Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Adventures in Basting

I'll have to admit, basting is my least favorite part of quilt making. It can be painful and rigorous, and at the end, I'm still not satisfied with the results. I've experimented with several different ways of basting so far:

#1 - Traditional Pin Basting: This method involves taping the backing to some hard surface, usually the floor because I certainly don't have a table big enough for most of my quilts, and then laying the sandwich down and pin basting it. The problem I run into is that it is back-breaking work, I despise taping it, and at least the way I do it, I still end up with tons of excess fabric during quilting time. (I suspect the reason is because for anything but a runner, I need to sit on it while I'm pinning, and that makes it hard to smooth the puckers out of the fabric.)

#2 - Spray Basting: I tried this next, as it came so highly recommended. I'm leery of the fact that it's got chemicals, though. I tried spray basting outside, though I do not really have a good space to work in, and my deck is especially windy. I also had trouble making sure there are no puckers, and I was constantly readjusting. No doubt I can get better with experience, if I wanted to continue down that path ... the one advantage of spray basting is that it's so much faster than the other methods.

Since I wasn't happy with either of these 2 more traditional methods, I decided to try some other things and see if they can work better for me:

#3 - Machine Thread Basting: This method takes advantage of the ditch, and though not particularly fast, seems to result in less puckers and block distortion than #1, and it certainly involves no expensive spray bastes (or chemicals) like #2. I like to call this method iterative stabilization, but it simply involves iteratively stitching and pinning. It involves roughly the following steps:

1) Tape the backing to the floor and make the sandwich as usual. (Sadly this part cannot be avoided).
2) Pin-baste very lightly, just enough to prevent major movement.
3) Starting from the middle and in a grid layout, stitch in the ditch. After every stitching line, put the quilt on a smooth surface and take care to smooth out puckers between last stitching line and next potential stitching line, and then readjust pins if necessary.
4) Continue stitching, but it's probably best to do 2 horizontal lines, then 2 vertical lines, etc, until the quilt is stabilized and there are no pins left.

I tried this with my Puppy Pieces quilt, and it actually worked quite well, there was much less block distortion or fabric puckers than there could have been.

#4 - Table-top Pin Basting - Much as I liked method #3, it still required me to tape the backing to the floor, and I hated that part, not to mention the fact that it was so wasteful. I decided to explore a table top option that didn't use tape. Leah Day had an option with using elastic to secure the fabric, but I didn't want to use elastic to hold tension, I'm kind of afraid it'd break and slap me, so instead I used binder clips.

1) Find a table-top, and know its dimensions so that you can find the center point later on by measuring.
2) Identify the center of the backing piece, the batting, and the top, and make a small mark.
3) Place the baking fabric on, matching center to center of the table, and secure the edges with binder clips. Make sure the fabric is tight and smooth but not overly stretched.
4) Place batting on, and match center to center. Smooth out batting, and then reclip all the clips around the table, this time to accommodate the batting.
5) Place top on, again matching center to center. Smooth out as best as you can, then reclip all the clips to enclose all 3 layers.
6) Begin pin basting from the center out. As you pin baste, excess fabric will probably come out, so constantly readjusting the binder clips is crucial to the success of this method.
7) Once the entire table top is basted, loosen all clips, then shift the quilt until a new section is on the table. Reclip and restart.

I used medium sized binder clips that held about 1", so it was just big enough, and it held it great with perfect tension. (Constantly opening the binder clips hurt my hands, though, I have to admit.) This method isn't fast, it's about on par with #1, but out of everything I tried, it yielded the most pleasing result to me with the least amount of puckers during quilting time. The key is to constantly be readjusting clips to hold excess fabric that we "press out" with our hands while we pin.

I can't say that I'll exclusively use any of the above, as they all have their own pros and cons, but depending on the project at hand, any of them is a viable option.

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