Wanda Gene's Musings on Life, Love and Loving the Quilting Life!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wide Backs--What You Don't Know Can Make You Tear Your Hair Out!

Hi Everybody--

I want to talk about wide backs today....you know, those tempting bolts of cloth in 96", 108", or even 118" wide.

The wide backs that free you from having to piece backs. The wide backs that are wide enough even to please your longarm quilter (she wants your quilt back to be 4" wider than the top on all four sides). The wide back that croons in your ear, "Buy me and spend the time saved by not piecing the back sipping a glass of wine in the bathtub."

If you have never tried a wide back, you need to know the way to prepare the back.

Years ago, I bought a wide back made by a reputable mill and sold by a first-class mail order fabric company. The unfolded back looked like this: / / , instead of this | |. By the time I trimmed the wonkies off of it, there was insufficient fabric for the back of the quilt. I did a little piecing on one corner, but that sort of defeated the whole purpose.

So, preparation starts in the store or on the website before the first cut is made. You have to buy extra fabric for squaring up.

For the fabric to be square the cut edge must be at a 90 degree angle (also called a right angle) to the selvages. If the folded edge is not perfectly parallel to the selvages, then we have a little off-grain problem. The fabric must be re-folded and a new cut edge made at 90 degrees to the selvage.

This is the same principle that applies when cutting our strips across the width of the fabric. If our cut is not at 90 degrees to the fold, we end up with the dreaded V shape when we unfold the strip.

When regular fabric at 45" wide is cut from the bolt and brought home, you might have to square up a little, but it's rarely a big problem.

But think about the wide back. It is folded once, lengthwise, and then again, also lengthwise, to allow it to be rolled onto the bolt. Do you think the factory workers measure and re-measure that second fold every yard or so to make sure that that it is perfectly square with the first fold?
Somehow I doubt it.

What this means for you, the quilter, is that you will need to do some trimming on that wide back. I find that 18" is enough extra fabric when purchasing to allow for trimming. So, if I need 3 yards for my quilt, I buy 3 1/2 yards.

Here is what I do: Wash and lightly press the fabric. Fold in half crosswise so that the selvages meet on both the the right and the left sides. Then fold the two right selvages across to the two left selvages. Carefully adjust the fold so that the back is folded in exact quarters. Everything should line up except the four raw edges, which are probably wildly off kilter. That is the side that I will trim. Use a large square quilting ruler or carpenter's square to establish the line for the cut. I use an acrylic yard-long ruler to make the cut, but even with that I have to cut a bit, move the ruler and then cut some more.

I hope that none of us find that an extra 1/2 yd STILL is not enough to square up that wide back. It has always been enough for me.

If your back is too small after squaring up, there are still a few options:
  1. Add a piece on one side or corner to make it larger.
  2. Use the back for another, smaller quilt.
  3. I can't think of a third one.
I hope that this will help someone out there not to make my mistake that I made with my first wide back!

Happy quilting!


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