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Monday, 31 October 2011

The Quantum Mechanics of Basting

Basting is by far my least favourite part of the quilting process. Over the years I've tried a myriad of different ways to approach basting but honestly...I dislike all of them. I hear from many quilters that they are unsure about the basting process as many send their tops out to the long-armer, or for hand quilting, and are lacking experience in this area.
An area where I am lacking is an understanding of physics and although that hasn't held me back so far in life, I find it an intriguing subject and one I wish I had studied in school. That and Latin. Reading recently an article on quantum mechanics, I found my mind drifting to apply the words to quilting. "... quantum mechanics theory ordains that the more closely one pins down one measure , the less precise another measurement pertaining to the same particle must become." (Clearly this means if you put too many safety pins in one area, another area becomes unstable). It's also true about quilting: the density of the stitches must be evenly distributed over the surface of the quilt or the sides will ripple. Physics aside, there is another easy way to prevent some of that ripple. After the quilt top is pieced and before it is layered, it's important to stitch around the outside perimeter about an 1/8" of an inch from the edge. It serves a dual purpose: in this case, it secures the ends of the patchwork seams from coming apart but also stay-stitches the edge of the quilt to prevent distortion. I stitch around all of my quilt edges before layering, even if there is a plain border in place. It helps your quilt stay true.
Starch is another key aspect of successful quilt basting, and I mixed a fresh batch before beginning.
I spray it liberally on the back of the fabric and press dry. Not only does it smooth out any wrinkles on your fabric, it creates more surface tension to allow the quilt to glide smoothly over your machine bed.
Because I don't have a table large enough to spread out the quilt, I use the floor. Two cardboard cutting tables are placed side by side. You can see they've been in use for many years. The pressed backing fabric is folded in half and placed at the junction of the boards. This is an easy way to mark the centre of the fabric.Then it's folded out and strips of masking tape secure one end to the floor. Working from the opposite end, I begin at the centre and work to the outside, pulling the fabric smooth and taut.
After both ends are done, I move on to one side, and then the next.
The batting is rolled out on top of the backing, smoothed out, but not taped. This is a polyester batting I am using; it was taken out of the package the night before and spread flat on a spare bed to let any folds and wrinkles relax. Had there been any remaining, a few minutes in the dryer on "fluff" (no heat) would remove the rest.
The pieced top goes over the batting, with the centre seam of the patchwork lined up with the centre of the cardboard. The sides are masking-taped in the same fashion as the backing fabric. "...a measurement which pins down one property of one of the particles will instantaneously pin down the same or another property of its entangled twin, regardless of the distance separating them..." Obviously this means since the layers are well-taped, we don't have to begin the pinning in the middle - we can start anywhere. Pins are placed 4-6" apart, and left open at this point.
I should mention that the moment I lined up the backing fabric on the cardboard to find the centre, Polly made a flying leap into the middle of it all. "... the act of measuring the first property necessarily introduces additional energy into the micro-system being studied, thereby perturbing that system. " The introduction of Polly's additional energy definitely perturbed the system and she was shut out of the room. (I'm really making good use of this physics stuff, huh? :)
Once the pins are all in, I remove the tape and turn the quilt over to survey the back. If I am satisfied that there are no puckers in the fabric, I turn it back over and close the pins. Then the fun of quilting starts!


  1. OMG Karen you are too funny!! Quantum Physics applied to the quilting world!! I think, for this post alone, a Maritime University, not to be named, should bestow upon you an Honourary Degree in Physics....

  2. Not sure which I should say first, wow or ha ha, but both are definately in order for this post. Bravo!

  3. Well done, but I think you mis-interpreted that last law. I believe that, reworded, it would say: "Once you have all 3 layers perfectly lined up and are getting ready to pin, the cat will mysteriously enter the room and want to lay on all the layers, or stick his paws beneath the quilt top to investigate." Don't worry, it's a common mis-interpretation!

    This was great :) I do this all the time in my Accounting class. I never get it until I can relate it to quilting, then it clicks!

  4. OMG, that is too cute. I never took physics in school. Just typing and business and math. I never appreciated my math classes until I started quilting. So, starch. I'm about to layer a lap size quilt. What is your starch/water recipe. I think I'll give that a try. I like the idea of having a stabler back to glide over the bed of the sewing machine.

  5. Thanks Karen,
    That was not only a good tutorial, but a funny lighthearted description of a somewhat terrifying process. I think Polly must be the TA for the class Lynn

  6. Thanks for the process photos. I always learn so much here on your blog....and now we're on to physics! How 'bout adding chemistry to the list and tell me how you make that starch, please. Thanks! And, by the way, do you have to wash the final quilt to get rid of the starch?

  7. Karen, thanks for the starch recipe that you shared with us at the workshop. It is so cheap compared to Best Press. I shared the recipe with my friend in Newfoundland this morning.

  8. Karen - thank you so much for this tutorial!!! I have never had much success with basting - I think I am too impatient!! But I followed your tutorial for a baby quilt I had to get quilted and it worked really, really well!! This is one I think I will be referring to often!!