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problem with backing stretch when custom quilting

edited December 2013 in Ask An HQ Expert
When I am doing custom quilting, I have been trying to complete one "motif" over the entire quilt before moving on to another. This seems easier for muscle memory coordination. It seems to make no difference whether I do borders or areas in the center of the quilt first. Rolling the quilt back and forth on the poles to work on different areas seems to stretch the backing more than the top so that the backing becomes excessively baggy in the unstitched areas. I think that this is due to the backing always being on the outer sandwich layer on the top take up roller and therefore stretching more than the pieced top. (There may be other factors going on: fabric quality, direction of grain, etc.) I try not to tension the layers excessively, especially in the pole direction.
Does anyone have recommendations to prevent this from happening?
On simpler quilting motifs, I "switch gears" and do all areas as I roll up the quilt in a single pass, but this gets complicated and doesn't work well when working with multiple designs in different areas.


  • I have had the same experiences and I think you have put your finger on the problem.

    My solution has been to baste the field of the quilt in place as I roll it the first time. This tends to eliminate most of the problem.

    If any one has a better solution - I would be happy to hear it.

  • I am working on a custom quilt as we speak i am so annoyed as this is happening on it. So when i tighten up the backing then the thread tension isnt right. So what exacyly do you mean by the field of the quilt?
  • I baste the top of the quilt to start and baste the sides as I proceed and roll up the quilt sandwich the first time. After reaching the bottom, I unpin the top from its leader and baste the bottom edge to the batting/backing. With this done, I have tried starting with the borders first, beginning with the bottom (since I'm already in this position) and working around the perimeter. Doing this will leave the center portion of backing "baggy" when I work on the main part of the quilt. If I do the center first, then the borders have the baggy areas. I don't see any other way to approach this, but apparently many longarmers are able to custom quilt successfully without sewing tucks and pleats into the backing! Either method requires the quilt layers to be basted together, because the quilt can't be rolled back onto the separate top and back leaders after work has begun.
  • Joefiler,

    When quilting a quilt we recommend that you baste the top and sides of the of your quilt that are within the space between your rollers. Then quilt this area then move on to the next area and baste the sides of your quilt as you advance the quilt. If you have areas that you don't want to quilt at this time make sure these areas are stabilized before you advance your quilt.

    If you want to begin at the bottom of your quilt you need to stabilize your entire quilt before you begin your designs. You will "baste" your quilt as you advance through it by running a long line of stitching across the width of the quilt. Use a long stitch length so you can easily remove it and do a line of stitching about every 4 inches.

    This will stabilize your quilt so you can move through it in the order that you would like.

    Good Luck,

    Cheryl Duncan
    Handi Quilter Studio Educator
  • I don't particularly want to start at the bottom of my quilts. I have begun by basting the top and the exposed sides. This is the point where I didn't know how to correct the stretching issue. I have continued basting the sides and the bottom, but hadn't basted across the body of the quilt.
    I will try stabilizing with a basting stitch every 4 inches, but this seems to be a lot of work if there are other possible solutions. I wish that the HQ had a longer regulated stitch for basting. It would be a lot easier to pick out from the quilting. I am also concerned that using the up-down button continuously for basting might wear out the button contacts.
  • For stabilizing your quilt top as you go check out Linda Taylor's book or videos for stabilizing your quilt. She does a lot of stitch in the ditch across her rows and around blocks first (in addition to basting the sides) then goes back and quilts her motifs in each block.
    If you have a Prostitcher you can even purchase a simple basting design from Munnich designs ( or if you have software design your own.
  • Thanks for additional information. I'll look into Linda Taylor's information. I don't have a Prostitcher, so that option is out.
    I am trying another technique on my present project which I have used frequently on quilts with wavy borders and blocks: misting with water from a spray bottle to tighten up the stretched fabric. I am working on a wall hanging size quilt and misting seems to be working great so far.
    On my first pass, I based the edges and completed one "block" motif in random isolated areas. (First pass is never a problem.)
    On second pass, I worked within the previously sewn block areas with a secondary pattern, since these areas were stabilized in step one.
    Ready for the third motif, I misted the quilt sandwich while it hangs loose between poles and it tightened up beautifully in the unquilted areas. So far so good. I will then have at least two more motifs to add and hope repeating the technique is successful. The only downside (so far) is waiting for the quit to dry and reapplying water-erasable blue marking guides.
    I also realize that I contributed to the problem by using a lighter weight "backing" fabric for the majority of the top and all of the backing. (Color,print texture and price were right for this experimental "modern" quilt!)
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