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How to baste a quilt

How to baste a quilt - spray basting and pin basting

This basting article was written by quilting author and blogger Kerry Green. It is part of our Simple Sampler series which teaches you how to make a skill building sampler quilt.  

Following my last post on how to finish your quilt top with sashing strips and maybe even a border, it’s now time to learn how to baste a quilt – to take your quilt top and make a quilt sandwich. This involves three layers: the quilt top, the wadding (or batting – US term) and the backing fabric. These are temporarily held together by safety pins, temporary adhesive spray or large tacking stitches and this part of the process of is known as basting.  

How to prepare a quilt for quilting


This is the central layer of the quilt sandwich and it creates thickness and warmth to the finished quilt. There are lots of different quilt waddings to choose from with a variety of thicknesses. This is often referred to as loft with low loft being thin and high loft being very thick. A quilt wadding which is 100% cotton tends to drape well, is suitable for hand and machine quilting and is machine washable. It also shrinks when washed for the first time and it is this that gives a crinkly look to a finished quilt. If you want to avoid this, you can soak your wadding in a bath of cool clean water and spin and air dry before use. I like to use a 80% cotton, 20% polyester blend as it feels very similar to 100% cotton but dries a little quicker and makes a lighter weight quilt – good for quilts that will be frequently washed and a little easier to handle whilst quilting too! You can read a detailed article on different waddings here. Your wadding needs to measure approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges.

 Tip: It helps to research your wadding choice thoroughly. Manufacturers usually state how far apart the lines of quilting stitches need to be and some wadding is easier to hand quilt than others – all these factors will impact on your decision.  


Backing Fabric

Your backing fabric needs to measure approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges. For smaller quilts, the standard quilting fabric width of 110cm/44” may be wide enough but for larger quilts you will need to join two or more fabric lengths together. There are wider fabrics for backing quilts with widths of over 100”/ 300cm and these are usually found at quilting shops rather than general sewing shops.  If you are using a directional fabric for your backing, do consider the layout in relation to the quilt top. This is a useful post to read about piecing a quilt back. For a beginner, it is easiest to use quilting weight cotton as backing. Once you have a few quilts made, other backing options can include lightweight corduroy or velveteen and plush cuddle pile fabrics.

Basting Your Quilt

The three layers of your quilt sandwich need to be temporarily held together ready for quilting, whether by hand or machine, to stop the layers sliding around. Favourite methods to baste a quilt are a very personal thing and you may have to try different methods and variations to find one that suits you. Although pin basting takes time, I’ve found that it is time well spent. I’ve tried many ways to baste a quilt and this gives me the best results as I know my fabrics are secure and flat for quilting. If basting a quilt feels too much work for you, I will be covering the quilt-as-you-go technique at the end of this series, which allows you to add wadding and backing fabric to each individual block and then join them together.

Method One: Traditional Pinned Quilt Basting

 You will need:

Quilt top – pressed. It could also be gently starched. Pressing on the reverse side as well as the right side ensures that seams are open or to one side. Ensure all loose threads are trimmed otherwise they may show through lighter fabrics.

Backing fabric – approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges

Quilt wadding – approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges

Masking or painter’s tape – low tack, 1½” wide

150-200 curved rustproof safety pins

Kwik Klip tool or spoon to help fasten the pins

A clean flat space, large enough for your quilt to be laid out and with enough space for you to comfortably walk around the edge of it . 

 TIP: You need a large space to baste the layers of a quilt together. This could be a hard floor or a large table. Do consider the impact of masking tape and safety pins on the surface you use.  Blair Stocker talks about pin basting on a table top on her site. A carpeted floor can work but you will need T-pins to secure the backing fabric and wadding to the carpet. Working on a floor is hard on the knees so have a small cushion to kneel on and wear thick socks to walk on and around your quilt. Banish small children and pets from the area you are working in!

1. Lay the backing fabric right side on to the surface. I use a wooden floor and use the boards to line up the side edges of the fabric. Take 5” strips of tape and secure one fabric corner to the floor. Repeat at each corner ensuring that the fabric is flat and slightly taut but not distorted.

2. Continue adding tape around the edges of the fabric with gaps of around 4-6” between tape strips and keeping the edges straight and an even tension across the fabric.

How to get a quilt ready to baste

3. Place the wadding on top of the wrong side of the backing fabric. It helps to have your wadding around the same size or very slightly smaller than the backing fabric. Tape the corners to the backing fabric/floor and add some tape at the side edges. The tape can be spaced out more generously than on the backing fabric. The backing and the wadding should feel gently taut but not stretched out of shape.

4. Place the wrong side of the quilt top on to the wadding layer. If your backing fabric has a directional print, consider which way to place the quilt top. Smooth the fabric with your hands and align the edges of the quilt so they are straight and the quilt top is centred and evenly placed on the backing fabric.

5. Take an open curved safety pin and starting in the centre of the quilt, push through the top, wadding and backing and upwards to the top again. This is where the time spent on the backing and wadding in place will pay off; the tension of these layers should encourage the pin to push up and through to the top in a tent effect. Either use your fingers to close the pin or place the Kwik Klip tool so it meets tip of the emerging safety pin and use the pressure from the groove to press the pin closed. 

Using a Kwik Klip

TIP: Closing 150 or more safety pins whilst basting a quilt is hard on the fingers and a Kwik Klip is one of the best tools I’ve ever used in quilting: it protects your finger tips and is quick and efficient. A Kwik Klip is a handle with a grooved brass tip that the pin slides into allowing you to apply pressure to close or open a pin without using your fingers directly! An old spoon can be used in a similar way – see this blog post for a demonstration of the method.

6. Repeat across the quilt, spacing your pins 4” apart and offsetting your rows as you baste to create a grid of pins. You can radiate out from the centre, or work from the centre horizontally and then vertically in a cross formation and then work on each quarter of the quilt until the quilt is covered. It helps to add extra pins along the outer edges. 

Basting a quilt with safety pins

7. Carefully peel away the tape holding the wadding and backing fabric on one of the corners and slide large scissors underneath ensuring that the blades are at least 2” away from the quilt top edge. Cut through the backing and wadding layers to free the quilt top from the surface. Peel off the remaining tape, wadding and backing fabric remnants. Carefully roll up your quilt until you are ready to quilt it.


Other ways of holding your quilt together include thread basting, which is tacking through the layers by hand using large stitches. This is often used for hand quilting when pins can get in the way of a quilting hoop and is also good for small projects. There is also the option of using plastic tags. These replace pins and are pushed through the quilt layers using a gun style tool. Spray basting is another method and is quick to do. The adhesive is specially designed so you can reposition your fabric and shouldn’t gum up your machine needle. You will need a large well-ventilated space – it is harmful to breathe in and do consider that it also leaves a deposit on the floor which can be tricky to remove!


Method Two: Spray Basting

 You will need:

Quilt top (see method one for preparation details)

Backing fabric – approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges

Quilt wadding – approximately 4” bigger than your quilt top on all edges

Masking or painter’s tape – low tack, 1½” wide

Basting spray e.g. Odif 505 Temporary Spray Adhesive  

A well ventilated space large enough for your quilt to be laid out on the floor and with enough space for you to comfortably walk around.

Tip: As with all products applied directly to fabric, I would recommend testing the spray on a sample of fabric and the wadding used in your quilt to check the adhesion and any other effects from using spray.

1. Tape the quilt backing down as in steps 1 and 2 of method one. 

2. Lay the quilt wadding on top of the quilt back. Take time to centre it and smooth out all the wrinkles.  Some people bring their iron down to the floor but do consider the heat of the iron on both the hard surface and the fibre content of your wadding – any polyester content will mean using a low temperatures or no iron at all!

How to spray baste a quilt

3. Neatly peel back the top half of the wadding to rest upon half of the quilt backing. Following the directions on your temporary adhesive spray and starting at the fold where the wadding has been pulled back, lightly spray onto the first 6-10” of wadding in circular motions around 12” from the surface being sprayed. You are aiming to work in rows so it will feel like you are applying stripes of adhesive! Carefully place the wadding that has just been sprayed on to the backing fabric, smoothing out with your fingers. Continue on the next 6-10” of wadding and repeat the process until you finish that half of the quilt.

 Tip: When using the spray method to baste a quilt, you should always be spraying the wadding, not directly onto the backing fabric or quilt top.  You should be aiming for a light even coverage.

4. Continue as step 3 but with the other half of the wadding.

 5. Place the quilt top over the wadding layer, making sure it is central and the edges are straight. Fold back half the quilt top as you did with the wadding. Spray the wadding as before working in horizontal stripes of around 6-10” and carefully smoothing a section of the quilt top over the area just sprayed. Continue until the quilt top covers the wadding.

6. Check over the quilt top smoothing any wrinkles. The main advantage of this method is that the adhesive is temporary and repositionable so if you need to lift and repostion the fabric, now is the time to do it! If you wish you could also add curved safety pins around the side edges for extra security.

Spray basting is quick and effective on small projects like cushion covers but I’ve found it that with larger quilts it doesn’t hold the layers as securely for me as pin basting and I also lack the well ventilated space in which to use it safely. As with many things in quilting, it’s down to personal preference and you may find it a great option for holding the layers together. For many quilters, basting a quilt is one of their least favourite tasks and I am no exception!  I have tried many different methods and once I got a Kwik Klip and a generous quantity of curved safety pins I’ve found that the most reliable way to hold the layers together and baste a quilt. 

Join Kerry next time to learn about quilting!