Tips

Quilt Basting Tips and Tricks

Hello and if this is your first time visiting my blog, welcome! I’m Yvonne and my blog and business name is Quilting Jetgirl which is a blend between my current profession (I am a quilt pattern designer and technical editor for the quilting industry) and my former professional career as an aerospace engineer.

Today I’m going to be giving all my quilt basting tips and tricks AND sharing all of the steps I take after piecing a quilt top to prepare for quilting. I personally quilt on my domestic Juki TL-2200 QVP Mini, which has a throat space of approximately 8¾” wide by 5¾” tall. Due to my husband and I having a combination of chemical and smell sensitivities, I pin baste my quilts. I know that pin basting is not for everyone for many reasons, so I’m going to make sure this post has a lot of additional information in it, and my hope is that you will find something new to add to your quilting toolkit.

All of the links in this post will be links to other tips, tutorials, and posts on my own blog or for non-affiliate links to some of my favorite notions.

Take a Victory Lap!

Victory Lap and Basting - Sequenced (Sesen Bonus Quilt)

Victory Lap and Basting – Sequenced (Sesen Bonus Quilt)

After piecing most of my quilt tops, I choose to sew a “victory lap” by stitching ⅛” from the raw edge of the quilt all the way around the perimeter before basting the quilt. In the photograph of Sequenced above, I’ve drawn a box around the edge of the quilt top and inside that red box you can probably faintly make out the victory lap stitching; I used purple thread to match the background fabric so it is difficult to see. This additional perimeter stitching serves many purposes:

  • If, like me, you prefer to press your seams open, the victory lap helps stabilize the seams and keep them from popping open while you handle the quilt top for basting and quilting.
  • If you have a backlog of quilt tops to be quilted, the victory lap ensures your seams and quilt top will remain tidy no matter how many times you fold and unfold the quilt top.
  • If you like to take your quilt tops outside for photography, you may have noticed how even seams that are pressed to the side can be abused when quilts get caught and flap in the breeze. The victory lap can help keep those seams from needing extensive repairs!
  • If the quilt top has any bias edges on the outside, the victory lap is especially important to provide stabilization to keep the quilt top flat.

Terminology Credit: I first heard the term victory lap from Christa Watson who also talks a lot about adding this stabilizing stitching around the perimeter of her pieced quilt tops.

Create a Quilting Plan

Sequenced Quilt Quilting Plan

Sequenced Quilt Quilting Plan

I talk a lot about coming up with my quilting plans, and I think it’s an important part of the process that should be at least roughly considered before basting a quilt top (more on why I think this is important in a few more sections!). As a quilt pattern designer, I try to make sure that my patterns offer coloring pages not just so that quilters can audition their fabric selections, but so that they can doodle out different quilting ideas. I also offer my quilt pattern coloring pages as images so that they can be saved digitally and brought into apps (like Procreate) or programs (like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator) to digitally mockup quilting plans.

To read more about my thought process and see timelapse videos of me doodling out some recent quilting plans, you can check out these recent quilting plan blog posts:

Give Final Press and Trim Loose Threads

Trim Loose Threads - Digital Wave Table Runner

Trim Loose Threads – Digital Wave Table Runner

When I am ready to baste a quilt, I give my quilt top a final good press and trim loose threads. Not all quilts need to have all loose threads trimmed, but when I was preparing the blocks for my Digital Wave Table Runner, I didn’t want any of the bold red or blue threads to show up behind the light cream fabric, so I took the time to trim the long threads that might show through to the front of the quilt.

There are still plenty of times when I’ve been quilting a quilt and seen a dark thread show through behind a lighter fabric as I am quilting. Not to worry, there are tools to help. I personally use a Thread Pic to help remove the threads from quilted areas.

Mark Quilting Reference Lines

Garden Peony - Marking

Garden Peony – Marking

Because I use a Hera marker to mark my quilting lines, once my quilt top is pressed, I immediately layer it on top of the batting that will be used in the quilt sandwich. Then I place the batting and quilt top on top of a hard surface (table top or floor) and mark out all of my needed reference quilting lines based on my quilting plan. The batting allows the quilt top to flex a bit and the hard surface lets the Hera marker do its job and create a nice, strong crease that is pretty long lasting.

Marked Quilting Lines - Meringue

Marked Quilting Lines – Meringue

I often get asked how long the Hera marked lines last. The honest truth is that as long as I have marked the lines with the batting under the quilt top and against a hard surface, the lines have always lasted as long as I have needed them, even when my quilting plan has me rotating the quilt top through my throat space repeatedly. However, the creases left by a Hera marker can be hard to see, especially when it is used to mark lines on prints.

In order to see the marked reference lines made with the Hera marker, I turn off the additional LED lighting that I added to the throat space of my machine and set up a standing floor lamp to cast light at an angle across the quilt top. Direct overhead lighting can really wash out the creased lines a Hera marker makes, and angled side lighting helps bring them into sharp relief. Want to see this suggestion in action? Be sure to check out my Tips for Using a Hera Marker {Video Tutorial}.

Pin Basting Tips

Regardless of the tools you use to mark your reference lines, when the reference lines are marked, layer your batting and quilt top together. Trim the batting to be a few inches larger than the quilt top around all four sides, and then gently fold the batting and quilt top starting from the bottom, to make a roughly 8-12″ high by width of quilt top rectangle and gently place this aside. Then prepare (if needed) and final press your quilt backing.

Prepare Backing

Prepare Backing

On the surface of your choosing (table, floor, etc.), lay out your backing, wrong side up. Starting in the center of each side, tape or clamp the backing fabric to the surface you are using. Then work your way around the edges of the quilt backing to get the backing nice and flat. I took this intermediate step photograph to show the natural wrinkles in the quilt backing that I worked to remove in this step when I was basting my Meringue quilt.

TIP: I use Scotch green tape for hard-to-stick surfaces to tack my backings to the floor. I have had the most success with this tape staying connected to all kinds of fabrics. If you are struggling to get your tape to remain stuck to your fabric, consider using a lint roller around the edges to help remove any additional lint or fabric dust and see if that helps your tape adhere better.

Prepare Backing

Prepare Backing

The goal of this step is to get the backing flat and wrinkle free, but without pulling on the fabric too much. If the tape or clamps are used to really stretch the fabric, the entire quilt sandwich will recoil and shrink when the basting is complete. Instead, this process should be done using gentle pressure to simply encourage the fabric to lay flat without being stretched out or made too taut.

TIP (not pictured): If you are working with a pieced backing and want to make sure that the backing seam(s) run horizontally or vertically in relation to your quilt top, add additional tape at each important seam and then make magic marker lines on top of the tape in line with the seam(s). The magic marker lines should stand out against the tape to catch your eye and provide a reminder to you as you work to position and smooth your quilt top over the backing.

Roll Out Quilt Top and Batting

Roll Out Quilt Top and Batting

Once the backing is in place, bring back the 8-12″ high by width of quilt top rectangle and place it at the top of the batting. Then gently unroll / unfold the batting and quilt top to position the quilt top over the backing. Take your time to make sure that your quilt top and batting are smoothed out and square to any pieced backing elements that you may have previously referenced.

TIP: Use your quilting rulers to check that your seam lines are straight. Taking your time to get the quilt top flat here can reduce the effort needed to square up or block your quilt after it is quilted.

Pin Baste from the Center Out

Pin Baste from the Center Out

Once the quilt top and batting are positioned and smoothed to your liking, it’s time to start pin basting. I like to start at the center of the quilt and work my way to the edges. This allows me to continuously work to smooth and straighten the pieced seams of the quilt top as I work.

The goal of basting is to get all three layers of the quilt working together and to keep them from shifting as you quilt them together, so I recommend pinning every 3-4″. Often, the piecing elements of the quilt top make natural markers to follow to create a grid. Even if your batting suggests that it doesn’t need to be quilted this densely (most battings suggest 8-12″ spacing as a minimum), I suggest pinning more densely than the batting recommends. This allows you to know you can fold and unfold the quilt sandwich, pass it through the throat space of your machine over and over again, etc., without worrying about the layers shifting and moving.

Meringue - Pin Basting

Meringue – Pin Basting

These are my top two pin basting tips:

  1. I like to pin baste the batting to the backing outside of the quilt top. This is a great way to keep the backing fabric from shifting AND from flipping under to be accidentally quilted.
  2. I rotate my basting pins. Every other pin is horizontal, and the ones in between are vertical. This is yet another way to keep the fabric from shifting.
Basting Pins

Basting Pins

Let me pause to talk about the basting pins I use. I have a combination of Dritz Curved Safety Pins (bottom of the photo) and Dritz Curved Coil-less Safety Pins (top of the photo). I especially like to use the coil-less pins when I am pinning the batting to the backing outside of the quilt top. The batting has the ability to really get stuck inside the coil of a safety pin. Either option works well for pinning the quilt top, and the slight curve of the pins helps make rocking the safety pin through all three layers possible.

Pin Basting

Pin Basting

Regardless of how you baste your quilts, please listen to your body and take breaks to stretch and move. I like to pin about one quarter of the quilt and take a 15-30 minute break before starting the next section.

Trim Quilt Sandwich

Trim Quilt Sandwich

Once the pin basting is complete, I trim the quilt sandwich just outside of the outer most pins used to connect the batting to the quilt backing. I have found that by trimming the backing and batting to the same size, the backing stays “stuck” to the batting (with extra encouragement and connection from the outer pins) and I have not had my quilt backing flip under and get quilted into the wrong place since I started adding these pins and trimming in this way.

Check Backing

Check Backing

Once the quilt sandwich is trimmed, I always turn the quilt over to make sure that all of my pins have passed through all 3 layers of the quilt sandwich. As you can see in the photo above, there were 4 pins that did not catch the backing on my first try. I simply flip the quilt back over and re-pin those areas. Because the quilt is already stabilized by the other surrounding pins, making these few small adjustments is quick and easy to do without needing to re-secure the quilt backing to a surface.

Links for Tools I Use and Recommend

Here is the full compiled list of (non-affiliate) links to the tools I use and recommended in this post:

Quilt Basting Tips and Tricks PDF

This blog post will always be available to read on my website, but if you would like a downloadable, formatted PDF, you can purchase a copy for $2 from my pattern shop.

Thank You!

Meringue

Meringue

Thank you so much for visiting today. I hope that you found something new that you can apply to the next quilt you baste. If you would like to continue to follow along with me on my quilting journey, you can email subscribe to follow my blog using the menu on the right hand side of this page or follow me using any of the options linked to below. Happy quilting!

20 thoughts on “Quilt Basting Tips and Tricks

  1. I didn’t realize you could buy coil-less pins! Interesting. This was a very helpful post, thanks!

  2. Those coil less pins are perfect! You sure do cover all the tips and tricks to pin basting a quilt.

  3. patty says:

    Great comprehensive post! I’m going to try the rolling out the quilt top and batting next time.

  4. Such a great post full of fantastic tips! I got 2 packs of the coil-less pins for my birthday. I did not know they existed before your post.

  5. Suzanne Gabel says:

    Wonderful advice as always! I’m delighted to have learned about the thread picker and have already ordered one!
    Basting pins hurt my fingers so I use June Tailor’s spray baste. Sorry you have sensitivities to such things but obviously pinning works great for you. I also do a victory lap around the edge of my quilt, but only after adding some machine basting. My machine can create basting stitches in 5cm,10cm, and 20cm lengths. I generally work with a specialized walking foot and 5cm length, I stitch a cross-hatch across the quilt, starting in the middle and creating roughly 8 to 12 inch squares; it doesn’t take very long. This and the spray baste secure the quilt rather well, then I do my victory lap. That’s a brilliant idea to use a different lamp when working with the Hera marker. Unfortunately, at age 71, even with glasses my old eyes still have a hard time, so I do a bit of marking with chalk and/or a Frixion pen.
    As always Yvonne, thanks for all the great ideas!

  6. Debbie says:

    What a helpful post! I’m ordering some of that green tape + those coil-less pins to try. Thank you! I keep meaning to try your method of pinning the batting/backing outside the edge of the quilt. Will try to do that next time! Welcome back btw! Hope you had a restful yet productive time away!

  7. Laurie Bichols says:

    I enjoyed your post about basting. Even though I’ve been quilting for eons, you brought up some points I hadn’t thought of. Pinning the batting to backing, rotating pins, checking the back to make sure pins went through. All good ideas, thank you!

  8. Wow, Yvonne ! What an awesome and informative post! I currently don’t do much of my own quilting and with my smaller projects I baste with an Elmer’s glue stick and pin the corners and sometimes add four more midpoint pins. But I plan to retire next summer and will need to be more frugal with my spending, so I imagine I’ll be doing more quilting and will refer back to your tutorial. And $2 for a downloadable PDF sounds great!

  9. Lea says:

    Hi Yvonne, I love, love, love the quilting you did on the quilt with the white background. Gorgeous!!

    Thanks for all the detailed information. You raise a good point about a victory lap. I don’t think I’ve ever done that but think I’ll start for future quilts. A stitch in time saves time, right?

    I am considering pressing my seams open. I’ve always pressed to the side and am uncomfortable with the thought of pressing seams open. However, I think the quilt might lay flatter? It would most certainly help where a lot of seams meet. I have to get over the uncomfortable feeling with that though. Have you ever done this with a kid’s quilt, or frequently used and washed quilt? If so how did it hold up?

    1. Hi Lea,

      Thank you so much, I had a lot of fun with the quilting on Meringue (https://quiltingjetgirl.com/2022/06/06/meringue-finished-quilt/).

      I pretty much press my seams open on all of my quilts and have since about 2014 or 2015. I have found I am able to get my blocks to measure their desired sizes this way. I have quilts with the seams pressed open on my bed, have gifted them to friends and family, and they all seem to be holding up well. A few things I have learned about pressing seams open: Use a smaller stitch length. Most machines are 2.5mm by default, and 1.8-2.0mm is a better setting if you want to press seams open. I also like to leave a long tail between pieces when I am chain piecing so that when I clip the threads, they are twisted on both sides of the seam (I hope that makes sense). You can get a photo of what I mean here: https://quiltingjetgirl.com/2015/11/12/pressing-seams-open-tip/. And finally, if you like to quilt in the ditch, you may find that seams can be popped easier if you press them open. I have only ever had that be an issue when I was using a longarm – those needles are much larger and move a lot faster. I have had no issues stitching in the seam lines when I am quilting on my domestic machine.

      I hope that helps and happy quilting!
      Yvonne

      1. Lea says:

        Thank you Yvonne, for more detailed and helpful information. It makes me feel a bit more comfortable about pressing seams open. I have plans for a future quilt that will have a lot of seams meeting and this would be a better way to go. Thanks to for the info on quilting in the ditch. I’m going to check out the link for tips on pressing seams open. I think it is a much neater look. I appreciate all of your help and tips.

        1. My pleasure, Lea. If you have the time, trying pressing seams open on a test block or two (or even a small mini quilt) might be a great way for you to learn and test it out in a much lower risk way, too.

  10. allisonwp says:

    Thank you for taking the time to compile this comprehensive tutorial. So many helpful tips.

  11. Connie says:

    Fantastic post! I am new to this method, thank you for all the great tips…I am considering making a change from old fashioned tying.

  12. Kaja says:

    I pin baste too, and do a victory lap, but there were a couple of tips here that are new to me and which I will try next time I baste a quilt. Thanks, Yvonne.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Thanks for all the great tips!! I used some of your ideas on my last quilt and it really helped. What I’m looking forward to most is tips on how to stuff a quilt through my home sewing machine! I fear my stack of half-quilted semi-flimsies (Semsies? Flims?) is because my old Singer Featherweight is small, the table is small, the quilts are heavy and the stitching goes from even to short to long to wobbly. And from my job to your technical self, greetings as we get ready to launch JPSS-2 which will become NOAA-21 on orbit!!

  14. Susan says:

    Awesome tutorial! Much awaited. I have always admired your neat quilting finishes on a domestic machine. Basting outside the quilt top and rotating pins really helps. Would love to learn how you make a quilting plan.

  15. This is a great well terrific post Yvonne, one I will bookmark. Great idea about angling the light to help see the Hera-marked lines! I use mine a fair bit and I have struggled to see them at times, especially on certain colours.Also good idea about pinning and trimming the backing along the edges (my hand’s up for having inadvertently quilted the flipped-over backing, ugh, on a DSM)

  16. Thank you, Yvonne, for your detailed tips. I have been quilting for a very long time, and have tried many different baste techniques, including herringbone stitching, boards on the quilt, etc., but I love your methods. I will try pinning both horizontally and vertically. I think that is brilliant. And pinning more closely. Taping helps, too. on a side note, I appreciate your marking ideas as well. I am new to the hera marker and excited to try it. You have inspired me to return to blogging, too. Best wishes, Jane

  17. This is a fabulous tutorial. Thanks for linking up to Tips and Tutorials on the 22nd!

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)