Making a quilt sandwich: step-by-step tutorial

Dresdens Dilemma from You Can Quilt ItIn a recent Quirky Question we asked what one quiltmaking skill you’d like to get better at—and we were surprised when so many of you chose the same thing! Can you guess what so many quilters want to improve upon? If you guessed quilting your own quilts, you’d be as right as a 90-degree angle.

So, what strikes fear in the hearts of so many quilters who have yet to quilt their own quilts? Perhaps it’s the thought of sewing puckers, pleats, and wrinkles (or worse) into the back of your quilts while quilting on the front. That’s why today we’re starting with step one—the step that stops those puckers from forming in the first place: making a solid quilt sandwich. Read on to learn the basic technique, and then give it a try on a small project for practice.

Tutorial--making a quilt sandwich
by Robin Strobel

The quilt “sandwich” consists of backing, batting, and the quilt top. First, you’ll cut the backing and batting 4″ to 6″ longer and wider than the quilt top. Then you’ll baste the layers together, using thread if you’ll be hand quilting or safety pins if you’ll be machine quilting. To complete the sandwich, you’ll quilt either by hand or by machine.

When you quilt a quilt yourself, the main challenge is to keep all the layers flat, without wrinkling or shifting. I end up basting on the floor or in my friendly neighborhood quilt shop’s classroom, where I can push several tables together. Of course, I time this for when the shop doesn’t have a class, and they are happy to accommodate me because I always spend some money on fabric I can’t live without.

How to assemble a quilt sandwich1. Lay the freshly pressed backing wrong side up. Smooth it out so it’s flat. I find it helpful to use masking tape or painter’s tape, taping the edges to the floor or table about every 6″ to 8″ so the backing doesn’t shift. Arrange the batting on top of the backing, patting it smooth. Be careful not to tug and twist, just gently loft it up and down to get it straight on the back. (If you’re using a packaged batting that’s been folded, take it out of the package the day before and fluff it out to let the creases relax before you start to baste.)

2. Center the pressed quilt top, right side up, on the batting and backing. Check to be certain that both the backing and batting extend several inches past the quilt top on all sides.

3. Starting at the center, baste the three layers together—either with a needle and strong thread or with nonrusting safety pins. If you know how you’re going to quilt the project, place the pins and stitches where they won’t interfere with your quilting. Often people use thread to baste quilts that will be hand quilted, and safety pins to baste quilts that will be machine quilted. That’s because pins tend to get in the way of a quilting hoop, but thread is hard to remove when it’s been repeatedly stitched over by a machine. Stitch or pin baste every 3″ to 4″.

Making a quilt sandwich

4. Once everything is securely basted, remove the masking tape. You’re ready to tackle quilting or tying the layers together.

The above is an excerpt from our Making a Quilt Sandwich tutorial; download it from our How to Quilt page and get step-by-step instructions for piecing backings, choosing batting, and quilting or tying your quilts.

Now that you’re on your way to building a delish sandwich, it’s time to read up on step two—the actual quilting! You can learn more about quilting your own quilts in these books:

You Can Quilt It! Easy and Fun Free-Motion Quilting

Free-Motion Quilting Made Easy Machine Quilting Made Easy

Subscribe to Stitch This!In future posts we’ll tackle the basics of hand quilting and machine quilting; subscribe to Stitch This! to make sure you don’t miss them.

Do you have a quilting triumph—or terror—to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

More about quilting: How to quilt a quilt: 6 quick ideas

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