How to Baste a Quilt

How-to-Baste-a-Quilt

This tutorial will show you 3 different ways to baste a quilt, but first let’s begin with a quick attitude check for those who need it. Growing up I lived across the street from a retired military man and he would say, "AC, Suzy." He was never one to elaborate, but I knew what he meant. I was mouthing off about something and needed to be reminded to attitude check myself.  Not what a 13 year old girl wants to hear, but I deviate...basting!

Let's talk about basting! Now I'm a 31 year old girl and I'm trying to learn my lesson about having a good attitude. Basting is great! It’s fun and not boring! Basting isn’t tedious at all and your fingers and back will feel great the whole time! Quilt sandwiches are just as amazing and delicious as real sandwiches! You can even practice your Quilt Yoga™ (trademark pending) while doing it. For those who watch my IG stories, you've already seen some of my special poses.

CRAFTSY-Class-Fabric Play

But let's be real here for a second. Basting is not my favorite part of quilting. But it has to be done, and it has to be done well. The good news is, when it comes to basting, you have some options. Though I have a strong preference for a certain method (cough pin basting cough), we’ll talk about basting three different ways, as well as some tips and tricks. The other good news is, we’re all in this together! Join my Basting Support Group, and read on.

Oliso Smart Iron
baste-a-quilt-tutorial

How to Baste a Quilt: Becoming a [Quilt] Sandwich Artist

No matter how you baste a quilt, you have to create your quilt sandwich first. The “quilt sandwich” is the winning combo of backing fabric, batting, and your pieced quilt that make up your finished product. Layering them and getting them ready to be bound forever in quilt matrimony is a reeeallly important step. Different quilters have different ways of doing it, but here’s MY way (AKA the coolest way). You can read more about my basting and quilting process in this article: How to Machine Quilt.

  1. Lay the backing fabric on the floor with the BACK of the fabric facing UP (that means the printed or right side of the fabric is facing the floor. If you are using a solid fabric, each side is reversible, so you’re good!)
  2. Starting with one side, use thick painter’s tape to stick one side of the backing to the floor. Jump to the opposite side of the fabric and tape the other side to the floor. I emphasize thick tape because below you can see what a disaster using thin tape can me. I ended up using waaay too much, wasting tons of tape to still do a mediocre job basting.
  3. Tape all sides of the backing to the floor, making sure to smooth out all of the wrinkles.
  4. Place the batting on top of the backing fabric and trim it to fit. They should be roughly the same size. (They both just need to be a few inches larger on all sides than the quilt top.)
  5. Use scissors to trim long stray threads.
  6. Smooth out the pieced quilt on top of the other two layers.
quilt-basting-supplies

Below is the tape disaster I mentioned earlier that can happen if your tape is too thin. Try to use tape that is at least 2-inches thick. If you can fit your quilt sandwich on a table, clamps are also a good, eco-friendly way to keep the backing in place.

Quilt basting supplies

Tips for Quilt Sandwich Making

  • If you have a pet, it’s not a bad idea to lint roll the back of your quilt top.
  • When making your sandwich, the key ingredient is to pull your fabric so that it is taut, but not stretched. Let me say that again: TAUT BUT NOT STRETCHED.
  • If you’re finding that painter’s tape just isn’t strong enough on the surface you’re working on, switch to masking tape. Same properties, just a little stronger.
Online Quilting Class

Now, You’re Ready to Baste:
It’s Your Party, You Can Baste How You Want To

Pin-Baste-Quilt

How to Pin Baste a Quilt

If I’m basting a quilt, I’m pin basting. Basically, if you choose to baste with pins, you’re signing up for some good quality time with your safety pin crew. To make sure you hold that sandwich in place, you are going to want to place a pin at least every four inches in rows throughout the quilt.

Want to test your placement? Randomly lay the palm of your hand on your quilt. No matter where you’re giving your quilt a high-five, your hand should be touching two pins. Yeah, I know it’s a lot of pins (I’ve basted a quilt a few times in my day…) but there are a few things you can do to make this pin party a little easier:

Pin Basting Tricks and Tips

  • Store all your pins in a box, and LEAVE THEM ALL OPEN. You have to open them up to remove them from your quilt, right? And you need to open them up to use them on the next quilt, right? SO DON’T CLOSE HUNDREDS OF TINY PINS FOR NO REASON. (End Rant.)
  • Do you have a tile floor somewhere? You can use the lines on a tile floor to keep your layers straight and centered.
  • There’s this magical wand called Kwik Klip if you want to save your fingers a little wear and tear while closing all those safety pins: Is it basically a screw on the end of a wooden stick? Yes. Does it work? You bet.
Kwick-Klip

How to Spray Baste a Quilt

Spray basters use a product like this to temporarily stick the layers of their sandwich together long enough to quilt them up. I personally do not like spray basting for a few reasons:

  1. It's messy: No matter how careful I am, I get spray speckles everywhere – the floor, the walls, my furniture, my clothes, Scrappy – everywhere. And because the spray is sticky it's really hard to clean up.
  2. It shifts: Even quilting with a walking foot, my quilt sandwich shifts and puckers if spray basting is the only way I baste. You can probably get away with it if you're only quilting simple straight lines, but if you are rotating or sewing an intricate pattern, that much movement can cause the quilt layers to twist and move.
  3. It's expensive*: A single can of basting spray can cost almost $20 – and that adds up! *The exception to this is if you make your own basting spray. There are various recipes online if you do a quick search. This homemade basting spray recipe comes from String & Story along with her tips for using it. 
basting-spray

One major advantage to spray basting? You can do it on a design wall (which is a great way to not spend time on your hands and knees on the floor.)

One reminder with spray basting – you have to spray baste both the backing and the top to the batting. If you forget and only spray baste the top to the batting, guess what? Major bunching and shifting at the machine.


How to Baste a Quilt with Boards

This method is impressive, and tricky, and also gets you off the floor and into your favorite comfy chair (as long as it fits next to a nicely sized table). This video shows you how to use two boards to keep your sandwich layers set for quilting. Some people use this method with safety pins (instead of thread basting, which is featured in this video) mostly because the aftermath is less messy and it's probably a bit faster.

Skip to 4 minutes into the video if you're a little ADD like me.

The more you baste, the faster you get, so if you’re still working on your personal attitude adjustment, don’t worry! It gets better! (Little secret between you and me...I kinda like basting. Shhhhh.)

Do you have a favorite method of basting a quilt? Let us know about it in the comments!

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31 thoughts on “How to Baste a Quilt

  1. April says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a very large kitchen island that works perfectly for basting quilts as long as it’s throw size or smaller, so I don’t have to use the floor anymore. Also, amen to the kwik klip! It’s one of my very favorite quilting tools.

  2. Holly Bruce says:

    My favorite method is exactly yours. I have thick carpet, and no large tile area, so 2 inch wide packaging tape works for me. And, thank you for that tip about not closing the pins when I’m not using them. What was I thinking?!

  3. Michelle says:

    Hi Suzy,
    Great tips! We have carpet, not floorboards, so instead of tape I use straight pins to hold my backing fabric down. I just push the pin down through the fabric, and then angle it under a little under the fabric. Works great!
    I like to do a light spray baste then pin!
    I’m loving that purple and mustard triangle quilt – which pattern is that, please?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I wouldn’t have thought about using carpet as a basting advantage, but I totally see how it is! This lavender and mustard pattern is a free pattern that will soon be released on Bernina’s blog as a fun collaboration between us. I’ll post a link to it on social media and through the newsletter once it’s available. Thanks for the interest!

  4. christa Watson says:

    Great roundup of ideas! The key to prevent shifting when using basting spray is to iron the quilt on both sides after it’s spray basted. Then every inch of the quilt is stuck to every other inch and there’s no shifting. You can also spray the backside of the layers separately and then bring them inside to assemble. That way you don’t have to worry about the overspray 🙂

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Genius! C-baby, now that you say it, I can’t believe it never occurred to me! Ironing! I’m still not convinced I could spray outside with the Chicago winds blowing, but maybe I’ll test this out on a small project. Thanks so much for the tips!

  5. Julie says:

    I pin baste just like you do and love my kwik klip!! I’ve also started using my brother’s old Volleyball kneepads and that has helped my basting attitude tremendously!

  6. Tara says:

    I’m lucky enough to be able to use the boardroom table at work. I bought some cheap clamps and it’s a piece of cake to whizz around the table on a wheely chair – no bending or kneeling necessary!

  7. valerie says:

    I dont prefer the safety pin method, they left holes in my quilt and were in the way when i started quilting…. im interested in the last method you showed. Have you tried that one? What were your thoughts about that one? Any cons? Takes longer maybe?

  8. Terri says:

    Suzy! I’m so happy you included board basting in your how-to! It’s my new-found way to baste and I love it. I’m a mold-breaker in one way, but traditional in others. At 55 years old, I don’t WANT to crawl around on the floor to baste my quilts anymore. But at 55 years old I purchase patterns online and watch a lot of Instagram stories (thanks for always making me smile with yours!). Your Webpage is my go-to for all things quilty. Thank you so much for all you do! xo

    PS…I live in Texas, but am headed back to the Chicago area for a few weeks. I’d love to know if you have any “appearances” scheduled in the area! Thanks!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hey Terri! I just had my last scheduled trunk show in the Chicago area for 2017. I do plan on being at QuilCon in Pasadena this up coming February, though. Maybe we’ll catch each other there! xo

  9. Izzy says:

    Great post! Thank you. I use the board method and I use thread to baste the layers together. If you’re going to be basting big quilts though, you do need a pretty big table. I’ve been using this method for a couple of years now and I’m getting super fast. I don’t have problems with puckers and I love that I don’t have pins to worry about when I’m quilting.

  10. Shannon says:

    I’m a pin baster too! Although, unlike you, it’s still my least favourite step in the quilting journey 😉 Podcasts and music do make it somewhat more enjoyable!

    I’ve been meaning to give spray basting a go, but have been worried about getting that stuff everywhere, and the fumes in the winter (-20 is not ideal for having windows open for any stretch of time!)…so, you’re points on why you don’t like it totally hit home with me! I think I’ll stick with pin basting.

    Which leads to me ask…how do you avoid scratching your wooden floors while pin basting?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Scratching my floors is something I’ve always been really aware of, however, I’ve yet for it to happen once…and I’m not that careful and I baste A LOT. I think as long as you’re not throwing all of your weight into stabbing straight down through your quilt sandwich, your floors will be safe. I also think the angle of the movement and shallow scraping of the safety pin makes it hard to truly gouge wooden floors. Some wooden floors may be softer than others, thought, so I suppose how easily they can be scratched depends on your floor materials.

      Before basting an entire quilt on your dining room floor, you could do a little testing in the corner. Take one of your safety pins and scratch the floor lightly and then gradually harder. That way you can see at what point the floors are in danger.

  11. fitri says:

    oh dear, I try to read your tips until the end but your triangle quilts distracted me (in a good way , of course!) so when you going to release that pattern ? I’m dying now.. :p

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      It’s actually going to be a free pattern coming out soon – hopefully by mid-October! I will send out the link through my newsletter and on social media once it’s available. xoxo

  12. Jayna says:

    Let’s talk more about this “taut not tight” thing. I am thinking this might be why I tend to have little ripples next to my stitch lines. How do you know what’s too tight?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Think about how gentle you are when smoothing your quilt top over the batting – be that gently with your backing. With a quilt top, if you stretch it too tight you can see the seams pull and look stressed. Same thing with the backing. If you’re pulling it as tight as possible and taping that to the floor, chances are it’s too tight. Make sense?

  13. Beth says:

    I started board basting a couple of years ago and have never gone back to crawling around on the floor. I do use pins and the kwikclip tool to save my fingers and fingernails. I have used spray basting for small projects and I really hate the smell so I’m pretty sure I will never baste a larger quilt that way.

  14. Nicole says:

    I think I’m ready to try basting with pins! Any recommendations on size? like 27mm or 37mm? Do you think I’ll need more than 100 pins for a double quilt?
    Thanks so much !

  15. Kelsey says:

    I’m a 100% quilting virgin, so don’t have a favorite basting method, but the pin basting looks like the easiest to me. I’m definitely bookmarking this post for when I decide to embark on my first quilt. and I’m so excited to finally know what a quilt sandwich is! 🙂

  16. M says:

    Hi Suzy!
    A few weeks ago The Quilt Show had a link to a You Tube video where a woman used pool noodles with dowels in them (instead of boards). Looked like it might work well. 🙂
    Indian Summer is my favorite of you patterns (so far!), so it was nice to see it pop up again. Although, really, choosing among your patterns is tough. Thanks for sharing your creativity and style with us.

  17. Elle Irby says:

    If you don’t have a Kwik Klip, a small metal crochet hook works like a charm. (I go back and forth on which I like better, so I tend to use both…maybe less hand fatigue by changing the size of the grip?). I’ve taken to pin-basting on the big tables at the library. That works great for baby quilts and throws, and it gives me a great chance to talk to people about quilts. I usually have my cow-fearing son (and husband) with me, so we pin baste in the kids section and lots of families want to learn more! I tried spray basting there by taping my batting down and then spraying my back outside, bringing it in and smoothing it down and then reversing, and I then pinned some over it just in case. I had forgotten what a difference ironing makes! And that pins get in the way of ironing(though I made it work)! But I had to do tons of turning because I had a minky back that didn’t want to slide, so I had to use my walking foot, and I did great…no puckers. Next I’ll have to try the board method, since I’ve got a lot of tops to be basted/quilted suddenly!

  18. Hannah says:

    I’ve been thinking about trying pin basting because spray basting is always a disaster 😩 But I’ve been straying away from it. I’m afraid once I start quilting I’ll have to stop every few seconds just to take a pin out! Or the pins will get in the way once I start outlining my quilting design with a water pin. Do you have this issue?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      That is one drawback with pin basting. If you have an intricate quilting design you will want to draw that on your quilt top before pin basting. I haven’t found it to be too bothersome to remove pins as I quilt. And you definitely don’t want to sew over them.

  19. Nicolette says:

    I have thread basted since my first quilt about 10 years ago and still prefer this method. I only have carpeted floors of which masking tape sticks quite well. But the body getting older and tired has made me baste only one way, horizontal about every 3″ and then my son comes and pin bastes in between every 4 – 5″ the other way. I do not like removing the safety pins while quilting but will rather have that than not enough basting.

  20. Karen Alexander says:

    NOT ON THE FLOOR! (unless you are very young!). I have a gateleg table, that the extra large black binder clips fit on the edges! So no tape or spray expense. Just binder clip the back to the table sides. If you have access to Folding tables – the kind with formica or 3/4′ wood tops, you are also in like flint! I do the quilt in sections. Securing the back, and floating the batting and top. Moving to the next area, clip back and repeat. Fancy quilts will be done with thread basting every 3 inches. More casual jobs get pins. Old rug hooks, or big crochet hooks work great to close pins. I like the medium sized curved pins.

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