Christa’s Quilt Along 7.3 – Modern Trees Marking, Backing, and Basting

Before I get to what I think will be the most fun part of making Modern Trees, the quilting, I need to prepare my “quilt sandwich.” This requires sewing the backing, and basting together all three layers of  the quilt. If there’s any specific quilting motifs I want to mark ahead of time, I will do it before the quilt has been basted.

Basted Quilt

Basted Quilt

Step 1 – Pre-planning the Quilting (1 Hour)

I like to spend a little time sketching out possible quilting designs ahead of time. If I’m going to spend hours sewing a pretty quilt top, I may as well spend some time planning out the quilting, too. Of course I may change it by the time I get to it, but this at least gives me a place to start.

Quilting Sketch

Quilting Sketch

Most of what I’ve drawn above will be quilted without marking. This just gives me a guideline to follow. To print off a practice sheet for yourself, just click the link below:

Click here to download a pdf sketch of Modern Trees

For Modern Trees, I plan on dividing my quilt up into sections and quilting 3 different filler motifs representing the sky, snowflakes falling, and the ground – sort of a modern landscape.

Step 2 – Marking the Quilt (1 Hour)

To make it easier to quilt these sections, I’ve drawn a line on my quilt top with a washable blue pen to show me where to fill in each section. It’s hard to see in the picture below.

Tree WordsJust for fun, I’m also going to quilt some words and a big star on top of the tree. I used a computer font for the words and blew them up to a larger size and traced around each one. The star was from a stencil I had on had – but you could free hand this, too.


I free-hand sketched some wonky snowflake shapes as best I could in the middle section. I got the idea for these shapes from Christina Cameli’s book First Steps to Free-Motion Quilting. She shows lots of great ideas for quilting fills – this was a star variation.

Marked Snowflakes

Marked Snowflakes

This is all of the marking I will do. The rest of the quilting will be done free-hand, including some texture around the snowflakes to link them together for continuous quilting.

It looks pretty garish right now because of the high contrast of blue marks on a cream background. However, once it’s quilted with a matching cream cotton thread, all you will see is the wonderful quilting texture.

A word of caution: be sure to test your washable marks on a practice scrap first to be sure they will come off. I pre-washed the heck out of my solids before I started, to make sure they would not bleed all over the cream background once I get it wet.

Step 3 – Sewing the Backing (45 minutes)

Now, onto the basting! For this quilt, I wanted a simple backing because of the light front. I’ve learned from experience to make the backs the same value or lighter than the front so it won’t show through (shadow) on the front.

My quilt top measures 45″ by 53″ so the backing needs to be about 4 inches larger on all four sides, or about 49″ inches by 57″. (I ran out of fabric and mine is closer to 48″ x 54″ but it still works – barely!)

Sizing the Backing

Sizing the Backing

To correctly size my backing, I laid out chunks of cream fabric until they covered the top. Then I trimmed each piece so that each side had a straight edge and sewed them all together. The piece on the side was a little short so I had to add an extra rectangle at the bottom right, but that’s ok – do what works!

Hints: sew your seams vertically (parallel to the selvedge), to give your backing stability while quilting. Use starch on the backing so make it slick and reduce friction when fmq.

I will usually sew the backing seam with 1/2″ seam allowance and then press it open.

Step 4 – Smooth out the Layers (30 Minutes)

I left the picture uncropped so you can see my table space in all it’s utilitarian glory! I use two banquet tables which I got from and office supply store many years ago. I leave them up in the middle of my loft all the time. They double as craft and homework spaces, too.

Backing and Batting

Backing and Batting

Using painter’s tape and clips, secure the backing to all edges of your table. Be sure it is smooth but not overly taught. If you don’t have room for two tables, you can use one and baste the center section first, then move the quilt sandwich as needed.

Your batting should be about 2 inches larger on all sides than your quilt top. This allows for any shifting that may occur as you go. I’m using wool batting (my favorite) on this quilt. It shows the machine quilting really well and gives a nice drape. Cotton battings work well, too and reduce bulk under the machine.

Hint: If you are using a very light cream fabric for your quilt, be sure to use a bleached or pure white batting. You don’t want any residue or discoloration showing through!

Spread the batting out smoothly onto your backing. Grab a helper if you can to lay it down gently. There’s no need to tape down the batting.


The blue marks will wash out – even the mess-ups!

Finally lay out the top gently and smooth out any wrinkles. Spend a few minutes smoothing it out and making sure it’s nice and flat. If it’s wavy now, quilting may only make it worse. Do what you can to have a nice, smooth, flat quilt top.

Step 5 – Pin Like Crazy! (45 Minutes)

The standard advice for adding pins is about 5″ apart. This will hold your layers together well. However, through experience, I’ve found that I like to use more pins than that, about 3″ apart. I used almost 250 pins for this quilt. Eek! But it’s worth it🙂 and it didn’t take very long.

Pinning the Layers

Pinning the Layers

Starting on one side of the quilt, sprinkle pins onto your surface. I will pin an entire are first before I go back and close all the pins. Then, while quilting, I open them up, and drop them in a bucket leaving them unfastened. That way the are ready for the next quilt.

I finally got myself a Kwik Klip to help close the pins for me. This saves a lot of wear and tear on my fingers. I’ve heard a grapefruit spoon also works well though I’ve never used one. (Who eats grapefruit anyway? Not me – too sour!)

Read my review of the Kwik Klip here for a little tutorial on how to use it.

Safety Pin BastingBe sure to pin around any motifs and seam lines rather than through them.

It does help if you can engage a family member or friend’s help. Yes, this is the not-fun part. But trust me, good basting = good quilting.🙂 Take your time and perhaps just baste half of the quilt one day and half the next day. Or listen to relaxing music while you do it.

It took me a total of 4 hours of prep time. Now we are ready to quilt!

Here’s a heads up for the 2 weeks of machine quilting listed in the schedule below: Part 1 will be stitching in the ditch and quilting the trees. Part 2 will be quilting the background.

Quilt Along Schedule: All links will be active when the post is published.Modern Trees

If you are quilting along with me, please be sure to share pictures of your progress on my Christa’s Quilt Along flickr group.

Grab my Quilt Along button and share the love!

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12 thoughts on “Christa’s Quilt Along 7.3 – Modern Trees Marking, Backing, and Basting

  1. Margaret A says:

    Wow, your sketched quilting designs are amazing!! Straight or curved lines are all I can muster. One of these days I will overcome my fear and give FMQ a try. I can hardly wait to see your finished quilt!

  2. Lindsey w says:

    I can’t decide if I’m excited or terrified about this quilting design!!! It’s gorgeous, but I’m not sure I’m experienced enough to do words! I’m excited to see how you do this!!

  3. Jessica B. says:

    What a fun idea to chunk up the quilting into different sections. I’ve never seen that on a quilt that isn’t already sectioned off by blocks or sashing. And I love the idea of using text; I think I may quilt large scripted words like “joy” or “peace” across my whole quilt with a monofilament thread. Or maybe I’ll just stipple it to make it easier, I don’t know. 🙂 Have to finish assembling the top first!

    • Christa says:

      I will quilt those on the second week of quilting according to my QAL schedule. I’ll use a cream thread and will quilt some fillers behind it, then quilt the snowflakes when I get to them.

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