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.
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.
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.