Thursday, March 30, 2017

Making a Sandwich

Last week I discussed the travel project I finished when I visited Niagara Falls a few weeks ago. From a Mountain Patchwork pattern called Square Dance, I completed this quilt top, after several years of working on it in dribs and drabs as my travel project.

Time to get it ready for quilting! That means sandwiching and basting.

This is one of those quilty things for which there are about a million different methods. With pictures, I’m going to do a quick walk-through of the method I use to sandwich (layer backing, batting, and quilt top) and baste (temporarily secure the layers) of the quilt.

By the way, there are lots of ways to do this, but if you’ve chanced upon a tutorial featuring Elmer’s Glue as the means of holding the layers together - to be blunt . . . that one’s not recommended. Not in my book, anyway. Puleeze.

A side note: I’m going to hand quilt this with big stitches. Big stitch quilting usually involves a thicker thread (like a perle cotton) and larger needle. Generally speaking, it less precise and more forgiving than ‘regular’ quilting with quilting cotton thread and between needles. For hand-quilting, typically, you should thread-baste the quilt sandwich. . . but I’m not a fan of thread basting. So I pin-baste - the same method I employ for machine quilting. You may say, but doesn’t the hand quilting thread catch on the pins? It does. But that doesn’t bother me as much as thread basting does. So you see, it’s a trade off.

On with the tutorial. . .

Start with the backing. In this case I pieced two similar pieces of fabric with a bit of leftover border material in between. Seams pressed open. You might be thinking: how clever. Truth be known, I didn’t have enough of either rusty-brown color to do the whole backing so I used one strip of each. They looked weird right next to each other, so I added the border fabric in between. Looks like I planned it that way! Don’t tell anyone my little secret, okay?

I have a finished workroom in my basement with a Pergo floor. That stuff is hard as nails, so no worries that the pins will scratch the floor. I start with some painters tape, the 2” wide variety

Then tape one side of the backing to the floor. Notice that I leave very little space in between tape.

Then I secure the opposite side of the backing to the floor. As I place the tape, I gently pull the backing to smooth out any rumples.

Then the ends. I lift the tape and adjust as needed.

The idea is that the backing is flat, and taught against the floor, held in place with the tape.

I roughly measure out some batting. I like Hobbs Heirloom Wool—nice hand, transitions seasons beautiful, wonderful for hand and machine quilting, and it’s machine washable in the gentle cycle. A puff of steam miraculously removes any folds and wrinkles.

Place the batting on the backing, roughly aligning one corner to maximize any scraps - this stuff ain’t cheap so let’s get the most out of the leftovers!

Next the quilt top. This top is pretty big, so I start with it folded so I can align one side with the batting and backing edges. Notice I didn’t trim the batting yet. I put myself right in the middle and smooth out any rumples with my hands working from the center outward. This will also create the velcro effect - ‘sticking’ the quilt top to the batting. (and it feels nice to smooth your hands over the finished top).

Now trim about 1” away from the quilt top edge.

These beautiful batting scraps will be perfect for a runner or three.

Kwok-Clip. Love this tool. Makes pinning so easy.

Use the tool (or an old spoon) in your left hand, to lift the pointy end of the curved safety pin. . . .

Then with the pin end lifted, close the pin with your right hand. Of course, this is completely reversible for left-handers.

Now I place my mushy butt in the middle of the quilt, and, starting at the top corner (if I were thread basting, I’d start in the middle and work outward - I have found that where you start doesn’t matter with pin-basting) create a pattern within the block and pin, pin, pin.

This part can be a nice time to think, listen to a book or music, or just get into the zen of the repetitive motion.

Make sure a fist placed anywhere will touch at least one pin, more is better. You want the pins to be placed kinda like cookie dough on a cookie sheet. Not too close, and not too far away.

I like to get the pin-pattern set up, then walk away. I’ll work on the pinning in a couple sessions or in one marathon session. It usually takes about an hour to pin-baste a decent sized quilt like this one.

Then, it’s time to remove the tape, release the quilt from the floor, and get quilting. Since I’m going to big stitch hand quilt this one, I’ll use a hoop, and remove pins to accommodate the hoop.

As I quilt, I like to think I’m re-claiming my pins for the next project.

Here is the next to-be-finished project, so you can see. The hand quilting is almost done. I like to mark small sections at a time with an air-erasable pen. This quilt has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Soft pastel colors, perfect for springtime.

During the summer months, unless I’m using a table to support the quilt, I switch gears from quilting to other types of handwork, like embroidery, cross stitch or appliqué. All that fluff on my lap in the hot summer months will cause a quilter to melt!

Hmm, maybe that’s one way to de-mush my butt! (Probly should stick with a walking plan . . .)

Happy stitching!
Joan Ford


  1. Thanks for the great tute! What is the brand of your quilting hoop? I want to start hand quilting, but everyone I talk to has a different way. Some with hoop, some without! Just asking! I have limited shopping in my area, so if I venture out of town, I want to be able to know what I am looking for.

    1. I use a Morgan hoop. They are the best, in my opinion!