Bear’s Paws On My Quilt Back

Do you remember when President George H.W. Bush declared he did not like broccoli? He had never liked broccoli, since he was a little boy and his mother made him eat it. As an adult and president, he would not eat broccoli!

I do not like to make pieced quilt backs. The ideal quilt back, in my opinion, would be one that came from the store, already the correct size, washed, pressed, and ready to load on my quilting frame. I can’t have that, but as queen of my realm, I have decided to minimize my time making pieced backs. It makes my realm a happier place.

However, now and then, making a pieced back is still the right decision. My current project is a medallion with a bear’s paw block in the center. The top is done and ready to quilt. One of the feature fabrics on the top had very little left, a piece about 20″ x 35″, plus scraps of various sizes.

Fabric design by Julie Paschkis for a Washington State shop hop a few years ago.

As much as I love this fabric, I’m not interested in keeping a small chunk of it around. It is distinctive enough it needs to be used carefully, up to having a quilt designed around it. That’s more responsibility than I want right now!

I decided to use it up in the back of the quilt. That was an easy decision, partly because the other “right” fabric I have wasn’t quite big enough for full coverage.

This piece has stylized deer on it. It’s actually a seasonal fabric called “I Love Christmas.” I don’t know who the designer or maker are. It fits the nature theme of the quilt.

Designing and making a pieced back isn’t quite as much work as for the top. But it does require some thought, especially when using up stuff. After thinking carefully about it, I decided to make four large bear’s paws — not bear’s paw blocks, but the paws that are units of a block. This is the center strip of the back, with the paws “walking” in a direction. Each paw block is 18″ square, so the arrangement is 36″ x 54″. I had to piece in the deer Christmas fabric carefully so I didn’t run out of it. A bonus is I used almost all the rest of the turquoise fabric, too. It has little birds in a tone-on-tone print. Only scraps will be left of all three fabrics.

The back is loaded on the frame now. I need to choose thread color and do some maintenance on the machine before starting. I’m still pondering how to quilt it. But I am making progress.

20 thoughts on “Bear’s Paws On My Quilt Back

  1. Cindy

    That is a gorgeous fabric and I do agree that it does deserve special attention. I would not be up to the challenge though either. I think you have provided a wonderful way for it to be showcased. 🙂

  2. KerryCan

    I don’t care for priced backs either, partly because they cause problems for hand quilting–too many seams to quilt through. But they often also seem a little precious for my taste. Having said all that, I think you’ve made all the right decisions on this quilt–using the fabrics up is very satisfying and the back is understated and pretty!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Right. And the seams don’t cause much trouble with machine quilting, though you do need to be aware of lumps and manage them.

      For this piece, if I didn’t create a back, I would have need to buy fabric for it. I needed about 4.5 yards but was just short of 4 for the tan print. Eked it out. Thank you!

  3. tierneycreates

    I am reading your posts in reverse order, ha! Now I see you do not like piecing quilt backs (but I loved your examples in the other post). I have that fabric somewhere too – by Julie Paschkis – I love it.

  4. snarkyquilter

    Fun idea of a bear walking up the back of your quilt. I piece backs a lot simply because I don’t have enough big hunks of fabric and don’t want to buy more. Also, on a working quilt I like to give the user something interesting to see on the reverse side. For a wall hanging, I’m not very fussy. I get wanting one big piece for the back if you’re hand quilting. I don’t know if it makes a big difference for longarm quilting.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yeah, the main difference for longarm quilting is not in the quilting. It’s both in the aesthetics of the back and in taking the time to “design” (or not) and construct it. I don’t make many wall hangings. For those I usually use plain muslin. Thanks as always.

  5. Kerry

    One of my favourite blocks and love the way you’ve done the back. Not added pieces to the back of the quilts just yet. I’ve done a couple where I’ve had to sew large pieces together, but again not really confident about my piecing enough to have lots of merging seams on both sides – I’d worry that it might be too lumpy! Kudos to those that use up their last bits of fabric that they used for their quilt in that way – saves wastage and keeps the stash clear of scraps!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      When you are sewing big pieces together to make a back, and not making it from blocks, you can (and probably should) use wider seam allowances. Try using up to a 1/2″ seam allowance and then press it open. It will lie nice and flat for you so shouldn’t create lumps from it. Also, if you’re not in the habit of cutting the selvage edge off for back fabrics, cut off any that would come under the body of the quilt. Leaving ones that are beyond the top’s edges are fine, generally. But the selvage can shrink differently and of course usually has a firmer texture.

      Thanks much.

      1. Kerry

        Ooh thank you for the half inch tip. I’d not done that and trimmed to the usual quarter. Definitely remove the selvages! The last one I managed to match up the pattern repeat so was well chuffed with myself as it was only slightly off in some places, but it was a start. The rest of the backings I’ve just bought the extra wide ones (now pending in the I must get round to quilting it pile) because I’m lazy! LOL!

  6. katechiconi

    I’m with you on the nature and choice of backings. They are to hold things together, in my view, and while it’s good to have them harmonise, I’d never piece a backing unless I had to. Having said that, if you are going to do piecing because what you have isn’t quite large enough, then it’s good to have a bit of fun and make the pieced section have some meaning. The bear paws walking up the quilt are fun, it’s the perfect way to use up those bits.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kate. Some people love making their pieced backs and see it as a way to use up parts (like orphan blocks) or chunks of fabric they don’t love. I’ve done that, but I’ve had the enjoyment of more than one quilt spoiled because I don’t like the pieced back. I still like “design,” which is darn hard to get when simply pushing chunks of fabric together to use them up.

  7. Nann Hilyard

    Your medieval print is perfect for the bear paws, Melanie I often have an insert strip, sometimes pieced (mini-9 patches or something) mostly to make the backing large enough. (In fact,the first time I used a not-matching fabric (about 4″ at one side) was about 20 years ago. I thought I was being very daring b/c none of the quilt books showed not-matching backs.) I haven’t gone as far as one of Bonnie Hunter’s all-10″-squares backings.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I have done big squares, a la Bonnie Hunter, for a few quilts. And I would do it again in the right circumstances. And I’ve done a few other, fancier pieced backs, too. Maybe tomorrow’s post… Thanks for taking a look. 🙂


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