Supernova Quilt-Along: Making the Back


Welcome back to the Supernova Quilt-Along! By now I’m sure every last one of you has a completed quilt top, right? : ) Of course you do! Okay then, today we’ll be piecing the back.

I have a love/hate relationship with making backs. Love: The design possibilities, and the fact that you can make a quilt back in an evening. After spending so much time on a quilt top, you gotta love the instant gratification of the back. Hate: Dealing with gargantuan pieces of fabric. I tend to sew large cuts of fabric like a drunken sailor. That often includes the cursing.

But like it or not, making the back is a necessary part of creating a quilt. Even if you farm out your quilting to a professional, you will almost always need to provide the back yourself. So it helps to consider the back an opportunity to add to your design, rather than just another chore.

I usually have two goals when it comes to making a quilt back: 1) Use up as many scraps, excess blocks, and existing stash fabrics as I can. 2) Create a design on the back that echoes or compliments the design on the front. I also consider the back a chance to be a little more improvisational and free-flowing than I was on the front. Let’s face it, there’s just less pressure back there. If you end up hating it, you can always just fold the quilt with the front facing out. Problem solved!

So when it came time to piece the back for my Supernova, I started with some excess sub-units that I had on hand. I changed my mind about using these on the front, so now they were just hanging out on my design wall, lined up in a row, waiting to be useful. And do you see what I see? Yes! Zig zags!

I decided to extend the zig zag across the entire back of the quilt. To do that, I needed 9 sub-units. Since I already had four, I started by piecing the remaining five and sewing them all together, side by side, into one long row, as shown above.

Next, to complete the zig zag points, you’ll need some flying geese units.

Remember how we made the “half-goose units” during the first piecing step? You’ll make your flying geese units in the same way, except that when the half-goose unit is done, just add another square to the other side, as shown above.

Trim and press, and you should end up with something that looks like this.

Make 1 flying geese unit for each point of the zig zag. If you use 9 sub-units, like I did, you’ll need a total of 8 flying geese units, plus one half-square triangle on each end. So here are mine, all sewn and added to the design wall, in the appropriate spots to complete the zig zag.

To complete the zig zag, cut some 3″ by 10.5″ rectangles from your background fabric. Sew the flying geese units alternating with the rectangles, into one long strip, as shown above. Sew that row onto the zig zag row. Now, I won’t lie to you: Matching up bias seams all the way across on such a long row is not an easy task. Start by lining up the seams in the middle of the rows, pin, and work your way out toward the sides. My seams are far from perfect in a number of spots. But I was so enamored with how this giant zig-zag looks that I didn’t even care. Repeat with the bottom zig zag points.

Once I had the focal point of my back—the jumbo zig zag—done, I was ready to finish off the back. To do that, I laid out the front of the quilt face down on the floor. Then I just started spreading fabric over it to create the back. Doing it this way means you’ll get the size of the back right, and you can keep an eye on placement of various design elements in relation to the front. I started by laying down my zig zag, placing it off-center toward the bottom of the quilt. Then I added some strips from my Supernova scrap pile, as well as some Metro Living yardage from my stash. (Love, love, love Metro Living.) I then filled in the holes with my background fabric, Kona Coal.

Sewed it all together, and ta da, one completed quilt back! (Sorry for the truly awful photo.)

Supernova back

If you don’t want to tackle the zig zag, there are plenty of other design options for your back. Katie, who has already completed the quilt-along(!), did a great strip-pieced back (more details here). This is a perfect use for any leftover 3″ strips you might have.

Supernova bonus HSTs

And if you did the bonus HSTs while you were piecing your sub-units, that’s another design possibility. There are so many cool ways you can lay out HSTs—the possibilities are endless.

Supernova Quilt back - a Plus quilt

Or you could get really ambitious like Elizabeth, and make another whole quilt top for the back. Look—so awesome! Elizabeth and Katie, over-achieve much? : )

Quilt backs are a place where almost anything goes, and where you don’t have to do much planning. Just go for it! That freedom makes for a fun design process, no matter how you feel about giant pieces of fabric. I hope these suggestions have given you a jumping off point for your own unique pieced back. Can’t wait to see all of your backsides in the Flickr group!

Next week, we’ll have our final post in the series: Quilting and finishing. I’ll have some suggestions for different ways you can quilt your Supernova. That post will also be the site of our exciting final link-up! This is where you can show off your completed quilt. (Remember, completed quilts only—that means quilted, bound, the whole shebang). The linky will be open until May 12, and everyone who links up a completed quilt by then will be eligible to win the Castle Peeps FQ pack. Good times! See you then.

14 replies
  1. Elizabeth D.
    Elizabeth D. says:

    You know me, over-achiever 🙂 I love what you did with your backing, it looks just stunning, and I love how you worked in your scraps. This backing looks simply amazing!!!

  2. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Wow – you def. put a lot more work into a back than I do. I get as many yards as I can to make it big enough, sew them together, and it's done. Thanks for sharing the inspiration tho… will add this to my "to try" list 🙂

  3. Lee Heinrich
    Lee Heinrich says:

    I can't believe I'm actually caught up. Unpossible! And I feel the same way about backings. Add to it the fact that I'm usually really REALLY eager to get the quilt done already so I don't spend a lot of time on the back.

    I loved Kati's (from the blue chair) post about making a backing by stitching then cutting and rotating etc. Here is the post.

  4. Julie
    Julie says:

    I love your zig zag back Lee, fabulous! I'm a fan of piecing my backings too, for the variety it adds and the chance to use up those scraps!

    I have a quick question though, I thought we had until the 12th to finish and link up? The schedule said April 28th would be the final post and we would have 2 weeks from there. Just wanted to get my timeline straight so I can rearrange some things if I need to. Thanks!

  5. Fabric
    Fabric says:

    Love the zig zags! Gorgeous!

    I was under the impression that we would have two weeks to complete the quilt and link it up. I'm hoping that's still the case. 🙂

  6. Marlene @ KISSed Quilts . com
    Marlene @ KISSed Quilts . com says:

    A few tips regarding quilt backs from a long-arm quilter.
    1. Be sure to cut off your selvages if piecing the back together. Selvages don't stretch at the same rate as the other part of the fabric. When mounting the quilt, the back needs to stretch consistently otherwise you can get weird tensions of the finished quilt after it is quilted.

    2. The back should be 4"-6" larger in each direction than the top. This means 2"-3" on all sides. It is important for the quilter to be able to clamp the backing and the batting onto the leaders (used to attach the back top and bottom edges to the quilting table) and the clamps (used on the sides) without touching the top. This insures the ability to quilt clear to the edge of the top.


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