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

22 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I’ve used thumbtacks to fasten to the floor in my living room. Tape just WON’T work on carpet and NO WAY am I using my kitchen floor.

    —Jennifer on March 4, 2014
  • Safety pins take practice. The first time, I did not catch the backing with the pins, and had to pin it over. The second time, the pins were in correctly, but the backing was not perfectly flat. This resulted in puckers next to pins.

    —Lynne on March 4, 2014
  • Hi, triumph is rolling it off the long arm (or reg machine) and it’s done, finished, and as good as it can be, and I like it. Thanks for the tutorial.

    —Carol on March 4, 2014
  • My terror is quilting my quilts on the longarm. Every quilt has it own look and many do not follow a book’s idea, other than quilt in the ditch. My husband said I do fine, so I guess I do after viewing many other quilts.

    —Linda Christianson on March 4, 2014
  • My quilting terror is getting the tension right on my machine. Ii could not get it right on my standard machine , so I went and bought a sweet sixteen ! Now the same problem. I get eyebrows on the back. And can’t seem to fix this. Help !!! I’ve tried everything I know. I would really like to quilt some of my own tops.

    —Veronica Longobardi on March 4, 2014
  • Last year I completed a king size quilt top for my bed. I was thrilled with the choice of fabrics and design, and after inspecting every block to make sure there were no mistakes, I gave it to my quilter to finish off. In due course I collected the completed quilt, delighted with the finish. Before adding the binding, I laid the quilt out on my dining table just so I could look at it every time I walked past it. One evening, with binding in hand and ready to complete – horror – I noticed one 6″ block was wrong way around. Never noticed it before. I went all hot and cold, shouted for everyone to come and see, cried a bit and then what…I couldn’t replace the block as it had been heavily quilted over. Then a couple of hours of pondering; then with fabrics left over I made a replica block, hand stitched it in the right place, got this very large quilt under my sewing machine, backing on top, and stitched over all the quilting lines in the same colour thread. Worked a treat and no one but me knows where that block is. My quilter also didn’t notice that block and she checks all her quilts before she puts them on her machine.

    —LESLEY MILLER on March 4, 2014
  • These instructions always make me laugh. I envy anyone who has floor space or table space large enough to lay out and tape a quilt down! Oh I wish! I have a smaller home with wall to wall carpeting and a standard size dining room table. I suppose I could always try the driveway! As it is, I’m putting my favorite long arm quilter’s children through college. LOL. Oh well. Can’t let that stop me – I love to quilt!

    —Sherryl on March 4, 2014
  • What strikes fear in me when it’s time to baste my quilt to get it ready for hand quilting or machine-quilting is the thought of my knees screaming at me. The larger the quilt, the bigger the fear. Basting is not my favorite step of the quilting process. I have to try basting my quilt in sections on a banquet table one of these days.

    —Josefina on March 4, 2014
  • I spray baste my quilts for machine quilting at home. My preference is the basting spray from Sulky. To sing another refrain of the same ol’ song, practice, practice, practice. If you are afraid of a big quilt, start with pot holders or place mats. Those aren’t a lifetime commitment, and however they turn out, you can use them.

    Remember too, some battings are easier to manage than others.

    —Whiskers on March 4, 2014
  • PS. To tell you how green I was–the first time I heard bring a quilt sandwich (to a Harriet Hargrave class), I thought it meant bring your lunch.

    —Whiskers on March 4, 2014
  • My terror in quilting was finding large enough bread for the quilt sandwich

    —Patty P on March 6, 2014
  • I love to Quilt my own Quilts. Each time I try something different, it may not be perfect, but I did it

    —Ginny McPhee on March 6, 2014
  • My latest quilt has several different types of material in it. My dear sweet husband-who has no idea what it takes- chose a lightweight flag material for the center, some medium weight cotton for the borders and backing and DENIM with machine embroidered designs on each side and also top and bottom. Well, the thing is together and I started FMQ it. I got the straight line done on the stripes of the flag, then started on the borders with stippling. I did about half of one side before needing to change the bobbin. That’s when I decided to take a quick peak at the back. Heart attack time; it was a mess of tangles. I don’t know what happened tension wise. I picked it all out but haven’t started it again. It’s been 2 weeks. I practiced on some sandwiches and it worked out great, but now I am afraid to start again. Arghhh!!

    —CindyM on March 7, 2014
  • What is the best and easy batting to use on a quilt?

    Hi Max, we’ll be covering batting in an upcoming post on February 16. Stay tuned! -Jenny

    —Max on February 7, 2015

    BAJORDAN on March 9, 2015
  • I love reading everyone’s post. I relate to everyone of them in one way or another. My house is very small,less than 1000 sq ft.,and I have a hard time finding room to lay out my quilt/s to sandwich. But where there is a will, there is a way. About 20 years ago I bught a quilt top at an auction. It’s been in the making for 20 years now. This year I got it back out and it is now about 3/4 of the way done. Then my daughter calls and wants a quilt for her son, so I put away the 20 year project and make a basic square quilt. Quilted this one on the machine, and since I was in a hurry there are puckers here and there, but she says he will love it. Now I have to talk myself into binding it. While off work a few years back I had to keep myself busy so I put together quilt after quilt. I think I have 8 quilts hanging and needing to be quilted. I too like the look of hand quilting. Don’t know what it is but they just feel so much more comfortable than machine quilts. Maybe it’s the way they puff and pucker up just a little bit different. Each of the grandkids at least two. For years I tied to keep my stitches small but just can’t do it. Nor can I ever get 4-6 stitches at a time on the needle. But that’s ok, they are for my family and they love them just the way they are.

    —Judy L on April 9, 2015
  • My problem is trying to keep all three layers straight of grain as you sandwich them. I am afraid if I don’t they will pucker or look awful. Thist is my first big quilt. Having trouble laying it out so I am using an extra bed to do it on. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I noticed that noone talked about straight of grain. Thank you in advace. Peggy

    Hi Peggy, if you baste and quilt the layers sufficiently, straight of grain shouldn’t matter too much. If any Stitch This! readers have different advice, please chime in! Thanks for your question, Peggy! –Jenny

    —Peggy on January 9, 2016
  • I have tried this method today and hopefully it will help alleviate the puckers I have encountered with my other quilts. I must do everything by hand as I do not have a sewing machine with me (where I am living currently).
    I am very hopeful!

    —Mariko on November 14, 2016
  • thanks for the advice but no table or floor area big enough in our small english houses so have weight the edges and hoping that will pull our problems as i go.
    Great website thanks for advice

    That sounds like a good work-around for small spaces, Kim, thanks for sharing it! Here’s another tutorial for basting quilt layers you could try if you don’t have much space. –Jenny

    —kim on May 13, 2017
  • Love reading all the comments!! Regarding the space to "sandwich" the quilt, I have a very old ping-pong table that is perfect for this task!! It is in our unfinished half of our basement, and I just love it!!!

    I am also working very hard to finish 7 quilts for 7 grandchildren by Dec. 9th. I am at quilt #5. I WILL make it somehow!! 🙂 Valerie

    —Valerie Freund on November 20, 2017
  • I am trying to quilt tonight. Seems like I’ve had every issue come up that could. I was planning to quilt with all cotton thread but have spent 3 hours trying to figure out why the tension is so bad. I’m using a walking foot for the very first time. I decided before I take the walking foot off. I’ll just try putting the polyester thread back in. One side looks good and other side doesn’t. I change out the bobbin. Problem solved. Who would have guessed my Singer would be so picky tonight?Needless to say I’m too tired now to even try sewing.
    I love this blog cause it made me laugh and agree with you all- that this passion we cannot get enough of. Often leads us to despair. Fills us with joy and Always beckons us to keep striving for perfection. Then we stop our lives completely when someone ask us for “one little quilt”…

    —June on July 23, 2021
  • My quilt top is large enough to cover a king size bed. I have no table, and there is no floor space large enough in my small cottage, although this wouldn’t work anyway as I can’t kneel due to having a total knee replacement a couple of years ago.
    I can’t find anyone who has done this, so was wondering if it would work to make the quilt sandwich on my king size bed. Any thoughts?

    —Eileen on May 8, 2022

Leave a comment

*Indicates required field