I must be honest – I am about to describe the part of making a quilt I like the least!
This is not a definitive description of how to make a quilt sandwich – many people have different techniques. The methods described below are commonly used, and can be combined into what works for you.
Advice: If this is your first quilt, try something small first, like a cushion cover. That will give you the basic idea of making the quilt sandwich without having to fight with vast swathes of fabric!
What is a quilt sandwich?
A standard quilt sandwich is made up of 3 layers:
- The top, which is usually (but not always) a completed piece of patchwork, usually cotton.
- The wadding (UK) or batting (US). This is a thicker middle layer which provides the warmth and texture after quilting. This wadding can be made out of a multitude of materials – Polyester, Cotton / Polyester mix, Cotton, Wool, Silk, Bamboo and various recycled materials are available. They can vary in quality and vary significantly in price. Buy for your purpose and according to your wallet – they each have their own qualities. The only point to be made here is buy wadding that is meant for quilting – buying something else because it is cheap is likely to cause disappointment, as it won’t hold up to washing, and might not even quilt well..
- The backing. This can be many different things. It can be a plain piece of decorative cotton fabric, another piece of patchwork or, for something like a wall hanging, it could be plain calico. It could even be fleece!
Other than your 3 layers described above, you will need some of the following – your selection will depend on the size of your quilt and the sandwiching method you intend to use:
- Masking tape
- Hand sewing Needle
- Contrast thread for hand basting
- 505 spray – this is a temporary, repositionable adhesive spray for fabric, which washes out. (Other temporary spray adhesives are available, but I have not used them so cannot vouch for them.)
- Quilters curved safety pins
- Pipe insulation / Pool Noodles / Planks of wood (for Method B) – you will need 3 or 4 of your chosen item for Method B.
Pros and Cons
The pros and cons of most of the materials required are obvious, and depend on personal preference. However, the following may be helpful:
Odif 505 Temporary Adhesive for Fabric
- Quick and easy to use.
- Easily repositionable, so if you get a wrinkle, you can separate the layers and restick them.
- Good hold for small to medium sized quilts.
- Washes out.
- Only a small amount is required.
- It smells! You really need to use it in a well ventilated area.
- It is an aerosol can, and aerosols / chemicals do not suit everyone.
- Easy to use too much.
- Overspray (outside the confines of the quilt fabric) is hard to control so gets everywhere, and can remain sticky for some time.
- It has been reported that 505 can leave a sticky residue on sewing needles, but I have not experienced this.
- Can be expensive.
Quilters Curved Safety pins
- Readily available.
- Easy to use.
- If you need a lot of them on a large quilt, they can be hard on the hands and fingers!
- They can have blunt or bent tips, and be quite thick, so leave marks in some fabrics.
- Can get in the way of quilting, so sometimes need to be removed as the quilting progresses.
Pipe insulation / Pool noodles / Planks of wood (for Method B)
These are all used in Method B to wrap your quilt layers around, making them easy to handle. I use Pipe Insulation.
Pros – Pipe Insulation
- Easily Accessible.
- Comes in long lengths from any DIY store
- Easy to store.
Planks of wood
- All of the above plus
- Rigid – more stable
- Allow fabric to be wound very neatly.
- All of these can be unwieldy due to the length
- Wood can be heavy.
Prepare your Quilt Sandwich
The aim is to make a stable quilt sandwich of 3 flat layers where the layers are stable ie don’t move against each other during quilting. This will mean that you can avoid folds or tucks in your fabric when you are quilting.
There is something to note here: if you intend to have your quilt sent to your friendly local long arm quilter, please liaise with them before you prepare your sandwich. They might have specific requirements on backing and wadding overhang dimensions for their particular quilting frame.
Prior to layering your sandwich, you need to prepare your fabric and wadding:
- Press your fabric top well, so it lays flat.
- Measure your top.
- Ensure your backing fabric is pressed really well, and cut your backing fabric 4-6 inches larger than -your top in each direction.
- Cut your wadding 3-5 inches bigger than your top in each direction.
- The backing fabric and wadding must be bigger than your top because during the quilting process, everything will be pulled together and ‘shrink’ slightly as it is quilted through the layers. Therefore you need additional fabric and batting to allow for this. Otherwise you will be cutting your beautifully pieced top to fit your shrunken backing and wadding, and you do not want to lose elements of your top.
Method A – Layer your quilt sandwich
(Please see Method B below if you have a very large quilt or have limited working space)
- Lay your backing fabric very flat onto a convenient surface – a table or the floor. Ensure it is wrong side up – right side to the floor.
- Use masking tape to secure it down. It needs to be taut, but not stretched. The key here is NO WRINKLES! If you are laying your quilt out on a carpet, the fabric can feel quite secure against the carpet, so it can be tempting to skip securing the fabric with masking tape. Don’t, as the fabric will creep and can move as you add the layers, resulting in wrinkles and folds. (Ask me how I know…..)
- Optional: ** If you want to use 505 spray to temporarily fasten the layers together prior to quilting, at this point I would spray the backing fabric lightly with 505 spray. Ensure you are in a well ventilated area, and try to avoid getting it on your carpet, or you will be sticking to the carpet for days…..
- Centre your wadding on the backing fabric as neatly as you can – you need to be able to see the backing fabric all the way round. Smooth it out with your hands from the centre. If you have used 505 spray, this will now stick your wadding to your backing. If you have any wrinkles, remove them!
- Ensure that your top is still well pressed – if not, press it again.
- Optional: ** If you are using 505 spray, at this point lightly spray 505 on your laid out wadding to allow the top to stick to the wadding.
- Lay your top neatly in the centre of the wadding – you need to be able to see the wadding all the way around. Again, ensure it is smoothed out and that the top is oriented correctly if the orientation is important eg if the quilt is rectangular or you have a directional design.
- DO NOT trim your backing fabric and wadding until AFTER the sandwich has been quilted.
You now need to secure your layers, to ensure that they don’t move while the quilting happens.
Securing your layers
There are several common ways to secure your layers together:
- 505 spray.
- Hand basting.
- Curved safety pins.
The bigger your quilt, the more secure your layers need to be. For a small quilt eg a cushion top, Method A is suitable and 505 (if you wish to use it) is easily strong enough to hold the sandwich.
505 Spray. If you are only planning on using 505 spray, you have already secured your layers. 505 alone is, in my opinion, only suitable for small quilts. Personally, I tend to use a belt and braces approach with larger quilts. I would use 505 to stick the layers together, then would use light hand basting or some safety pins as well.
Hand Basting. If you hand baste (whether with 505 or not), you should start securing the layers at the centre and work outwards, ensuring at all times that the quilt layers remain smooth. Alternatively, I have been successful in starting at the centre of one edge and basting across the centre of the quilt to the centre of the opposite side, then basting in lines parallel to this first line working outwards towards the edges. If you feel the quilt layers need more stability, then baste perpendicular to these lines as well.
Curved Safety Pins. If using curved safety pins, start at the centre and pin approximately a hand width apart, working outwards and ensuring that the quilt layers remain flat. It is good to think about how you are planning to quilt at this time if you can, because it is worth trying to place the safety pins in areas which will not be quilted.
You now have a quilt sandwich!
Method B – used for large quilts or when working space is tight
Select 3 or 4 pipe insulation / pool noodles / wooden planks. Preferable they will be longer than the width of your quilt. These will become rollers for each of your layers.
- Ensuring that your fabrics (but not wadding) are well ironed, spread your backing fabric out as much as you can and carefully roll the fabric around your chosen roller ensuring that the fabric remains smooth as you roll it. If it is directional or not square, ensure that you understand the direction that you are rolling the backing.
- Orienting your top and wadding to match the backing, repeat for your wadding and your top. They all need to be smoothly rolled around your chosen roller.
- Arrange your roll of backing fabric so it will unroll right side down. Unroll enough to give yourself room to work, smoothing out to ensure no wrinkles. Secure what you can see with masking tape if you need to.
- Optional: ** If you want to use 505 spray, spray the unrolled backing fabric lightly with 505 spray, remembering that ventilation is required and to avoid overspraying.
- Arrange your roll of wadding fabric on top and unroll, centring side to side and allowing a 1/2 to 1 inches from the top of the backing fabric (depending on the size of the extra fabric you allowed for your backing fabric), ensuring it is straight in relation to the backing fabric and oriented correctly. Smooth out, ensuring no wrinkles.
- Optional: ** If you are using 505 spray, at this point lightly spray 505 on your wadding as before to allow the top to stick to the wadding.
- Do the same with the top, with the right side up and aligned with the wadding, about ½ to 1 inch from the top of the wadding. Smooth again with your hands (repositioning any wrinkles if you are using 505 spray).
- Unroll all 3 rolls carefully as far as your space allows, keeping everything absolutely flat as you work.
- Proceed with securing the layers as described under Method A above on the portion of the layered quilt that you can see, working as if this was the whole quilt. Ensure that you are working from the centre to the edges where possible.
- When the visible quilt is secured, take your 4th roller (if you feel you need it) and roll the layered quilt onto it. This will then give you room to unroll more of your layers for the securing process.
- Continue until the whole quilt is layered, ensuring each layer is flat and aligned at each stage.
You now have a quilt sandwich!
Now, over to you to get it quilted…….
- Thanks to Sheena Roberts (of Green Man Quilts and a regular blogger on this site) for her input!
- Any errors and omissions are my own.