Squaring-up Backing Fabric

For those of you who don’t quilt on a large quilting machine frame, it is extremely important that when you attach the quilt top to the frame, the first thing you do is to first makes sure the backing is squarely attached to the frame.  Then the batting needs to be centered on that and then add the quilt top.  Make sure the quilt top is squared up as much as possible and then keep it squared up as you unroll the top during the quilting process.  But, like I said, MAKE SURE THE BACKING IS SQUARE!  It’s the foundation for the finished quilt.

But, how on earth do you square up backing fabric that is 118″ wide?  I ran into this problem recently and was met with a few problems.  First off, you get the fabric folded up several times, and it’s not folded up enough for your 24″ ruler to span across.  I felt very confident when I had added plenty of extra fabric and then cut the fabric.  When I was ready to attach it to the leaders, this is what I found.  Yikes!

back fabric squaring 004


So, how do I fix this?  It is too wide for my ruler to fit across and too big for my multiple cutting mats, too, if I open up the fabric at all.  So, I tried tearing across the fabric.  Imagine my horror when I found this after ripping what I thought was the straight of grain!  This messed with my whole belief system of what is true in the fabric world!


back fabric squaring 008


Can you believe there is that much leeway between the selvages?  That’s about 9 inches.  Needless to say, ripping the fabric was not going to work, and now I didn’t have enough fabric for the backing of the quilt.

I remembered my laser square and how I  had used it to square up a finished quilt and also to make sure the quilt is square as it is on my quilting machine frame.  I decided to at least try it, and I’m glad I did.


back fabric squaring 006back fabric squaring 007

I lined up the laser with the selvage and then tried it to see how far across the top of the fabric it would go.  The laser line hit the wall, so I was thrilled!  The above pictures show the “too short” fabric, but I now had a strategy for squaring up all backing fabrics.  I could shine the laser light across the fabric and run my ruler next to and along the line and cut straight lines along the laser line.

So, if you are a longarm quilter and you don’t already have a laser square, you might want to purchase one (or “borrow” your husband’s).  It’s a small price to pay (they run from $30 to over $100) for fixing mistakes before they happen.

7 thoughts on “Squaring-up Backing Fabric

  1. Invaluable tool! I just got one last week to square up a wedding dress quilt I’m making. Could not have managed without it!

    The guy at Home Depot seemed perplexed that I was looking for quilting tools. I educated him — quilt making is very similar to woodworking; we take big pieces, cut them into small pieces, and put them back together again.


  2. I’ve had the wide backs look like that after tearing them. It’s due to how they are rolled up ‘wonky’ on the bolt. After I tear, I know all four sides are really square and straight. So what I do is find the center of the two edges I’m going to load on the leaders. Pin the center mark to the center of the leader (I like to load my belly bar first), then work your way out from there, pinning as you go. Now as I roll the backing up on the belly bar, I do two things – 1) mist the fabric with water from a spray bottle and 2) keep the edges even as I roll. When I get to the end, I pin the other end to the takeup roller, again starting at the middle and working my way out.

    At this point the backing may look saggy in some spots or seem lumpy and bumpy. What you need to do is roll it onto the other roller, then roll it back again. You may need to do this 2 or 3 times, but if you keep misting and rolling, the fabric will pull back into square again. Plus, you never have to iron a backing this way – the misting will help take out the creases too!!


  3. Thank you for the tip on the laser light.. I think I will look into getting one.. I would love to try the misting but with an automatic take up roller.. I think it would be much too time consuming to even attempt.


    • Thank YOU, Rhonda, for commenting! I use my square laser for a lot of things when I am quilting, so, in my humble opinion, if you can afford to buy one it doesn’t hurt to have one on hand.


  4. I’m a new longarm quilter and found thus post. Thank you for sharing! So many new things to learn in longarm quilting.
    Nancy in Perry, Iowa


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