Back-Basting Tutorial — Lots of Photos

Lester is intently watching as we go through the steps I take when doing applique using the back basting process.

For back basting I use both a larger needle and larger thread.

When I do any applique, my method of choice is back basting.  I’ve found a few tricks that really help me.  First of all, I use a larger needle.  In the above picture, the top needle is a #8 straw and the bottom one is a #12 sharp.  I use the #8 straw for back basting with a thicker thread, as shown below.  And I always wear a thimble when doing this as getting that needle through some fabrics, particularly a batik, requires some protection for the finger!

The thread on the left is the normal heirloom 80 weight thread I use for piecing and applique.  The thread on the right is 30 weight DMC thread I use for backbasting.

With the applique design printed on the back of my background fabric, I pin a piece of fabric that’s large enough to cover the shape to be appliqued on to the right side of the background, with the right side of the fabric to be appliqued facing up.  Then, from the wrong side of the background and following the lines, I baste the pieces on to the background fabric using the large needle and large thread and taking relatively small stitches.  Here you can see all the pieces on the quarter block basted down.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you’ll see the basting stitches quite clearly on the pieces to be appliqued.

This is the back and it shows the basting following along the lines of the shapes that are printed on the wrong side of the background.

What this picture doesn’t show, and I wish I had taken one after this next step, is how flat it sits after I run my nail along the lines of basting to relax any gathers that have occurred as a result of pulling the basting thread a bit too tight.  Running a nail along the stitching line is all that’s needed to ease out those little gathers.

I’ve found that leaving a piece that’s basted overnight before starting to applique it makes the next step a lot easier.  The next day I pick up the piece and clip the basting  thread at about every 5th or 6th stitch as seen in this picture.

This next step is where the magic of this technique appears. After clipping the threads, I pull out the first one or two sections. Take a look at this picture and you’ll see the perforations in the fabric to be appliqued where the basting line was.

The fabric folds along that perforation line so easily it’s always amazing to me. With my needle, I fold it under and start to applique. I don’t look at the back again where the lines are until I finish all the applique. And every time my applique stitches are close to being perfectly on the line. The reason I leave the basting stitches in overnight is that I’ve found that it makes that little perforated line really do its job. Think of it like a piece of paper that has some perforations to make it easier to remove. I think the basting line does the same thing but, in the case of fabric, makes the fabric easier to turn under.

I begin to applique, pulling out a section or two of the basting thread as I go along.  The basting thread also serves to hold the fabric being appliqued in place.  So no fighting with pins, no freezer paper to remove, no overlay to try to keep out-of-the-way and no lines that might show on the front if the applique isn’t right on the lines of the design.  Just needle, thread and fabric.

In this picture you can see how closely my applique stitches are right on the line of the design.  It also shows the lines of another shape, which I chose not to add to this part of my applique block.

Again, another picture showing how closely the applique stitches follow the line of the design.

Everyone has their favourite method, but I hope this little tutorial gives you the information you need if you’d like to try the back-basting method.

Smudge is hoping you found this relaxing and informative.

25 thoughts on “Back-Basting Tutorial — Lots of Photos

  1. Lester looks like he is saying “You better read this tutorial, or else!” Too funny. Great explanation. I wasn’t really sure what back basting was and now I completely understand. Thanks!


  2. thank you so much. ive seen people mention back basting but didnt think anything of it. but now ive seen your photos i will be trying this out 🙂 i lvoe the idea of no pins etc 🙂 great!


  3. Well Cathi, thank you very much for sharing this great method. I don’t appliqué a lot because I didn’t have a good method.
    Hello to my furry friends.


  4. EXCELLENT tutorial Cathi 🙂 one of the best I’ve seen.
    This is one of my favourite methods of appliqué too and I’ve learned something from your tutorial as well 🙂
    Purrfect placement of the kitties pictures 😉 Ellyx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful tutorial Cathi!! I’ve only back basted a simple shape, to try the method out, but have been confused on how you handle appliqueing the shapes that are underneath another shape, if all the shapes are basted down at once. How do you keep from catching the upper shape’s fabrics?



    • Crispy,
      It’s just more of the same. Baste and applique the lower layer, then back baste on the second layer and then applique it down. It gets a bit tougher to baste when you hit a third or fourth layer but I’ve done it and it works like a charm. If you have a third or fourth layer that is appliqued completely on to the second or another layer, you could always back baste that third layer shape on to the second layer shape, applique the third layer shape in place and then baste the combined second/third layer to the background.


  6. Don’t know about relaxing but informative it certainly is!! Lots of different ways to applique and there is 1 for every quilter! Have fun making those tiny stitches!! Hugs, Daniëlle


  7. I like that method too. I have a kit that is basted in this manner & has been for so long I wonder if the holes would still be visible…


  8. After trying nearly every other method for applique, this is definitely my favorite too. I use it for all my hand applique. In fact, I taught it at my guild earlier this year and I’m teaching it at a quilt retreat next year. Great job on explaining it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s been a while since I used this method and if the truth be known, Cathi, I had forgotten about it. Now that I see it again, I’ll be sure to try it again in my next appliqueing adventure.

    Thanks for a great tute!


  10. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog! I especially like the inclusion of Lester & Smudge .. such darling cats. 🙂

    I learned a *very* similar method of back-basted needleturn from a kit marketed by Nancy Lee Chong of Pacific Rim Quilting Company. Before I learned her technique (which she admits she didn’t develop but merely passed along), I admired but *did not do* applique. It was just too tedious making all those templates and glueing and etc, etc, etc. Yuck.

    The only difference between how you do it and Nancy Lee Chong’s method is that she has you trace the applique design in chalk (Bohin pencil, Sewline pencil, etc) *ON THE FRONT* of the applique fabric. Then she bastes, just like you, with a thicker thread and bigger needle. She also presses the basted design, which will cause ‘indentations’ of the basting thread onto the applique fabric along with the needle perforations. It’s just another aid to help you turn the applique fabric under.

    Once I learned this technique, I love, *love*, LOVE applique! IT’S AWESOME. Oh, please do pardon my shouting. 🙂

    My two remaining felines (Sneaker, the Great & Mighty Hunter, and Little Paw, who specializes in catching sunbeams) say ‘hi’ to Lester & Smudge.


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Absolutely brilliant tutorial Cathi. Thank you so very much. You have inspired me to give this another go. I tried once before but I think my thread was TOO thick, my needle TOO large and my stitches TOO large are well. LOL! Talk about overkill. Ha ha! I will tame it down a little and have another go. It really is a very clever method for applique isn’t it?


I love reading your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.