Winner front and back

Front and back of Debbie Kmencik’s winning quilt at Kelly’s Sewing Corner, Erie, PA. 2015

Bobbin the RobinWhat does your back side look like?  In the Row by Row universe anything goes.  Let’s talk about this some more…

Selecting a backing for your quilt is a serious decision, seriously!  In the past century–no, not that one,the one we grew up in–muslin was the go-to fabric for quilt backs.  It was the backing for everything. Muslin was available, inexpensive, neutral, and plain.  Stitches lovingly added by hand to the front were just as pretty on the back.

You could buy muslin in 90″ or 120″ widths too.  For some reason we quilters enjoy sewing hundreds of seams together on the front of our quilts.  But when it comes to the back, we have no energy left for even one seam.  So we like wide widths.  Around the turn of the century–Y2K–only a handful of options other than muslin were available in wide goods.  Most were poor quality.

Italy Texas winner

Back of Gail Bumpus’ quilt. Winner at Suzzett’s Fabrics in Italy, TX. 2015

Over the next five years, long arm quilting earned its place in the quilt world and drove the need for more diverse wide goods.  By 2010, wide goods were everywhere including batiks.  Quality improved and designers included matching wide goods in their collections.  Today, we enjoy a broad variety of exciting colors, prints, and textures all in widths.  With all this goodness available to us we still struggle with choosing a backing fabric.

The popularity of machine quilting gave birth to the “busy” back.  Contrary to plain muslin which allowed our hand stitches to show, a “busy” back is just the opposite.  It’s a cluttered print that camouflages the not-so-pretty stops and starts we get with machine quilting.

Around the same time wide goods were becoming plentiful and machine quilting was better than ever, something else happened in fabric land.  The price per yard jumped.  After a decade of nickel and dime wholesale price increases, shop owners were forced to raise prices over $10 per yard for 40″ goods and higher for wide goods.  That meant we had to think twice about spending extra dollars on the BACK of our quilts.  Sewing a few more seams to make a back wasn’t so bad after all.

Row by Row winner from Homespun Fabrics in Endeavor, WI

Back on Teri H.’s quilt from Fall River, WI, winner at Homespun Fabrics, Endeavor, WI.

So we did what quilt makers did generations ago.  We made do.  And we did good.  We got creative in making backs.  An academic study of quilts over the past 200 years will yield many quilts with pieced backs.  But none with the level of execution or quantity of creative expression as seen in the past five years.  Future collectors of historical quilts 100 years from now will be able to easily identify the creative backs of quilts c. 2010-2020.

Now it’s just fun to flip a quilt over.  “Oooo…look what she did on the back!”

Row by Row Experience™ fans are the best at creative backs.  All those rows, fabric plates, and goodies collected while traveling have to go somewhere.  A few were included with this article.  Do you have any creative junk in the trunk you’d like to share?  Send it to