When choosing a backing for your quilt, think about letting it compliment the top.  It used to be that most backings were solids or muslin, but backings have gotten a lot of attention over the past years and are now made from prints or even pieced units.  If you’re an excellent quilter, a solid fabric will really show off your quilting.  If you’re new to quilting, however, a print will camouflage any uneven stitching or contrasting threads.

The backing fabric needs to be the same fiber content as the fabric used for the top (I recommend 100% cotton that has been prewashed).  A limited number of prints, as well as muslin, are available in 90” widths or wider for backings, though the majority of fabrics used for backings are 45” wide.  Avoid using bed sheets, as they have a high thread count and are hard to needle (quilt through).

To determine the yardage needed for a backing, be sure to add 2” to 3” to the size of the quilt top on all four sides.  This extra fabric is “insurance” in case quilt layers shift during quilting (and they almost always do).  Extra backing is also necessary for stabilizing and anchoring a quilt in a quilting frame.  When quilting with a hoop, raw edges of the quilt are covered and protected with this extra fabric.

Small Quilts  For quilt tops 40” wide or less, use a single width of 44/45”-wide fabric.  Buy enough length to allow an adequate margin at the quilt edges, as noted above.  For example, a quilt top measuring 40” x 45” would require around 1 ½ yards of 44/45” fabric for the backing.

Large Quilts  When your quilt is wider than 40”, a sensible option is to use 60”-, 90”-, or 108”-wide fabric for the quilt backing.  But since fabric selection is limited for wide fabrics, quilters generally piece the quilt backing from 44/45”-wide fabric.  Plan on 40” to 42” of usable fabric width when estimating how much fabric to purchase.  Make a sketch of how you plan to piece the backing.  If possible, plan your strategy to avoid having a seam along the vertical or horizontal center of the quilt. 

It may be helpful to make a sketch of the quilt-top measurements to help you determine any seams that might be needed and whether to make the seams horizontal or vertical for the best usage of the yardage.  The illustrations below show various seam configurations to use in calculations.  When figuring yardage, don’t forget to subtract the width of the selvages, as they need to be removed before piecing the lengths together.  Approximately 40” to 42” are the standard widths used to figure yardage.  Below are backing estimates for the most common quilt sizes:

Approx. 63” x 87”


Backing fabric: 5 Ό yards

Approx. 78” x 87”


Backing fabric: 5 Ό yards

Approx. 84” x 92”

Backing fabric: 7 ½ yards

Approx. 100” x 92”

 Backing fabric: 8 yards

To piece strips together for the backing: 

  1. Trim selvage edges
  2. Machine sew with right sides together, using a consistent seam allowance  between Ό" and ½"
  3. Press seams to one side, generally pressing away from the center of the quilt   

Quilting  Now you're ready to "quilt as desired."  If you are planning to send your quilt to a machine quilter, click here for a PDF document by Dana Bard of Moose Island Quilting in Perry, Maine, on how to prepare a quilt for machine quilting.