Basting with Elmer’s Glue

Basting–the absolute worst part of quilting. The options are limited, and none of them take the cake. Pin basting means you want to spend hours on aching knees only to find a wrinkle in the center and have to redo it all. Sew basting is like pre-handquilting your quilt only to tear it all out. And spray basting? One cans costs as much as a twin-sized batting. Not to mention you need a bio-hazard mask to use it. But then I came upon something intriguing.


Basting with Elmer’s glue–you know those bottles of white washable glue that were a staple of elementary school. It seemed like spray basting with out the hazmat suit. And it costs like a dollar a bottle and is supposed to wash out completely. Which according to this site, is not the case with spray basting. Is this cheap quilting hack too good to be true? Quite possibly, but I knew I had to try it out!


The plan

I decided to try Elmer’s glue to baste my Princess and Pony quilt. At 66″ x 66″ it’s a smaller quilt for me, and I knew it would fit in my washing machine. I used Nature’s Touch 80/20 batting and a cotton backing (Kona and Tula Pink). As for the actual glue basting, I found some decent instruction from this site. However, my quilt was a bit larger than hers, and I didn’t have a table large enough for basting like she did. For better or worse (but mostly for worse), I improvised.


Basting with Elmer's glue: the glue


Basting the quilt top with Elmer’s glue

First thing first, I slid all my furniture out of the way and spread out my batting, really working out all the lumps and bumps.


Laying out the batting for basting with elmer's glue


Next, I spread out my quilt top on the batting, making sure everything was taunt and that all the wrinkles were gone. I also made sure there was at least 2″ of batting extending out from the quilt top to give room for any shifting.


Laying out the quilt top for basting with elmer's glue


Then it was time to starting basting with Elmer’s glue. I folded half the quilt back and squiggled a thin line of glue about 4 inches apart across the back of the quilt top.


Basting the quilt top with elmer's glue


Glue in place, I carefully tugged the quilt top back over the batting, taking the time to really smooth the quilt top taunt again. Doing half the quilt at a time ended up being a lot of quilt top for me to manage by myself. There were no problems with the glue drying too fast, but when I tried to tug the quilt top back in place, I ended up getting glue everywhere. Even the front of the quilt top. Whatever– the glue is supposed to wash out anyways. But if you have a larger quilt, I’d work in smaller sections.


basting with elmers glue gone messy
Glue on the front of my quilt top…

Then I folded back the other half of the quilt top. This time, I tried putting the glue on the batting rather than the quilt top. It was harder to know exactly where to put all the glue, but it was much cleaner to pull the quilt top back into place. Then I added some glue around the edges of the quilt top to make sure everything was securely in place. All in all, I used almost a full bottle of glue to baste just the quilt top.


Basting with Elmer's Glue


Next, I quickly ironed the quilt top to help dry the glue and set the quilt top in place. You’ll be able to see your lines of glue through the fabric. But, again, hopefully they’ll wash out. Lastly, I trimmed the batting to 2″ and then flipped the quilt sandwich over.

basting with elmer's glue: ironing
basting with elmer's glue seeping through
basting with Elmer's glue: trimming

Basting the quilt backing with Elmer’s

I used the same process to baste the backing with Elmer’s glue as I did the quilt top. First, I laid the quilt backing down on the batting and spread it taunt.


basting with elmer's glue - the quilt backing


Again, I folded half of the of the quilt backing back and squiggled a thin line of glue across the batting. Then I pulled the backing back into place and smoothed it taunt.


basting with elmer's glue: the backing


And then the other side!


Basting with Elmer's glue: the quilt backing


When the quilt was nice and flat, I ironed once more to help set the glue.


Basting with Elmer's Glue: the backing


Then I turned the quilt over… and was greeted with disaster.


quilting with glue basting - the disaster


When I saw her, I nearly died. She was a puckered mess. I tugged and I pulled, but I had already ironed. the glue had already started to set. I wanted to cry. It was nearing midnight, and I was ready to throw her in the vat of Mount Doom. What had happened?


Clearly, I hadn’t spread the batting out taunt enough when I basting the backing. I should have pinned or taped it all to the floor. I know I should have. But I thought I didn’t need to because my carpet had such a good hold on the batting. No amount of ‘should have’ was going to fix my problem, though. And I wasn’t about to quilt a lumpy mess. I was just going to have to fix it… somehow.


Trouble 1: fixing the lumps and bumps

The glue wasn’t 100% dry. However much I wanted to give the project a break until morning, I knew I was working against time. I started ripping the quilt top off the batting. Yes, rip. It wasn’t pretty. A lot of the glue was still soft and wet, but some had hardened and pulled off puffs of batting. I tried to spray water over the glue to release the hold, but it didn’t do anything but make a sticky wet mess. That made me start worrying that maybe the glue wouldn’t really wash out after all. But I was invested in this now. I had nothing more to lose. I tore off the quilt top and then laid it out flat over the batting to dry over night.


The next day I came back, ready to baste with Elmer’s glue again. Did I learn my lesson and pin down the batting? Of course not, I just went for it. Gluing one side of the princess and then the horse. I was extra paranoid about smoothing out the quilt, really making sure it was taunt. I even peeked at the backing a few times to make sure it was still flat and unbumpy. It was, and I ironed her dry.


Basting with elmer's glue: fixing mistakes


She looked a little worse for the wear with all the extra glue lines, but she was flat enough to quilt. I left her for another night to completely dry and then brought her over to my machine. The glue’s hold was fantastic. I had no problems with bunching.


But there were hard spots–places where I had dripped too much glue which coagulated into chunks that were really hard to sew through. I actually broke a needle. But not everywhere I glued was hard, just certain spots. It forced me to plan my free motion quilting a bit more carefully, but I got her done!


Washing after basting with Elmer’s glue

It took a few days to quilt and a few more to bind, but then she was ready to wash. I went for a cold delicate wash cycle, using unscented/sensitive detergent, and then I dried on medium with a ball of tin foil. PS, the ball of tin foil is an amazing and reusable alternative to drier sheets!


basting with elmer's glue: the washing


So… yeah… so much for washable. The glue didn’t all magically disappear with the first wash.


Trouble 2: removing the glue chunks

The Dreaded Glue

But after all the trouble I had gone through, I wasn’t ready to give up yet. After some fancy research on the internet, I decided to spot treated the hard globules of glue with vinegar. The vinegar soaked through the fabric, and as I massaged the glue, the hard chunks seemed to dissolve. So, I headed back to the washing machine. I used vinegar for a prewash and the ‘detergent’ and then washed on a normal cold cycle and dried on medium.




Basting with Elmer's Glue: the finished product


I did it! She be looking feisty and fine! (aka glue free)


Things I would change the next time I baste with Elmer’s glue

Basting with Elmer’s glue is a fast and super cheap basting method that I think could be a real winner. But there are several things I recommend doing different next time to make this method the potential basting winner:


1. I’m going to water down the glue to a 1:1 glue to water ratio. Hopefully, this will make the glue less likely to dry up in those hard chunks that made quilting difficult. This should also help with the next step.


2. I’m going to spread out the streaks of glue with a foam bush which should also make sure there are no chunks of glue anywhere.


3. I am going to pin/tape my batting down taunt to prevent the dreaded wrinkles. Maybe. I’m still a little bit of a rebel.


4. I don’t think I’ll iron the glue dry anymore. Before I had ironed this quilt, I didn’t fee like the quilt top slipped around on the batting at all, and leaving the glue a bit more wet could help with adjustments should there be another wrinkle mishap.


Overall, I’m not giving up on glue basting. I’ve already bought a gallon of this glue, I’m going to use it all. I’m going to try basting with Elmer’s glue again with these new suggestions on my Camels in the Desert quilt, so stay tuned to see how this goes in a few weeks!

Sew on!

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10 months ago

loved your story and was glad to see you came to excellent improvements at the end that I have used and have been very successful. Being in my 70s there’s no way I can baste a quilt on the floor nor do I want to. I use my cutting table to baste. Starting in the middle you can either clip or tape the edges to the table. Letting the part that doesn’t fit on the table hang down making sure it’s not stretching but keeping the quilt taught. Thank you for your story