When I was studying to be an interior designer one of the core subjects I had to take, was a class in ‘soft furnishings’. Doesn’t that sound like fun – an entire class dedicated to learning about fabric?!
It was fun, BUT you might be surprised to know that before students were taught the difference between the warp and the weft, it was important to learn how to calculate fabric yardage requirement for different projects – and that meant a semester dedicated to very specific mathematical calculations and understanding pattern repeats.
The good news is that as a quilter you don’t need to worry yourself so much about the maths, but understanding the concept of a pattern repeat is important!
So, what exactly is a Pattern Repeat?
Depending on the specific design of a pattern, a patterned fabric may have a horizontal, vertical, or horizontal and vertical pattern repeat.
- A horizontal repeat measures the distance between the repeating pattern of the graphic design or artwork from selvedge to selvedge along the width of the fabric.
- A vertical repeat measures the distance between the repeating pattern along the length of the fabric. It is the height between the repeating pattern.
To help make that a little clearer… A basic stripe that runs parallel to the selvedge will have a horizontal repeat, but no vertical repeat as each stripe continues indefinitely along the length of the fabric; and a polka dot will have an identical horizontal and vertical repeat, as the dots are uniformly spaced across both directions of the fabric.
As a general rule, you can assume that the larger the scale of the print, the larger the pattern repeat – which leads me to the main point you need to be aware of when you want to pattern match your backing…
Pattern matching requires extra fabric!
As quilters, we are usually concerned with cutting fabric into smaller pieces rather than trying to pattern match large pieces, and therefore, unlike the soft furnishings industry, pattern repeat information for individual fabrics is not something readily available. What this means is that you are going to have to ‘guesstimate’ the extra yardage you require if you want to pattern match a backing.
In most cases, you should assume that the fabric requirements on the back of a quilt pattern will not be enough to pattern match your backing.
As a quilt pattern designer I try to indicate the most economical yardage cut for a backing to ensure minimal waste, and because I have no way of knowing what specific fabric an individual may choose as backing, it is impossible to account for pattern matching.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the bigger the scale of the print, the more fabric you will require to pattern match. I would hazard a guess that 1/2-yard of extra fabric would usually be sufficient, unless the scale of the print is extremely large and then you will likely need even more fabric.
Ok… If you have manged to wrap your mind around some of the background behind the ‘what’ and ‘why’ , then the ‘how’ is going to be a breeze – I promise! And hopefully if you are still a little confused the following steps will help you make sense of it all!
Step 1. Begin by laying out your quilt top, and then overlay a single length of fabric, allowing 3-4-inches each side. Cut.
Step 2. Take your remaining fabric and lay it beside the first length of fabric while visually trying to find the matching pattern. Pay attention to the possible vertical (up and down in the above image) and horizontal (side to side in the above image) pattern repeats. At this stage you are only making sure you have sufficient fabric to be able to pattern match the backing. You want to make sure that your second piece of fabric has plenty of width AND length to give you the wiggle room you need to pattern match.
Step 3. Once you are confident you have enough fabric, take the second piece of fabric from step 2 and fold the edge that will become the seam side, approximately 1-inch onto itself, wrong sides together. Rather than measure with a ruler or tape measure, use the design of the fabric to guide your eye and create a straight line relative to the pattern. In the image below you may be able to see how I used the tip of the small three bud flourish to create my fold line. Press.
Step 4. Gather some ‘old’ pins and a water-soluble glue stick suitable for fabric. Lay the second piece of fabric with the folded edge created in step 3 on top of the first length of fabric and visually align the pattern. Make sure this second piece of fabric extends BEYOND the first as shown below.
Note: Depending on the horizontal repeat, this second piece of fabric may be close to the edge or considerably further into the middle of the first fabric length.
Step 5. Use a piece of scrap paper, or if available, something a little sturdier like this piece of cardboard shown below, and place it on top of the second length of fabric, and flip the folded edge up onto it. Run a small amount of glue directly on the outer edge of the fold line. Once the glue is tacky, place the fabric fold back onto the first piece of fabric and align the pattern correctly. Pin every 6-inches or so.
Step 6. Take your two pieces of fabric which should now be glued and pinned in place to the ironing board. Using a medium heat, iron the seam, removing the pins as you go. The heat will set the glue and the pins are not essential after this point. However, if you are overly nervous like me, you can now flip back one side of the glued backing and place a pin across the crease line. (It is a little difficult to see in the second image below, but it should be clearly visible when you are piecing your own backing.
Step 7. Sew directly on the crease line.
Step 8. Trim your seam allowance to 1/4-inch. Press.
Note: Because this seam allowance is glued together it is necessary to press the seam to one side. As a general rule I prefer to have a larger seam allowance and press my backing seam open. When I am pattern matching I make an exception to my usual process, but if you are intent on pressing your seams open you could do so by gently washing the fabric at this point to remove the glue before proceeding.
Step 9. Admire your handiwork. It does take a bit of time to pattern match a backing, but for some fabrics it is worth every minute :).
The Extra Mile…
If you are NOT quilting your quilt yourself then it is important you take the time to square up the finished edges in preparation for you quilter. Actually, I think it is important to do this even if you are quilting your quilt yourself, but doubly important if you’re not ;). Here is a quick visual diary of how I squared this particular quilt.
After all the pattern matching and ‘squaring up’ you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that your backing fabric is quite a bit smaller than when you started, which is why it is so important to have that extra fabric at the beginning. Always double-check that you have enough extra backing on all four sides of your quilt top in preparation for quilting.
I hope you enjoyed this little ‘how-to’ tutorial and will give it a go the next time you have a patterned backing that will benefit from being patterned matched.
If you have any questions or comments – I love to hear from you! And let me know what other tutorials, or tips and tricks you would like me to share in the future!!
Thanks for dropping by,
PS. If you liked this tutorial (or any of my blog posts for that matter) then please ‘pin’ the header image to one of you quilty Pinterest boards and help me to share this content with other quilters. It’s really simple – just scroll over the first image and hit the ‘P Save’ button. These small actions by people like you, help me grow my blog and keep the content coming :). Thanks friends – I really appreciate your support!