Backings and going extra-wide…

Just about every quilt ever made has a backing.  Or a backside.  Otherwise it’s just a quilt top.  So let’s talk about backings, 108″ wide backings in particular.

I admit it.  I thought I knew “enough” about most topics related to quilting and quilt fabric.  I didn’t know everything – not even close! – but I knew enough to make relatively informed decisions about which products I preferred.  When I started teaching quilt classes and writing patterns, I believed it was vitally important to be even more knowledgeable because I knew you were going to ask.  It helps that I’m a naturally experimental kind of girl so trying new products and gadgets is something I do anyway.

Jo Morton’s Timeless 108″ wide backings.

When it came to wide – also known as extra-wide and 108″ wide – backing fabric, I will happily admit that my experience was limited.  I’d used one once… I think it was in 1995.  I didn’t get the appeal.  Never mind that I like scrappy-pieced backings, the truth was that I didn’t care for the feel of the fabric.  It wasn’t quite the same quality as the “regular” 45″ wide quilt fabric, it felt stiff and a bit rough.

Primitive Gatherings Primitive Muslin 108″ wide backing.

So I will admit to being a bit surprised to learn that Moda had well over one-hundred extra-wide backing fabrics, that they are hugely popular.  It was an even bigger surprise to see and feel the fabrics… these weren’t the same circa-1995 fabrics.  I clearly didn’t know everything there was to know about wide-backing fabrics so I asked questions of people who know about these fabrics, asked fellow quilters what they knew and thought, did some research and looked at every kind of wide-backing fabric I could find on the market.

Two things are clear – the fabrics are better, and there is a lot of misinformation about wide backings, color and dye and how wide backings are made.

Basic Grey Grunge 108″ wide backing.

So let’s start with a few basics – 45″ wide cotton quilting fabric is a small percentage of the cotton fabric produced in the world so the mills that produce this fabric are generally found in a few countries.  Mills that produce 45″ wide cotton quilting fabric rarely have the larger looms required to manufacture 108″ wide fabrics.  Mills and companies that produce wide fabric for quilt backs generally manufacture fabric for sheets, bedding and drapery linings.  The amount of fabric produced worldwide for wide quilt backings is a tiny fraction of what is produced for the other uses.

Collection for a Cause Compassion 108″ wide backings.

Because the lesser quality of wide-backings had been an issue for many quilters, Moda made the decision years ago to print wide backings on a higher thread-count base fabric.  Quilt-shop quality fabric has a thread-count of about 60 x 60 threads per inch.  The premium wide backings like those shown here have 200 thread count so it is better quality than most quilting cotton, giving it a lovely silky finish and feel.

The fabric on the left is Collection for a Cause Compassion No. 46257 11 in the regular 45″ quilting cotton.  The fabric on the right is CFAC Compassion No. 11128 11 in the 108″ wide backing – you can see that the weave is tighter, with a finer thread and a higher thread count.

The other issue that often comes up is dye loss or “bleeding”.  While Moda’s fabrics are continually tested for quality and colorfastness, the nature of the process is such that there is always a potential for dye loss.  Even using the best dyes produced, the best mills and printing-dyeing processes, some colors are always going to be difficult to control or guarantee.

There is quite a bit of literature about dye-loss, why it happens and how, how to prevent it, etc.  Much of it has come about by denim and jean-aficionados wanting to know how to accelerate or prevent the fading of their jeans.  But the theory is the same – when yarns or fabrics are dyed, washing the fabric will frequently result in some dye loss.  There are products that will stop or minimize the process but some of those chemicals come with their own problems.

So when it comes to rich, saturated and dark colors, pre-washing the wide backings is always recommended.  Cold water.  Mild detergent or soap.

Bonnie & Camille’s Vintage Picnic Gingham 108″ wide backing.

**NOTE: If you have purchased the Bonnie & Camille Vintage Picnic Gingham 108″ wide backing in RED, please pre-wash your fabric before using it in your quilt.  Despite passing the quality control tests, we have heard that some quilters have experienced problems with the color bleeding.  (If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Customer Service at – Service@unitednotions.com.)

Color-Catcher dye magnets can also be used, if desired.  They are a good idea, if for no other reason than to see if there is excess dye in the wash water.  Two sheets is really all that is needed, a whole box with a single quilt won’t remove more dye.  It might “feel” like it’s an extra precaution better but the folks at Shout say it won’t remove more dye, it just disperses it across several sheets.  (Yes, I really did call them several years ago.)

Just out of curiosity, how many of you have ever thrown in a Color Catcher dye magnet with your laundry?  After hearing anecdotal information years ago, I started doing it.  I think most folks who worry about how much color is on the color sheet from a quilt would be shocked to see the color of the sheet after a load of medium-colored laundry.

We could talk about how economical wide backings are… but I’ll save that for another day.  Given that I buy cones of thread instead of spools, it’s safe to say that I’ll be using wide-backings for more quilts.

I wonder if my favorite text and map prints are available in 108″ wide…

(P.S. Rumor has it that Moda Snuggle and Fireside will soon be available in an extra-wide width.)

 

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35 comments on “Backings and going extra-wide…

  1. Virginia says:

    This is a great article about wide backing fabric! I love the Color Catcher dye magnet sheets. They were recommended by a quilting friend about six years ago and I’ve used them ever since when washing quilts and for regular laundry loads.

  2. Becki G. says:

    Color Catchers are a wonderful product! Amazing how much “ugly” they catch!

  3. Kathie says:

    I love Fireside ! Sooo happy to hear it is going wider for several reasons. Great article! Wish Color Catchers had been around when I had small children and loved dressing them in red❤️

  4. Janet says:

    Not sure I’ll be using them. I keep hearing horror stories about color bleed with the wide backs even after 6 or more washings. Someone used a whole box of color catchers and still had bleed onto quilt front. Not sure which manufacturer it was but I don’t understand why the wide backs have so much color bleed vs. regular quilt fabric. Hope they can fix that problem!

  5. karenfae says:

    I actually wish there were more wide backings in 112 inches+ – after all if you are making a quilt 105 x 105 or whatever you want a little extra around the edges for attaching to the quilting frame – I use a 3 roller hand quilting frame and sometimes 108 just doesn’t quite make it as it sometimes has to be squared up – ok most of the time it has to be squared up – what about a king size quilt the battings are 120×120 – how about the backings being that size!!! Yes I use color catchers

  6. Linda B says:

    Great topic, and thanks for the info. I do wonder about differences in quilting. Are these fabrics good for hand quilting, or only for machine quilting.

  7. MARY WENDLAND says:

    wow Carrie-I had no idea there was so much involved in backing fabric. Thanks for the info. I have not purchased any yet so I’m glad to know now. I have always used stash fabric to piece backing together. Plus, I have never seen too many shops carry a good variety of backings. Thanks and have a great day. mary in Az

  8. Sarah says:

    Great article – I love wide back fabrics and use them frequently. I ALWAYS throw in at least one color catcher, usually 2 or 3 just to be safe, when I wash a quilt.

  9. Patty Cottingham says:

    Love, love, love color catchers and use them all the time. As to wide backings……I still like to piece my backings with leftover fabric. You have convinced me to check out wide backings and maybe I’ll give them a try.

  10. Cindy Dunlap says:

    Moda has the BEST wide backs! No others compare to Moda’s quality of wide back fabric. Please Please keep Timeless and Compassion wide backings as a basic that will be available all the time. It is very hard to find this type of design and color backings for quilts that require this.

  11. Ruth says:

    I am finishing a quilt and shopping for a backing. Your post is very timely. Thanks for the info. The idea of color bleed will cause me to reconsider the color I choose.

  12. Marianne says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!! For years I would ask quilt shop owners why the wide backing fabrics were sometimes inferior to regular quilting cotton and no one knew. Now I know and I also plan on seeking out Moda since I now know the quality is there. It’s hard to locate the wide backings and I usually resort to online ordering. But then you never know what you’re getting. I love it when I can find the extra wide! Thanks again, Carrie!

  13. Katherine S says:

    Very interesting on the thread count issue. When I became a “serious” quilter over 40 years ago, all the literature said “don’t use a sheet for backing” with the explanation that the tighter weave (200 thread count) made quilting a nightmare. Of course, back then, there was way more hand quilting. But I was an obedient quilter and stayed away from sheets for backing.
    Curiously, as more fabric lines started to include a coordinated wide backing, I have used those (still hand quilting!) and found no issue with the “needle” of the tighter weave. Oh my – live and learn!

  14. Judy Dunning says:

    I often use wide backing fabric and I hope longarm quilters enjoy the seam free fabric. However, I have found it is hard to square up, not only due to its width but also because it is not wound straight on the bolt. I have used different brands depending on the way it goes with he quilt. In some of your photos there are pleats and so it appears that the fabric is not wound straight on the bolt.

    Mostly, I make large lap quilts. It would be awesome to have “less” wide backing available as well.

    Thanks for all the info and our other newsy and informative emails.

    • Carrie Nelson says:

      Hi Judy – Those pleats. That was me. It was a thinnish bolt and I was trying to make it look fatter, resulting in the pleats. lol

      But you are right – if the wide fabrics aren’t rolled well, it creates a lot of problems. To help with that, Moda has only it’s best “rollers” working with the extra-wide fabrics.

  15. Caryn S says:

    I love wide backings, especially since I tend to make large quilts. I also love the Color catchers. I found a “recipe” that help sets colors and includes the use of Color catchers.

    • Bessie says:

      I would love to have the recipe that uses Color catchers to help set colors. Would you be kind enough to share it?

  16. Ann King says:

    I have always used wide backings for my quilts and I have had to buy them online as my local fabric shop does not keep any. The quality has varied greatly and there’s been very little choice. Thanks very much for your informative post and I hope many more of the Moda backing fabrics make it to the UK.
    I started using colour catchers a few years ago, for quilts and for my general washing, and have not had any colours run since I discovered them. A great invention.

  17. Hildy says:

    I have to confess the backing I’m using most is from IKEA. I just love their Rosalie fabric it looks great with B&C and Fig Tree and since it’s 60″ wide and cost 6€/m it’s also a really good price.
    I normally use a color catcher the first time I wash a quilt but not after that. I’m happy to say I never had problems with my Moda fabrics:-)

  18. Laurel says:

    Wish I would have known about problem with the red gingham wide fabric before using it as backing for my Snapshots quilt. Thanks for the heads up and the info about wide backings. I haven’t washed my quilt yet. How big of a problem has it been?

    • Amy G says:

      Many of the gals I follow on IG have had to wash up to six times before the color stopped bleeding with the red gingham and even with the color catchers there was some bleed onto the quilt top. I would have some synthrapol handy and don’t sry your quilt until you check is carefully to make sure there was no bleeding.

    • Carrie Nelson says:

      Hi Laurel –

      Here’s the crazy part – we’ve heard that a few people have used this red gingham backing and washed it without any problems at all. There is excess dye – that’s not unusual – but it isn’t bleeding onto the fabric.

      The first question – did you use Bella 97 for your background? If so, then you’ll need to be careful because the Bella 97 is PFD – Prepared For Dyeing. It does not have the additional finishing on it that keeps dyes from being absorbed. If you did use Bella 97, when your quilt needs to be washed, you’ll want to wash it in cold water with a mild soap and two or three Color Catcher sheets. A short cycle and rinse is also recommended, with spinning to remove as much water as possible.

      We are working to address this, and we checked with the mill for colorfast testing, all of which came out above the acceptable limits. But if you have any issues with this, please contact Customer Service – Service@unitednotions.com.

      • Cath Brough says:

        I used the red and it bled onto my happy go lucky fabric but not the 97 pfd which I had used as the solid, or on the white aurifil, just the prints. I washed cold with 2,color catchers as the quilt was already made

    • Stefanie Williams says:

      Sadly, I learned the hard way about the bleeding problem with the red gingham. On a king size quilt I had been working on for three years. I used Bella 60 as my background and it turned pink. Yes, I used color catchers. After several washings, it has mostly all come out, but it was very disappointing.

      I am using this on two quilts that are at the quilter now. I didn’t pre-wash because I don’t prewash any of my fabrics and I didnt want to deal with the shrinkage variance as I know that is permanent. I’m going to do some things differently when I wash these others.

      First, I’m going to take it to a laundromat and wash in one of the large washers. I have a high efficiency top loader at home, and to be honest, those machines just don’t use enough water. They are designed that way, and it basically just gets everything wet, but there isn’t enough water to keep the loose dyes suspended. I’m also going to use some Synthropol and hope that a couple washings will do the trick.

      I never experienced issues with bleeding with the navy, gray or aqua gingham, and as Carrie mentioned, some reported no issues with Red. I guess it was just my bad luck that I had an entire bolt of the stuff with too much dye.

  19. Barbara Esposito, The Quilted B says:

    My local quilt shop has a few wide backs but they were never marked as such so they never really sold. People complained about the pricing but I think they didn’t realize that 108″ is equivalent to 3 yards! I am helping a young mom sandwich and quilt her first queen size quilt and you can bet your sweet patootie that I will recommend the Moda wide backing for her Laundry Basket quilt! As always Carrie – thanks for the info!

  20. Helen LeBrett says:

    Thanks for the info. I love all the things I learned today: I have a hard time quilting my tops, and have never sent them out to a quilter, so I haven’t had alot of experience with the backs!! LOL But I love my Moda fabrics! 🙂

  21. Nicolle says:

    Hello, Bella 97 is one of my favorite backgrounds to use, but being that it’s a PFD, is there a similar Bella solid that is “finished” to not absorb dye? I

  22. Judyk says:

    For those of you with bleeding issues please read the post from http://www.colorwaysbyvicki.com/. You will see a button that says save my bleeding quilt. I personally haven’t tried this but another blogger did and it saved her quilt. Good luck. Thanks Moda for more choices in wide backings–I use them every time I can.

  23. amq97 says:

    Carrie, Thanks so much for your researched post on wide backing fabric. I learned so much. I’m like you, the scrappier my backing is, the better (I like it to tell a story). I do longarm for the public and have to watch as a wide backing is being rolled on the the take up rollers. Many times it is a parallelogram!! I do lots of “flagging” with pins to see where the top and backing will meet up prior to loading the batting. I don’t want any surprises. One time of things going wrong was enough of a lesson! LOL Allison in Plano, Texas

  24. Bonnie says:

    Great article. I have used 2 color catchers and a cup of salt to prewash and also for the first washing of a finished quilt. I do like the 108″ backings and am so happy to hear that there are more choices arriving each day.

  25. Maggie Wilkin says:

    Great article although I wish I had read it BEFORE using that red picnic fabric for a backing, it bled terribly! Now I know why! Going to share this with my guild.

  26. Mary says:

    When I took home ec classes, many years ago, we were told that adding white vinegar when you did laundry would prevent colours from bleeding. Has anyone tried that when washing a quilt?

  27. Robin says:

    I’m working on a quilt now using Moda wide backing for the top. The quilt has large appliqués. So for this one, it’s really nice not to have a seam in the background.

  28. Lyn Lewis says:

    Fascinating thank you.
    I always use a colour catcher, often the same one in several washes if it isn’t over dyed badly.
    I’ve also used them in wall hangings too as a fabric in their own right.
    Often they dry with an almost aged leather look and after washing batiks you can end up with some stunning tie dye effects on scrunched up colour catcher sheets 🙂

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