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How do I control my quilt sandwich during quilting?

A reader asks...

How do I keep the layers of my quilt taut when I use my home sewing machine to quilt?

Julie replies...

Keeping your layers held together and under control while you are stitching is essential to pucker free machine quilting.

To hold the layers together... baste your quilt sandwich together with safety pins. I do this on my kitchen floor. It's made of 12 inch white tile, and though a total pain in the rear-end for this old body, I do like the results.

Just click on this link for a refresher on "Layering and Basting a Quilt". This will take you through creating the pin-basted quilt sandwich. The end-product of this basting is to have a quilt sandwich with layers that won't shift on your during quilting.

One of the things I've learned through my years of quilting, is there is always more than one way to get things done...

...and quilt basting is no different. Sharon Schamber, award-winning quilter, has devised an interesting way to baste your quilt sandwich that keeps you up off the floor. The boards she uses function much like the rollers on a long arm quilting machine do.

The following two YouTube videos describe the process.

Part 1...

...and Part 2

Now, I am not a big fan of thread basting, as I have a tendency to quilt right over the basting thread, making a big mess to pick out later, but...

Safety pins.

Those I'll stop for. So when I use this method, I use my safety pins. For your quilt, you'll have to decide for yourself.

If you choose to use this method of basting and you create many different sizes of quilts, you'll probably end up with a couple of different size pairs of boards.

Once your quilt is layered and basted, you'll need...

To move the layers together...

...position your hands to the left and right of the needle as you are quilting—not in front of, not in back of—but on the sides of the needle. This is the trick to maintaining control of the quilt sandwich during quilting.

Anytime you find your hands 'out of position' you relinquished real control of how the sandwich moves under the needle.

And while you can get by (just a wee bit) with less than ideal hand position when you're using a walking foot—remember that foot is doing a lot of the work with the feed dogs—when you're free motion quilting (feed dogs down, darning foot installed) you are the ONLY control of the quilt sandwich. Your hands are acting like a human quilting hoop.

Just remember, hands on both sides of the needle adds a certain amount of 'taut-ness' and a huge amount of control over your stitching.

If you have any problems with grasping the quilt to move it under the needle, you may find some of the suggestions on our Quilting Gloves page to be of use. I especially like to use Neutrogena Hand Lotion. A little dollop adds just enough tackiness to my fingertips to make quilting easier.

Thank you for your question.


Julie Baird

Comments for How do I control my quilt sandwich during quilting?

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What weight dmc thread?
by: Anonymous

I see she recommends using DMC thread for basting. Can anyone tell me what weight is recommended? I am new to hand basting my quilts.

Any other brands you'd recommend?

From the Editor I'd taken a class with Sharon, and if I'm recalling correctly, she liked the 'grabbiness' of the DMC. Honestly, I think your regular piecing thread (50 wt would be just fine)

The only thing to watch out for is when you're pulling the thread through the quilt—remember you're working with a longer piece. You' don't want to break the thread. If you do, you'll have to thread another needle earlier than you might of.

I hope this helps.


Julie Baird

Regarding the board method
by: Annette

Would you be able to use this method for basting as well?

From the Editor: Yes, I believe so.

~ Julie

by: Anonymous

This solution is brilliant! Thank you so much for posting!

My table is too small for a quilt more than 50 inches wide.
by: Harriet

Does Sharon's method of basting eliminate the need for a table as big as the quilt is?

I have a small quilt in mind for trying this method, and my table is wide enough for the width of the quilt but not long enough for the length of the quilt.

Am I right in thinking the areas already basted can drape over the table, and that the areas to be basted will lie in front of me on the table?

Reply: Yes! You've got it! Your table needs to be wide enough for the width of the quilt. The basted portion will, indeed, hang over the edge.

If you like this method of basting, you'll find that you will have a couple of sets of boards...a set for smaller quilts and a set (or more) for larger quilts. The boards don't need to be an exact match in size to the quilt you are working on.

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