How to Prevent Quilt Backing Fabric from Puckering?


 A Quilting Forum discussion

From time to time I collect a thread of messages about a topic of interest to quilters from our own free-to-join Quilting Forum at Delphi (QFaD). Our Forum is a wonderful group of all levels of quilters who help and advice each other.  This discussion of preventing puckering in quilt backing is an interesting one and so we are sharing it.

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To prewash or not to prewash?

The Question Asked:

I'm having a terrible time with my backing fabric puckering. I've tried to be very careful in having all my layers smooth before pinning and I use a walking foot. Any suggestions on what I can do to help in avoiding this?

When you pin baste, your backing fabric not only has to be smooth, it must be taut. Tape the edges down tightly, or clamp them if you are using a table, before adding the batting and the top.



Thanks....I thought that might be the problem. I was going to clamp it to my dining room table but the edges were too wide for a clamp to fit on. I think I'm going to purchase a piece of plywood to lay on top of our pool table. Hopefully that will help.
Thanks a lot.

As a temporary solution (before buying and storing a huge piece of plywood) you might try what I do.
I have a fairly large table top and cover it with three strips of freezer paper. The paper is longer than the table, I tape it to the bottom of the short sides. On the long sides I leave about .5/1" beyond the edge of the table and pin the backing fabric to the paper. It gives me a nice flat back. I should say that I use this technique on twin and smaller quilts and use the spray baste. I don't get as good of results with larger quilts.

Before ending up with this solution, I tried covering the table with a large beach towel and then ironing the backing fabric to the freezer paper but I wasn't happy with the results. It's not going to work if you pin/sew baste but it might give you very good results on a small project that is spray basted.

I do keep my three strips for repeat use but I do very little applique so one roll of freezer paper is a life time supply. I use it for wrapping packages to mail, DS and I stamp it to make wrapping paper.

For larger quilts I move all the furniture in my living room, wash the hardwood floors and then layout the backing. I use my 6"x24" ruler to help smooth out from the middle of the quilt and then use canned goods all around the outer edges to hold it down. Some people use tape and I might on my kitchen flooring but not on the wood floors. I follow the same process for smoothing out the batting and the top. Then I pin baste (and pin and pin and pin). If you have carpeting, you can just pin the edges with a large open safety pin (put it straight up and down, not on its side) to keep the backing taut.

One other hint. If you use a packaged poly batt, let it out of the bag a day or two before you intend to use it so it can relax and get any wrinkles or fold lines out of it. It will be much easier to smooth down and will give you better results.

Caroline Z


Do the cans really keep the fabric nice and tight?
Another thing I was thinking of...I've got a large dining room table. The quilt I'm working on now is wider but shorter than the table. What about if I taped the short sides real good. Do you think that would be tight enough?


I also posted today about the spray baste, the topic heading is something like "have you tried 505?". I love the spray baste and get very good results, at least on quilts twin and smaller. I don't seem to have the technique down for the larger quilts. I've tried doing them in quarters and am just not satisfied. But if I had access to a large table (like school lunch size) I think I could get good results on the queen sized quilts. 

My dining room table is rather large and most crib sized quilts can fit on the top. With the twin sized quilts I have the short side across the top (it usually fits) with the length falling down, the weight of the fabric keeps that end reasonably taut. When I am done doing one side I let that side drop down and straighten and spray baste the other side.

When I use the spray baste on the smaller quilts I do half the quilt at a time. First I get the backing nice and smooth and then lay out the quilt batt to make sure I have it positioned well. Then I flip over half the batting, spray the backing and pull the batting over to place it down. Then I do the other side. I do the top in the same manner. You can lift and reposition the fabric if you get a crease, but you can't just squeeze it out, you actually have to lift that section of the fabric and replace it.

I've done 10-12 crib to twin sized quilts this year for Ronald McDonald House (children with cancer) and so have had lots of practice with spray baste. The first couple of times took forever, I over sprayed and didn't enjoy the results. But now I can do it quickly, easily, and get perfect results. The backs come out nice and smooth, and there are no safety pins to dodge when machine quilting, plus my fingers don't get all worn out from the safety pins.

Give it a try. Maybe not on this quilt but on another one, or even just with some large pieces of scrap fabric and batting.

Caroline Z

You mean that you don't use pins at all, you just spray baste all your layers together and it stays smooth and doesn't shift? Wow that would be a lot easier. I laid mine out just as you were describing on your dining room table. If that worked for you ok I'm just thinking that it's possible I didn't use enough pins. I know you're supposed to pin every few inches but I never thought it was really necessary (until now LOL). I've sewn for many years but just recently got into quilting. I've made three quilts so far, and they didn't turn out too bad, even did applique on one of them. I'm so thankful for the help from more experienced quilters like you.
I forgot to mention previously that the canned goods do work as fabric weights when I lay out quilts on the floor. It does take a number of cans (20?) and the bigger the better. A small soup can isn't too good but Chunky Soup and large cans of stew, peaches, etc. work well.

The whole advantage of the spray baste is no pins at all! No pinning and unpinning. No avoiding them as you quilt. No pins getting stuck on the edge of the sewing machine/table. No running out. No pricking/wearing off your finger. It's a wonderful thing and I do recommend at least trying it. Read the discussion also going on right now and hear some more of the pros and cons. The brand I use costs about $10-12 per can and I usually buy it for half off with a coupon. One can will do one queen sized quilt, or 2-3 crib sized. But my time and my fingers are worth something and I don't mind the cost.

I do use about 300-500 pins on a queen sized quilt, depending on the batting, my quilt pattern, and my quilting pattern. One way of judging on whether or not you are using enough pins is the hand test. Can you put your hand down without touching any pins? If so, then you probably aren't using enough. I find that one every six inches is the bare minimum of pins and that only works well if I am just making a grid with my quilting. I probably use at least 6-8 pins in a 12" block for quilting in the ditch or making a design. Plus, of course, there are the pins for the sashing and border. Use as small of pins as you can manage. When I started I used HUGE pins, then I went to medium and now I'm at small...

And actually, even though I spray baste I still find myself using pins. In the last year I've started drawing my quilting designs on tissue paper and pin those down (with the pins out of the way). A crib quilt takes about 6 sheets of tissue paper. It holds up surprisingly well while quilting and tears off easily but I generally only pin on one or maybe two sheets at a time so that it doesn't shred. The big advantage of this is that I usually don't know how I'm going to quilt a top until after I've already put it together (it's much easier to mark a top instead of marking on top of the batting). The other is that I'm not overly perfect with my free-motion techniques and by following the lines on the tissue paper no one can tell! The final reason is that it is easy to copy designs, it makes marking a border very easy. I draw the pattern once on freezer paper (my lifetime supply) with pencil, make any corrections, and then go over it in ink. Then I just put the tissue paper down and copy using pencil.

Caroline Z

Nancie, I'm still a beginner, just 5 quilts done. I have one of those folded cardboard cutting mats (about $5 at a fabric store or WalMart. WE have a small house so nowhere to spread out a quilt to baste it. I put the matt on the kitchen table and use clothes pins to stretch the backing taut, (I think large paper clamps from the office supply would even be better) and use open safety pins poked into the cardboard if my fabric doesn't reach the edge. This seems to work pretty well as I didn't have any puckering on my last 2 quilts. I also used over 400 pins on my last one, a crib quilt. It also protects the table from pin scratches. maybe this will help. jeri


If you have a tile or linoleum floor area large enough or have a friend who has one... lay the backing on the CLEAN floor and tape the edges securely to the floor then lay the batting on top making sure it is completely smooth then lay the quilt top on top and start pinning in the middle and work out to the edges...this should solve your problem. Also to make sure the tension is right for the combination make your a "mini" quilt out of your fabrics and batting ...about a 6 inch square should work... then using your walking foot start quilting it and checking for and adjusting your tension until it is right for the combination...that should do the trick for you. Now if I do not get back to my machine I will never finish all my Christmas gifts!!! Happy quilting!!! BTW...use lots and lots of pins. I used over 600 on the queen I am working on right now and the curved quilting safety pins seem to work the best and pin every 6 inches or so (the more you use the better). I know it is a pain but it pays off in the long run. I hate spray gums up my needle.
Oh. Has anyone used the new fusible batting by June Taylor?


I never prewash my backing. Once the quilt is done and I wash it the backing shrinks a bit and the puckering disappears.

Sounds like you use a lot of basting spray too...I live in area where I cannot get it in stores locally but I did find it on-line at Hancocks of Paducah, they have the one by Sullivan and it is only $8.98 with no s/h/tax to add to the cost ... that is if you order on-line. I just love it as arthritic fingers don't do pins well. I thought this source may be of interest to you...happy sewing
Yeah! One good thing about living in Italy, all the floors are tile so I just tape down my backing and pin away. Now if I could only think of another good thing about being here.

busy quilting in Bella Napoli

I haven't tried a full size yet, but I've talked to two people at my quilt store that did use the big size - one hand quilted, one machine quilted - and they really liked the way it handled. The next full size quilt I do, I'll use this.
I guess I am really in the dark ages! I still baste my large quilts by hand. I use my dining room table and start at one side with all three pieces rolled together. I baste every four inches in both directions. It takes a day to baste but I rarely have any problem with puckering on my backing or top. When I begin quilting, I always start from the middle of the quilt. This method using hand basting may seem very time consuming, but the results for me have been worth the extra effort!
One thing great about the old cardboard cutting board is that you can us thumbtacks along the top edge of the quilt to keep it from sliding while you are pinning. My board has been used so much it will soon fall apart, but it has a lot of miles on it. Thank goodness they still make them.

The only problem I've discovered is that it isn't large enough to handle the entire quilt. Can I pin it in sections, or should I buy another board, put them side by side, or somehow fasten them together?
I don't see why you couldn't get another board and fit them together. One way would be to use masking tape. -Usually I find it easy to lay the sandwich out on the cutting board. and it the whole thing does not fit. work in sections. I normally will have about half on the board, baste or pin (whichever I decide)and then roll it up to the part that has not been on the board yet, then adjust the remaining sandwich on the board and continue to the end. I know it sounds hard to do, but it is not as difficult as it sounds. The thing that sounds difficult to me is getting on the floor to put the 3 layers together. Audrey
I love the quilt fuse for smaller projects. But haven't been able to use it very successfully on handquilted projects. The last watercolor , a grand piano, wallhanging was a "hand breaker" by the time I quilted thru the Pellon grid squares and the quilt fuse. My husband was going to be in the hospital, so I wanted a small project I could be working on to keep me busy while we were all sitting around. It turned out great but I won't do it again.
Happy Quilting......Ruth in Kansas
It is important that while "sandwiching" your quilt that the backing is taunt. I tape my backing to the floor with duct tape. It's the only thing I've found that gives me a nice looking finished back.
Thanks Alley cat,
cuz I was getting WAY TOO MUCH information.

I find that puckering is caused BASICALLY by FEAR... you don't want to hurt the quilt so you don't stretch the back taut when you go to pin baste it.

This is one of my major PEEEEEVEEEES about spray basting once you put that batting down, that's it... oh, I know you can move it around... re-position... but it's a BEAR when the quilt is larger than about 45" on a side. BED SIZE... for get it.

Jane in Austin.

Do you anchor the backing fabric to the table securely - lots of masking tape, or quilt clips - so as not to allow it to move while you are layering and pinning or basting. Also, maybe if you pin or baste closer together, this might also help.
I have a small table and can't lay quilts out there to back and pin them. I know it's hard on the knees, but I lay the backing down on my living room floor. It's carpeted, so I just use either long straight pins or T-pins and just stick them into the carpeting at an angle so they pull the backing fabric really taut. Then I put the batting and the quilt top over the backing and pin. If the backing is pulled really taut, it sort of floats over the carpeting and you can feel if you start to pin into it. As I said, I know it's hard on the knees, but I just kneel on a pillow and that helps some. Unfortunately, it's my only option, but it's one that does work. Also I saw someone mentioned about letting the packaged batting rest unfolded for a day or so to let the creases come out. You can also get them out by laying the batting down (I do this on the floor, too) and using a blow drier to make it lay flat. It means you don't have a big piece of batting laying around, you don't have to think ahead and you don't have to wait to quilt if you forgot to think ahead!! LOL
I'd dearly love to have a large sewing room with a big table to cut and pin and sew on, but I don't have that kind on space. My sewing room (AKA my dining room) is small and has only a drop leaf table to seat four, but I manage. Quilters will do anything to get their daily "fix". LOL
Happy quilting,

Have you tried the new fusible June Taylor quilt batting? I tried it on a lap size quilt and was very happy with it. It's a little pricy, but I think the results are worth it. My machine is old and the walking foot doesn't work that well and I was going crazy trying to keep the puckers out. I had no problems with this fusible, though. It also didn't gum up my needle while quilting. When you're done, you wash the quilt as usual and the adhesive washes out, leaving the quilt with a nice feel and drape. I bought mine at Jo-Ann Fabrics, but some WalMarts also carry it. Good luck!!
Large paper clamps? What an idea! Guess who's off to Office Depot! I hate it when the masking tape pulls ravels on the edge.



I am a big fan of spray basting and have used it for a long time on baby and nap sized quilts. I'm unable to get down on the floor any more ( knees and fat),and no longer have access to large tables so thought I'd try the spray on a bigger quilt. Instead of taping the back down and then spraying it, I just sprayed the batting and then carefully placed the backing onto it. It takes two people to get it started, but then goes quite well. Sort of hard to explain, but here goes:

I worked on my kitchen counter, which is a good height to work from, and I can work from both sides ( island type). I start by spraying only the amount of batting that is lain on the counter ( about 30 "). With the help of another person, lay only that amount of batting onto the sprayed surface. Once that amount is smoothed down, then continue spraying a "counter width" of batting and with the biggest amount of fabric folded back on itself, work your hands under that fabric and smooth down the part that you want to stick. Once the backing has been adhered, I give it a good ironing, and then repeat the process with the top. It worked really well, and I machine quilted it with nary a pucker. It was flannel too!

I hope this makes sense to all of you. It sure saved me a lot of time and grief. I may be able to get lots more tops made into quilts. Its the basting bit that was preventing me from getting them done. another trick is to spray LIGHTLY and give the spray a few minutes to "set up" I always use Sullivan's even though it smells awful.

Cheers everybody, Judy H.
Hi Judy,
Yep, you brought up ONE GREAT POINT... you get help for the big ones,

I'm still doing it all by my self... unless I'm at bee, sometimes my bee buddies don't know we are having a 'help Jane baste' bee.

Jane in Austin.

Here's a hint I have used in other applications, though I think it would work for spray basting as well. Get an appropriately long cardboard cylinder free from a carpet store. Roll the backing onto it, wrong side out. Spray baste the batting that is spread out flat on a surface (plastic sheet over garage floor??) Now start at one end and carefully unroll the backing over the batting, smoothing as you go.

I actually think it was a pastry application. But I also used it to apply flannel to my foam core design boards after they were sprayed with adhesive.


Becky, your idea is ingenious! And that roll will stand up in a corner between sandwich parties. Way too cool. Thanks.

I'm so glad it worked for you! (Sandwich parties???)
You know, when you invite all the quilting buddies over to your house or the Town Hall, to which a very large van has delivered multiple large folding tables upon which you and your buddies will sandwich/layer your quilt tops for some predetermined amount of time and, which is traditionally followed by much camaraderie and munching of various goodies liberally laced with chocolate.
Oh, and I just about forgot. This sandwich party has been known to happen in rotation at all the quilting buddies' houses/towns, until all the tops are ready for quilting. This rotational ritual will give rise to another phenomenon which involves all these quilting buddies to pile into a van and travel to the nearest LQS to replenish the fabric that was used in the sandwiched/pinned/basted tops and thereby maintain the appropriate level of fabric in each individual stash. There will be feasting on this day too.

If you do the tour of Judy Martins house on she rolls her quilts on carpet rolls and displays them in the corner. So now you have a use for it in between sandwich parties. Decorative and functional.


Thanks to Everyone who added to this helpful discussion in our Quilting Forum!


Susan Druding

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