Ask Jo: Using Sheets as Backing on Quilts

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days.  Today I’m tackling only one question.

Diane asked:
Hi Jo, Wonderful quilts, love seeing the finishes. I have a question for you. You use sheets a lot for backings. Love that idea but wonder do you worry about pilling? What is your criteria when purchasing sheets for backing. I love following your blog and your videos are so helpful. They give me quilting courage. Ha ha

Diane asked this question after I showed my True Blue quilt and said I used a sheet on the backing.

This is the backing…

This is the sheet portion.

I saw this sheet at Goodwill.  It’s a used sheet.  I paid $2 for it.  It didn’t bother me a drop to use it.

Using sheets is sometimes a hot-button topic for some quilters.  Some use them all the time.  Others would NEVER use them.  Others might use them but their longarmer doesn’t like them.

I have my own longarm.  I do most of my own quilts.  I use sheets.

I use 100% cotton sheets.  I would be more likely to use a previously used sheet vs a brand-new sheet.  A used sheet has been washed.  I can see how it is after it’s washed.  I can see how the sheet did or didn’t soften up.  I can see how it pills or doesn’t pill.

Admittedly some sheets have such a high thread count that they don’t do well with a long arm.  Admittedly some sheets are cheap and likely won’t wear the best.  So I feel everything.  I touch everything and make a decision from that.  If it feels like quality quilting fabric, I use it.

If you talk to anyone who owns a fabric store…if you talk to anyone who is VERY into “quality quilt shop fabric”, they are going to tell you to never buy a sheet.  A quilt shop owner wants to sell you backing fabric.  Anyone who is overly into “quality quilt shop fabric” probably has the money to buy backing fabric.

I think whenever someone gives their opinion we need to consider the person’s perspective.  Do they own a quilt shop?  Are they making utility quilts?  Are they making quilts to enjoy the process over the finished product?  Are they quilting on budget?  Do they have an unlimited budget?

If you’re me in northeast Iowa who loves quilting and wants to make it affordable, isn’t selling fabric, has my own longarm,  loves thrifting, and isn’t trying to make heirloom quilts that are going to be judged at a quilt show, sheets are an awesome option.

Check out the picture below.  See the quilt way on the left?  It’s my Criss Cross Applesauce quilt.  It has been used and used and used.  Its use has all been rough.  It’s the quilt for blanket houses.  It’s the picnic and play quilt on the lawn.  It has covered plants protecting them from frost.  It is the television blanket that has been used by EVERYONE.  It’s the quilt that gets washed the most in this house.

That quilt is nine years old.  NINE YEARS ago I made this quilt from thrifted 100% cotton shirts.  You can see back then my dog was Ruby and my daughter Kalissa who just gave birth to her third little boy was in high school and working as a CNA.  We were living in the old farmhouse.


You can read about the quilt HERE.  You can find the pattern for the quilt in THIS BOOK.  It’s still my favorite of mine.  I loved making this and would happily collect shirts and make another one.

To this day, my adult kids will still fight over this quilt.  When I die, I don’t doubt that this quilt will be the one the kids want most.

Check out the backing.  It’s a sheet!!  Not only is it a sheet but it’s a sheet that was bought used from the thrift store.  If that isn’t a testament that sheets can be used, I don’t know what is.

Here’s another quilt I used a sheet on.  Georgie’s preschool quilt.  You can read more about it HERE.

I’ve actually used sheets more often than I’ve mentioned on the blog.  Years ago when I used a sheet for a backing and wrote about it, I got a nasty comment from a blog reader.  After that, I would still use them but wouldn’t write specifically that it was a sheet.  I didn’t want to get any other nasty comments.  I’m tougher nowadays and don’t care if I publicly say I use sheets.

I’m doing what works for me after I’ve tested it and been happy with the results.

You are completely and totally welcome to make your own decisions on sheets for backing a quilt or not.  For me…in my circumstance and with my personal experience.  I say YES.  Use a sheet.

I buy them whenever I see 100% cotton sheets at the thrift store.  I hoard them.  That way I am more likely to have one that looks good with the top when I finish a quilt.  I likely have 12 here.  When I get too many, I pass them to the Cresco Ladies as they use them as well.

Feel the sheet.  See if it feels like quality quilt fabric.  If it does, it will likely be a fine backing.  You could also try it once on a baby quilt…wash the quilt a bunch and see what you think.  You don’t have to start out by putting a sheet on a prized quilt.

So…that’s the long response to using sheets or not.  Thanks for asking the question, Diane.  It gave me a chance to come clean with you all and let you know I use sheets often.

50 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Using Sheets as Backing on Quilts”

  1. I knew you’ve used sheets as backings, but I truly enjoyed the detailed explanation of how you choose and use them. As I was reading your comments about using the shirts, I had the thought “isn’t that pretty much the same thing?”… LOL. If you’re choosing and using recycled shirts in a quilt, you’d probably choose and use a sheet in the same manner.

  2. Good column, well reasoned, and also thanks for the reminder about the cross cross applesauce quilt. I have collected all the shirts, cut them up, rolled them, found the perfect thrift shop sheet, and even ordered the book. Then, life got in the way and by golly, I’m going to get to it next. Such a cute quilt!!!

  3. I also use sheets on the back, and if I need the color on the front, so be it. I have 5 stacked up.
    Same procedure. Washed, check the feel.
    I just picked up a bamboo sheet, too pretty and felt lovely. Will find out how that goes! I washed my old feather filled lap quilt, it is hanging to dry, and I will quilt it into that bamboo sheet, design pending.

  4. I’ve started looking for sheets at my local thrift stores to use as backings, but I’ve never found any as nice as what you have. I’m going to keep looking

  5. I absolutely love using sheets! I hardly ever buy backing fabrics. Like you, I use 100% cotton and I feel the fabric to know if it’s what I would want to be covered with. My long arm has zero problems with it and when I used a long armer, she had not one complaint. Anyone who criticize us must be a card carrying member of the quilt police. I especially love the designs because I never use a solid sheet.

  6. I think it is great you use sheets. So much less piecing also. I have used minky on the back of some of my quilts and the kids love them. I have done it with batting and without and had good results. Note: with batting is getting pretty close to a weighted blanket. I have also a used premade minky quilt as a backing. So far doing well and washed up great and is well loved. Just a note on quilting it. Be sure it is well pinned because of its stretchiness. I’m sure someone will give me flack for it, but I have seen many in quilt books. Plus I really don’t care what their opinion is either.

  7. Makes sense doesn’t it – sheets are good enough to sleep right next to your body, why not for quilt backs? I understand the consideration of getting a needle through when quilting.

    I have a follow on question tied to crisis cross applesauce and your use of shirts…how do you feel about homespuns? They give same look? Too thin? Not sturdy enough for longtime wear?

    Thanks for addressing our questions.

  8. My only experience with using quilts as backings was when I was quilting with my LWR (Lutheran World Relief) group. We tied the quilts and we used donated fabrics including sheets. It seemed so often when we were having a hard time getting needle through the “sandwich” it was when a sheet was used as a backing. It turned me off using them. I agree with you that when you choose the sheets yourself and can feel them and make sure they are 100% cotton, they would be okay to use. I feel the same about buying fabric at Joann’s and/or Walmart. I have found great fabric at both, but it depends on the feel.

  9. What a great idea! I’ve even seen flannel sheets; I will look at them differently now — as backs for my baby quilts.

    Thanks for such an inspiration!

  10. I also use sheets. Not for every quilt as I worked in a quilt shop for many years, collected a lot of fabric, and sometimes made samples. Now when I want to make lots of quilts and give them away I use sheets. I choose as you do Jo. 10 per cent cotton and feel. It seems that there are a lot of poly sheets at the thrift store lately.
    And durability of sheets? We’ve been married 51 years and I still have a flat sheet from a wedding gift!

  11. One of my first quilts, an Irish Chain in pink, blue, brown and cream/ivory (*can you tell how old by the colors?), has a pink sheet for backing. I’ve replaced the “real quilt shop” binding twice and patched the top in multiple places, but that 100% cotton sheet back doesn’t even have a thin spot. It just keeps getting softer.

    *You’re right, it goes back to the early 1980’s and is still one of my favorite quilts. I need to make another Irish Chain!

  12. Margaret in North Texas

    I agree with you Jo, the quality of the sheet (100% cotton) is the determining factor in choosing a sheet for a quilt backing .

    1. I’m wondering why it is harder to get a needle through a sheet vs quilt fabric. Is the weave tighter? That’s all I can think of.

  13. I say to each his/her own. There are no quilt police, right? We should all feel free to do as we like.
    On a different note, the ads showing up in this post are for Oprah sheets. I thought that was funny. I’m on a new phone and I haven’t been to many sites yet, so I guess it picked up the sheet ad, lol. Also saw dog accessory ads in your doggy posts. How fun!

  14. I used a sheet as the backing on the first quilt I made when I was just a kid. It was the 1970’s and I taught myself to quilt. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that I heard people say sheets shouldn’t be used as a backing. I figured that if I made it, I could call the shots. I love your quilts, Jo. People just need to follow the mantra “You do you” and I’ll do me”.

  15. I’m so glad you wrote about things. I was thinking to write you and ask about it too. I always heard from quilters in general, never use a sheet. I’m glad to start looking for used cotton sheets to use. I’ve learned several neat things from following you, all good. Hugs,

  16. I am happy to receive thrifts sheets to use as backing for the tops you send me. I love it that I don’t have to cobble other scraps together to make a bit enough piece and I always have enough left over for a second top!

  17. One of my favorite quilts is one my Gramma made. It is older than me, so it is more than a half century old! She not only used a sheet for the backing, but she also used an old wool Army blanket for the batt. When I thrift, these are what I’m looking for, I use blankets and sheets ALL the time. My other favorite place to get them are Estate sales!

  18. Backings are a lot of fabric yardage so I tend to make pieced ones from stash. In my area I have not seen sheets too often at thrift stores, but I look. I recently found a queen sized bottom sheet , all cotton , no stains or wear, for $1.99. Can’t beat that!

  19. My grandmother used any textile that was available for quilting. She made many quilts with what she called “sheet blankets” as batting. These sheet blankets are just like what you find in use in hospitals.

    Another quilt she made was all 1970’s polyester. That is one of my favorite quilts of hers, because it is incredibly heavy, and just wraps you up in there love she’s out into it… And it’s warm!

  20. Not a sheet user for backing quilts of any kind. Was taught to not so I don’t. I buy the backing material after I’ve completed the top to ensure proper yardage and I buy from my LQS and sometimes JoAnn Fabrics or I don’t look down on those that do use sheets for backing yet I have concern some may not be as meticulous in choosing the best quality sheets for that purpose resulting in an inferior quilt. One of my older sisters does use sheets and she is just as meticulous as you in choosing and using them, Jo. My motto you do you and I’ll do me.

  21. I have two quilts on my bed right now that have vintage 1970’s sheets as a backing. They have both been washed at least 20 times. I do also use quality yardage for backs, but find that both work out equally well. As I quilt a lot of charity quilts, it is nice to not have to piece a backing for every one. It saves time and the environment too!

  22. Duvet covers are also good option, if you find them at a good price. I bought one that I liked the colours so much that I designed a quilt top to go with it! I do try to use my stash to piece backings, but by the time I’ve pieced the top, I’m ‘over’ piecing for that quilt!

  23. My grandma used sheets for backing. All of us grandkids loved our quilts from grandma. The only problem was the sheet was usually twin sheet for a twin bed which meant the length and width wasn’t alway enough. I still have mine and it is over 50 years old. I think grandma used them because she didn’t have to piece a backing.

  24. I have a sheet backed quilt that I made a couple decades ago. the backing is in terrific condition but the “quality” fabric the qilt shop owner helped me choose has not held up that well. Not likely that the repairs will be duplicates by my choice since the fabric did not hold up that well Plus it is no longer available if I was willing to reuse it.

  25. Hi Jo, really glad you posted this. I’ve noticed you use sheets as backing and I think it’s very sensible. Backing fabric usually costs the earth, of course the fabric sellers will say never use a sheet! I have a quilt top that I will be quilting soon and fully intend to use a flannelette sheet, it’s going to be my snuggle quilt. I had this queen size flannelette sheet hanging around in my linen cupboard for ages not doing anything. What better use for it than a quilt backing! Actually I have 2 sheets, the other one will also be used for backing. I also love how you add in strips of other fabric or left over blocks to the backing to get the right size, it adds so much interest, I’ve fallen in love with pieced backings. The show people mightn’t like them but who cares?!
    On another note, I’m sorry you get nasty posts from people, it’s just so unnecessary, I guess they’re just unhappy folks. I like your style and your approach to quilting, God bless you and your family.

  26. I buy duvet covers when they are on sale and a good price. It’s still way cheaper than quilt shop fabric for backing and just as good, plus there’s enough for 2 quilts of the size I usually make. I avoid percale as it’s too tightly woven and anything with a high thread count. Unfortunately I’ve never found useable sheets for quilt backing in a charity shop (thrift store)..
    Regards from rainy England

  27. My friend and I regularly use sheets as backing. Not only are they already squared so there’s no adjusting or piecing but they are often larger than the quilt top we’re quilting (on her frame) and therefore we can quickly quilt the memory quilts we make for stillborn babies on the excess fabric. During lockdown the only sheets I could find were a polyester/cotton mix and as I couldn’t do a lot during lockdown I took the risk and used two to back some shirt challenge quilts. They are my absolute favourite sheet backings! They wash up really well and drape superbly on the bed. Obviously they won’t be heirloom or quilt show quilts but I don’t care because we are actually constantly using and enjoying them now.

  28. Just wanted to add to the conversation. Our church group makes charity quilts and we use sheets when they come in. Most are white and one of us dyes them and they look awesome. All sheets are interviewed for stain or any holes. We also tie the quilts and yes, some can be hard to get our needles through. But we also have needle-nose pliers to help pull the needles through. Some of our group have also gone to Thrift Stores or garage sales and found used sheets. We could not do this if it wasn’t for used sheets. We are 90 miles from receivers of our quilts, so when someone is going that way or we have many quilts on hand, we usually send 50 quilts to that group, and no one has complained about the backs!

  29. I have used sheets on my quilts forever and I don’t mind what the quilt police say. I have had a few long armers not want to finish my quilts because of it and that is okay also. The thread count on a sheet can be more difficult for some types of needles etc… Our daughter has one of my first quilts made with 2 sheets and recently I had to take it apart for her and put a new batting in it and have it long armed again. It is over 40 years old……and she loves it. What’s a mom to do.

  30. Nearly 50 years ago my Mother made a tied quilt for us. She used double knit scraps. And she backed it with a king sized sheet. We have used it all these years, and that sheet is still going strong!

  31. After the trying, testing rewashing, ETC, i currently have at least 20ish sheets. I have a semi hoarder sheeting neighbor. She is culling! I am the recipient of All her out going sheets. Most have never been opened. Cotton & bamboo. I cut off the fitted elastic, wash all, hot, at least 2/3x times. Jo, you are spot on with sheets. All I’ve been given or buy at Gd Will are queen or king. Fitted , trimmed, work for full, twin, youth, baby. You go , jo

  32. Thanks, Jo! I used a king size sheet that I had several years, washed a jillion times but no longer had a king size bed. Used it for a backing and my longarmer commented on how nice and soft it was, loved it. She was surprised when I told her it was an old sheet

  33. Hi to all! Just felt like I want to enter into the conversation! I was looking for backing for a graduating senior grandson and all my “backing fabrics” were too “girly” so I bought a new plaid flannel…there was enough fabric in the twin sheet set for 3 lap quilts!! What a bargain! And when I do graduation quilts I have had my long armor “quilt it tight” because students aren’t always in the position to care for it Properly….I want these used and loved…and there will be other “Grammi” quilts in their lives…..I have trunks full!! I have also used fleece for backing at the request of a deployed soldier. It’s the love and prayers we put in the quilt that really matters!

  34. What a great idea! Most of the quilts I have made are from fabric given to me. Ladies who thought that they should learn how to quilt and didn’t. I am running low on my stash and wanting some inexpensive fabric. I love the idea of thrift sheets! Thanks!

  35. Love reading your post honey, and the posts of this community. I’ve been Quilting for 40+ years and some of the best quilts I’ve done have sheets on the back. Like you always make sure it’s 100% cotton and I consider what the quilt is going to be used for. I don’t make quilts for museums either I make quilts for people to use on a bed and wash in the washing machine 1000 times. I make memories that will last through generations just like you and all of the other readers of this blog. As quilters we make a lot of memories that families cherish. Why not bedsheets on the back, they last as well as anything else. We use every other tiny tiny little scrap of fabric we can find to make the top of the quilt and I think bed sheets get a bad rap on the back of the quilt. So quilt on ladies and gentlemen , Love Carla

  36. I use sheets all the time as backs. I have started buying only 100% cotton at thrift stores now, but I have also used vintage cotton/polyester and they are fine too. And very soft! I am glad you wrote this, everyone will have an opinion, of course, but I agree 100% with you! I have even used flannel sheets from the thrift store as backs. When the sheets have been washed a lot, you can tell how they will hold up just by feeling them. Happy quilting!

  37. I used to own that same sheet set! It’s better homes and gardens from Walmart, they were incredibly soft sheets. I’ve used sheets in quilting before, no shame in it, especially if they are that soft.

  38. I actually prefer to use thrifted 100% cotton sheets as well. I find that they are softer than when I’ve used regular quilting cotton on the backs. One of my favorites is actually a pattern of yours I made- chocolate covered cherries I think it’s called. It has a super soft thrifted sheet for a backing and over the years it’s only gotten softer. I can’t afford to spend $50 on a backing, I’d rather buy more fabric for quilt tops! :)

  39. For me recycling is the historic point of quilting and while I enjoy my stash and making with new fabrics, I like every project to include something old for an instant vintage feel. Well washed 100% cotton is a joy to work with.

  40. The thread count of sheets makes it harder to hand quilt through. No doubt this doesn’t apply to machine quilting.

  41. Pingback: Thrifty Finds | Jo's Country Junction

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