Basting away again…

Basting Away Again, under  a palm tree“Basting away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost baggie of pins.
Some people claim that basting sprays are great,
But mostly, to me thread wins.”

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.

Basting Away Again, pins galore

Pin basting can be close, or spaced further, depending on the project.

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.

Basting Away Again stitch patterns

Some people use straight stitches to hand baste, but I prefer 'tailor's tacks.'

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…

Basting Away Again, with pins

Adriana pinned her quilt before tying in my Classic Squares Quilt tutorial.

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.

Basting Away Again, curved pins are helpful

Pin basting can be easier with curved pins, but straight ones work too.

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!

Basting Away Again, hand basted flannel quilt

I hand basted this soft flannel quilt very closely.

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)

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,,


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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6 Responses to Basting away again…

  1. Annmarie says:

    Thanks for the informative post. Good to know there’s more than one way depending on the quilt. I’m not a big user of starch, but I’m going to try it more often now. Have a nice weekend – I’m sure you’ll be rooting for the Packers. I’m in Rhinelander WI so I will be too.

    • Even as a kid, the Steelers were my second favorite team after the Vikings, so this one is tough for me. Do I cheer on my conference champs the Pack, or my second team, the Steelers? I think I will just enjoy the game and not care one way or the other!

  2. Allison says:

    Thank you for so much helpful information. I have a top that I really want to quilt myself, but it has been sitting arround neglected mostly because I just don’t know how to go about basting it. I think it’s time to grab some batting & floor space & try the tailor’s tack you shared. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Quilt Batting Basics – Baffling No More? | The Curious Quilter

  4. Pingback: Quilting Up a Postage Stamp Quilt | The Curious Quilter

  5. Sylvia Ringland says:

    I heard a comment by an a quilting lady demonstrating the Aunt Betty method. She stated she did an “old time” basting method that was radiant around the whole center of the quilt. Her thought was that the hoop was round and this kept the quilt sandwich more stable. Made sense but can’t find any information on what she meant by it. Any ideas? Thought of just diagonal basting from corner to corner and down center each side then circles around?

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