Andrea Funk

By: Andrea Funk on April 22nd, 2019

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Everything You Need to Know About the Back of a T-shirt Quilt

The Construction of a T-shirt Quilt  |  T-shirt Quilt Details  |  Materials Used In T-shirt Quilts

Quilting seen on the back of a Too Cool T-shirt QuiltThere are a number of things you need to know about backing materials used for a T-shirt quilt. We have broken this article into four sections. Below, you can jump to any section. Or you can read from top to bottom.  

Materials Used to Back a T-shirt Quilt 

Quilters call the fabric that is on the back of a quilt, “the backing.” Some quilters consider the back of a quilt as important as the front, while other quilters only care about the front. This difference manifests itself in the choice of material that is chosen for the back of a quilt.

What are some choices available to T-shirt quilter makers?

Like anything, everyone has a different opinion about what fabric makes the best back to a quilt. During my 45+ years of quilt making, I have used most of the fabrics listed below. Each fabric has its positive and negative features.

100% Cotton

Quilting seen on the back of a Too Cool T-shirt QuiltThis is my preferred fabric choice because it wears well and is easy to work with. But beware; all 100% cotton fabric is not the same. I had a fabric company send me samples of other 100% cotton fabrics that were less expensive than the Robert Kaufman fabrics that we use. Just for fun, I used my husband’s digital measuring calipers to compare the thicknesses of each fabric. I was amazed! The Kaufman fabric was over twice as thick as the cheaper fabric to which I was comparing it. There is a difference! 

50% Polyester/50% Cotton

50/50 fabric is made so it retains some of the feel of cotton yet has enough polyester in it that it keeps the fabric from wrinkling.  For a quilt that is quilted, wrinkling is just not an issue. The disadvantage of this fabric is that it will pill. Pilling is the little balls of fiber that ball up on the surface of a fabric.

100% Polyester

This fabric generally is very inexpensive. And it will look and feel inexpensive too. Again, this fabric will pill. Avoid this fabric. It won’t make your quilt awesome, just cheap.

Flannel

Like any other fabric, flannel comes in many qualities. If you choose flannel, purchase the highest quality on the market. The appeal of flannel is that it is soft. To make flannel, the fabric is brushed to break surface fibers free. It leaves a layer of soft fuzz. But if you think about it, brushing the surface is just wearing out the fabric. I avoid flannel at all costs because to correctly use it, there are extra steps to take so it does not fray. Most quilters don’t take or don’t know to take these extra steps.

Minky Fabric

Minky backing on a T-shirt quiltMinky is a very soft and cuddly fabric. It’s possible you have seen it with raised dots on it, but we use the regular Minky to give the quilting the full effect. Michelle in our Austin, Tx location is the only Too Cool quilter experienced using Minky. Minky will not show the quilting as much as a cotton fabric. Rather, you will see more of an embossed look where the quilting is, rather than a definite line.

Minky comes in a variety of colors, creates a “softer” quilt, and holds up great overtime. Minky is a premium fabric and would include an additional charge based on the size of the quilt; it is more difficult and messy to work with than the cotton.

Contact Michelle for more information. Austin@toocooltshirtquilts.com 
If you are ready to order, 
click here for Michelle's order form. 

Polar Fleece

Polar fleece is 100% polyester. It’s soft. Depending on the quality of the fleece, it can wear OK. Most fleeces will pill after a number of washes. Some T-shirt blanket makers love fleece because they don’t have to use batting or quilt the quilt. Which makes it a blanket and not a quilt!  Fleece is not the right fabric for us because we are making quilts, which involves batting and quilting.

Bed Sheets

I cringe when I see a bed sheet used for the backing of a quilt, especially if it is a printed sheet. Basically, a sheet will always look like a sheet. It’s not the right choice for a quality quilt.

Fabric is expensive

The fabric room at Too Cool T-shirt QuiltsT-shirt quilt companies who only make a few quilts a year – less than 30 to 40 – will most likely not purchase their fabrics wholesale. This means they will be purchasing their fabric at retail prices and thus have to pay a lot for high quality material. So, if they aren’t charging very much for their quilts, they will typically make it up by purchasing the cheapest material they can. 

When you interview your quilter, ask if they use high quality materials. Remember there are cheap and expensive 100% cotton fabrics. Don’t assume that they are using the good stuff! Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, we use Robert Kaufman Kona Solids 100% cotton material. This is good stuff.

Where Can I Find Backing Colors Choices?

One of the questions we are asked most frequently is; “Where on the website are the color choices for the backing material?”

We don’t have a list of the color choices on the website. We have chosen not to put the colors we use on the website because there is no accounting for color from computer to computer. By the time we photograph each color, move the photo from our camera to our computer and then you see it on your computer, the color will be different than it actually is!  Here are three photos of one quilt back. What is the true color that we used? Yea, some sort of blue!

blue backing on a T-shirt quiltblue backing on a T-shirt quiltblue backing on a T-shirt quilt

We want you to have options in choosing your backing color. We want you to direct us as to the color you want. We have over 250 colors to choose from. If you tell us the color you want or send us a swatch, we should be able to match that color you want.

Typical Colors

There are some colors that are discernible by the name alone. Like navy, black, charcoal-gray, royal purple and forest green. With colors like that, you just tell us the name. We then find that color in your quilt and match it to our backing fabric. 

Enigmatic Colors - Send A Swatch

Most other colors might need more information. If you just tell us “blue”, that will not be enough information for us to choose the backing color. What shade or type of blue? And if you just say “red”, we will ask you what shade of red? Tomato, rich red, cardinal red, crimson? And how about teal? You ask 20 people to show you teal, they will show you 20 different colors! We need more information. We need you to give us a swatch of color. 

An example of color swatches on an order formWhat can be used as a physical swatch?

  • A piece of fabric from one of your T-shirts
  • A color crayon or marker scribbled on white paper
  • Paint chip
  • A piece of fabric
  • A piece of wallpaper
  • A photo or color swatch from a magazine with the specific color circled
  • A colored piece of paper

What can be used as a descriptive swatch?

Sky blue - great color for a quilt. We only get a handful of blue sky days here in Michigan. A descriptive swatch is something you can say or describe to us that we will have cultural experience to know what color you are requesting. Some examples:

  • Coca-Cola can red
  • Sky blue
  • Grass green
  • Buttery yellow
  • Carolina Blue

Digital Swatch Links

an example of a website with a college's color info.You can e-mail us a link to the color you would like us to use. For example if you want us to use Michigan State University green, you could send us a link to the MSU website’s official color page.

We then can follow the link and hold up our fabric to the color on the computer. This won’t be perfect because my monitor might not see the color perfectly, but it will give us a good place to start. 

Too Cool T-shirt Quilts offers over 250 color choices for backing material – you just need to tell use what color you would like. Don’t worry about sending us weird swatches – we love weird!

We have a physical color chart from the manufacturer of our fabric – Robert Kaufman. We pull this chart out to match up your swatch to the colors we can purchase. We get very close most of the time. If we are unable to match your swatch, we will let you know! 

Robert Kaufman Color chart

T-shirt Quilt Backings - Pattern or Solid Color?

When should you use a solid color backing material on a T-shirt quilt and when should you choose a print? It typically comes down to how a quilt is quilted and the quality of the quilting. A printed backing material will camouflage and hide quilting where as a solid material will show it off.

When to Use a Printed Backing Material

If you choose a printed backing, you can't see the long arm quilt done on a T-shirt quilt. Choose a printed backing material when a T-shirt quilt is hand tied or machine tacked. These methods will each leave just a small 1/4” or less stitch on the back of the quilt. The entire back of the quilt will be speckled with these small stitches. These stitches will get lost in the design of a printed material.

Another time to choose a printed backing material is when the quilting is very simple or irregular. This might happen if the quilt is quilted with a home sewing machine. Quilting a large quilt with a home sewing machine is very difficult. The stitches will vary in length and there might be sharp turns and other uneven stitching patterns. A printed backing material will conceal the quilting nicely.

What if a T-shirt quilt is long-arm quilted on a quilting machine? In this case, only choose a printed backing material if the quilting will be done in a repetitive pattern. A repetitive pattern is when one motif is repeated over and over across the entire quilt. Many T-shirt quilt companies choose to do a repetitive pattern on their T-shirt quilts because it is fast and easy. A printed backing material in this case would hide the monotonous stitching and give you something more interesting to look at.

When to Use a Solid Color Backing Material

black back of a T-shirt quilt - awesome quiltingChoose a solid backing material for the back of your quilt if you want to show off the quilting. To make the stitching stand out even more, use a contrasting thread color.

Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts we only use solid color backing material because we do awesome quilting on our T-shirt quilts. An accomplished artist quilts each of our quilts. We feel it is important that each block of a T-shirt quilt is quilted with it’s own unique design. Each block on a T-shirt quilt tells a unique part of the story, so it get’s it own quilted design. 

The design quilted into the quilt from the front, are seen on the back of the quilt. So as a result of our quilting style, the backs of our T-shirt quilts are almost as fun and the front of the quilt.

We also spend time tracing various designs on the front of the quilt because they show up on the back of the quilt.

 

How Do We Know That Printed Backings Hide the Quilting?

We know that printed backings obscure the stitching on the back because we have long-arm quilted other people’s quilts who have chosen a printed fabric. From experience, our quilters know that their work will not show up, so they simplify their quilting designs and don’t spend extra time tracing anything. You just can’t see it.

If you asked to use your own printed fabric on a T-shirt quilt we make for you, but we will do our best to talk you out of using it because your T-shirt quilt would miss out on a quintessential part of a Too Cool T-shirt Quilts – it’s exquisite quilting.

T-shirt Quilt Backing Material Q & A

Q: Can I choose the backing material color?
A: Yes. We have over 300 colors available. Below is a "Pano" photograph of our fabric room.

The fabric room at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Q: Where are the color choices on your website?
A: We don’t have samples on the website because of the potential for the color not to read right from computer to computer. You can either tell us the color you would like or send us a swatch of the color you want.

Q: What can I send for a swatch?
A: A swatch can be anything from a paint chip to a piece of material. Below is a list of some options:

  • color scribble that can be used for a color swatchA piece of fabric from one of your T-shirts
  • A color crayon or marker scribbled on white paper
  • Paint chip
  • A piece of fabric
  • A piece of wallpaper
  • A photo or color swatch from a magazine with the specific color circled
  • A colored piece of paper

Q: What type of material is the backing?
A: We use Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton Solids. They are very high quality 100% cotton fabric.

Q: Can I choose between a print and a solid material?
A: No, we only use solid materials because you can’t see the stitching on a printed material. And being able to see the stitching is an important part of a Too Cool T-shirt Quilt. 

Q: If I provide it, can I use flannel fabric on the back of my quilt?
A: Yes, if you must. But flannel does not wear well in the long run, so we will try to talk you out of this.

The back of a too cool T-shirt quiltQ: If I provide it, can I use fleece or Minky fabric on the back of my quilt?
A: Yes. Our Austin, Texas location is set up to use Too Cool T-shirt Quilts fleece and Minky.  But you may not see as much quilting because of the loft of those materials.

Q: Will the backing material bleed?
A: We hope not! We wash the backing material before we use it to ensure that the color is set. If, for some reason backing fabric does bleed, here is the solution.

Conclusion

 The material that goes onto the back of a T-shirt quilt is important. It's important to have the right type of fabric. Depending on the quilting, it's important to choose a solid or print fabric. But most of all, it's important to have a color that works with your T-shirts and that you love. 

I hope this information is helpful for you in planning your T-shirt quilt. We are here to answer any additional questions you may have. Email us at info@TooCoolTshirtquilts.com

 The back of a too cool T-shirt quilt

About Andrea Funk

Andrea Funk is the inventor of T-shirt quilts made with multiple blocks sizes. The modern method of making T-shirt quilts. In 1992 she founded Too Cool T-shirt Quilts. Her life has been immersed in T-shirt quilts ever since.