Monday, September 18, 2017

How to Baste a Quilt with a Glue Stick

Quilt basting: everyone's least favorite part of the process.  In the past three years as CiL has grown and the number of quilts I finish vastly increased I've moved from pin basting to spray basting to glue basting.  Glue basting is easy and fast, which are the most important factors for me.  I've gotten a few questions recently so I figured it would be good to do a detailed post :)

I use plain old Elmer's glue sticks to baste.  I like the purple kind because it lets me see my glue lines. These are the extra large sticks, they usually cost a dollar and one will do about 1.5 large quilts.  Despite not changing my needle nearly as frequently as I should (you know we all do it) I have had NO issues with the glue gumming up the needle. If any of it is being transferred to the needle it's not noticeable at all.

Start by spreading out your batting on the floor (or any flat surface, I used to do it across the bed, and you will only do a section at a time). Having something stiff underneath like a large cutting mat does help. Spread out the top and make sure the batting is big enough.

Fold back about 18" -24" of the top edge (where you had it most precisely aligned) and quickly apply lines of glue about every 6". Obviously this wouldn't work with high loft batting, but with something like Warm and Natural, or this Quilter's Dream blend the batting doesn't try to warp or stretch.

Pull the folded up section of top back over the glued area and press firmly with your hands starting from the center.  Then fold up the longer, loose part of the top onto the part you just glued down.

Again, apply glue to a section about 18-24" long, pull the folded top back into place and press smooth.

I find it easiest to smooth and press the newly glued sections from on top of the quilt.  The working time with the glue is similar to with spray baste: not a whole lot, but enough.  Once the newly-glued part is stuck fold back the loose edge again and repeat.

Keep this up until you've got the whole top attached. If you are working on a small surface (like a table or cutting mat) you can fold the finished part and pull the new up as you go.  Once the top is attached I usually trim my batting to within a couple inches of the top.

Flip the top-batting sandwich over and repeat the exact same process, starting with lining up the backing to make sure it's big enough.

Next step: quilting.  The diagram above is a (very) rough depiction of the approach I take to quilting on my domestic machine. Basically I start about 20" from the bottom of a long side, I work across the adjacent short side covering the outer (about) 20" of the quilt, turn the corner and go up the other long side, then down the other short side, then fill in whatever remains.  Often I use the quilt blocks as a guide.  This method keep me from accidentally skipping any areas and minimizes the bulk going through the throat of the machine at any given time.

My mid-arm quilting machine is one of those temperamental divas that only like certain kinds of thread.  Aurifil was recently kind enough to send TWO big cones of thread for Covered in Love. Note, this is not a sponsored post, they sent me thread without asking for anything in return and I just really want to say THANKS!

This kind of glue basting is obviously not for everyone, or for every quilt. You can't do this on a quilt that won't be washable. I don't think it would work for walking foot quilting or for very tight FMQ; the fabric isn't stretched taut enough and wrinkles would be inevitable.  I have seen techniques using thinned out bottled Elmer's glue to paint the entire surface of the batting, and I imagine that might work since every square inch is covered.  For me I find that the amount of shifting/wrinkling I get with this is very similar to what I had with pin basting.  For a loose, free motioned stipple it works perfectly!

For reference, this is my typical stipple density. That is a 12" block, and I have small hands.  After quilting I finish my quilts as usual and then toss them in the wash. I don't have to use extra soap or hot water or anything to get the glue out, it comes out fine. You can tell it's all gone once the rinse water is clear instead of purple. 

I hope this helps take some of the pain out of basting for you! If you have any questions please comment and I will do my best to answer them.


  1. Thanks I do many little project and my family hates the smell of the spray ones. With cold weather coming it will be hard to do them outside so this will work great. I have never seen the big tubes.

  2. I'll have to try this! The 505 basting spray is expensive and the nozzle gets gummed up fast. I'll bet the glue sticks would work for tight FMQ, too. I think I'm really using my hands to stop the shifting in the small area I'm working for FMQ, not the spray adhesive.

    1. Oh, and big thanks to Aurifil! If you send me a contact name/email address for them, I'll thank them personally :)

  3. Nice tutorial on basting quilts. Thanks for all the good information. That spool of thread is HUMONGOUS!! Not sure my sewing machine could handle such a giant spool. :)

  4. Have you thought about rolling the quilt top up onto something like a pool noodle or cardboard tube instead of folding it back and forth. It might make your process a little smoother.