the quilt sandwich: enjoying the task :: Okan Arts
the quilt sandwich: enjoying the task

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.

Pin Basting by Patricia Belyea

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.

Pin Basting by Patricia Belyea

Pinning Tips

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.

Pin Basting by Patricia Belyea

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.

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2 comments to “the quilt sandwich: enjoying the task”

  1. That’s exactly my process to except I do not press the batting. If it’s wrinkled I throw it in the dryer on fluff. I agree with loose clothing, and get comfortable. Some larger quilts can take a couple hours.

  2. Patricia Belyea says:

    Barbara—There are so many ways to secure a quilt sandwich together. I’m pleased to learn that someone else does it the same way as me.

    I tend to buy batting in a package so there are always BIG creases in it. I use a warm iron and pick the iron up and down when I am pressing the batting. If I tried to run the iron across the batting, it would pull. (I’ll try the dyer next time.)

    When I am going to hand stitch the whole quilt, I often don’t pin baste but instead use tailor basting—long stitches with white thread. There’s a lot less weight and bulk, plus the layers have no chance of slipping around during the many months it takes me to complete my quilt.

    I can’t recommend spray basting. I used to be in the graphic design industry and made sure my team never used spray adhesives. Spray glues are very damaging to the nervous system.