Sunday, June 12, 2011


A long time ago, I promised a tutorial for basting a quilt sandwich that does not involve straight pins, safety pins or crawling around on the floor (so hard on the knees)!  This method is based, roughly, on Sharon Schambers method but minus the big boards.  (I searched for the video, but couldn't find it, sorry!)   I couldn't figure out where to get boards big enough or where I would store them if I did.  And did you ever try to find a straight board nowadays?  None of them are straight!  So, without further ado, here is how I do it!

Just to let you know, I work on a six foot folding table on risers (you know, the kind they sell for dorm rooms).  When I first tried this, I was working on a small four foot table (no risers) and basting a queen size quilt (Tesselated Wedding) and this method worked.  (I am going out on a limb here when I say this should work for any size quilt on any size table.)  Here we go!

First, prepare your quilt top, backing and batting. Press them all well and then fold in half, lengthwise, and press a crease down the center. Be sure this crease is straight, on grain, and very sharp. This will be your registration mark. Lay them on the table and fold/roll them from the bottom to top.

Batting - I use Warm & White or Warm & Natural.  Fabric "sticks" to this.  My design wall is composed of this batting!  See the crease?
 Backing - Plain white muslin, but any cotton backing, even pieced backing, will work.
Quilt top - The crease is pressed in but happens to run right along a seam.  No problem, use the seam instead of a crease.
Set aside the top, we will deal with that later.  Essentially, you will be basting this top twice.  I know that seems like a lot, but really, it doesn't take that much longer and the results are so worth it.  No pins to stick you, or safety pins to close and then open, and no aching knees or back.

Lay the batting flat on the table with the center crease in the middle and the folded portion in front of you.  Smooth it out, nice and flat.  No ripples or creases.  Now, lay the backing on top of the batting, right side up, lining up that crease dead on.  The top of the backing can be even with the batting, inside the batting or larger than the batting - it doesn't matter as long as that middle crease is lined up.  Since I am sure you have sandwiched quilts before, do what you are comfortable with.   (excuse the dangling participle, please)
Unroll the backing and lay the folded part on top of the folded batting.  Now, start smoothing and flattening.  Make use of the batting's tendency to grab and hold the fabric.  Keep the crease in the center of the table and the crease in the backing and batting lined up.  Smooth down as far as you can to the rolled materials.  FLAT, FLAT, FLAT - SMOOTH, SMOOTH, SMOOTH.  Now you are ready to start basting.
Pull out all those long, big-eyed needles that I know you all have.  The ones that come in the multi-packs that you bought before you knew any better?  Now you have a use for them.  Here are mine!
Choose a contrasting thread - one that you can't miss!  Use up all those partial bobbins, ends of spools or cheap thread you can't use for anything else.  Those 5 for $1.00 spools?  If you have any, use those.  (You may even decide to buy some next time, specifically for basting, LOL.)  Pull out a looonnnggg piece of thread, thread the needle and tie both ends together with a big knot.   I put the spool on my sewing machine spindle and pull two arms length of thread.
Use a tailor's basting stitch, start at the top and baste down right along the crease through the backing and batting.  Baste only that portion that is flat and smooth - down, usually, about two to three inches from the folded fabrics.   Don't pull the stitches tight, just let them lay on top of the fabric.  You don't want any tucks or bunches - keep it all relaxed.  The length of your stitches is up to you.  I fall into a rhythm and find my stitches usually end up about three inches long.  You may use a shorter stitch or a longer stitch - whatever is comfortable for you.  You won't use all the thread.  When you get to the bottom of the prepared portion, just slip the needle in as shown.
Thread another needle the same way.  Move over to the left or right of the center, doesn't matter, about six inches and repeat.  End the same way.  Thread another needle.  Move to the other side of the center and repeat.  Work this way across the top of the sandwich, switching from one side to the other.  If the backing and batting are larger than your table (mine usually are), baste only as far as the sandwich is flat and smooth.  Don't worry about the ends yet.  Here is what it should look like after the first rows are finished.  The red pin is the center basting line.  Here is the left side.
Here is the right side.
See all the needles?  All nice, flat and smooth!  You have, effectively, turned your batting and backing into one piece of fabric.  Now push the basted portion off the top of the table so the needles are two to three inches from the table end. 
Unroll the folded batting and smooth it down just as you did at the start. Do the same with the backing, making sure your center creases are matched up. Smooth down and out from the center so everything is flat and smooth. Start with your center needle and baste down towards the folds. Work from left to right of center - back and forth - until you get to the ends of the threads.

Don't worry if the lengths are uneven.  This actually helps.
Leave the needles in place, move everything up again, smooth and flatten the batting and backing.  Starting with the center needle, clip the thread leaving a tail.  Rethread that needle, same way, tie a big knot and start another line of basting stitches.
Work the same as the start.  Rethreading each needle as you go along.
Until you reach the bottom.  Clip your threads.  This portion is done.  Now you can address the sides.  Roll/fold the basted backing and batting back to the top and move it over, right or left, doesn't matter and repeat the process down the sides.  You can either work one side and then the other or move the entire roll back and forth.  One or two extra stitch lines are all you will need.
Oops, forgot to take a picture of the end.  I needed one more line of basting on each end.  It ran pretty much down the center of the open space.  Your batting and backing are now joined.  Nice and smooth and flat.  The batting grabs the fabric and the basting keeps everything in place. 

How does your back feel?  Knees OK?  Any questions?  Tomorrow we'll deal with the top.

Love from Liri


  1. Great tutorial! Your end result thus far looks better to me than what I did with the boards. (See my March 8, 2010, post.) However, I should tell you that my basting with pearl cotton that day is STILL holding my Stack and Whack together, as good tonight as the day I did it. But I think your method will be easier and much more flat and smooth! My sad story is that I think I'm going to have to remove all that basting and take my quilt top to my quilter to ever get it finished! I don't think I can do it myself! I think I'll try your method on something smaller! Thanks for all the details; can't wait for the second part! ---"Love"

  2. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I'll give it a try.

  3. This sounds much easier than trying to get this stretched flat on the floor , my knees are not the best anyway so this will be a huge help . Thanks so much for the great tutorial !!
    hugs SHeila

  4. My back and knees thank you. Great tutorial.

  5. Hi Liri,

    Sharon's videos you are looking for are on YouTube. This is part 1.


  6. Thanks, Liri. I do have a couple of quilts that need to be finished. I hate sandwiching them, probably the reason they are still. I will try your method. Connie204