So you’ve got your top, batting and backing (which are both bigger than your top), and now you need to join it all together. Today we’re going to look at the terms used in the next step in the process, basting.

What Is Basting?

Basting is where you temporarily hold the top, batting and backing together to enable you to carry out the actual quilting of your quilt. Its specific purpose is to hold everything together in such a way that none of the layers shift about during the quilting process, bearing in mind that if you are using a domestic sewing machine for that, the whole lot is going to get pulled and shoved about a lot while it’s under the needle, and will be scrunched through the throat/harp space of the machine (the bit between the needle and the upright on the main body of the machine). Once everything is basted, it’s generally referred to as a quilt sandwich.

Before basting, the top and backing should be pressed, with all seams lying flat and any loose threads removed. Except for the long arm basting, your backing should be spread out on a flat surface, wrong sides up. Your batting is placed on top of your backing, and then the quilt top on top of that, right sides up. As for how to baste it, there are several options:

Thread Basting

This is a traditional method of basting where large tacking stitches are inserted through all 3 layers at regular intervals in a straight stitch in a grid or in a herringbone formation. It is especially useful for hand quilters, as they can lug their quilts around with them without fear of pins catching or needles getting stuck in glue.

Here’s an example of how to do the herringbone formation:

Some long armers now offer a thread basting service to make things easier on your backs/knees!

Pin Basting

This is the first option which I teach to beginners, and uses bent safety pins (no, not quite the size of nappy pins!) The bend in the pin allows you to insert it down through your three layers and then come back up again without twisting things out of shape. The upside to pin basting is that pins are fairly cheap and reusable, as well as being readily available. The downside is that the pins themselves can ocassionally catch on things as you wrestle your quilt through the machine, and you can’t sew over a pin (well you can, but you only ever want to have to spend the time trying to disentangle your quilting from a pin once in your life. Trust me). They can be quite hard on your fingernails too, but there are some tools that have emerged to help you to close your pins without wearing a groove in your nail, such as the Kwik Klip.

Tack Basting

This uses a little tool like the one used to attach those plastic tags to clothes, except that they’re very short and only go through the layers of your quilt. If you are machine quilting you need to be careful not to sew over one, and it’s really not environmentally friendly with all those wee bits of plastic, but it does seem to work (I should clarify that I have never used one)

Spray Basting

This is my favoured method of basting for quilting on domestic machines, as the temporary adhesive used holds everything nicely in place during quilting before being washing out after the quilt is complete. The upside to spraying is that you can sew without having to stop to remove anything either during or after quilting, which is what makes it win for me every time. The downside is that it can be an irritant if inhaled too much during the actual spraying (I use a cheap decorater’s mask from the local DIY shop) and as it’s not reusable it’s not hugely cheap (although considerably less than everything else you’ve spent money on making your quilt, it’s still by far the cheapest thing!)

Basting For Long Arms

Long arms are set up in a completely different way to a domestic machine, and in fact there is no specific basting step when using a long arm, instead, the backing, batting and top are rolled onto rollers on the frame. Usually the backing is done first, then once it’s taught, the batting is added, and finally the top. The tension on the frame keeps everything in place during quilting, negating the requirement for any of the previously mentioned basting techniques.