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The Fiber of My Being: A Disappearing Act

Previously, I showed pin basting on a wall using a top from my recent Craftsy class. I use a few pins and a wall to “set” the sandwich to be followed by secure machine basting. Now I’ve machine basted and quilted for this column. I’ll gift it to the first person in my family who happens to read this column.

Folded Quilt

Working with water-soluble thread

I keep a spool of Brook’s Basting Thread that dates from my dalliance with hand quilting. It’s not useful for machine basting. Dissolving thread, however, is a story with a happy ending. That’s what I use for machine basting. It’s water-soluble thread that may be sewn over. It will dissolve effortlessly in the wash.

I’ve had fine results with two brands of soluble thread: “Vanish” by Superior Threads and Wash-A-Way from YLI. The thread is fine stranded so there is more on a spool than you might expect. It will take a lot to fill the bobbin. The thread can be temperamental but it’s worthwhile.

There are only two things you need to know. The first you’d discover on your own: Before threading the needle, don’t lick the end of the thread.

Machine thread basting by machine

Fill a bobbin. Insert a new needle. A used, blunt needle might leave noticeable holes. After all the work you’ve done, spend the money and change the needle.

Use a walking foot and a basting stitch. A long, wide zigzag stitch is effective in covering a lot of surface area. A serpentine stitch (an elongated S) works too. Let the walking foot work for you. If you’re not using a straight stitch, use the appropriate stitch plate.

Machine Quilting Order

The second thing to know is to stitch in the manner used to roll out a pie crust — from the center out. The process takes me about an hour regardless of the size of the quilt. It’s an hour well spent. Sew from the quilt center toward yourself; successively rotate the quilt 90 degrees, four turns in all.

Imagine a clock displaying 12-3-6-9. Begin at the center and baste to 6. Rotate a quarter turn to baste to the 9, now directly in front of you. Rotate to baste to the 12 and then rotate to sew to the 3. You may choose to rotate clockwise.

Then, position the needle about 1½” to the right of the original center position and repeat the process. Stay in your lane or the sandwich will pucker and pleat. The stitching within the quadrants should be in parallel columns. There’s no such thing as too much basting. In fact it’s an opportunity to practice on the real quilt.

Puckering on Quilt

A pucker on the back can be easily fixed. Moisten or cut away any constricting stitches and free motion quilt the area. If there is ever a “hill” in the quilt, flatten it with considerable amount of FMQ. Eventually you’ll machine stitch over a flattened area.

Drawing Quilting in chalk

To visualize my quilting design, I used a ruler and Triangle Tailor’s Chalk from Clover to mark the basted top. Seeing a few chalk lines was enough. I sewed from point to point without marking. By happenstance the thread was at hand, a gift to teachers at the Houston Quilt Festival.

Variegated Thread Quilting

The above image shows the variegated thread quilting and, in assorted stitches, the light color basting.

Laundering a Quilt

When the quilt is laundered, the starch, chalk, and basting will all wash out. I had serged the edge to secure the perimeter during the wash and dry.

I intend to bind this during an upcoming flight to teach in Ketchikan, Alaska. Quiltmaker Magazine took me to Ketchikan a couple of years ago. I never dreamed I’d get to return. Next year I get to teach on a cruise to Alaska with fellow Craftsy instructor Debby Lutrell for her Stitchin’ Heaven trip. I know enough to store dissolving thread in a waterproof bag. I can’t help the glaciers but I can keep my thread from melting.

Quick Techniques for Classic Blocks

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Very cool. Sure beats pinning and catching on everything. I used dissolvable thread once before, I’ll need to try it for basting.


That was awesome advice,I hope to soon

Barb Cole

I always wondered how to use water soluble thread. Thanks! BTW- I just love your columns and writing style. It is my wish that someday I will be able to meet you in person.

Kim Gibson

We might be related you know! That is a lovely quilt and I love the quilting. Scrappy quilts are the boss!

Bettye King

I wish I was a family member so I could have your quilt! Thank you for all the helpful information.

Lisa Villarreal

Maybe I need more coffee but I’m not following the diagram for the basting stitches.

Anita Grossman Solomon

Lisa, Looking at my handmade illustration, there are three rows. ‘Read’ each row from left-to-right. Maybe you read it as columns instead. I cobbled my drawings together. I had to change a word too. I replaced “finish” with “end” because finish was so wide it straddled two quadrants. -Anita


I like this idea of disappearing basting!


That’s brilliant, thank you for the idea and how-to! I do sometimes hand-baste with big rackety stitches, about 2 inches long or more, that I make with a curved needle and no knots. Avoids the whole wrestle-the-safety-pin-out-with-no-room-left thing. But disappearing thread that doesn’t have to be worried about as it goes under the free motion needle sounds amazing!


Really useful. Many thanks.

Karen Hurst

Hi sis! ?


Reading this, sounds like you wash quilt after quilting, it before binding it? How does that work?

Anita Grossman Solomon

I serge the edge of bed quilts (zig zag should also work) to keep the batting from ‘leaking’ out and then wash and dry the the quilt. My binding is pre-shrunk because I launder and starch the yardage. If a quilt has an un-pieced border, I’ll make a wider border which I wind up trimming down when I square up the laundered quilt. There are exceptions – for an important exhibition quilt (say my coral and indigo Two-Color Pineapple for the Robert Kaufman Fabric Company) I didn’t wash it before exhibition, but on the other hand, Janice Petre quilted it flawlessly for me.

Julie Bailey

I did not know there was thread that dissolves in water. Thanks.

joni mceachran

Thank you so much for this column…….I’m just a beginning quilter, only having done a few small projects.

Cheryl Thompson

I love your quilt! I’ve never heard of vanishing thread. I’m an intermediate quilter so not extremely experienced.


How can you stitch while flying? Needles not allowed!

Margaret Crow

Thank you for the information! I was not aware of vanishing thread and never thought to use a zig-zag stitch for basting. I have watched your first Craftsy class at least twice now, and I made three arrowhead blocks over the week-end! Wow! So fun and they look great! Can’t wait to try the pineapple block, it’s one of my most favorite blocks!

Anita Grossman Solomon

Dear Margaret,
As a matter of fact, I sewed up a couple of Arrowheads today. When I teach, I have leftover ‘un-sewn’ blocks from the classroom demos. It’s how my garden grows! -Anita


We so enjoyed having Anita in Ketchikan, she packed a LOT of information into three days including wall basting and basting with water soluable thread and I can tell you from experience you will lick that thread at least once, it’s what we do!


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