As the needle bends

A world view thru my hobbit hole door

De-mystifying John Flynn’s Diagonal Pieced Backing Directions

There’s been some discussion on StashBusters about the directions on John Flynn’s site for piecing a quilt backing diagonally. I must admit that I was totally baffled when I first read the directions, but since we were leaving the following week for Maine, and I had used one of two coordinating fabrics for the border of a quilt I was putting together as a hostess gift for my husband’s Aunt Carolyn, I really wanted to use the other for the backing. Forget the fact that the quilt top was 65" long, and I only had 3 yards of the fabric, which had been in my stash for a couple of years so there was NO hope of finding more.


After I found John Flynn’s directions, I piddled with my calculator, until I could come up with the same figures he came up with in his example. Then I plugged in my own numbers. It took all my self-control to make myself cut into that fabric, but I took the plunge and was glad I did.


The math part throws some people off. The formula to figure out how much longer than the desired length of your backing the starting yardage must be looks confusing but take a calculator, and work with the example he gives, until you get the same figures he did. Remember you have to work the "math problem" INSIDE the ( ) before you can multiply it x the desired length of your backing, then you have to divide that resulting number by the results you get in the formula below the line (two times the width of your fabric minus the desired width of your backing). This will give you the number you have to add to the desired length of your backing to have a piece of yardage long enough that you will be able to slide the triangles past each other far enough to get the piece wide enough. Does that make any sense?

If it’s the concept – I couldn’t grasp it until I tried it. Do as someone else suggested and take a piece of paper – cut it from corner
to corner diagonally. Leave the two resulting triangles laying next to each other. Slide the one with the point heading down along the long angled side of the other – until you have ’dog-ears’ hanging off both one top corner and the opposite bottom corner. Can you see how the "piece" is now wider? Keep sliding until the piece is as "wide" as you need plus 1 inch, which you will use up sewing the pieces back together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

The best way to handle how you "package" your two triangles to sew them together is something I can’t help with too much. It has been over two years since I did this – but if I recall correctly, I just pinned and pinned and pinned, then sewed the diagonal seam, and then (only after I pressed and made sure it REALLY was going to fit) trimmed off the dog-ears that John shows in his diagram (linked above) as destined for the scrap bag.


Can you see the diagonal seam that doesn’t follow the same angle as the other diagonals? Hint: it starts about 1/3 of the way down the left side and ends about 1/8th of the way up the right side. If your print is nice and busy, you will have no trouble at all hiding this extra seam!

I hope this helps demystify John’s directions. I take none of the credit for creating this method, and am immensely grateful to John Flynn for helping me out of a jam with his directions, when I thought my backing JUST wouldn’t quite stretch far enough – but it did – and I’ve enjoyed trimming the scraps of it in my scrap bag, and think of Aunt Carolyn’s quilt every time!

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March 25, 2007 - Posted by | Life and Ramblings, Quilting and Hobbies (wishing I had 'spare' time)


  1. BSue: Even though you pointed it out, I couldn’t see it. Good job!

    Comment by southerntragedy | April 24, 2007 | Reply

  2. I saw it and now have no doubt I lack the patience, skill and mathematical ability to quilt. It must be a biological gift. The quilts are beautiful BSue.

    BSue said:
    I think I do it because it makes my mind ignore everything else. Sometimes I wonder if I have/had some form of ADD because I was always most successful doing my homework while laying in the floor in front of the TV. When it got quiet – i.e. I didn’t have something to actively ignore – my mind wandered, tried to hear what was just out of earshot, etc. At any rate, I seems to have QDD – I still don’t have the NYE Mystery backing done, so it’s not a quilt but a top. And I’m toying with taking on a project of restoring a Sunbonnet Sue quilt for a friend. I MUST BE CRAZY!

    Comment by Liz | May 6, 2007 | Reply

  3. Love the 9patch and snowball quilt you show in this post. I have a batch of online swap 9patches that might be just the job for something similar. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Comment by Helen in the UK | June 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. Where are the directions? I think I can figure out math problems.



    Comment by Lora | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  5. Off topic – need help with email settings
    How do I change Gmails SMTP settings?
    Dr Gil Lederman
    Gil Lederman
    Gil Lederman MD

    Comment by Gil Lederman | September 6, 2009 | Reply

  6. […] Here’s a pep talk from a fellow quilter on her experience with John’s method. Share this:EmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    Pingback by revisiting John Flynn | amherst thread tales | June 4, 2012 | Reply

  7. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find
    It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to offer something back and help others like you aided

    Comment by click here | January 7, 2013 | Reply

  8. I think his directions are great – unless you are really math challenged. I’ve used them over the years again and again… they can really help when you are just a little bit short on backing. But, its OK to piece a back too… After all, it’s the BACK of the quilt! Relax, and just get it finished! Cause finished is better than perfect!

    Comment by karenquiltsnsews | May 9, 2017 | Reply

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