Quilt Basting for Beginners: How to Baste a Quilt

Quilt basting is essential to prepare your project for quilting. Learn how to make a quilt sandwich and discover 4 ways how to baste a quilt.

Whether you’re a basting enthusiast like I am or you just see basting as a necessary (and evil) step in the quilt-making process, it’s something you can’t avoid. 

I’m here to tell you that quilt basting doesn’t have to be scary or tedious and the good news is there is more than one method to do it. So let me show you all there is to know about basting a quilt, and you’ll become a quilt basting pro in no time!

What Is Quilt Basting?

Let’s start right at the beginning, shall we? If you’re a new quilter and a foodie, like us, I’m sure basting reminds you of something completely different from what it means in quilting. Throw in expressions like quilt sandwich, and you’ve got quite a conundrum on your hands.

Well, basting in this case has nothing to do with food prep (and neither does a quilt sandwich, go figure). Quilt basting is the process of attaching the three layers that make up a quilt blanket (i.e. the quilt sandwich) together to ensure they stay put for the next step, which is quilting by sewing machine or hand.

Basting a Quilt

Is It Necessary To Baste A Quilt?

Unless you are planning to have your quilt quilted professionally by a longarm quilter, then yes, basting a quilt is absolutely necessary. It is the only way to ensure the three layers will stay put when you quilt them. 

So, if you’re going to machine quilt or hand quilt, basting the quilt first is a step you cannot skip!

Although quilt basting can be a bit tedious it pays out to do it right. There are numerous ways to baste a quilt and we’ll get there in a minute. But no matter what technique you use for basting, you will start by making a quilt sandwich.

Making a quilt sandwich

So what is this sandwich we keep talking about? Again, nothing to do with food. Sorry… But anyway, before you learn how to baste a quilt, you’ll have to learn to make a quilt sandwih.

What Is A Quilt Sandwich?

A quilt sandwich is what you get when you layer your quilt backing, batting, and quilt top together. It is basically what the finished quilt is made of (minus the binding which you add in your final step).

DTQ TIP: Read more about different kinds of quilt batting in How to Choose Batting for a Quilt. Also, learn How To Choose Backing For A Quilt and how to plan it, so you get the most out of your yardage.

How To Make A Quilt Sandwich?

Making a quilt sandwich is as easy as layering the three layers of the sandwich one on top of the other. The trick here is making sure you do that in a way that prevents each layer from puckering, so you get a nice clean finish when quilting.

So, how to baste a quilt without wrinkles? You make sure you sandwich the layers correctly. And to do that I’ll show you what I think is the best way to sandwich a quilt.

  1. First, lay out your backing fabric with the wrong side facing up. Depending on what you have available, lay it out on the floor or, even better, on a flat elevated surface (like a large cutting table, kitchen island etc.). This will make the process much easier as you won’t be crawling on the floor for the whole ordeal. 
  1. Second, using masking tape, tape the fabric on the surface. Make sure there are no wrinkles on the fabric, meaning it is taut. However, do not stretch the fabric!
  1. Now, lay your chosen batting on top of the backing fabric and again, smooth it out. No need to tape down the batting as the friction between the fabric and the batting itself holds it in place nicely.
  1. Lastly, lay your beautiful quilt top on top (with the right side facing up). Both the backing and the batting should be about 4’’ (but at least 2’’) larger on all sides. This means you’ll see batting and possibly some backing fabric on the sides as you lay everything out.
  1. Voila, you’ve made a quilt sandwich. It might not be as delicious as what you first had in mind, but it’s just as satisfying!

Quilt Basting Methods

As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are numerous ways to baste quilt layers together. I haven’t tried all of them and I won’t hide that I use my preferred quilt basting method (which is pin basting) 99% of the time. Nevertheless, we’ll take a look at how to baste a quilt four different way. I’ll let you decide which one works best for you!

Method 1: Pin Basting A Quilt

This is my preferred quilt basting method. Pin basting a quilt simply means attaching the quilt layers together using basting pins.

What Are The Best Basting Pins For Quilting?

There are different types of pins you can use and they will all serve their purpose. However, I find curved safety pins for quilting make the job much easier, so I recommend using those. They look like regular safety pins but are slightly curved, which means they are much easier to maneuver through the layers.

When you buy pins, make sure they have sharp tips. I’ve seen reviews on certain pins saying the tips were blunt, which makes pin basting close to impossible. Not to mention the damage a blunt tip can do to your fabric.

What Size Quilting Pins Do I Need?

Quilting pins come in sizes 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, with size 4 being the largest. 

A good ‘basic’ pin size is 2,  which is about 1 ½ inches long (or 38 mm). This is what I use for all of my projects and they work great. They are large enough to maneuver through the fabrics but still small enough so they don’t make giant holes in your quilt. 

For tiny intricate projects choose a smaller pin size. If you’re making very thick quilts with a lot of loft, choose a larger pin size.

How Many Pins Do You Need To Baste A Quilt?

This is a very important part of pin basting – using enough pins! If you place your pins too far apart, your quilt will very likely pucker as you quilt it, which we don’t want. That’s why it’s important to place the pins no more than 4-5’’ apart. Now if you do some math, you’ll see that adds up to a whole lot of pins. But I promise you you’ll never regret overpinning.

Another thing I have found is that the number of pins I use will depend a lot on the type of batting I use. The loftier the batting (read about loft in batting here) the more pins I think it requires as the layers tend to shift more. Low loft batting on the other hand tends to stay in place even without using lots and lots of pins.

To give you a sense of how many pins you will need for basting, here is a quick calculation if you want your pins to be roughly 4’’ apart (that’s what I usually aim for with higher loft batting).

Size of quiltNumber of basting pins needed
(very approximate)
baby40 x 40’’80
throw50 x 65’’200
queen90 x 108’’500

As you can see, that’s a lot of pins! I usually only make throw size and baby quilts, so I’ve never pin basted a queen quilt and can’t report on how tedious that is. If big (or huge) quilts are your jam and you want to avoid pinning hundreds of pins through your quilt sandwich, maybe go with a different basting method.

Method 2: Basting With A Basting Spray

The second very popular method of quilt basting is by using an adhesive spray for quilting. Basically, the spray temporarily attaches the layers together long enough for you to quilt them. 

How To Use Basting Spray For Quilting

If not used cautiously, basting spray can get a bit messy. That’s why it’s important to cover your workstation with some kind of protective cloth. This will ensure the spray doesn’t get anywhere it’s not supposed to. 

I want to mention here that spray basting can be done on a vertical workstation, i.e. a design wall, so you won’t necessarily have to go down on the floor as is often the case with pin basting. 

Begin by laying out the backing fabric (with the wrong side facing up) and taping it to the (protected) workstation. Place the batting (still rolled or folded) on the edge of the quilt and, working in sections, baste the two layers. Spray a small section of the backing fabric with the adhesive spray and lay the batting over it. Repeat the process until you’ve basted the entire surface.

Once you’ve secured backing and batting, it’s time to do the same with batting and the quilt top. Make sure the right side of the quilt top is facing up as you do this.

After you’ve finished attaching the quilt top to the batting, your quilt sandwich is ready to be quilted.

How To Spray Baste A Large Quilt?

The process of spray basting a larger quilt is similar to what I just described. However, you might want to ask someone to help you if your quilt is very large. Spray a smaller section of the bottom layer and have your helper unroll the upper layer and smooth it out as you go. Consider doing this on the floor to make sure you get the layers as smooth as possible.

Does Quilt Basting Spray Wash Out Completely?

Yes, adhesive spray for basting washes out completely in the washing machine. This means there are no chemicals left in your lovely new quilt after you wash it. Yes, this also means that basting spray is safe for baby quilts. Just make sure you wash it before gifting or using it.

Pin Basting Vs. Spray Basting A Quilt

As I’ve said, my preferred method is pin basting. There are a few reasons why I prefer pin basting to spray basting. Number one is the messiness of spray adhesives. If you’re not super careful (and I can’t seem to be) you can get the spray everywhere and it’s very tedious to clean. I also really don’t like the chemical smell of the spray (but maybe that’s just the brand I used).

The other reason is that I find pin basting makes the layers much more secure. I never have to worry about the layers shifting, if they are secured with enough pins, whereas the adhesive still allows the layers to move a bit.

The final reason is the cost, which is much higher with spray adhesive. Sure, buying a bunch of curved basting pins can set you back 30 or 40 bucks, but that’s a one-time cost. You’ll be using the same pins over and over and over again. Meanwhile, a can of spray adhesive can cost up to $25, so if you use it for every quilt…it adds up!

Of course, I know a lot of quilters love using adhesive spray, so I suggest you try both methods and decide which suits you better. But for now, I’m sticking with pins 🙂

Method 3: Quilt Basting with an iron

This method only works for smaller quilts and cotton batting, but if you’ve been wondering if you can baste a quilt with an iron only, the answer is yes.

How To Steam Baste A Quilt

First, I suggest you make a mini test quilt sandwich and iron it to see if the batting will adhere to the other layers. Normally, this works with cotton batting and some blends. Test it out to be sure!

Make your quilt sandwich and attach it together with a few pins in the corners (just to make sure the corners don’t flip). Iron the quilt sandwich with your iron on a hot steam setting. And you’re done! If only it was this easy for larger quilts also.

Method 4: Thread Basting a Quilt

Basting a quilt with thread is the ‘traditional’ method and is probably what your grandmother would use if she was a quilter.

How To Thread Baste A Quilt

The process of thread basting a quilt is pretty straightforward. You begin by making a quilt sandwich like with other methods described here.

Using a darning needle and thread, secure the layers together with large oversized stitches. Work from the center of the quilt outwards. First, do the stitches horizontally and then vertically to form a grid. If you have a large quilt on your hands, you may also want to add diagonal stitching.

Thread basting is best when you plan to hand quilt, as there are no pins to be in the way of hooping the quilt. If you’re planning to quilt on your sewing machine, be careful as the thread can get tangled in your walking foot.

I have to say, although many quilters see basting as something that *has to* be done, I actually kind of enjoy it. Once you’ve mastered your preferred method it’s done pretty quickly, and it gets you one step closer to your finished quilt. And we all love that, don’t we?

No matter which method you choose, happy basting!

Further Reading

Finish a Quilt in 3 steps

If you’re new to quilting and you’re overwhelmed with how to finish a quilt, here are the 3 basic steps with links to useful tutorials:

STEP 1: BASTE
How to Baste a Quilt >

STEP 2: QUILT
Machine Quilting for Beginners >
Inspiring Straight Line Quilting Designs >

STEP 3: BIND
The Ultimate Quilt Binding Tutorial >


If you prefer, you can follow our beginner-friendly tutorial on How to make a quilt from start to finish.

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