I had been hand basting, and had taught it to hundreds of students for almost 20 years when I read in a new book about machine quilting that you must never, ever hand baste for machine quilting. Huh!! What is more natural than using a needle and thread. The thought of opening and closing 500 safety pins is just not appealing. The first thing I do is tape my backing to my banquet tables. I am lucky to have the older, really sturdy tables that don’t dip in the middle like the new white lightweight ones do. Note: I did the basting on my hands and knees on a cement floor for many, many years before getting the tables.
Next I smooth the batting out on the backing.
Now the top is smoothed out and checked many times with rulers to be sure corners are not distorted and edges are straight. Note that the backing and batting are always larger than the quilt top by at least 1″. That is insurance in case the top grows a little in basting or quilting.
Most people who don’t like hand basting have simply used too short of a needle. These needles are 2.25″ long. The size 7 is sturdy but not too fat. I tried size 9 but snapped them in half all the time. I also use a lightweight thread, 60 weight, 2 ply so it will break when pulling it out (and it won’t break a quilting stitch). Your basting thread should always be weaker than your quilting thread. Some people use a grapefruit spoon with the little teeth to slide the needle onto as it comes out of the fabric (and to raise it up). With these long needles there is plenty of needle to get hold of to pull the stitch through the layers.
You will have to click on this photo to enlarge it see the stitching. I use a padding stitch instead of a running stitch. The running stitch allows the fabric to move back and forth on the stitch whereas the padding stitch holds it very securely. Each stitch is taken parallel to the last creating a diagonal thread on the surface. If you take your stitch diagonally the surface thread will be straight.
I have some people asking if my stitching doesn’t puncture the basting thread and my answer is that I would rather stitch through a thread than a safety pin.
I have to admit that a free motion quilting foot gets caught on the threads, but wait…..you stop and take out your safety pins in the area you will free motion, so do the same thing with the thread.
You can see the basting lines better in this photo from last year.
My basting rows are approximately 6-7″ apart, about the length from my thumb to little finger, so that is my measuring stick. If the pattern is 6″ blocks, then it is along the edge of every block, so sometimes I am able to just use the quilt pattern to gauge the distance. I never baste over the top of a seam where 2 blocks join, always to one side of it when I do a row of basting.
You always baste from the center out so find the center of the quilt and do one row to the top, one to the bottom, and one to each side. These are your center lines which all other basting will start from. When I am finished I have rows going both directions all over the quilt, in other words it looks like squares, or a plaid. Your basting rows are your guide when quilting to see whether the top is moving. If, as you approach a basting row, the top starts humping up, you know you have to ease it in before you reach the basting row.
This post probably didn’t interest about 75% of you, those who send out all of your quilts to be quilted by others, and those who use a longarm, since you don’t have to baste for that. I do a lot of ditch quilting, which I love to do, and I do it on my regular machines. See this post for all of my machines that I quilt with.