Using Sheets As Quilt Backs (& Duvet Covers too!)

I recently shared on my Instagram feed that I was using a flannel sheet from Target to back a quilt top and was met with lots of questions. We’ll talk about this in more details, but here’s the short story: you can ABSOLUTELY use bed sheets for quilt backs!

There’s a few obvious benefits to this:

  1. No piecing together a quilt back! This is the best benefit – just buy a sheet big enough to back your quilt and you don’t need to piece it together! Fabulous.
  2. Bed sheets are made to stand up wash & wear, so they’re sturdy and high quality.
  3. Cost-savings! Bed sheets and duvet covers are way more budget-conscious than quilting cotton, saving you precious pennies. Plus, as most bed sheet sets come with both a fitted and a flat sheet, you’re essentially getting two quilt backs out of one package! Duvets are naturally double-sided, and also provide two large pieces of fabric for you to use. When buying sheets, I tend to buy the largest size I can afford. I’m then able to use both the fitted and flat sheets for throw-sized quilts and larger. The fitted sheet on a twin size set, for example, would only be able to be used for a crib or baby sized quilt.

So let’s break it down. What should you look for when buying sheets for quilt backs? We’ll cover bed sheets, flannel sheets, and duvet covers since I treat all three of these differently.

Sheet Sets: 

What to look for: 100% cotton sheets. Don’t be tempted by all the pretty designs in microfiber or polyester! Not only are they difficult to baste, but they will slip and slide a lot more than cotton will, which means quilting will be that much more difficult. Plus, polyester won’t shrink like cotton does, so if you’re not one to pre-shrink your fabrics before you make a quilt top, you’ll end up with warping and distortion in your finished quilt.

When buying cotton sheets, you actually want to buy low thread counts. Yes! That’s right! The idea that a low thread count equals a low quality sheet is actually a myth. Aim for sheets with a thread count around 200 (less is preferred). The higher the thread count, the tighter the weave in the fabric, which is harder for your sewing machine to punch through. This is why a lot of longarm quilters discourage bedsheets. The higher thread count sheets can cause issues with making sure your needle is going through all the layers.

For reference, quilting cottons have a thread count of 60-75 threads per inch. Not only for the ease of sewing it in your machine, but getting a bed sheet with a similar thread count for the back will also help with even shrinking of materials when it is washed.

Thrift stores can be excellent places to find fun and unique bed sheets. Keep in mind most vintage sheets are a 50/50 mix of cotton and polyester. I’ve seen people use these with good results, however, it is recommended to starch the vintage sheets and to use a lower setting on your iron, or else you risk melting the fabric!

You can sometimes find just a flat sheet by itself, which is a good idea if you don’t foresee yourself using more of that print in the future. If you do get a full set of sheets, don’t discount the pillowcases! Standard pillowcases are approximately 20″ x 30″ per side, and king size pillowcase are approximately 20″ x 37″ per side. This means you’re getting almost a whole yard of fabric from one pillowcase! Use these for quilt tops, or, if you don’t mind having a seam (most pillowcases are sewn together on both sides), use them as quilt backs for wall hangings and baby-sized quilts.

Special considerations/care: I don’t have any for bed sheets, I don’t prewash them if I haven’t pre-washed my quilt top. I just give it a good press, baste, and quilt as usual.

Flannel Sheets

What to look for: Flannel sheets that are 100% cotton. Most on the market today are, but there are a few exceptions to keep an eye out on. Additionally, I’ve found printed flannels to wash and wear better than solids, which tend to pill more.

I’ve had good luck with flannel sheets from Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target. For both of these, I watch for sales, usually around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although the holiday-themed flannel sheets are fun, I’ll also look for plaids, stripes, or other more neutral designs that can be used year-round and stock up when they are a good price. Our quilts in our home get used often, and we’ve found ourselves reaching for the flannel backed ones over and over again, due to their softness, warmth, and drape.

Flannel thread counts are usually no more than 100 threads per inch. However, flannels shrink a LOT more than quilting cottons do. The first time you wash flannel, whether a bed sheet or off the bolt, it can shrink up to 10%, but 5-6% is more typical. Quilting cotton shrinks about 2-3% for comparison. Flannel will continue to shrink in subsequent washes, with less shrinkage each time.

Pillowcases make great quilt backs for baby quilts!

Special considerations/care: I prewash all flannel before using it in a quilt, even if I haven’t prewashed the quilt top. I’ve found this to be the best way to deal with the uneven shrinking rates between quilting cotton and flannel. When the quilt has been quilted and bound, I’ve washed them in the machine and they’ve come out beautifully. When using the fitted sheet in a set, I will wash it first, then cut out the elastic and side seams to provide a flat fabric surface for the quilt back. This will minimize fabric fraying and frustration!

Duvet Covers

What to look for: Duvet covers that are 100% cotton or linen. Duvet covers tend to have a thread count of 100-200, and it is recommended you stay within this range.

Duvet covers are a great way to get two large quilt backs! The benefit to a duvet over a sheet set is that instead of a fitted sheet and a flat sheet, you essentially get two flat sheets. They’re incredibly soft and made to wear well, so the quality is usually pretty high. Duvet sets usually come with pillowcases as well.

Some of my favorite places to shop for duvet covers are Ikea and H&M. Although it is possible to shop online for Ikea, I’ve found in-person, when possible, to be a better recommendation, as some of their least expensive duvet covers have a rough or scratchy feel to them. That being said, I’ve also bought quite a few covers from Ikea that have been high quality and soft.

Special considerations/care: I don’t pre-wash duvets before using them. I simply cut along the seam lines to divide the fabric into two, and press one half to prep for basting. Fold the other half and save for a future quilt back, or use the fabric in a quilt top!

Economical, soft, long-wearing – there are many benefits to using sheets and duvet covers as quilt backs! Have you ever done it? Will you try it now? Let me know in the comments below!

22 thoughts on “Using Sheets As Quilt Backs (& Duvet Covers too!)

  1. I personally really love using sheets and other unusual cotton items in quilts. My quilt guild has been giving me some weird looks because they think I’m cheap but because most of my quilts end up as gifts I kinda have to make sure I stay within the budget.
    That being said, I’ve used duvet covers both as backing and within quilts, the grey stripped Ikea one if my favorite. I’ve also worked with Ikea 100% cotton curtains and I really love the look. They are a bit heavier but I personally think they add a great texture to a quilt.
    Thanks for sharing your tips I really gotta stay on the look out for some flannel sheets now!

    1. Sounds like you’ve got the quilt police in your guild! I use sheets as backings too for heaps of different reasons.

  2. I have used sheets for quilt backings for 40 years. They hold up wonderfully and are easy on the budget. Be a wild child and try new things! You just might discover a well-kept secret! Happy quilting!

  3. What I did not know about sheets!!!! Thanks so much for sharing this. Will be on the hunt now for some discounted sheet sets.

  4. Hello, I am a complete newbie. It is my 2020 resolution to learn to sew with a sewing machine. I am attempting to make a patchwork quilt. I have cut out all of my squares and now I’m pondering what to do next. I’m glad I came across this post as I was planning on using a duvet cover for the back of my quilt. Glad to see that some people do this, and I didn’t just come up with a weird concept!

    I’m thinking of ways to keep cost down, and internal wadding seems pretty pricy. Do you think I could use a really low tog actual duvet inside?

    How do you sew the final edge of the quilt up, neatly? Once your layers are all together?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. I’ve seen people use a flannel sheet instead of batting, but your quilt won’t be as thick. I would suggest buying batting with a coupon or waiting for a sale at a big box store (warm & natural is a good brand and you can usually get it for 40% off at Hobby Lobby or Joann’s). Once your layers are together you’ll want to bind your quilt. I don’t have a binding tutorial (yet!) but if you google “quilt binding tutorial” you should be pointed in the right direction. Feel free to message me with any other questions. Welcome to the wonderful world of quilting!

  5. Thanks for a great tutorial, Learning to quilt is one of my 2020 goals but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on my first attempt. I’m going to look for a sheet at a thrift store. BTW: I’m a huge Poodle lover so great name for your site!

  6. Hi Elaine,
    I am so excited…. I recently started self teaching w/the help of a 45 yr quilting friend via the local quilt guild, YouTube videos, & your Patchwork & Poodler. This will be a novela message, sorry🤩
    I began hand applique projects getting better throughout time. This I started January 2020. Also did small to medium embroidery projects to hone my stitching skills.
    Then we we’re blessed🥴😜 with COVID19, WAH…
    Not being able to go to the fabric store as ours were all closed & shopping for ideas on line wasn’t working for me. Then one night I woke up at 3:15am, thinking of all the scraps the I had accumulated through the years which I purchased for different things, with much care.
    So… I began cutting all into 2 1/2″ strips, various lengths as not all scrap pieces are created equal. Not exactly sure what I was going to do, mid way though I thought wow, I could do a scrap strip quilt. Feeling very adventurous and confident (surprised by this) I decided it would be for my son & daughter-in-law for a 2nd anniversary as the gift for traditional wedding is cotton.

    I put all of the strips in the dryer to mix them for my plan was to pick each piece at random stitching end to end. Did I mention I plan to do a totally by hand quilt because hand sewing is ultimately relaxing for me. I created my own jelly roll 11″ in diameter.
    Then I began stitching side to side 95″ strips. I also have enough for forpillow shams too❣️ Total time 16 days. I since squared it, just bought a queen flat sheet. Now my question is how much fabric do I need to purchase for the binding of my queen size quilt? I say Thank you for your blog sure. You are amazing❣️
    Courage during pandemic 🥴

    1. Hi Dixie! Measure all four sides of your quilt and add them together plus 20″ (side 1 + side 2 + side 3 + side 4 + 20). Divide that by 42″ (width of fabric) and that is the number of binding strips you need. Then multiply the number of binding strips you need by 2.5″ and that will give you how much fabric to buy. Enjoy!

      1. 👍👍👍 good explanation!
        And *I* didn’t realize less is more on thread count!
        Whodathunkit??
        (More is USUALLY better! 🤦‍♀️)
        Thanks Eliane!
        Jeanne

  7. Hi Elaine! If I use a 70’s inspired vintage sheet it will have been washed. Do you then wash your quilt top before quilting so shrinkage is similar? I love all your tips in this post (and others!)

    1. It is preferrable to prewash in that case, because If you don’t, your top will shrink more than your backing. This will lead to more quilt crinkles, so it really depends if you like the crinkles or not. (It won’t ruin the quilt though if you choose not to prewash your top fabrics, promise!)

  8. And I’ve thought I was nuts I’ve used sheets for years. I also shop thrift stores and yard sales in search of fabric and clothing that I love the feel of and colors. Scrap quilting is one of my favorite.

    1. Scrap quilting is the best! I love repurposing clothing, bedsheets, duvet covers, etc. Clothing especially, as they are different substrates, add such texture to a quilt!

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