Often times at the quilt store, we have a customer agonizing over having purchased a few inches too much fabric (can there be such a thing?!) and fretting about having to keep it around when it doesn’t match the next idea in the queue. Often times this same customer is one who frets equally over the back of the quilt, having heard a rule somewhere along the line about solid one-fabric-only backs that have to match the fronts.

To which all I can say is horse feathers! Rules about backs? None exist… (regardless of what the crotchety biddies at your guild might say) short of the fact that there must be one.

I usually suggest that the customer makes a pieced back, starting with all the leftovers from the front, and this often gets me a horrified expression or blank stare. I get it… it seems like a lot of work, especially when you can probably buy some yardage and pop just one seam into it. But if you are minding your pennies (to buy new fabrics) and have some stash that could use being moved out (to make room for more new fabrics!), a pieced back is a good way to go. I also think it can be a fun surprise to turn a quilt over and find something interesting lurking back there.

So where do you start? Well… here’s the latest one I made, along with some running commentary about my decision process along the way:

Here’s the quilt top – a smaller version of Dingbats made from Kona solids and an Alexander Henry “Matchstick” print (wonderfully colorful and whacky – just love it!) I have the top up on my ever handy design wall – I find that I can see so much better when it’s all vertical.

And here’s a pile of what was left over from making the top:

So – first course of action is to fuss that pile into some type of large block or rectangle. I chose to set the strips alternating back and forth, and then ended with the larger pieces at the top and bottom – I do this to frame the leftover section and to make attaching it to other pieces easier. And so this is where I ended up:

Only two little bits left over – not bad! Yes, I could have fussed these into one more strip somehow, but while I’m willing to burn some time on a pieced back, I’m not willing to burn the whole day at it. Thus, a judicious decision about how far to go with the scraps.

Next, I start covering the quilt top with the leftovers, pinning them right on top. I aim to overshoot the quilt top by 2 to 4 inches on all sides – go for at least 4 if you plan to send it out to a long-armer.

The top piece is a full chunk of the Alexander Henry print (minus the binding, already made and put aside) and the bottom is the bits and pieces. Not a bad start, but a good ways to go. And so off to the stash drawers, specifically those with purple or red fabrics.

The purple drawer proved quite fruitful – lots of older but decent purple prints that I no longer love enough to hoard. Several colorways of a spotty design (I must have been on a roll there) and a lucky find of a purple with a wavy red stripe in it. The piece had never been cut so it was obviously waiting for this moment! So take a look at the lower right (above). I need another piece in here, but it could end up skinny, which isn’t an issue unless it puts me at risk for having a seam close to edge (which could interfere with how the binding settles in). So I moved the skinny strip towards the inside, and moved a wider piece to the outer edge. While I was at it, I moved the leftovers to the right too, to make the whole composition look more balanced to my eye.

The last addition is the chunk under the leftovers, a confetti-like print that looks like it belongs on a Miami Vice set. Old and un-hip, to be sure, but funky enough to play well here. And certainly a conversation piece when someone sees the back. “Yes, crazy fabric isn’t it, and to think I thought it was the coolest thing when I bought it back when rocks were soft!”

Next, I assembled the top half and bottom half and re-checked that I have enough space going around the edges (I will be quilting this one myself, so a little bit tight is okay).

If I needed a little more length (which I don’t), I can still add it in the middle. Remember, don’t add little bits at the edges in case the seams get close to the edge.

And here it is – done! It probably took me a little over an hour to make including running back and forth to the camera and trying to be aware of documenting my process for you.  Certainly not as fast two lengths and one seam – but now I have room for a little new fabric shopping!