Thursday, August 24, 2017

Layering a Quilt -- another viewpoint

Layering quilts is not one of my favorite pastimes!
But it's a necessity if one wants to finish quilts, so I try to make it as pleasant as possible.
That means not doing it on the floor!

My approach is based on what I learned from Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of my longtime mentors, thirty-plus years ago.
I use a single table -- size doesn't matter.
When I had the shop, I worked with a larger table but this 2 foot by 4 foot table is light weight and easy for me to handle alone.  It's important that the table have either a scratch proof surface or is one that you don't care about scratching.
I have a couple of these tables, one of which has "expandable" legs that bring the table up to a comfortable standing work height, but a set of "bed lifts" (shown here) will accomplish the same thing. 
"+" marks the spot!
This is the center of the table -- marked here with a sticker -- this first step is always helpful but especially important when working solo.
After pressing the backing, I fold it into quarters with the right side out.
When laying it on the table, I match the center of the backing to the center of the table.
Then I begin to unfold it -- halfway.
And completely open.
Because I folded it with the right side out, it is correct when I unfold it and there is no wrestling with it trying to get it flat and centered.
You can use 1" or larger binder clips (from the office supply) at this point to hold the backing taunt, but my clips don't work on this table.
Don't worry, I'm going to take that into account before pinning -- keep reading.
The batting is also folded into quarters -- you can't see the "dot" I put on the wrong side of the backing fabric, but it's there to guide me in placing the batting.
I'm working with batting off a roll so there aren't any contrary folds to fight.  If you are working with a batting out of a package (how long has it been living in there?) try putting it into the dryer for 5 minutes on a low setting to relax most of the folds out of the batting -- worth the extra time!!
Same process -- unfold the batting into position.
Once the batting is opened up completely, it saves time to check and be sure that the backing and the batting are evenly aligned up on all four sides.  There is nothing more infuriating that discovering the backing is an inch short after you've started pinning!!
Here you can see the dot I put on the batting to help center the quilt top.
When I finish pressing the quilt top, I fold it into quarters with the wrong side out.
Not as pretty, but it is easy to position and simply unfold onto the top of the quilt sandwich!
Once again, take the time to be sure everything is aligned.  
I've learned not to assume the quarter folding process keeps everything as it should be.
And here I am -- all three layers in position -- backing and batting are evenly distributed.
Time to baste?
One more step.  
(It was a challenge to get a good picture of this step so if my explanation isn't clear, say so!!)
In the picture below, I have my left hand pressing down on top of the sandwich at the center of the table.
With my right hand, I'm taking hold of just the backing and giving it a tug.
If there are any pleats, wrinkles, etc. in the backing -- they pull right out.
I work my way along the entire side in approximately 8" intervals and around all four sides of the quilt.
Once you've done this, the weight of the quilt hanging over the edge of that table does a good job of keeping everything smooth.
Now I can baste!
I pin baste using 1" safety pins.
When they aren't working in a quilt, they live in a little tub -- open.
Yes, they get a little tangled up but I find that less aggravating than having to open a couple hundred pins.  
Now I think this is the deal breaker!
Let the table "push" the pin back up to the top -- don't lift the fabric -- and leave all the pins open like this until the entire quilt is pin basted.
You may not realize that in the process of closing a pin, we lift the quilt sandwich slightly.
(Go try it -- I'll wait.)
That lifting can cause a shift in the backing fabric.
And those little shifts can lead to a rumpled backing.
If you wait to close the pins until they are all inserted, you can move the sandwich around as much as you want and the backing isn't going to budge!
Now the fun begins -- pinning.
(Cue the movie or the book on tape, please.)
Once a section is pinned (but no pin closing yet), I pull the hanging part of the quilt up onto the table.
There will be rumples.
Smooth them out and then repeat the backing tugging process before you continue to pin.
Mary Ellen advised pinning a "fist" apart in a grid -- that is about 3" to 4" between pins -- and after 25 years of pin basting, I've found that to be a good guideline.  On a big quilt, that might be 400 pins.  It is a lot of pins but needing them for the next quilt means I'm more inclined to finish the quilting so I can use those pins.
Here's the back of my quilt -- pretty smooth.
Another UFO ready to quilt!
And I'm not crippled up from crawling around on the floor basting or pinning!
So to review, the important points!
1.  Fold the layers for easy unfolding to minimize wrestling.
2. Mark the center of everything for easy alignment.
3. Check alignment before basting!!
4. Tug the backing smooth before basting.
5. Use a 3" to 4" interval for pin basting.
6. Leave the pins open until all are in place -- don't cheat!!

So there you go. 
What do you think?
I hope some of my tips help make your layering process easier.
It's so important to do this step well but it's so tedious that it's easy to go too fast.
Perhaps you'll have time to baste up one of your UFO's this weekend and give it a try!

Almost forgot -- the quilt featured is my first merger of batiks and florals done back near the turn of the century (-; when Karla Alexander's book, Stack A Deck, was first published!!


Linking up today at WHOOP, WHOOP


  1. That's a fantastic tutorial on pin basting! I'll definitely bookmark and come back to this. Thank you for sharing! Andrea

  2. Oh my goodness, I love those tips! Thanks for writing this tutorial, Mary!

  3. I baste on a table, too, and use tablecloth weights from the dollar store to hold the backing in place. I bought a bunch and put them all around the edge of the backing. I'll have to try your method! One less step...thank you!

  4. Ah yes, I remember the stiffness from crawling about the floor while basting a quilt. Great advice. Maybe I will have to buy a cheap folding table for next time.

  5. Thank you so much for the help! I'm disabled and can't stand unaided any more, and the floor?.......bwahahaha! Your tips and pics are terrific, I hope to be able to use them soon.

    xo Linda

  6. Excellent tutorial. Very clear. I like the quilt, too.

  7. I love making quilt tops, but sandwiching and finishing is another story! I love your tips. I was just thinking of trying just one table this morning. I only have 13 tops to finish making into quilts.