the quilt sandwich: enjoying the task
by Patricia Belyea
SEATTLE, WA I don’t have a long-arm and I don’t send my quilts out to be finished. To finish a quilt, I pin baste a quilt sandwich and then stitch it on my domestic sewing machine (DSM).
Prepping a quilt sandwich, to me, means that I am moving my project ahead. It’s really a big chore but also one more step toward finishing my quilt!
To get ready for this task, I make sure I have an ample chunk of undisturbed time available. I like to turn on upbeat music to keep me company and keep me going.
Undressing for Success
Typically I assemble a quilt sandwich on the floor. (Maurine Noble, my mentor, puts her sandwiches together vertically on a pinning wall.) I have used wooden floors, stone floors and wall-to-wall carpet. A floor with parallel joints gives me a reference point for lining things up.
Because I am leaning over my pieces, I want to be able to stretch comfortably. I slip off my bra and also my shoes. I make sure the rest of my clothes aren’t tight or pinching me when I bend over.
First Things First
To get started, I press all three layers—the backing, the batting and the top. If the batting has any polyester or silk in the mix, I turn the iron temperature down. If there are any creases, now is the time to get rid of them. If need be, I spray water on the creases and then iron them out.
The backing gets placed on the floor first, right side down. Then, using masking tape, I tape all the sides down. I want to stretch this layer so it is flat, but not skewed. I do this by adding a little tape to the two furthest ends. Then I add some tape to the sides. I go back and add more tape to the ends and then more to the sides until it is squarely taped to the floor.
Next I tape the batting over the backing, once again keeping it flat and taut. I make sure the batting hangs out on all sides by a few inches.
The quilt top is placed on top but not taped. If the quilt top and backing need to be aligned in a specific way, I fuss about the placement of this final layer to get everything lined up just right.
I use 1″ stainless steel pins that are as fine as possible, with very sharp tips. I begin pinning from the center and work out.
I’m thoughtful about my pin placement so the pins won’t be too much in my way when I machine stitch the quilt together. Typically I place the pins about 3 to 4 inches apart.
When a pin doesn’t easily slip through the all the layers, I check to make sure it has a point. (The pins occasionally have manufacturing problems or sometimes the points break off.) If it is a good pin, I just run the pin through my hair to pick up a little oil and proceed.
When I first started making quilts, I painfully closed the pins with my finger tips—wounding myself many times. Now I use a Kwik Klip to snap the pins shut. This simple tool costs less than $10. I simply slip the metal rod of the Kwik Klip under the pin point and push it up to close.
FYI: When I pull the pins out of the quilt, I leave them open. That’s how I’ll need the pins next time I use them.
Minimize The Bulk
Once my quilt sandwich is complete, I pull the tape off the bottom two layers. Then I pick up the three pinned layers off the floor and trim around all the edges, leaving 3 to 4 inches. This means less fabric to push through the sewing machine as I stitch the quilt.
Whether machine or hand stitching, I start from the middle and work out. That way I don’t get a big wrinkle in the middle of the backing fabric.