Centering the Back on a Longarm

Recently I was asked to do a fun kid’s quilt, with trucks on the front and a city street print on the back.  The quilter put borders around the back panel, and asked me to center it on the back.  This is a bit harder than it sounds.  When the backing is loaded, and the batting is placed, you cannot see the back, so centering the top on the back becomes a math challenge.

Kids Quilt at

The top is pieced in a nine patch design, with directional borders and black sashing.  It is adorable for a boy, with trucks and bulldozers, and lots of construction motifs.

Kids Quilt at

In order to have a reference point, I folded the back in quarters to find the exact center.

Kids Quilt at

I did the same with the top, then put a single loop of red thread on the center point of both the top and the backing.  Then I measured both carefully, to see the difference in the top and panel sections, both in length and width.  Since both the top and back panel were directional, I need to pay attention to the placement too.

Kids Quilt at

Loading the backing, it is going to be a bit more challenging as the borders have extra fabric at the edge.

Kids Quilt at

Part of this problem is the bias seams that the maker put on the borders.  Never do this.  Bias seams only make the borders more wavy and prone to excess fabric at the outer edge.  See my tutorial Quilt Borders, Understanding the Why to see the right way to apply borders and why.  Your border seams should be straight just like your piecing seams.  Quilters often forget that bias seams are only for binding, not borders.

Kids Quilt at

Making sure that the top seam of the panel is straight, I measured where the top should go from the seam edge up into the border, then added the batting on top.  The top was 12 inches longer than the panel back section, so I needed to place the top 6 inches above the panel seam on the back.  Math was total difference in length divided by 2, placing half the difference at the top and the other half at the bottom.  Then I measured the side to side difference so I would know how far from the side seams to place the top.

Kids Quilt at

So, I placed the top based on the math, pinned it down, then rolled the bars until the red thread was visible.  Placing a pin in that point, I crossed my fingers.

Kids Quilt at

Crawling under the frame, I found the pin was really close to the center of the back.  Note that it is only about a 1/2-inch to an inch off.

Kids Quilt at

I checked the left/right placement.

Kids Quilt at

Then rolled it back again to the top.  Here is where I got nervous.

Kids Quilt at

Rolling it down to check it again, the pin is now way off.  I think just the act of rolling it scooted the top enough to make this much difference.  Knowing that the quilting will also draw up the backing, I called my friend Terry to see how she handles this problem.  Her answer was to do the math, trust your measurements, scoot the top 1/2-inch higher than you think it should go, and start quilting.  Interestingly, this rule of scooting the top 1/2-inch up was almost exactly the difference in the pin check I did first.

Kids Quilt at

Trusting her advice, I did just that.  I remeasured the top spacing, scooted it up just a bit, and dove in quilting.

Kids Quilt at

Quilting was done in Glide in a medium grey in both the top and bottom.  The color blended well with the cute cars and trucks print, and gave a nice texture to the sashing.

Kids Quilt at

The pantograph is called Pipeline by Urban Elementz.

Kids Quilt at

It quilted up in a short time, and I trimmed it.

Kids Quilt at

Here’s the back, not too shabby for centering.  It is slightly off center, but I warned her that getting it exactly in the middle wouldn’t be possible.  She was happy with the result, and certain that her grandson wouldn’t care.

Kids Quilt at

So, that was another learning experience.  Every quilt seems to teach me something.  What are you working on now?

18 thoughts on “Centering the Back on a Longarm

  1. Sylvia E Anderson

    Good morning Carole…..What a cute little boy’s quilt this is, and I’m sure he will be extremely happy with it. I am currently working on a pink crocheted baby blanket with a white crocheted ruffled edge, for a new great grandchild due early next month.

  2. Brenda @ Songbird Designs

    That’s a really cute quilt! And thank you for explaining how you did this. Fortunately, I haven’t been asked to center one on the backing yet. I’ll be keeping your tips for when that time comes. Great job!

  3. You were very methodical and logical i how you went about this and I think you did a great job! As the mother of two boys and a girl, it was always harder to find fun boy things than it is girls. This quilt is super cute!

  4. Bonnie

    I had a hard time following the math but like the needle idea with the thread. Great lesson. Thanks for sharing! Bonnie

  5. Loris Mills

    Your work paid off. The backing spacing looks great! I agree with you about the bias cut on borders. I think I was actually taught to do it that way as they said it was less noticeable to have the seam that way. I never found that to be true and gave it up quickly. I like them sewn straight as well. And who needs one more reason for a wavy border 😉

  6. Brenda

    What a cute quilt. I can’t imagine having to figure all that out for centering the back. Whatever the price is, it is certainly worth it. You do such a beautiful job!

  7. Rosemaryflower

    This turned out really well. My first quilt, my first and current long arm quilter, Theresa, did all of the work pieced my backing and she cleaned up my quilt, threads and everything. She must have thought I was a slob. She was very nice and did all of this work and made it perfect. I was humbled. I had just forgotten what to do, but she acted like it was no big deal.
    This time I brought her two quilt tops and made my own backings, pieced them 5″ wider on every side. I also (while my tiny 5 month old grand daughter was napping) laid my quilts one at a time, and carefully went over each side, checking for threads, and seams etc. I do not like being a slob. I have never seen bias pieced backings. That is shifty. I probably would have blasted it with heavy duty starch.
    What a challenge. Kind of like doing surgery. (yeah, nurse joke)

  8. Felicia Hamlin

    Wow, Carole! I am so bad at math, I would have been a nervous wreck trying to figure it out. You did well, hats off to you! The quilt is very cute, Felicia

  9. Good morning Carole! I think you did a marvelous job centering the backing. What a cute quilt. I have a panel of a cityscape with roads, etc. that I’ve been meaning to make for my great-nephew. It never occurred to me to use it as a backing. That’s a great idea, and a good way to get a two-fer quilt. Happy Tuesday to you. ~smile~ Roseanne

  10. thedarlingdogwood

    Such great prints! Thanks for sharing your process. I don’t have a longarm but it’s interesting to see some of the challenges. And I’m sure she’s right that her grandson won’t care if it’s not perfectly centered!!

Due to the volume of comments during Autumn Jubilee, I am unable to personally respond to all of them, however, I read and appreciate each and every one!

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