Apologies to Jimmy Buffett for the bad puns, but that is what has been weaving through my mind the last few days! I am working on UFO’s in a haphazard sort of assembly line fashion, and this week seems to be all about basting. A mind can wander a lot while basting.
People ask, “What is the right way to baste a quilt?” I believe that there is no one “right” way. Some projects require minimal basting or tacking, but others are much easier to quilt if they are closely and firmly basted. If you have only tried one way, I encourage you try a different one, as you may find it easier, or more suitable for your project. Check out the resource list below for instructions.
The point of basting is to hold the quilt sandwich securely so you can quilt or tie without creating ripples, puckers, or other messes. Whether you hand quilt or machine quilt, basting is an important step.
I came to quilting from a clothing and costume sewing background. I learned to tailor and sew lingerie long before I tried to make a quilt. But as a teen, before the quilting revival boom hit in the mid-70’s, I decided to make a simple quilt. I had no instructions, I just drew from my sewing experience. Piecing was easy, I did a nine patch alternating with solid pieces that I had done some embroidery on. My corners were not perfect, but I did not care (and often still don’t!) Besides, all the cutting was done with scissors, or long pieces were torn, making it tough to have accuracy.
Once I had a quilt top, I had to try to figure out the batting and assembly. I scavenged, with my mom’s permission, and used an old lightweight blanket and sheet. I hand basted it using giant ‘tailor’s tack’ stitches I had learned in tailoring class, making three-inch long stitches, zigzag style, staggered about the quilt. Hey, it was not pretty, but it worked. I was able to drag the quilt through mom’s Singer 301, and after two passes it occurred to me to use the darning stitch feature and drop the feed dogs. The first rows bunched up – I had never heard of a walking foot in those days!
It was a pretty messy, ugly attempt, but I was not discouraged and went on to make a couple more. Then quilts became vogue again, and classes popped up. I was excited to go learn from an expert! When she showed basting the sandwich, she did rows of straight in and out running stitches about an inch long and an inch apart. And she used long threads, like two yards. I asked what she did if one broke while she was quilting, and she got snippy with me. I used my tailor’s tack method and she pooh-poohed it loudly. Oh well…
A few years later I saw someone use safety pins. What a lovely thought, how fast! I tried it and found it fast to do, but slower for me to quilt. The two hand-quilted pieces I attempted fared fine with the pins, but I got more puckers on the back when machine stitching. Perhaps a more patient stitcher would have had better luck. When fusible batting and basting sprays came out, I tried them too. I never liked the spray, but did find that the fusible can be really handy for small projects like bags or wall hangings.
The first time I machine quilted a quilt that I really felt great about, I had used a lot of starch, even on the backing, and pinned it before hand basting it. Nothing fancy, but it did not pleat or pucker at all! The starch had saved me, I think.
Now I use lots of methods. Quilts that are being tied, I simply pin. On small projects that are easy to move under the machine, I tend to use fusible batting or pins. When working on a large quilt, I usually thread baste using my tailor’s tack stitching, the bigger the quilt, the closer my stitches are. Some battings are ‘slippery’ to me, and I am more apt to thread baste those too. I like to starch my top and backing when possible, for stability and ease in free motion quilting. But on a soft fabric like a homespun or flannel I avoid starch, so I thread baste very securely. Like all of quilting, it remains a learning experience to me. See below – Susan Schamber’s super video on thread basting really inspired me!
I hear quilters talk about how their quilt sandwich shifts while pulling it through their home sewing machine. After all the work of piecing a great quilt top, people often want to rush the basting step. I encourage you to take a little more time with it. If you have shifting or puckering trouble, no matter which basting method you use, try basting closer. Safety pin every 2-3 inches instead of every 5-6 inches. Or hand baste with stitches and rows only an inch apart instead of three or four. And remember to drop or cover your feed dogs when quilting, and use a walking foot.
Whatever method of basting you use, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Make your backing at least 6 inches larger than your quilt top.
- Cut your batting the same size as your backing.
- If you are planning to do dense quilting, keep your basting stitches shorter and closer together.
- It is helpful to secure your backing, either by clamping tautly to a table, or even taping on a floor. The more stable and smooth your backing is, the easier it is to pin or stitch and avoid puckers.
- Smooth your layers often as you baste! Your goal is to have the sandwich handle as one piece of fabric, even before you quilt.
- When thread basting, a high contrast thread is helpful. Thread several needles before start, keeping your threads under three feet long. Should your basting thread break while handing your quilt, less area will come loose.
- Starch can be helpful for machine quilting. It may seem like an outdated idea, to starch both your backing and your quilt top. But it can add stability, and actually help the quilt sandwich glide as you machine quilt.
- If you will be working on the project in spurts, folding it away often and taking it out later, closer and more secure basting will help.
- You can remove basting as you quilt, and should always remove pins as you work. But with thread basting, you can also wait till your quilting is done to remove the basting.
- Take the time to baste well, and your quilting will be easier.
Some online tutorials for basting methods: (in no particular order)
- When I discovered Sharon Schamber’s wonderful video of thread basting, my instinctive use of tailor’s tacks was affirmed! It took me a while to accept that what felt like ‘extra work’ could really lead to better results. Do take a look at her video on YouTube for Part One and Part Two. Her website is full of goodies too.
- How to Stretch and Baste a Quilt with Safety Pins on eHow.
- Pin basting using a floor without carpet is shown on Red Pepper Quilts.
- A good set of discussions on spray basting can be found on the June Tailor pages on About.com.
- Dream Weaver’s Quilts shows how tack a quilt using a tagging gun.
- A Quilty Kind of Girl Designs demonstrates using a fusing product like Mighty Fuse to baste.
Try a new way of basting soon. You may find something that makes your next project easier. Who knows, you may even create a masterpiece!
©2011, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com.