The funny thing about writing about your favorite things is that as soon as you finish and get back to your quilting, you suddenly realize that you left out some of the best ones.
For example, Jodie Ritto commented on my “Favorite Things” blog entry and mentioned one of her favorites—a telescoping wand with a magnet on the end, ideal for picking up dropped pins and needles. I have one, too, always at the ready in deference to the fact that I rarely wear shoes when I’m at home. It’s in my best interests to keep sharp, pointy things off my floor. (That magnetic wand will also came in handy for retrieving your thimble, should you ever drop it and have it roll out of reach, like under your oven.) Thanks, Jodie.
Even before getting started quilting, I prepare my fabric, and I’m an avid pre-washer. (See my blog entry from April on that very subject.) I try to prewash my fabrics as I buy them, but that’s not always possible. Some get put away without ever being treated to a bath. So, when rooting around in my stash, how do I know if a piece I want to use has been through that process?
Enter those cute little string-attached price tags. If there’s one safety-pinned to the fabric, marked with the yardage amount, then it’s sure to have been washed, tossed for a few minutes in the dryer, and pressed dry.
A lot of my favorite tools have a role in my machine quilting.
I currently don’t have enough space at home to pin-baste a quilt larger than lap size, so I rely on a church school classroom or my local quilt shop for a table to use. To be sure that I’ll have everything I need to do the job, I keep a shoe-box size bin of all the necessary tools. When I am ready to prepare a quilt top for quilting, I grab the box (along with the quilt top, batting, and backing, of course) and head out the door. The box includes binder clips, a roll of 1½" wide masking tape, a tin of 1" safety pins, the Kwik Klip™, a grapefruit spoon (Really? A grapefruit spoon? Yep.), and batting scissors.
When preparing a quilt top to be quilted, the first thing that gets laid down is the backing (wrong side facing up, while we’re on the subject). It needs to be held smooth and taut but NOT stretched. My favorite way to accomplish that is to use large size binder clips to secure the backing to the table. Where the backing fabric hangs over the edge, it can be clipped to the table with one of those clips. If you happen to have a table edge too wide for the clips to grip, then masking tape can be used (hence the reason for the box to include both clips and tape).
Start by securing the middle of one side, then the middle of the opposite side; then the middle of the two remaining sides, smoothing the fabric from the center as you go. Place additional clips on each side and at the corners, alternating between the four sides. As you continue to add clips, you may need to reposition some of them that were added earlier to ensure there are no bumps or wrinkles in the backing.
All this involves a fair amount of running around the table to ensure that you’re smoothing the backing evenly, so this is a good time to enlist the help of a fellow quilter (or even a non-quilter).
Once the backing is secure, you can lay the batting on top of it, smoothing it in place, starting from the center and working your way toward the edges. There’s no need to secure it any further at this point.
One of the reasons I prefer a cotton batt is that the process of smoothing it in place will result in its clinging to the cotton backing. It will also cling to the quilt top (assuming this is not a crazy quilt of satins and silks) in the same way as you smooth that into place, again starting from the center and working your way out toward the edges.
When all three layers are positioned, now is the time to start pinning them together so the layers won’t shift out of position while you’re quilting. Again, I start in the center and use 1" safety pins. Yes, you will see some much bigger pins masquerading as “quilting pins” but the shafts are so much thicker than on the smaller pins that they can leave large holes in your quilt top. Granted, those holes will probably close up when the quilt is washed, but I’d rather avoid them in the first place.
These 1" pins come with both a straight and a curved shaft. Some quilters find the curved shaft is easier to get through all three layers. You want to distribute the pins about a hand-width apart across the surface of the quilt top, all the way to a hand width from the edge.
Closing all those pins can result in some pretty sore fingers (to say nothing of the job it can do on a manicure). Kwik Klip to the rescue! Its notched metal piece can hold and lift the shaft of the pin, enabling you to grab the head of the pin and bring it around the point of the shaft.
I’m right-handed, so I will insert as many pins as I can comfortably reach from where I’m standing with my right hand, then close them all while holding the Kwik Klip in my left hand before moving on to another area. (Moving to a different position will change the angle of how the pins are inserted and it’s easiest to insert and close from the same angle.)
Some find it easier to hold the Klip in their right hand and maneuver the pin with their left. Either way (or in reverse if you’re left-handed), the idea is to insert a lot of pins at once, then close them all; it’s much more efficient than doing them one at a time.
Now why a grapefruit spoon? It is an adequate substitute for the Kwik Klip if you don’t happen to have one (or if you have misplaced the one you do have). I found my bamboo-handled one at a yard sale and paid next to nothing. The wider handle is closer to the nice fat wooden handle of the Kwik Klip than the standard girth of a piece of silverware, and is easy on the hands. (Remember, you’re putting in hundreds of pins on a large quilt and your hand can get cramped holding something that doesn’t comfortably fill your hand.)
Having an extra tool, like the spoon, will give whatever helper you may have along to assist with the smoothing a chance to help with the pinning as well.
Well, this discussion of favorite tools has seemed to morph into a lesson on pin-basting your quilt for machine quilting. And I’ve only taken you to the edge of the quilt, and there’s still some extra batting and backing to deal with (I’ll give you a hint: batting scissors) and there are some final steps to take before actually starting to quilt. And why are we using pins instead of thread for the basting, anyway?
More next time!
by Linda Baxter Lasco
Linda’s past and present roles in the quilting world include teacher, lecturer, judge, and quilt shop staff member. She also completed stints as program chair for both the Artful Hands Quilt Guild and the Rhododendron Needlers Quilt Guild, in Mansfield and Walpole, Massachusetts, respectively.
Additionally, while working as a senior editor at the American Quilter’s Society for nine years, Lasco edited many books and stand-alone patterns. She also wrote the quilting book, Red, White & Quilted, published in 2014.