The Free Motion Quilting Project: Basting, Batting, and Backing Tips

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Basting, Batting, and Backing Tips

We're learning about the three B's today: basting, batting, and backing! Here's a short video to walk you through the basting process:

Because the blocks are so small, you really don't need to tape them down. Just smooth the fabric on both sides and then secure the layers with a few pins.

I'm using clover straight pins and Pinmoors, which I love because they're easy to use and easy to remove as I quilt. I used safety pins for years, and they certainly work, but I didn't like how hard they were to remove while free motion quilting.

A note about spray basting - I get loads of questions about this stuff and frankly, I hate it. If you use it and love it, that's just fine. Just do me a favor and make sure you are spraying OUTSIDE! Even if you have a non-smelly brand, that is an aerosol glue you are spraying into the air and it is dangerously toxic.

If you'd like to read more about what it can potentially do to your quilts, check out this article Danger: Chemicals in Quilts.

Now I'll jump off that soapbox and let's talk about batting!

Batting is the middle layer of your quilt, and the one thing not seen once the quilt is finished. Unfortunately this has lead to a lot of quilters assuming it doesn't really matter.

Truth is, the batting is what will determine the softness, drape, and warmth of your quilt. If you're planning to make a summer throw for the couch, picking the wrong batting could mean your quilt is only suitable for the depths of winter!

Of course, there's a million choices out there, and I kept the video focused on the two arch rivals: polyester and cotton.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Cotton Batting - If you want your quilt to finish super soft and cuddly, with your quilting lines softly hidden in the wrinkly surface of an antique-looking quilt, then cotton is the way to go. The natural shrink to these battings will soften the fabrics and create a cuddly drape.

If you want a super warm quilt, go with a higher loft. If you want a super lightweight quilt, go with a low loft.

I did get a question about pre-shrinking cotton batting last week. If you want a super wrinkly, crinkled effect, don't pre-shrink the batting (I honestly have never bothered to pre-shrink as I've never liked the idea of soaking a batting in my washing machine).

Polyester Batting - If you want a totally flat, totally smooth finish with no shrink or crinkly effect on the surface, go with poly. This batting is ideal for wall hangings, show quilts, and elaborate bedspreads that need to maintain a smooth, flat finish on the surface because there is virtually no shrink to polyester batting.

You can make bed quilts out of poly too, you just might find the finished effect is a bit on the stiffer / flatter side.

If you want to debate the merits of wool, silk, soy, and bamboo, you certainly can try these too. I've never had the time to compare all of these new materials, but I certainly want to give them a try!

So how do you go about checking to make sure you like your batting?

Pick one block from the Building Blocks Pattern and piece an extra block. Baste it with the batting you're testing, and quilt using one of the designs in the pattern.

Zigzag the edges to finish, then throw the block in the wash and treat it the exact same way you will treat the finished quilt. After it's washed and dried, pull it out and take a look. Does it feel the way you want? Is the surface wrinkly or smooth?

The point here is to TEST - to know what a batting will do, you have to put it in a block, quilt it, and wash it.

I have had horrible experiences with both cotton and polyester battings bearding, and I could have easily avoided these issues if I had tested the batting first.

Bearding is when the batting fibers begin to pull out of the quilting holes, creating a visible fuzz over the surface or back of the quilt. Sometimes this is caused by a blunt needle, sometimes by weird thread, but mostly because the batting was cheap and unstable and happy to migrate wherever it could.

Of course, we're working block by block in this quilt along, so if you notice your batting acting funny in the first few blocks you will have time to switch and remake those blocks.

But for a normal bed quilt created in one piece - once the batting is in the middle of that quilt and you've started quilting it, you're pretty much committed to whatever effect it's going to give you.

So what are we using?

For Josh's quilt, I cut squares of Quilter's Dream Cotton Fusion in the Select loft, which is a 100% cotton batting with a layer of fusible web on the back side which I've fused to the backing fabric.

The batting doesn't have glue on the opposite side, so you still have to secure the top with pins, but the layer of fusible did create a slightly stiffer, more stable base for the quilt. Josh noticed immediately that the quilt was easier to handle and less wibbly-wobbly!

For me, I'm using Quilter's Dream Poly in the Select loft. This is pretty much my go-to batting of choice and use it in everything from throw quilts to show quilts. I'll likely need my quilt to hang up straight and flat and be photographed, so I want a flatter finished effect.

Okay! That's it for the three B's! Let's get our blocks basted and ready to go, and tomorrow I'll share another video on the settings and tools I'll be using for free motion quilting!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I love you, Leah Day! Thanks for patiently teaching us your skills and sharing your trials and errors. I appreciate everything you have done and made manageable for your students/followers!

  2. Re other materials: I am a convert to wool batting. Great loft, great drape, great puffy/dense contrast for sculptural free motion quilting, and it stays soft and drapey no matter how densely quilted. However I'd never put my wool-batting art quilts in a washing machine because they'd crinkle up bigtime. Many people love the crinkly quilt look, but I don't. Other drawbacks to wool are it's the most expensive batting, it's not vegan (for those who care), and some people are allergic to it. But oh how I love quilting with it.

  3. Leah and readers, I'm at the University of Nebraska, where Patvcrews did that 2003 study on quilt adhesives. As noted in the article, 505 spray (and the others) is. PVA adhesive, which has been used in archival conservation for years. Their study showed "no significant differences from the control in terms of yellowing or strength loss."

    I use 505 spray. The product safety sheet shows that it's acid free, has no CFCs, is colorless and odorless, has no chronic or acute health hazards and is not carcinogenic. I spray for a few seconds in a ventilated room in such a way that the minimal overspray is contained.

    I couldn't make my work without this spray but I satisfied myself as to its safety and likely long term effects before I used it.

    We each make choices that serve our work and working methods.


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at