3 Tips for Small Quilt Backings

2023 tips and tricks Nov 08, 2023
3 Tips for small backings.

Although the premise behind getting a quilt backing to the correct side sounds simple it seems to be a very prevalent problem.  Unfortunately, if a quilt backing is smaller than the top it really is in the best interest of the quilt to find a new backing or add more fabric to attain the 4" of extra fabric on all sides of the quilt. 

Sometimes we make a minor mistake and end up with a backing that isn't too small but also isn't quite big enough for the longarm frame.  Here are some tips to help you troubleshoot and try and make it work. 

You can find the YouTube Video Here

In my studio the most important tool is probably my measuring tape, without this key and often overlooked vital tool the studio would be mayhem!  The first thing I do before I mount anything is measure the quilt top horizontally and vertically through the center of the quilt, I repeat this measurement on the backing and write both of these numbers down on the back of my Quilt Studio Intake Form.  If you want a copy of my form to use or to use as a template in making your own you can download it here:

Quilt Studio Intake Form

Tip #1: Pin It

I don't dislike pinning my backing, I just find it slower than using the red snapper system.  But with pinning you require far less fabric and if you are really careful you can pin a pretty small backing. 

The quilt that I was working on was 57" by 58".  The backing was only 60" by 61" which only left me with 3" to mount, that is only 1.5" for the top and 1.5" for the bottom!  

When I am dealing with this issue and decide to pin I try and scooch as close to the top as possible trying to leave as much wiggle room on the bottom as possible.  You would not want to do this if the quilt top isn't reasonably square, as you might run into length issues at the bottom.  Here is a photo of the bottom. 

I was successful in getting this to fit, but it was close. 

 Tip #2: Side Strips for the Clamps

With the top and bottom dealt with I still had to make sure I was attaining the right amount of side tension to get a good smooth finish on the back of my quilt.  

To do this I use some strip scraps I have around the studio.  I cut these strips into 6" chunks and sew them onto the backing as I travel down the quilt.  I then attach my clams to these extending pieces of fabric, which allows my machine head to get really close to the edge and not break anything, yay!

This is super annoying to do but it gets the job done. 

Tip #3: Add Leaders

I use a long scrap of fabric (super ugly and otherwise something I just won't ever use in a quilt) that is about 7" to 10"  wide.  I attach these leaders to the top and bottom of my quilt backing using a smallish basting stitch (something I can easily take out so I can reuse the leaders).  I then mount the quilt normally but center the quilt top onto the pretty chosen backing.  I use this technique when I'm not too confident about how square the quilt top is and whether or not I'm going to end up with one corner lower than the other. 

So there you have it! Three tips on how to deal with a small backing.

Now if you have already started quilting and realize you've run out of backing this is a whole different story.  I've done this a couple of times and the best way to avoid it is to measure EVERYTHING and WRITE IT DOWN.  But here is a link to the Handi Quilter video on this and they do a great job of troubleshooting this problem:

How to Add More Backing and Batting to Your Longarm

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Interested in longarm quilting? Online courses? A free checklist to help you get over Quilter's Block? Check out Quilting Curve Studio's Homepage for more content. 


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