Friday, November 15, 2013

Free Motion Quilting--Basting the Quilt

Virtual Quilting Bee

In conjunction with her Virtual Quilting Bee, Amy from Diary of a Quilter asked me to post a bit about how I go about quilting my quilts. I've made 80+ quilts and quilted all but one. The ability to free motion quilt (FMQ) my own quilts was honestly what got me hooked on quilting. I knew I couldn't afford to pay someone to long-arm my quilts for me. When I realized I could realistically do it myself, I became a quilter. My very first experiment with FMQ was an inexpensive sheet I cut in half, sandwiched with batting and just started stitching. It looked horrible! Fortunately, my ability to FMQ on a domestic machine has greatly improved since then.

The Quilt Sandwich
There are three main components to the quilt sandwich--simply the quilt top, back and batting.

The quilt top:
  • After piecing the quilt top, press well. I prefer to starch my project along the way and simply touch up any stubborn seams at this point with a little more starch. 
The batting:
  • I generally use Warm & White, Warm & Natural or Pellon Nature's Touch. I've been equally happy with all three products and my choice is generally influenced by what I have on hand or what is on sale. If my quilt has a significant amount of white fabric, I use Warm & White. I do not like using poly batting. I have tried a couple poly blends and still prefer the 100% cotton batting for my quilts. I always using batting in my quilts, even when backing with minky. I love the extra weight in a minky quilt. 
  • I cut my batting about 4" wider and 4" longer than the quilt. I don't like a significant amount of excess along the edges.
The backing:
  • For the backing I generally piece my leftovers from the front into a new, complimentary design for the back. I love using up what I have. I have also started using minky quite frequently. I actually design my throw quilts to fit a 2-yard piece of minky (quilt top size about 56" x 70"). 
  • Like the batting, I generally cut my backing about 4" wider and 4" taller than the quilt top.

The first step is basting. There are multiple ways to do this. For the sake of space, I'm just covering my personal technique today.

I baste my quilts on our kitchen floor. We have nearly indestructible laminate. I move the table out of the way and the chairs into the living room. If we had nicer wood floors I would probably need to find an alternative location for basting. I also have a friend who simply waits for a good day, sweeps her driveway and bastes on the concrete. Sometimes this step requires some creativity.

The two main methods for basting are spray basting with a product such as 505 or pin basting with safety pins. Either way generally works fine. I generally prefer spray basting because I quilt much more quickly since it doesn't require that I remove the pins as I go. The downside is the added chemicals (that supposedly wash out) and the added cost. Pin basting takes longer, but doesn't require the added spray.

First, tape down the backing. Use a heavy duty masking tape for this. In the particular quilt shown, I struggled keeping this minky taped down. In later photos you'll noticed I actually retaped with duct tape because it kept popping off. I first tape the corners. Next I tape the center of each side. Finally I add any additional pieces of tape to secure the sides and reduce the ripples. This will depend on your fabric and size of quilt.

Next spread out the batting. Remove all wrinkles if possible.

Package batting seems to have more stubborn wrinkles. Press these out if necessary to achieve a smooth, flat batting.

(If pin basting, skip this step). If spray basting, fold batting back to the center of the quilt. Lightly spray backing about 10" at a time, smoothing, and pressing batting down. Repeat until entire batting is fixed to batting.

Center and smooth quilt top on batting. If spray basting repeat process shown above.

When finished I like to roll my quilt tops to minimize stretching and pulling on the basting (whether pinned or sprayed).

When pin basting, place pins about 4" apart. I find it easier to close the pins after removing the quilt from the floor. I simply remove the tape, sit on the floor with the quilt on my lap and work through closing all the pins before moving or rolling the quilt. This means less time on my knees while basting, but it's also easier on my fingers, and I tend to poke myself less.

Now head onto the next post about the actual quilting!


  1. I'm a spray basting convert, and one of my favorite things about it is that after basting I can give the whole quilt another good press... I usually press it well from the front working in horizontal rows from the middle to one end, then from the middle to the other end. Then I flip it and press in vertical columns, again working from the middle out. I have not had one issue with pleats or tucks since I've been doing it this way. and I love working with such an impeccably smooth, flat surface! It also allows me to straighten/fudge any little issues from the piecing. (wish I could say that never happens- but it does!) thanks for your post, I appreciate seeing that even you have to rearrange the furniture to find a spot to baste!

  2. I quilted my first quilt and used spray basting. It was almost the size of a twin. I found that the layers started to separate or move around as I was working. Did I do something wrong? I basted mine on the deck.

  3. I spray and pin. Is that overkill? I would not mind to stop pinning.

  4. I love spray basting too! My set up is also on the kitchen hardwood floor. I don't have any problem removing the over-spray from my floor with soap and water. However, I recently found out that the manufacturer of 505 Spray and Fix makes a product called DK5 to remove the over-spray. Also, once I've spray basted my quilt, I also add machine basting all the way around the top (within 1/4" of the raw edge). This helps stabilize the part that gets "juggled" the most during FMQ.
    Julie @ The Crafty Quilter

  5. I use an old crochet hook to close my pins as I go. It saves time and my fingers!

  6. Is the "chopsticks and blocks" a quilt pattern that is available? I love it!