Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Basting?

The First Pins are In!
After procrastinating and worrying about it all week long, I finally got the Drunken Dragons quilt layered yesterday and began pin basting.  There are only 9 pins in the quilt so far, and about 500 to go, but at least it's a start!

I had difficulties with the ironing and starching of the quilt top and backing, which I was doing on a regular ironing board with Niagara spray starch and lots of steam.  I am a child of the Permanent Press generation, and I have no experience with starch.  No, scratch that -- I once attempted to launder and starch my husband's dress shirts, and he asked me never to do so again because people would make fun of him if he went to work looking like that.  So I ended up creating all kinds of distortion and stretching with my bungled pressing and starching process, and my mom came to the rescue and helped me get everything nice and flat again afterwards.  I think the problem was that the weight of the quilt top was pulling and stretching around the tapered end of the ironing board, because I had a series of "bubbles" at regular intervals going down the center of the quilt top and backing, each bubble uniformly the size and shape of the ironing board tip.  Maybe I shouldn't have used steam?  Maybe I was using too much starch at once, getting everything too wet before pressing?  Ideally, I think that job would have gone better on a larger rectangular surface, like if I wrapped the top of my cutting table with heat proof padding like a drapery workroom table.  Next time!

Backing Centered and Clamped, Wrong Side Up
So, once I had the quilt top and backing all flat and square again, the next step was to layer the backing, batting, and quilt top, and secure the layers together with safety pins in preparation for machine quilting.  I was really dreading this step from past experience and less-than-perfect results, so I did some research into how other quilters approach layering and basting for their quilts.  Some people will tape the backing down on a clean, smooth floor and crawl around on their hands and knees to do the basting, but with a quilt as big as mine I'd have to crawl ON the quilt to get to the middle, which would definitely cause shifting, not to mention back and knee pain.  Others recommend doing it on a raised table, in sections, which is what I've done before, and what I am doing this time.  The first thing you do is center your backing wrong side up on your table, smoooth it flat, and clamp it in place with binder clips from an office supply store.  Last time I did this, I was following directions that instructed me to "stretch" the backing until it was "taut" as I clamped it down, and I stretched it so tightly that, when the clamps were released, the backing pulled back immediately, creating reverse distortion.  That's probably a contributing factor to the little pleats and tucks I see here and there on the back of Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors.  So, this time, I followed the advice of Diane Gaudynski and Harriet Hargrave and used starch for the first time on the quilt top and backing with the final pressing, and instead of stretching the backing within an inch of its life, I just smoothed it out enough that I didn't get ripples when I ran my hand over the fabric.  Hopefully I'll get better results this time.

A word about my table: My cutting table is about 30" tall, with a 72" x 54" surface.  Bigger is not better, in this case.  I want my husband to rebuild it so it's only 36" wide, because I'm having to reach too much to get at the center of the table.  It is also taking up too much real estate in my studio, which I'm planning to completely reconfigure this summer for a more workable floorplan that can accommodate a desk with a computer near my sewing machine.  I find I'm using the computer more and more in my sewing, not just with the embroidery software, but to access online manuals, sewing blogs, tutorials, etc.  I also like to set one of the boys up in my room sometimes when they have a school project to work on that requires a lot of concentration, and a little computer desk would be perfect for that as well.

Batting Smoothed in Place Over Backing Fabric
Back to the project at hand!  Once the backing was centered and secured with clamps, I smoothed out my batting on top.  I ordered 3 1/4 yards of 96" wide Hobbs Tuscany Collection Silk Batting, so the length is almost the same as I cut my backing fabric but the batting is about 20" wider.  For layering purposes, it would have been easier to fold the batting in half twice and center it on the table, like I did the backing, but then I'd be cutting 10" strips off each side of the quilt.  This batting isn't cheap, so I lined up one edge with the edge of the backing fabric and all the excess batting is hanging off the back of the table, to be trimmed off once basting is completed.  That way I'll have a 20" wide strip of leftover batting that can be used for table runners, placemats, or other small projects.  I suppose I could have cut the excess 20" off first and then centered the batting over the backing fabric, but I heard a small voice of irrational fear whispering, "what if you accidentally cut off too much?" 

By the way, why am I using silk batting?  I have wanted to try silk batting ever since I took a hand quilting class with Dierdra McElroy of Roxanne International several years ago.  She passed around a hand quilted sample with silk batting, and it was just the snuggliest, softest, lightest thing you could imagine.  Wendy Sheppard raves about how well this particular silk batting does for machine quilting, remaining soft and drapable no matter how densely she quilts it, so I decided to give it a try.  The manufacturer says to expect approximately 5% shrinkage with this batting.  It's actually a 90/10 silk/poly blend that can be quilted up to 3 1/2" apart, and the washing instructions are "hand wash in tepid water and dry flat."  Hmm...  I don't do hand washing, but my fancy washing machine has a hand wash cycle that should do the trick.  The "dry flat" part may be more of a challenge, but maybe I can get away with machine drying it on low heat, delicate cycle?  Maybe I can at least partially machine dry, and then find someplace in the house where I can lay it out flat over towels, where the dogs can't get at it?  We'll see. 

No more tangents!  Back to my project!

All Three Layers, Ready for Basting
Finally, I centered my quilt top over the backing fabric and batting.  The seamlines on the quilt top made it easy to find the centers of each side and get everything nice and straight.  As you can see, the backing and batting are quite a bit bigger than the quilt top.  Most instructions tell you to just make sure your batting and backing are 2-3" bigger than your quilt top on all sides.  Again, the fear of "I cut it twice and it's still too short" prevented me from cutting off the excess backing and batting fabric prior to layering and basting.  I smoothed the quilt top out over the batting as best as I could, and started putting curved safety pins through all three layers, starting at the center of the quilt and working my way out towards the edges.   

Curved Safety Pins for Basting and Kwik Klip Tool
I'm using nickel plated, non-rusting, Size #1 curved safety pins, and I use that Kwik Klip tool to close the pins, to reduce sore fingers.  By the time I'm finished basting this quilt, there will be at least 500 safety pins in it, spaced about 2-3" apart. 

Now that I'm going over all of this in my head again, I'm glad I have less than 10 safety pins in the quilt so far, because I want to double check to make sure that the appliqued Scrabble label on the quilt backing is completely underneath the quilt top, so I won't cut part of it off when I trim off the excess backing fabric.  It would be REALLY ANNOYING to spend hours pin basting the entire quilt and then have to take all the pins out, shift the layers, and start over again!


Beadboard UpCountry said...

Youare so much more crafty than me!!!!!!!! I can't even darn a sock!!!!!!!!!It will turn out great!Maryanne xo

Ivory Spring said...

Let the fun begin! :) I love love love the color scheme of that quilt.