Mar 052011

Memorial quilt backed with floral jersey knit.

Quilts are usually backed with 100% cotton but there are many other options, especially when creating keepsakes from clothing. With proper handling, most any large piece of fabric in good condition can be used to back a memorial quilt. So if you have a sheet, table cloth, throw or other large item with sentimental value, consider whether it might make a nice backing for your quilt.


The first thing to consider is whether the prospective backing is compatible with the quilt. Will the finished quilt hang on a wall or be placed on a bed or sofa? Who will use and care for the quilt? Will it be washed at home or dry-cleaned? Be realistic when answering these questions and make sure that the backing can withstand the use and care the quilt will receive.


A second consideration is whether the backing will merely finish the quilt or if it is needed to provide stability for the front. Memorial quilts often include stretchy or delicate fabrics that need the support of a stable backing. Keep in mind that you can always stabilize the backing fabric by quilting it to muslin before attaching it to the quilt top. While this involves extra time, it is often time well spent when creating keepsakes from clothing.

Quilt Assembly

Another factor in choosing a backing is how it will be attached to the front of the quilt. Will the quilt be tied or tacked, quilted by hand, or quilted by machine? Fabrics with stretch are easily distorted during machine quilting. Bulky fabrics may be difficult to feed through the machine and impossible to hand quilt. Tying or tacking the backing in place may be the best option as long as the joins are properly spaced for both the back and the front.

Bottom Line

With the right preparation and treatment, most large fabric items can be successfully used as a memorial quilt backing. I’ve backed quilts with lightweight blankets, sheets, t-shirt type fabrics, and a satiny tablecloth, all with excellent results.

If you have any questions about specific backings, please ask! Just leave a comment. And if you have used something other than woven yard goods as a quilt backing, please share your experience (good or bad) so that we can all learn from each other.

  3 Responses to “Backing Considerations for Your Memorial Quilt”

  1. Help! I am backing a previously made memorial quilt and want to use a knit sheet that in theory will fit. But it is a used knit sheet and will need to be stretched to fit the quilt. I have attached the width on one side. Now how do I go about securing it to the quilt throughout the middle so the fabric is stretched for a proper fit?
    Do I sew all four sides first and then stretch it flat and secure the quilt and backing together as the last step?
    I am hand sewing and really desire to make the sheet work for memories, too… Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks, Kristy

    • Hey Kristy –

      I’ve used knits as quilt backings and love the cozy result, but you have to be careful not to over-stretch the knit or you will distort the quilt top. If your knit sheet is actually big enough but just barely, then yes, you could sew it to all sides and then smooth the quilt flat and secure the layers last. The danger is if the sheet isn’t quite big enough or if you don’t get it attached perfectly square on the back of the quilt.

      A better option might be to add a border to the back of the quilt. Instead of adding the backing and then binding the quilt in the usual way, you could center and attach the knit backing, smoothing it out as close to all four sides as possible. Then prepare border strips with one folded edge that are wide enough sew to the front and then flip to the back to overlap the edges of the knit fabric. This could be done either like a regular quilt binding (with 1/4-inch or so showing on the front) or like a facing. Either way, you would blind stitch the folded edge to finish the quilt.

      I hope this is helpful, Kristy. If you have more questions or need clarification on my suggestion, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

  2. Thanks for all of your work on this web page. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.