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:
- 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.
- Bed sheets are made to stand up wash & wear, so they’re sturdy and high quality.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!