Tutorial: Quilt Basting Basics (With video)
“Basting a quilt is my favorite part of the quilting process!” Said literally no one. Like no one ever!
Basting is a very necessary step in the quilting process, but it is tedious and can be physically demanding. The good news, however, is that all of your efforts when basting your quilt, come to fruit when you are quilting it.
If you’re anything like me, let this serve as your mantra when performing this task. I will sometimes think, “What is the fewest amount of pins I can get away with,” or “This looks good enough,” but for each time I’ve done that, I end up with a weird crease or tuck to my quilt backing or an unfortunate pucker in my quit top. Let my lessons serve as yours as well!
Be sure to scroll to the bottom for a video of the basting process as I baste a Claremont Quilt at my kitchen table.
Looking for the Claremont Quilt Pattern? Check it out here.
What’s a Quilt Sandwich?
Let’s begin with the basics…what are we even doing and what the heck is a quilt sandwich? A quilt is made of three main parts: The top (oh so pretty), the backing (also, very pretty), and the batting (the unsung hero that makes your quilt snuggling only to never be seen once your quilt is finished). A quilt sandwich is made when you prep the three parts for the quilting process (backing + batting + top = quilt sandwich).
As with most things in life and quilting, you have some options to choose from. This tutorial will walk you through pin basting on a table. I used to pin baste on the floor; however, we currently have a younger dog in the house that simply does not stand for this and insists on rolling around on anything placed on our floor.
In addition to pin basting you can also spray baste and glue baste. To spray baste, you will want to purchase a can of a spray baste from your local quilt or craft store. This is an adhesive spray specifically made for quilting and it will wash out of your finished quilt. I know many quilters who love this method; however, I have not had good luck with it. Each time I’ve attempted to spray baste a quilt, I’ve ended up with more fabric shifting during the quilting process than when I pin baste. I do, however, love spray basting when working on smaller projects like a quilted panel for a tote bag or pouch.
Glue basting is also what it sounds like. It is similar to spray basting, but you will use Elmer’s School Glue to keep your three layers in place. I really like glue basting for some piecing as well as for binding; however, it is not my favorite method when working with a large surface such as a finished quilt top.
Alas, as much as I dislike closing what feels like hundreds of pins, it really does give me the best final product.
Let’s Do This!
So, you have just spent hours finishing your beautiful quilt top (congratulations, BTW) and you’re ready to quilt it. Gather that gorgeous top, the backing that you’ve selected and pieced, your quilt batting, all of your safety pins, a large cutting ruler and let’s make a sandwich.
SIDE NOTE: Now, before I get into how I baste as my kitchen table, I used to do this on the floor and you definitely can as well. You will follow very similar steps, but your first step will be to place your backing fabric down (right side towards the ground) and then tape it to your floor, very taunt – then place your batting – and then place your quilt top (right side up).
If you’re basting as the kitchen table like I am, you’ll want to center your quilt back on your table, right side towards the table. Then, using your ruler, smooth out the backing so that there are no ripples or folds. Next, center your quilt batting over the backing and, again using your ruler, smooth out the batting.
Depending on the size of your quilt and table, you will likely have some hanging over the edges of your table, this is okay. We’ll start basting at the center of our quilt and will work outward.
Now, finally, center your quilt top (right side up) over your batting and backing and smooth out using your ruler working from the center. Then, beginning at the center, begin to safety pin your sandwich together placing pins every 3 inches or so.
IMPORTANT! Make sure that you are making it through all three layers of your quilt when pinning!
A quick note about your pins – this is another reason why people tend to dread the basting process. It can really cause your fingers to get sore! There are some tools out there to help with closing the pins and saving your finger tips and you can even use an old spoon for this. Personally, however, I also just find myself using my fingers.
Back to our basting – once you’ve pinned the surface area of your quilt that is on the table, you’ll want to pull and readjust so that a new work surface is available to you. Before pinning, be sure to use your ruler and smooth out all of the layers, working from the center and smoothing towards the outside of the quilt. Once smoothed, continue placing pins every 3 inches apart or so.
Continue to adjust, smooth, and pin until you have pins placed across the full surface of your quilt top! Be sure to stretch and put some lotion on your hands afterwards!!
You can watch me in action in this video. Real time, basting this quilt took me a little over a half hour. The video is sped up by approximately 4 times.
Now, have you decided how you are quilting that beauty??