric together on both selveges creating a long tube, then cutting down the center of one panel and opening flat. This method centers one of the 42 inch widths with two approximately 20 inch panels running vertically along each side, avoiding the center crease weak spot.

Additionally, a vertical seam is unable to be monitored by a long arm quilter, as mentioned above, so it may end up as a wavy or skewed seam due to the machine moving back and forth across the fabric. When the quilting design allows, your long arm quilter might even turn the quilt 90 degrees so that this seam is parallel to the frame and possible to monitor along the front backing bar for straight alignment during the loading process. Seams that run horizontally or can be positioned parallel to the frame are more likely to be straight after quilting.

Of course, you can always get even more creative with your quilt back! Create a collage of fabrics, utilize the remaining cuts from the front of the quilt. Create a focal block, or add interesting piecing. Quilt backs can be as beautiful as the front of the quilt, adding another layer of beauty and enjoyment. But remember what I've said about seam bulk, and alignment issues, each of these is compounded the more pieces you add. Try to avoid elements that would need to be perfectly centered or aligned to a specific location of the quilt, as this becomes additional time and effort for the quilter and could result in a special charge.

The moral of this story is, when choosing to piece your quilt back consider whether you are using directional fabric or desire a directional quilting design that will impact the way the quilt is loaded on the frame. Also, imagine how the quilt will be folded or used over time and consider what areas of the quilt may incur frequent creasing due to folding and develop weak spots, avoid seams in that location when possible.


Frayed Edges and Stray Threads

Throughout the quilting process small issues will arise even for the most experienced quilters and seamstresses. Occasionally, these issues travel into my hands as I work with various quilters, suppliers, and technicians at all experience levels. As I come across such situations, I hope to share about them here on this blog as both an educational post, as well as, a sort of business transparency.

The first post in this series will be on the topic of frayed edges and stray threads. I mention trimming threads and frays on the Quilt Preparation tab of this website, and will honestly say that it is certainly not my favorite activity when I have finished piecing a quilt and feel ready to quilt it. However, it is an important part of the process, particularly if you are concerned with a clean finish.

The backside of the pieced top shows the frayed edges of the fabric at the seams with numerous strands of dark and light yarns across the quilt.

You see, often as we design our next beautiful quilt we, sometimes unwittingly, use a technique of color theory called contrast. Contrast involves placing two or more dissimilar or opposite colors side by side to accentuate the area, in short to make a design "pop". Particularly common in quilting is piecing colored or dark fabrics directly next to a white or cream, thus causing a stark difference between the pieces and making a highly visible design. However, this combination comes at a risk.

As you continue to work with the fabric pressing, trimming, pulling and pushing it through your sewing machine, the fabrics will continue to be loosened from the weave structure and individual yarns will begin to fray from the edges. These frayed yarns hang from the raw edges and seam lines on the backside of your pieced quilt top, at first they are not very noticeable as we often work on colored cutting mats or pressing tables during the piecing stage. However, as your pieced quilt top is pressed closely to the quilt batting in preparation of quilting, the dark colored frayed yarns become visible through the light fabrics creating a shadow or stained appearance.

The tiny hooked end of the thread pick points to a stray dark yarn trapped between the pieced top and batting during quilting.

The best plan of attack against these imperfections is to take the time to carefully look over the backside of the pieced work and trim any frayed yarns or threads hanging from seams. You have already committed so much time to preparing the quilt, a few more minutes spent carefully inspecting your work can save a great deal of headache down the line. While you perform this fray check look for other small imperfections such as popped seams or small gaps, as these can occur if you accidentally created a scant 1/4" seam which then further frayed. Correcting these issues here will prevent further damage or more difficult fixes down the line, which can all add up if you are sending your quilt to a professional quilter. Also take note of any additional issues with the quilt or fabric, perhaps small stains have appeared during the piecing process as you drank coffee or wine while sewing. If you aren't sure how to fix them, mentioning them up front to the quilter might result in suggestions for stain removal or corrections that you can manage and add to your toolbox of quilting knowledge and skills.

The end of the thread pick is inserted through the fabric of the quilt top and carefully (though blindly) hooked around the stray dark thread.

Back to frays and strays, when this issue travels to me as the quilter, I have a small tool I can use to fish these yarns and threads free pulling them through the front of the quilt on a tiny hook. However, this can be a time consuming process if there are many to correct and can result in additional charges being tacked onto the estimated quilting cost, I will contact the client and ask their opinion whether these issues will bother them and whether they are worth the additional time and cost for me to correct. If there are few (fewer than six) of these, I typically will pull them without additional charge as a certain amount of fraying or strays cannot be avoided.

The stray thread, after being carefully hooked, is pulled out through the top of the quilt.

Now, as I said at the beginning, I wrote this post as an opportunity to educate the quilters I work with, as wouldn't we all like to improve our quilting skills and knowledge? Also, I never want to be thought of as taking advantage of the wonderful people I work with, their business is a blessing to me but it is also business and my time has value too, so in an effort of transparency I shared this process and the possible repercussions to the cost of quilting services. Please let me know if you have any questions regarding any portion of quilting preparation.

Ad Astra Quilting.

Located in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Copyright 2015 .