Open Line Friday–Do YOU Stabilize Your Quilts?

Nine Patch QuiltGood Morning, Quilters!

Welcome to Open Line Friday!  Everyone asks….Everyone Answers!

We have more than 10,000 experts from all areas of quilting and great minds don’t always think alike!

(BTW…I want to thank (and curse) all of you for your help on my English Paper Piecing questions.  Great advice and links for me to follow…for hours into the night!–If you missed it, check out the comments English Paper Piecing HERE.)


Today I would like to hear YOUR ideas on stabilizing,

What works for YOU…what doesn’t….

Do YOU stabilize your quilts before you begin free motion quilting?

Please join the discussion!


After the quilt is layered and basted…

(I used Warm and White Cotton batting for this quilt because it has white blocks and I didn’t want to discolor with a darker batting.)
Warm and White Batting,

I like to stitch in the ditch along the major blocks using a fine weight thread-so the stitching line is almost invisible.

Read all about Stabilizing Quilts HERE

Nine Patch QuiltStabilizing is adding another type of basting–only it is not removed.

Once the quilt is stabilized it can be quilted in any order.  You don’t have to quilt it from the center out.  Also, as you are scrunching and moving the quilt the layers can’t shift.  Nine Patch QuiltThis is one of my favorite things….
Nine Patch Quilt

A blank canvas…ready for quilting!!!

What about YOU?

Do YOU stabilize your quilts?

What is YOUR method?

We’d LOVE to hear!


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at  Thanks!




80 thoughts on “Open Line Friday–Do YOU Stabilize Your Quilts?

  1. I make more totes than quilts and I stabilize everything. I use 505 to attach batting to exterior of tote the I do some stitching to hold in place so that I can FMQ or straight line quilt. I also do this to the lining….I use batting and FMQ on both pieces. It gives the bag great body and the extra thread gives it strength. I even do some extra stitching on the handles for design and strength…I mostly use Warm and Natural for everything and cotton fabric. I use 1″ belting for inside the handles and cover them with pretty fabric.

  2. I have a love/hate relationship with stabilizing. Hate doing it (a tedious wrestling match). Love when it is done and my piece is manageable for the creative fun part.

    • Exactly how I feel. But I do like how it gives you time to bond with the quilt and helps the design plan percolate.

  3. Good morning, Lori-
    There is one method that I WON’T be using again to stabilize my quilts. That is using spray basting. Just last week I spray basted (outdoors) a quilt sandwich lightly and applied as directed. There was trouble joining the layers smoothly, the fabric colors rubbed off with the “gunk” onto my hands; the needle kept getting clogged up, etc.
    Maybe the brand of the spray is a bad one. The ingredients are so toxic, one probably shouldn’t use it for the environment and health.
    On a different note, I just got a brochure about the Wisconson quilt EXPO in September and found your name in there. Yipeeee!
    I hope to attend and see you.

    • I am excited to be presenting at Quilt Expo! Sorry about your basting… also I stabilize even after pin basting.

    • sorry you had a bad experience…I only use 505 and spray very lightly just to kind of move the quilt to my machine. If it is a large quilt I also use safety pins. I spray indoors with 505 and use very little it is

    • I only use 505 spray and since my sewing room is three flights up, I actually do it on the floor in my sewing room on the carpet! The overspray disappears and does not leave any gunk on the carpet, the quilt, my needle, etc. Been doing this way for years. I tried another spray when I ran out once and it was so gunky! I then stabilize similar to Lori’s method. Using Walking Foot, first stitch all around the perimeter, then stitch in the ditch of all the major borders, sashings, blocks, etc. It’s so simple and mindless. I usually have an old movie on that I know well so I can listen and only have to glance up once in awhile. Takes the boredom out of this part. Never have had a shift yet. I may be a bit more heavy handed with the 505 spray. It does cost a bit more, but the results are worth it – no frustration! When I get down to my last can, I immediately order more!

      • I feel the same way about 505 spray! Can’t do any quilting without it. On smaller quilts, 505 really does a great job of holding, but on the larger quilts I spray and pin baste, too.
        I discovered that Walmart carries the small cans so that I don’t have to put my quilting on hold until the large cans arrive.

    • Try using hard to hold hairspray. I use it and it holds well together while I stabilize and then when I am done it is almost gone from the quilt. When washed it has all disappeared. It doesn’t stick to the needle either.

      • Barb Ellis, What brand do you use — the cheapest you can find or a specific brand/ ingredient? Never would have thought of it, but it seems like it would work, would easily wash out & might add the stiffness (similar to spray starch/ sizing) to help with stitching.

    • For the
      Carolina lady – If you use spray basting for your quilts, press the quilt well after you spray baste and you won’t get that needle clogging. Or you may have used too much spray.

  4. I stabilize the same way you do Lori–usually just around the blocks to keep things from moving. I watched a Craftsy class with Cindy Needham and she said to stitch in every stinking ditch—it takes me long enough to FMQ when I stabilize around the blocks-I’d never get it done if I did every ditch!
    Have a great weekend!

  5. I took Cindy Needham’s class and use the ESS method, sometimes with water soluble thread and SID free motion on my sit doen

  6. You could use water soluble thread. Use in the same way you would pin baste. Or grid quilt because you don’t have to be so precise. It washes away when you wash your finished quilt.

    • Thank you to Lois and Dale for the great idea of using water soluble thread. I have some, but was unsure of how to use it. I do love the way SID helps stabilize, but don’t like to see the stitches that come out of the ditch on occasion. Water soluble thread is a great solution to that!!

      • Judy – I will often stabilize by SiD (major, ditches; not ESS 😉 while the top is basted only to the batting – then I go back and add the backing so none of those stabilizing seams show 🙂

  7. I stitch every stinking seam. (I learned this from Cindy Needham) it really paid off resently as I was working on a king size quilt on my sit down long arm. It added time to the overall quilting but once I started freemotion quilting I was glad I did it. Nothing shifted and I didn’t have any trouble.

  8. Yes, I stabilize just as you suggest, in the “ditch” all over. Another advantage is I take out pins as I go, reducing weight on a large quilt by a bit. I used Microquilter thread by Superior recently, 100 wt polyester, it did a great job, Bottom Line in the bobbin. No tension adjustment was necessary at all.

  9. I pin baste and then stitch/outline all of the blocks using my walking foot. Then I give it to my friend who does beautiful FMQ for me. I still do it this way if I am going to quilt it. I have sprayed a few but found it is a two person job to get it smooth without wrinkles. Plus it does need to be outdoors. So I have stuck to pin basting which I can do myself and in a relatively small space.

  10. For hand quilting,I used to hand baste a grid, but find that 505 and quilters’ safety pins give me good results. After many years of winging it, I am now basting the outer edge and that has kept me from catching the extra edge when I turn a large quilt. But I do believe in quilting from the center out.

  11. Yes, I Stitch in the Ditch at least around every block, even though I spray baste with 505. I’m lucky enough to have a ping pong table in our unfinished basement so do it down there with taping the backing down first, then using MDF boards my husband cut to 3″ x 4′, 5′, 6′, 7′ or 8′ lengths to roll half the batting on once I have it smoothed over the batting. Then do the other half, then the top after it is square on the backing. I never have any problems with pleats on the backs and though I still hate doing it, it saves my back and my knees : )

    • I have an old wooden Grace frame (with cogs) that is “self-basting” & does the same thing you describe with the boards, except mine are ~2″ square rails x length required. I rarely set it up to do that, except on a large, barely manageable quilt. I can’t crawl on the floor & bending/ reaching quickly brings on the pain. Generally, I use my dining table (w/ a heavy protective pad or heavy-gauge plastic) for pin basting or long-thread-basting, working from the center out – easier for me to reach on a table that’s 43″ wide. I typically only use the 505 spray for smaller projects. I like the idea of using soluble thread, but wonder if it isn’t akin to wasted work!

  12. Hello Lori and all,. I have a midarm quilting machine which has a ruler foot with a small slit in the middle for the thread. It helps me keep a straight line when stitching in the ditch by aligning that slit with the seam. Wala, no more wiggles unless I really get carried away.

  13. You will be at Expo? Yay! Now I *have* to go.

    I pin baste, and stabilizing depends on the piecing pattern and my plans for quilting. If there are distinct blocks in the pattern, I’ll stitch in the ditch. If there are distinct rows, vertical or horizontal, I’ll ditch as well.

    Sometimes, though, a quilt calls for more organic, all over quilting. Then I simply pin the crud out of it and start quilting in the middle. I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and pretty much have “packaging” the quilt for domestic machine quilting down to a science. Granted, it includes often laying a good portion of the quilt up on me as I quilt (yeah, wool batting in summer, even with the A/C on, is kind of…warm), but it works.

    • Well said. Sometimes it just does not work with the quilting design to quilt around each block. I pin heavily, in any case.

  14. So what I’m reading here is that it’s really personal preference. I have always hand quilted – in a hoop so nothing moved with stitch basting. I work a full time job and hand quilting takes lots of time. Decided I would never get all the quilts made that I want so I recently began researching machine quilting, bought a new machine and everything. First attempt was a disaster because I just stitch basted and EVERYTHING moved. I have spray and pins and will try both. Will also stabilize around all blocks. Wish me luck!

  15. My first FMQ class was taught by Mary Buvia and she said to stitch enough to prevent movement as you do the creative stitching. But a few months ago, Lori, you told us about “every stinking seam”. What a difference that makes. That is now the method I will use.

  16. I spray baste outside, yes, even on snow, then iron the sandwich. This makes the layers really cling to each other and you catch any wrinkles missed. Then I stabilize by stitching in the ditch from the outside in. I Quilt everything on my Bernina 750, including oversized queens. Works for me. Learned this method from a Craftsy class with Ann Petersen.

    • Good girl! I forgot to mention in my comment earlier about ironing the sandwich. It makes a HUGE difference! I too took the Ann Petersen class. She is wonderful and her outside in method as well makes do much sense!

  17. I never used to stabilize by stitching in the ditch first. More recently I started doing this and it really makes the whole process EASIER AND SMOOTHER. I really need to watch you more Lori, as I have fallen into the meandering pit! I recently tried some ruler work that was fun but FMQ goes so much quicker. Love your blog!

  18. I do not stabilize by stitching in the ditch. I thread baste my quilts using boards following Sharon Schamber’s method. The quilt is stabilized and nothing slips or slides around. I used to use pins and/or 505, but I can no longer crawl around on the floor! So this method allows me to sit and baste. When quilting, I use Martelli’s free motion gripper ring and easily remove the basting threads within the ring as I quilt. I’ve successfully quilted large quilts on my domestic machine using these methods without tucks or wrinkles on the back of the quilt.

    • I discovered this method recently as well. Using the boards produces a smoother back without crawling on the floor. I started with a lap size quilt. Now I need to get longer boards. The stitch basting takes a bit longer than pinning, but it was easier than I thought it would be. It was then easy to stabilize and remove basting as I went.

      • I’ve been using Sharon Schamber’s method for a few years now and absolutely love it. Once you get that stitch basting done, you can start quilting anywhere on the quilt and it is STABLE!

  19. I do a mix of hand baste and pin. Old fashion, I know. I stitch in the ditch only on projects in which I want that to be part of the quilting.

  20. I sandwich the quilt with 505. I ditch stitch the major blocks with a walking foot that has an inmthe ditch plate. I use Monopoly for the thread. The sandwich is ready when I am in the mood to FMQ or ruler quilt.
    P.S. It was delightful to find a sample of your quilting when I bought your book!

  21. I’m somewhere in the middle between simply stabilizing and ESS, but that is always my first step. I recently bought a sit down longarm, but do the straight stitching with a walking foot on my domestic (11″ bridge) and then the FMQ on the Q-20.

    • I stitch in the ditch right on my Q-20! I use the stitch regulator and go slowly – you could also try using an ruler and ruler foot. I’m mixed about the stabilizing issue. Sometimes I do it and sometimes I don’t. I had one quilt with six inch blocks and I stitched in the ditch around each block after pin basting and then some were so puckery it was hard to quilt them. So now, even when I Stitch in the Ditch, I start in the middle and stitch a few lines, then quilt those blocks before moving out and stitching in the ditch more. Hope that makes sense.

  22. I can not use spray as I am so very sensitive to any kinds of smells etc. but I do heavily pin baste everything I do….small to large! Then I stabilize all the major seams…..a tip I learned from Maurine Noble. I use a fine thread also. I do a lot of photo on fabric and I do extra longer stitch lines on those as the ink inthe fabric tends to make it shift and become distorted. Thanks for sharing your tips with us.

  23. I am far from being an expert – but I stabilize (and it works great for me) with Elmer’s Washable School Glue. I glue my batting to the backing and the top. I can iron it dry which really gives me a nice flat, wrinkle free (if I am careful) quilt to quilt. Once I did it there was no going back.

  24. I spray baste and then pin baste the quilt if it is a large one. I started doing this when I spray basted a wool batting on a large quilt and it did not work well. I took a 3 day class and the teacher recommended sittiching in the ditch with invisible thread, Nice to be able to remove the pins and take the weight off the piece. I was always a purest…alll cotton, only a hand quilter so this was a big switch for me. The quilt lays very flat after the stabilization you can can concentrate on your design rather than worrying about puckers or other blips. I like using FM foot rather than walking foot. It is faster and then you get on with the fun

  25. I’m curious how people use 505 on large quilts. I use it for small things, but how do you get everything flat on larger quilts??

    • I have my husband or son help me with larger quilts, so there can be one person on each side. we lay out backing, taped and lightly taunt, lay batting on it and smooth. Carefully fold back about 1/2 the batting, spray an 18 inch or so swath across quilt backing with 505 then carefully (both of you holding a side) lay a section of batting down on the sprayed backing and smooth batting out from center. Continuing repeating until you’ve reached the bottom/top of your quilt backing and do the other side. then smooth the top out on the batting, lining up an elements that you need to (I tape toothpicks to along the center of the backing to help line up center of the top) and then repeat the process.

      I hope that makes sense!!

  26. I use large clips attached to my table edge, smoothing out one layer at a time, on a large cutting mat that fits exactly on my kitchen table. Doing one section at a time, I pin baste about every 4 inches. I start with the centre of the quilt and then move to outer sections, smoothing, basting and pinning. This method is perfect for matching front and back layers when the back also has blocks or other desgins on it. Then I sid around all blocks, starting in the center and moving ourward, maybe within the blocks too if the blocks are very large, on my domestic machine. Then, with all pins removed, I MFQ to my hearts content! I also find the SID time helps me make decisions about the FMQ to use.

  27. I also took a class by Cindy Needham and she showed samples of blocks that were stabilized and those that were not. After seeing those samples I use 505 basting spray and then stitch ESS. Last year I took another class and the instructor stitched just out side of the ditch and I have been doing that ever since. I struggled with trying to keep all of my stitching in the ditch in the past. What a relief to not have to worry about that any more!

    • So would that be, for instance, a quarter inch stitch line inside the seam and then FMQ within that outlined area? Or would that be a basting stitch near the seam which you later remove?

      • It’s closer to 1/16 to 1/8 out side of the ditch and then I FMQ inside the outlined area or sometimes over several blocks together. It is not a basting stich that is removed.

  28. I use Sharon Schamber method, tailor tacking. Use water soluble Superior thread, hate to stitch in the ditch. Never again will I spray bast, smells 😖 Hope to see you in Madison

  29. Hi Lori!

    I tape my backing down and float the layers, and then pin-baste everywhere every 3-5 inches. Then I ditch ESS. I typically use YLI Wonder Invisible monofilament for my ditching, but now often use Wonderfil’s Invisafil 100wt cottonized poly. It is fine enough it vanishes and I don’t have to worry about the invisible thread coming loose and getting wrapped around tiny fingers or toes. I’ve actually had enough quilts pinned in anticipation of getting them quilted that I’ve run out of pins! By doing my ESS ditching, I can then put the pins back in my box and go back to those quilts for custom whenever I have time. I’ve only used the 505 basting spray a couple of times. On wall hangings or very small quilts, it’s not too bad. For anything larger it was a pain to keep all of the layers smooth because they were stuck together, causing some puckering especially on the back.

  30. After reading through the comments, I really like the idea of using water soluble thread for SID to stabilize the quilt. I have used 505 with mixed results. Sometimes the quilt sandwich was not as smooth as I expected it to be even though I thought I had spent enough time smoothing it out. Whatever the method, I do think stabilizing by SID is an important step and improves the quality of the quilting.

  31. What a great conversation. I often think about what the back of the quilt will look like, and don’t always want ESS… the new idea to use water soluble is news to me.
    Still primarily confident with straight line quilting, unless it’s a small placemat or wall hanging.

  32. Hello, I always stabilize my quilt before free motion quilting it. I use my walking foot and a lighter weight thread to do the stitch in the ditch, usually Aurifil 50/2 ply. That way, when (not if) I get a little out of the ditch it doesn’t show as much. Then I can free motion quilt to my heart’s content without anything shifting on me.

  33. Silly me, when you said “stabilize” I immediately thought of my embroidery stabilizer. I thought “Gee, that would be expensive, and it would make the quilt stiff and uncomfortable.” Glad I read the whole thing.

  34. I just pin baste like crazy. But I’ve always wondered: if you stitch in the ditch to stabilize, does it matter whether you’ve pressed your seams open or to the side? I would think that stitching in the ditch when seams are pressed open would really stress the seams and allow batting to poke through. The answer to this will help me decide whether to try it or how to press my seams if I do.

    • I usually stitch in the well-the side opposite to seams. No problem with bearding.

    • JanineMarie,
      You are correct – stitching in the ditch if seams are pressed open would mean stitching over the seam threads only. I would not recommend that! Actually, the “ditch” is formed when the seam is pressed to one side, and you would stitch along the low side (the side without seam allowances). Someone suggested 1/16″ or 1/8″ away from the seam, which I think would work very well for a seam that is pressed open. Another option is to use a serpentine (wavy) decorative stitch (#4 on a Bernina) to stitch over the seam line. It adds another design element, but may not always be a desirable choice, depending on what other quilting designs you are planning to use.
      Good luck and happy quilting! -LK

      • Thanks for the compliment, Lori! And thanks also to Lori H. for her suggestion to stabilize by stitching 1/8″ or 1/16″ outside the ditch. That had never occurred to me, but as I struggle at times with staying in the ditch, I’m looking forward to trying that idea!

  35. I pin baste and then stitch in the ditch most seams depending on the size of the block and quilt design. I pin baste with my initial SID plan in mind so that I can stitch without hitting pins. As I quilt a section (stabilize it), I then remove the pins as it reduces both weight and bulk. I pin securely enough so that I can stitch anywhere and not worry about shifting layers. I zig-zag stitch around the outer edge of the quilt (binding gets stitched over this). 99.9% of the time I don’t use any spray baste product.

  36. I lay out my quilt on my cutting table and then spray and pin baste in sections. I definitely SID around the borders. Whether I do inside them depends on the quilting I plan to do. There are times I don’t want straight stitching interfering with my design. I love the tip about warmer soluble thread, especially since I wash all my quilts after the binding is finished.

    • My machine is made for quilting with a belt-drive even-feed foot. I HATE pinning so I use a little June Tailor spray; it works fine-no needle gook. A few well-placed pins & I’m ready to machine baste. Using a 20mm stitch from the center I go straight out to the middle of each edge. Next, I baste center to corner individually. Lastly,from center, I baste a square or rectangular “spiral” over the whole quilt, spacing about 5″ to 12″ apart. Looks like a spiderweb & sounds tedious but goes fast & works great with the special foot. I had a little bunch problem once only because my positioning was bad. Now I’m ready to FMQ or SITD or whatever. I know we all don’t have a special (& pricey) machine, but if you’re interested, either the Brother Dream Weaver VQ3000 or the Babylock Crescendo is great. They’re essentially the same but I think the Babylock costs more. I have the Brother model & love it!

  37. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on what type of quilting I do. For FMQ, I’ll pull out a section as I go. For SID, I usually pull them out when I’m done. Since the stitches are so very long, they come out quickly and easily. I’ve been sewing for almost 60 years but I’m relatively new to quilting (talk about a late-bloomer!) and I’m hooked. Thanks for asking and thanks for all your WONDERFUL tips and tutorials!

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  39. I finished a wall hanging almost 2 years ago just waiting for me to quilt it. I took your advice about stitching in the ditch to stablize it. Now I’m ready to quilt. Thank you for helping me get started.

  40. I alway stabilized my quilts by stitching in the ditch when I machine quilted on my domestic machine. Now that I have a longarm I still like to stabilize the quilt by stitching in the ditch of the major blocks with MonoPoly thread before I do the fun quilting.

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