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.


Lisa's Long Awaited Reproduction Style Quilt

Lisa is a local here in Des Moines and when she was looking for a quilter, she looked locally first by contacting our local modern quilt guild for suggestions. I love working locally because I get to meet my client and talk with them face to face and even learn a little more about their life and how the quilt will fit in! Sometimes I even get to see the quilt after it's completely finished!

This quilt story and quilt had me in love from the get-go! Lisa first saw her quilt inspiration at a quilt show years ago. A beautiful antique quilt in amazing condition and rightly so worth a small mint! She took photos, as the real thing was sadly beyond her budget.

 The original quilt inspiration found at a quilt show many years ago.

The original quilt inspiration found at a quilt show many years ago.

If I remember correctly, it was a year or two later when her Aunt asked her what kind of quilt she would like as a wedding gift (aren't quilty relatives the best?). Lisa knew immediately and printed out the pictures for her Aunt. Luckily, Lisa's Aunt already owned a lot of reproduction fabrics and she began working on the quilt.

Here is Lisa's Aunt after she finished piecing the quilt top.

At one point after the quilt top was finished, Lisa had the opportunity to have it long-armed for free by a family friend. However, the quilter wanted to try a new pattern on the quilt with something along the lines of feathers. Lisa held strong and resisted the urge for free quilting until she would be able to afford getting the quilting style she wanted, a replica of the original.

Here is a closer look at the original quilt.

Since the border area of the quilt wasn't the exact replica we took a little liberty and quilted piano key stitch in the ditch through this area, checker boarding at the corners. The main body of the quilt received the diagonal cross through the neutral blocks, just like the original. Due to the nature of this design, the quilting was entirely hand guided and therefor qualified as semi-custom quilting.

The finished quilt was too large to photograph, but you get the idea right? It's gorgeous! Lisa had me whip up some matching binding and her mother will finish out the quilt. If my memory serves, it is now approximately seven years since Lisa first fell in love with the reproduction quilt. A true labor of love from so many people, this quilt story is heartwarming.

A special sampler

Isn't this quilt special? I mean something about it is really kind of ... special.

This quilt was a sampler quilt constructed as part of the Modern Blocks Quilt A Long hosted by the blog And Sew We Craft. Each month one of the writers introduced a new block and shared a tutorial for construction on their personal blogs, then a linky party allowed all of the participants to share their work.

The twelve blocks included in the quilt a long were chosen from the book Modern Blocks and then another eight blocks also from the book were added to fill it out a bit and make it an entirely unique quilt. (You can read about the individual blocks construction here.)The patterned fabric is all from Juliana Horner's, eldest daughter of the beloved fabric designer Anna Maria Horner, first fabric line carried at JoAnn Fabrics.

Now on to the quilting.  With sampler quilts there are kind of two schools of thought on how to approach the quilting. The first method is an edge to edge pattern, the theory is that this will help balance the variety in the blocks and help it meld together into a "whole". I certainly considered this option because before I quilted it, I wasn't sure I loved the "whole". Design speaking the viewer had no where to rest her eyes, between the intensity of the color and the variety in the blocks it seemed quite busy. However, I decided this quilt was a great opportunity to dive in with all my quilting tools. I chose the second method and treated a sampler quilt as a sampler quilt. Each block's quilting was individually tailored to the block. Some received bold computer driven block quilting designs, other received free-hand quilting, and then a few received a combination of both.

For this quilt, I used Superior So Fine #50 in a blending color to the background fabric. The batting was a needle punched cotton batting purchased around the time I started the quilt two years ago. The backing and binding fabrics, not shown in the photos is also by Juliana Horner.

The final result was really something special. This quilt has become our sofa quilt and I spend time admiring the quilting every time I sit under it. 

Ad Astra Quilting.

Located in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Copyright 2015 .