Learn all about basting a quilt. You have finished piecing your quilt, and it is looking spectacular, but now you have to turn your “patchwork” into a proper “quilt”! The first step in this process is basting a quilt. There are four ways to baste a quilt, and here we will find out the pros and cons of each method before you decide which one is best for you.
What is Basting A Quilt
Basting a quilt is especially important although most quilters find it the most boring part of making a quilt. Basting a quilt is a temporary method of holding the layers of the quilt together before it is machine quilted. This article will show you how to baste a quilt with thread, pins, spray or an iron.
It is essential to keep all the layers of your quilt stable, and to stop them from shifting while you are doing the final quilting, whether you choose to machine quilt or to hand quilt.
Basting a Quilt - Supplies
The filling layer in between your pieced quilt top and your backing fabric is called the batting. This layer is what gives the quilt its thickness and warmth.
Polyester batting is less expensive than wool or cotton batting, but it is not as warm. It also requires less quilting. This makes it a good choice for wall hangings or for quilts which will be used all year round. It is also more easily washable.
Wool batting is often wool blended with some polyester. It is warmer and softer than polyester. Cotton batting is the traditional choice, but it requires a lot of close stitching when quilting.
Your backing fabric and your batting must be at least 2”-4” (5-10cm) bigger than your quilt top all around. It is possible to buy extra-wide backing fabric from quilting shops if you are making a large quilt. Some quilters choose to buy a large flat sheet to use for backing fabric so there are no joins. Backing fabrics are typically tightly woven cotton like the quilt top.
These are special safety pins, which appear slightly bent to assist with getting the pin through all three layers when basting a quilt. You will need about 200 of these for an average size quilt! You can use the extra-long straight pins, but it is not recommended, they are not nearly as stable as the safety pins, and your layers may slip easily.
Needles and Thread
Sharp sewing needles and thread are needed if you decide to do thread basting. You can use up oddments of thread in any color, as this will be removed after quilting. You can also use water-soluble thread, which doesn’t need to be removed, it will disappear when you wash your quilt.
Optional - Spray
Spray adhesive, made especially for quilters can make basting a quilt easy and is a preferred method for larger quilts. These spray cans often come with long cautions and warnings and must be used in well-ventilated areas. Popular brands include Sulky, Spray n Bond and 505. They are often labeled as temporary adhesive. Check the label to ensure it is designed for quilts.
General Supplies for Basting a Quilt
For basting a quilt, you will also need:
- Iron and ironing board
- Painters tape or masking tape
- A large flat surface to work on. If you don’t have a table big enough, work on the floor!
Basting a Quilt - Preparation
When I went on my very first quilting course, we made a wall hanging. Our very patient and experienced teacher made us first pin baste and then thread baste as well! She always does this on her quilts, for the extra stability it gives you. Whichever method you decide upon, you need to prepare your quilt in the same manner.
Basting a Quilt Sandwich
You need to create the ”Quilt Sandwich” first before basting a quilt.
- Place your backing fabric wrong side up on the floor or large table. If it is crumpled or creased, iron it first.
- Smooth it out so that it is completely flat with no creases or wrinkles.
- Tape it in place using wide painter's tape or masking tape.
- If you are working on a table you can clamp it into place with clamps that fit over the thickness of your tabletop. These are not the tiny little peg-like clamps, but large robust clamps.
- Place your batting on top of this backing fabric. Trim it to the same size as your backing fabric. It should be 2”-4” (5-10cm) bigger than your quilt top.
- Smooth your quilt top over these two layers. Again, make sure you have no creases or wrinkles.
- If you are working on the floor, and you have a tiled floor, you can use the edges of the tiles to make sure your layers are straight.
The Four Methods Of Basting A Quilt
There are 4 methods of basting a quilt. These are:
- Thread Basting
- Pin Basting
- Spray Basting
- Iron Basting
1. Basting a Quilt With Thread
This is most commonly used when hand quilting.
- Pros - There are no pins to interfere with your quilting. It is the most secure way to keep your layers from slipping, wrinkling, and forming tucks.
- Cons - It is very time-consuming. Basting threads can be difficult to remove after quilting. To overcome this, it is possible to use water-soluble thread.
How To Baste a Quilt with Thread
- Prepare your quilt sandwich, as above.
- Place at least a few safety pins just to hold your sandwich in place.
- Start in the center of your quilt and work outwards.
- Make large tacking stitches, about 1 to 1 ½ inch (2.5-4 cm) from the center out towards the edges. You can start each thread with a knot, as these threads will later be removed.
- Work horizontal and vertical rows of stitching to form a grid of stitches all the way across your quilt top. The lines of stitching must be close enough together to prevent the shifting of layers. For extra-large quilts, you may also stitch diagonally.
Basting a Quilt With Pins
In pin basting a quilt, the three layers of material are held together with safety pins.
- Pros - This is quicker than hand basting. The pins can be removed while you are quilting. It is relatively stable, as long as your pins are close together.
- Cons - It is more time-consuming than spray basting. You need a lot of pins!
How To Baste a Quilt with Pins
- Prepare your quilt sandwich as above.
- Open up all your safety pins in advance. This will save you time. Also, when removing your pins, leave them open and store them open for the next time!
- Start in the center of your quilt and work outwards.
- Form a grid of pins all across the quilt. They should not be further apart from each other than 4 inches (10cm). Any further apart and you will get shifting of layers. An easy way to measure this roughly is the width of your hand.
- When using this method, beware of scratching your tabletop as you insert the pins. Or of picking up pile on your carpet. You could end up with your quilt joined onto your carpet!
Basting a Quilt With Spray
Your layers can also be held together with spray adhesive. This is available at quilting and craft shops.
- Pros - This is the quickest method by far. There is nothing to be removed after quilting.
- Cons - You will need a large open area for basting. The adhesive spray can be expensive. The layers can shift, it is not as secure as other methods. It is messy and sticky! The spray tends to spread itself all over your entire working area.
How To Baste a Quilt with Spray
- Prepare quilt sandwich as above.
- After taping the backing down, spray it liberally with adhesive spray made specially for quilting.
- If you are lucky enough to have a design wall, you can complete this whole procedure standing up, with the layers taped to your design wall. Your layers will be vertical in this case, not horizontal.
- Adhere your batting to your backing, smoothing down carefully.
- Spray adhesive again onto the batting this time.
- Stick the quilt top onto the batting, smoothing down carefully once again.
- You must spray twice to adhere all three layers. If you only stick two of the layers together, you will have serious shifting, tucking, and bundling when quilting.
Basting a Quilt With An Iron
If you are using cotton batting you can steam press your layers together.
- Pros - Quick and easy
- Cons - It does not work with all types of batting. It can only be used on very small quilts. It won’t work on a quilt larger than about 24x24 inches (60x 60 cm).
How To Baste a Quilt With an Iron
- This is only for small quilts, with cotton batting.
- Prepare your quilt sandwich.
- Iron the layers together with your iron on a hot steam setting.
What To Do After Basting a Quilt
There are 2 things you will need to do after basting a quilt - machine quilting through all layers and then binding the edges.
Now you have your quilt sandwich firmly held in place, you can start making decisions about quilting! Will you choose to machine quilt or hand quilt? Quilt in the ditch, following your seam lines, or elaborate decorative quilting patterns? Basting a quilt is just the preparation for the next adventure in the forming of your quilt.
Here are just some of the options for machine quilting. You can use grids or random patterns to hold all the layers together.
After machine quilting through all the layers, you will need to bind the edges of the quilt. This can be done with an attractive contrasting or matching binding strip. Read all about how to bind a quilt for full instructions.
Basting a quilt - In Conclusion
I have to close with a sweet story of a friend who really loved the combinations of patterns and fabrics when doing the patchwork part of piecing a quilt. But she hated the basting and quilting part! So she just used the quilt tops she had made as thin bedspreads in her house. She had so many that she rotated them on a monthly basis! Sadly her unfinished quilt tops frayed and fell apart with repeated washing. So be brave, and attack basting the quilt with gusto! It will be worthwhile in the end!