Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Machine Quilting 101: Basting

I'm excited to get back to the Machine Quilting 101 series. It's been a few weeks! If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here:
 
Today we will talk about everyone's favorite step in the quilt making process....basting! (Don't all groan at once!)
The purpose of basting is simple: to temporarily hold the layers of the quilt sandwich (backing, batting and top) together until you get them quilted. It's not a particularly fun process-in most cases it involves crawling around on the floor-but it has to be done. I tell myself that it's a good way to stay young. :)
 
These are the simple tools that I use:
A thread catcher, curved safety pins (and a lot of them!), thread snips, fabric scissors and duct tape.
 
I baste my quilts in my front entryway, so before I get started I remove all rugs and (kinda sorta) clean my floor.
Lay the quilt back on the floor, wrong side up. Place a piece of duct tape at the center of the top, at the center of the bottom, and at the center of each side of the quilt back. You want the back to be flat and taut, but not stretched. It looks pretty messy in this photo, but it gets better. Continue to tape the backing down to the floor, working from the center of each side toward the corners. The 4 corners should be the last parts to be taped down to the floor.
This particular quilt back is pieced quite a bit. I generally use a piece of duct tape at each seam and every 6"-8" apart. That may seem a bit excessive, but it's helpful to keep the backing nice and flat. Duct tape is cheap...no need to skimp!
Here it is, completely taped to the floor. It looks surprisingly good compared to the first photo, doesn't it? (Honestly, I was quite relieved!) Make sure there are no extra threads or lint on the backing.
Next, layer the batting onto the backing. I like to line up the top edge of the batting to the top edge of the quilt. (Sorry, this photo is upside down and at a weird angle....but the two edges are aligned, that's what is important.)
Now it's time to place the quilt top onto the batting.

I get asked all the time how I get the front and the backing to line up. It's actually quite easy! I just hope I can explain it in this tutorial. The photos should help!
If you look on the left side of the photo, notice the bright pink strip peeking out....that strip runs all the way across the width of the quilt back. That is my point of reference. I imagine those lines running across the top of the quilt (as shown by the lines in the photo). I aligned the quilt top so the pink backing strip was centered within that white horizontal row of sashing.
This is the same row of sashing, the same backing strip, only this is the right side of the quilt. Do you see how the bright pink strip on the back of the quilt is centered in the sashing on this side, too? This is how I know that my quilt top is squarely placed on the quilt back. (I certainly hope that makes sense. It's so hard to put it into words!)

Once my quilt top is aligned properly, I smooth all the layers with my hands, working from the center out to each side and from the center to the top and bottom as well.
Now is a good time to check your backing. This is the bottom of the quilt and I only have about an inch of backing to spare. Since I am quilting it on my domestic machine at home, that should be enough backing, but barely! I try to leave at least an inch on all sides....anything less makes me nervous.
Now it's time to pin. I place the pins every 4" or so, which is about a hand width apart. (A little known fact about me...I can pin baste with one hand. A tidbit that you really didn't need to know, but I couldn't help it...I had to share.) :)
When I baste string quilts, I place pins even closer together, every 3" or so, because there are SO many seams that could shift around. It's better to be safe than sorry.
After an hour or so (depending on your quilt and the speed at which you pin) the quilt should look something like this. Nice and flat and all pinned together.
This quilt had several extra inches of batting at the end, so I cut it off before I even removed my quilt from the floor. Less bulk to wrestle with later.
Remove the tape from the floor (I usually enlist my kids to do that) and carefully fold up the quilt until you are ready to actually quilt it.
 
So, that's how I baste a quilt. This is merely one way to do it, but it is my preferred method.
If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments!

63 comments:

Mousy Brown said...

This is so helpful! I dread this part of making a quilt and I know I never use enough pins...seeing how lovely yours looks after makes me see what a difference taking a bit more time makes. And your explanation made perfect sense by the way! :)

Irelle said...

I'm glad to see someone else still pin bastes. I tried spray basting and it just doesn't work for me. However, I like Elizabeth Hartman's technique of placing the batting on the floor and smoothing the quilt top on it and rolling it up. Then doing the back like you do. And then unrolling the top including the batting on the taped down quilt back. It's easier for me to keep it straight and smooth that way. Thanks for your tips!

Kristen Jones said...

Thanks for the tutorial. Its been very helpful to me. I just completed my first quilt top using Moda's Honeysweet fabric. I am working on the back now. I'm terrified I'm going to mess it up when I start doing all this fun stuff! LOL.

Svetlana said...

fantastically well explained, and since I'm out of 505 spray and really need to finish one baby quilt I'm going to give it a try. Fingers crossed :)

Cheryl Arkison said...

Bang on! I add a Kwik Klip to the process to save my finger tips.

Mrs Quinn said...

Awesome tutorial. I learn something new each time. Thank you for sharing!

Nancy said...

Something no one talks about--do you end up scratching your floor with the pins? I have always been afraid of that. I have done the pin basting on carpet but not on hard wood or vinyl. I have a bigger area on hard wood but have been afraid of ruining my floor. Anyone have experience with that? Thanks

Jean said...

I have room on my lower level, where I put folding tables together to layer my quilts. I use the rachet C clamps to hold the quilt taut. I got these at Menards. I also use the Kwik Klip, as I use a lot of pins for a queen size quilt.No crawling on the floor for me. These tables have home built risers to make them about waist high. Traded black walnuts for a friend at church to make the risers.

Patchwork and Play said...

Thanks! This is very comprehensive and very easy to understand! I laughed at your comment about basting keeping you young! That's the main time when I know I am getting old! LOL!

Books_Bound said...

I'm a pin baster too! I tried spray once, but I don't find it significantly easier than pinning. Pinning is also way cheaper! That 505 is pricey. :(

I was surprised you use duct tape. Have you had any problems with reside on your quilt? I use masking tape, but I'm curious in case I ever need to use it in a pinch.

Needle little Balance said...

What are your experiences with basting spray? I usually use both- basting spray and (fewer) pins, but I wonder if there is a reason not to use basting spray.

Nicole said...

It's hard to improve perfection ;) but as well as smoothing the top out with your hands try sliding a 24" ruler around. It's much flatter and larger than your hand and works AMAZINGLY well. (I learned that from an old [75+] lady in my traditional guild.)

Kay said...

This is really helpful, thank you. I also like the tip in the comments about sliding a large ruler around. x

tink's mom said...

Great job on describing this step. I have a wonderful tile floor in my foyer that works really well for this step.

Nana said...

Glad you are back to the 101 series. Excellent explanation of the sandwich/basting technique. I tried a small one before but do not think that I used enough pins. Will get more before next project.

KathyinMN said...

I pin baste too (and also use basting spray), but now use the board method for putting the layers together. I really liked how you explained how you line up the layers. That was helpful!

tahoe34 said...

I use a table from Costco, find the center of all, and use bulldog clips. I don't like spray basting. As a cancer survivor, I don't like breathing in anything toxic. I know safety pins are not toxic, lol. I've been basting my quilts like this for 25 years and have yet to have a ripple on the back yet!

Venus de Hilo said...

Duct tape! (head-slap moment)
Have been using the blue painter's masking tape for YEARS, and it doesn't stick to my living room floor unless I sweep and damp mop first. Basting is enough of a pain without adding a housework step.
So happy to have read this post, because I've got a top and back ready for basting tomorrow, and a roll of duct tape in the utility closet.

Betty said...

Very elaborately explained with lots of pictures: GREAT!! Thanks AmandaJean

Poppy Black said...

Yay! That is exactly how I baste, right down to using the entryway of the house. I'm not a big fan of basting, and sometimes have unfortunate finger meets pin incidents, but it is worth doing well.

Martha Cook said...

Thank you. This is the way I do it but it sure is getting harder as I am getting older to get down on my knees.

Regina Zimmermann said...

Hello Amanda, thanks for this great series. I pin baste too, because for me it gives the best results to my FMQ. On another note I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your every blogentry and I love your work/art. Enjoy the rest of the week.

Sigi G said...

Thank you for your continuing tutorials. Yes I tried this - on the floor method - but my knees don't allow it anymore. We have a (hardly used) ping pong table that can be folded up or even just one or both sides folded down and that has been my go to table for laying out my quilts now.
I really admire all your beautiful 'scrap' quilts and how you can quilt those large sizes. Thank You again, for sharing your knowledge on this!

Gamma's Sewing Room said...

Okay, maybe I will get brave and pin baste. Honestly, I hate the process of spraying. The smell,stickiness and cost... and then when I have to lift it all up to fix a bubble... no fun. I have only tried pinning once. In the beginning of FMQing I was always in a hurry. I ran right thru a pin head. My Juki handled it well. Just kept on going. I know I need to slow down. So, maybe stopping to take out a pin would be good training. You just might have a convert.

Sew in Time said...

I basically use the same process. I have hardwood floors. I found a cutting mat at Jo Ann's that goes on a table and I slide it under the quilt so my pins don't mark up the floor. It works great. For larger quilts, I slide it to the top and then slide it under the quilt to the bottom for pinning. It doesn't cause any problem with puckers either! I use blue painters tape. It sticks and doesn't pull too many threads when removing. Good tutorial! I have the hardest time lining up the back and front to not be crooked because I don't have a line on the back of my quilt ;-)

Rebecca Toman said...

I do the same process as well. I worry that the duct tape when removed would fray the fabric. But I guess it doesn't if you do this method all the time. I used painters tape too but doesn't stick. I'll try your way next. Thanks for the nice explanation.

margaret said...

such a detailed tutorial, trouble is I do not have your floor space! Must invest in some of those safety pins as I have to tack and that is no fun. You are an inspiration to us all Amanda, many thanks

SarahZ said...

I am loving your series here! Already know that dethreading is my new least favorite part!!! :) I would also add that GOOD safety pins for basting cannot be overemphasized...you may have never tried to baste with cruddy ones, but I have and it is maddening!

Quilt Fabric Pizazz said...

I have always been afraid the pinning will scratch my hardwood floors. Do you have any problems this way?

I have been taping my quilts onto a board room table that I purchased for next to no money, and do the sandwiching in two stages while sitting at the table. I find this much easier. I also like to thread baste my quilts to get them as flat and tight as possible. I find that my machine quilting is more acurate and even.

In any event it is sort of the pain in the you know part of making the quilt. All the other aspects I love.

Cheers. Lauren

pforgerson said...

how do you keep from ruining the floor, i do the same on a table and it is looking pretty worn. is there a trick?
Pam

Kate Marshall said...

Re: do pins mark wooden floors? I've basted six quilts on recently re-polished parquetry and haven't noticed any marks despite often stabbing the floor.
My additional tips for new quilters are:
1. Buy proper quilting pins with a curve. Normal pins make it so hard to get through three layers.
2. If you're nervous about shifting or don't have a huge number of pins, spray baste and then pin. (I spray but I don't really trust it alone, or maybe I'm just scared to spray enough to really fix things in place...)

I'm about to baste a quilt and I don't think I can face snipping all the threads from the back. I had a go today, there are just soooooo many! Can I still get my quilters licence if I skip this step?

patty a. said...

I am lucky to have an 8' x 8' table in my quilting studio so no more floor pin basting for me! I use 3M green masking tape for hard to stick surfaces for taping down my backing. The blue tape just doesn't want to hold when is gets a bit humid. I use a smooth wooden yardstick to help smooth my batting out and after I get the top laid out I press it gently before I pin baste. Your tutorial is great and shows how important it is to take you time with this step!

Jeneta said...

Oh that's great! I picked up a few 'refinements' to make basting a fun - no, wait - more pleasant experience. Pin basting with one hand, eh? Sounds like you should make video to show us! I'd love to pin baste with one hand. That means I would have a free hand to fold laundry at the same time. No, wait again, I mean eat chocolate.

Patti said...

Great directions! Thanks!

Lisa C said...

Thank you for the tip to use duct tape. I have always used "good" masking tape (the cheap brands never work) and sometimes the masking tape doesn't stick to the fabric. I guess the fabric was treated with something. Anyway, I bet the duct tape sticks to everything!

Grandma Ruthie said...

I baste on top of a table that I raise up a bit higher using flower pots turned up side down. The additional height means I don't have to bend over so far and makes for more comfort. I clamp one of those card board cutting mats you can get at Joann's or Hancock's to the table and the board has toothpicks taped to the middle like cross hairs and then at toothpick at the edge of the cardboard in the middle of each side. When I layer I use these toothpicks to keep everything centered and lined up. I first baste the whole table area and then slide the quilt around to get the rest basted. It works very well and no crawling on the floor! One downside....my floors don't get cleaned as often now :-)

Also, with the quilt I am working on now I trimmed all the stray strings on both the front and the back of the top and backing starched them before basting and quilting. It really did make a difference! Great series of posts!

Susan R said...

Thanks so much for doing Machine Quilting 101. I guess as quilters we think we know the basics, but after reading your "lesson" for this week I now have a list in front of me on how to baste properly. I'm usually just trying to get it done at the basting stage. I also want to thank all the people who wrote comments; I've learned from them as well.

Keep up the good work Amanda! You are a fabulous teacher.

Karen said...

Thanks so much, Amanda! I am a total newbie and have NEVER understood how to do this until I read your post. Deep breath! Now I can begin!

Steph said...

duct tape is such a fantastic idea!!! i have always used spray and pins, but still have issues, especially with larger projects! I'm gonna have to try using tape! makes so much sense!!!!! Thanks!

limivadygirl said...

Like a few others, I've been concerned about the pins ruining the finish on my hardwood floors, so I slide a cutting mat around under the quilt when pinning. So far, it has worked for me, but it would be a whole lot easier not to hassle with that! I also have used painter's tape which is fine in the winter, but not effective in summer humidity. Doesn't the duct tape pull more threads off the edge of your fabric, and sometimes leave a sticky residue on the floor?

Bat Masterson said...

Thank you! I never really knew how many pins to use.

April (Polkadot Sparrow) said...

For all those inquiring minds, I pin baste on hardwood and haven't scratched it yet. I am careful not to push the pins hard into the floor. I have hardwood floors and not the newer stuff. Not sure if that makes a difference. I understand everyone's worry about that--I was afraid the first time I did it. Though now I'm wondering if I should roll up my dining room rug to see if there are any small scratches in the floor! haha.

Amanda Jean, I really appreciate all your articles in this series. Perhaps they would make a good book when you're all done. :)

Nini said...

You explained it perfectly for me, thanks so much. I've been a hit or miss kind of person when it comes to lining up the front and back. Now I have something to reference, thanks again. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to start my own blog, and reference you for all your wonderful tips!

Vera said...

Well written and great example how to center the quilt!

Gigi Pereira said...

That's exactly what I do except I can't do it down on the floor any more. I found 8-foot x 30-inch tables at Sams Club and splurged. Bought 3 of them and when I have a few quilts to baste, set them up as one big square and so far all of my quilts have fit (I do some pretty big quilts). Just discovered the Kwik Klip and love it. Thank you for this series. It's good to go over the basics sometimes:)

Anthony and Sharon said...

I can't wait for the next part about what its like when you machine quilt it. I have a suspicion I'm doing it wrong and want to see! HA!

Also, I think there should be a Yoga position called the "Baste-er." I imagine it would be done with your butt up in the air, searching for another pin, then having to breathe as you don't move your knee so as to wiggle the fabric ;) ;) DEFINITELY part of an advanced yoga class!!! HA!

amandajean said...

Nancy,

That's a great question! I've always lived in homes where the floors were pretty distressed already, so a few pin marks were not going to be noticed! I know that probably doesn't help....sorry!

AJ

amandajean said...

Books_Bound,

Brands of duct tape vary quite a bit. Some of them do leave a bit of residue on the fabric, but some don't. Either way, it's on the quilt back, the parts that will be trimmed off after quilting. I do use those scraps eventually, and I haven't had a problem with it as of yet.

Hope that helps!

AJ

amandajean said...

Books_Bound,

Brands of duct tape vary quite a bit. Some of them do leave a bit of residue on the fabric, but some don't. Either way, it's on the quilt back, the parts that will be trimmed off after quilting. I do use those scraps eventually, and I haven't had a problem with it as of yet.

Hope that helps!

AJ

amandajean said...

Needle Little Balance,

I cover my thoughts of basting quilts in the introduction post. (See the link for week 1 in the beginning of this post.) Hope that helps!

AJ

krazgrl said...

WOW! Great tutorial that answered a few more questions for me. I also loved everyone's comments, read them all. Now I have a few questions/comments.
1) Yep, like everyone else, do the pins mark the floor? My guess is not since you keep doing it. :o)

2) Does the masking tape leave sticky on your floor? I use blue painters and only occasionally have not had it stick. Probably didn't clean my floor well enough.

3) I'm certain you are going to show how you quilt. My concern is how you quilt around ALL of those pins.

4) Do you NOT tape down the batting or top of your quilt?

And finally, I saw those cool little scissors you had in a picture a few blog posts ago when you talked about snipping off all of the hanging threads. They looked interesting so I had to buy me a pair and I have to say I LOVE them!!! There is something to be said for reverse scissors (not sure of the proper terminology). I also have a pair of reverse tweezers that I couldn't live without when sewing.

Sorry for the long post - GREAT tutorials, keep them coming. :o)

amandajean said...

Rebecca Toman,

I haven't had a problem with the duct tape fraying the fabric. I used to use masking tape or painter's tape, but it simply didn't stick well consistently. Duct tape has been so much better!

Hope that helps!

AJ

krazgrl said...

Ooops, looks like we were commenting at the same time. Sorry for the repeat questions that you answered.

amandajean said...

Quilt Fabric Pizazz,

I have always lived in homes where my floors are already broke in and have lots of issues, so if and when a pin would scratch the floor, it wouldn't be noticeable! My 3 kids (and my dining room chairs) are harder on my floors than a few little safety pins could ever be. :)

AJ

amandajean said...

pforgerson,

I haven't had to worry about this because my floors are already distressed, but some of the commenters above use a cutting mat beneath their quilt to protect their floors/surface. you may want to give that a try?

Hope that helps!

AJ

amandajean said...

limivadygirl,

brands of duct tape vary quite a bit. some do leave a bit of residue on the floor or on the fabric, but not enough to stop me from using it and change my ways. it's still the best option that I have come across! I hope that helps.

AJ

Louise Jozwiak-Fredieu said...

Hi AJ: i am so glad i found you. i love the way you teach. Everything is so clear. Thank you bunches. God bless you always and in all ways.

Denise Russell said...

Great tutorial. That is exactly who I baste my quilts - I have the knee dents to proof!!! :-)

cindi said...

I am loving reading about your quilting process. I have picked up some tips along the way. I am really looking forward to the actual quilting. I just finished straight line quilting on my Janome 8900 and noticed some of my seams went kinda wonky. I changed directions and didn't sew from the same side every time. Hope you're going to share some clues about how to prevent this in the future. thanks

Suzanne said...

Thanks,AJ, for the post. The thing I learned was that the corners are taped last. I had always taped them first. Now to try this method and see how it goes. I'm impressed with your boatload of pins too.

Amy said...

Thanks for these tutorials- I have been quilting for years but am very new to machine quilting them myself! I look forward to your next step and wonder how you would machine quilt the top that you just basted (in-the ditch, stipple, etc?)? I, too, have a quilt that is very similar and is pinned and ready to go, but I am not sure how to proceed..thanks!

Annemiek said...

Í'm an old school handquilter and yes, it takes forever so perhaps I should give machinequilting a try.... First step is bookmarking your blog:)
Question:
What if...there's a whole cloth backing and therefor no reference points to allign quilt back to quilt front...?
What kind of batting do you use?

Irena Mangone said...

Thank you for your so clear tutorials. Learning a lot. Pin basting versus spray. What do you think of fusible batting ? . Not sure where you are but in Australia. Hobbs Brand make. Double sided fusible batting . I only so fr make small cot/ lap quilts and stitch in ditch. So looking forward to learning free motion quilting.