Basting a Quilt

Basting defines the action of sewing with long, loose stitches, as in temporarily tacking together pieces of a garment while it is being made. When quilting, the pieces in patchwork pieced blocks are normally basted together simply by using pins and appliqué pieces can be either basted with pins or thread basted to the background. However, basting a quilt is normally the process of temporarily joining the three layers that make a quilt: top, batting and backing so that the three can be held together with the quilting stitches, whether by hand or machine.

There are three methods used to baste a quilt. A quilter can choose to use pins (safety pins, rustproof), baste withbasting spray adhesive or with needle or thread. Regardless of the quilting method, whether by hand or machine the purpose of basting is the same, to keep the three layers together in a smooth way so that the quilt can be quilted in a frame or the machine without puckers or wrinkles.

The most important step before basting a quilt is to make sure the two fabric layers of the sandwich, the top and the backing are perfectly smooth and wrinkle-free. Press your top one last time, remove threads that can create shadows that could be seen from the front -like the ones created by dark threads behind a light colored fabric) and press your backing fabric. Regarding the batting, if you purchase batting in a package, open the package a day or so before you intend on basting your quilt to allow the fibers to relax and fluff up.

To baste a quilt, you will need a large flat surface. A quilt can be quilted on the floor, over utility tables, on a piece of plywood or on any other flat surface. The choice depends largely on the size of the quilt and the ability of the quilter to possibly have to spend a few hours bending down or kneeling. If health issues prevent it, a quilt can be sent out to be basted on a commercial machine.

Once the layers are prepared and the flat surface clean, lay the backing wrong side up and pin it or tape it to it. Office clamps (bulldog clips), masking tape or tacks can be used to keep the backing taut and wrinkle free. The backing needs to be cut larger than the quilt top by a good four inches all around. Use tape or tacks every few inches on all sides of the quilt. It needs to be taut.

The next step is to lay the batting down over the backing. Again, make sure there are no wrinkles and tape it or tack it to the work surface. The batting also needs to be cut larger than the quilt top. If you use a quilt with scrim, lay the scrim side face down. Finally, lay the quilt top over the batting. From this point, you will have to decide which basting method you will use to hold the layers together.

Basting with Safety Pins

Probably the most used method because it is relatively fast and after the initial expense of purchasing the safety pins, they can be saved and reused time and time again. It works for small to large quilts and for either machine or hand bastingquilted. Rust proof safety pins, either straight or curved are used to pin the three layers together at regular intervals, starting in the center and working towards the edges. The pins need to be placed about four inches apart. Another advantage of safety pin basting is that when the quilt is quilted, it’s easy to remove the safety pins. Use safety pins that are one to one and a half inches long and rust-proof.
Plastic tacks are also available for basting. A basting gun holds these tacks and shoot them out when the trigger is pulled. The main disadvantage is the size of the needle that shoots the tacks out often times leaves holes in the fabric. Even though it is a fast way to baste a quilt, the tacks don’t always hold the three layers securely enough.

Basting with Spray Adhesive

A spray adhesive can be used to baste the quilt layers together providing a temporary hold. Works for any size quilt and provided the spray is applied very lightly, it can be used for both holding quilts that will be machine or hand quilted. Always use the adhesive spray in a very well ventilated area, as the fumes can cause headaches. The main disadvantages are the expense of a can of adhesive and the fact that if applied too heavily, the glue can gum up the needles making it hard to hand quilt.
To baste with spray adhesive, prepare the backing, lay the batting on top. Roll back one half of the batting, spray lightly with the adhesive and lay the backing down, smoothing wrinkles. Repeat with the other half of the quilt. Then lay the top, and repeat, spraying the top half of the backing, smoothing the top over it, and then the other half of the quilt. If the quilt is large, it might be useful to procure a cardboard mailing tube and roll the quilt on it, unrolling smaller sections to glue a little at the time.

Needle and Thread Basting

The traditional way to baste a quilt is with needle and thread. It is time consuming, but it holds the layers securely bastingtogether and there is very little damage to the fabric. All that’s needed is white basting cotton thread (a cotton thread that’s very loosely twisted and easy to break) and a curved basting needle or a long needle. Cut lengths of thread that are as long as the quilt is and start basting with long stitches, about one or one and a half inches starting at the center and working towards the sides. The quilt needs to be basted about every four inches and the basting stitches need to be placed from top to bottom and from right to left, creating a grid. Baste all the way to the very outer edge.


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