Thursday 17, January 2019


Despite Warnings, Basting Gun Is A Hit

A review of Quilter's Basting Gun from Prym-Dritz Corp

Of all the tasks it takes to make a quilt, I like basting together the top, the batting, and the backing the least. I constantly look for an easy way to do this tedious job. You don't know my excitement at discovering basting spray and fusible batting.

But both basting spray and fusible batting have drawbacks. Basting spray needs good ventilation, which is not good for indoors in winter. And fusible batting requires purchasing a new product instead of using a product you already own. So I decided to try to find another solution to basting.

Dritz manufactures just such a product. The Quilter's Basting Gun (QBG) uses short plastic tacks similar to the ones that hold the price tags to clothing.

The pistol-shaped QBG uses a needle to penetrate the quilt sandwich. When you pull the trigger, the plastic tack rides down the needle, poking one end of the tack through the quilt sandwich and leaving the other end of the tack on top.

Ominous Warnings

When I decided to purchase this handy little device, more of my quilting buddies warned me against using it than have warned me against using any other product I've purchased. All the warnings boiled down to two potential problems:

  • The tacks would not hold the quilt layers together tightly enough. The sandwich layers would slip during quilting, and I would have puckers everywhere.
  • The gun's needle would leave big holes in my quilt.

So I put the QBG away without even trying it. But now, a year later, I decided to prove or disprove the warnings. After testing the QBG, I was pleasantly surprised. And I think you will be, too.

Preparing For The Test

First, I decided I probably wouldn't use the gun for quilts to be hand quilted. On the Dritz web site, they warn that the tacks become brittle and break over time. Unless I could quilt the item relatively quickly (and that lets out hand quilting for me), I wouldn't use the tacks.

Since I am so much faster at machine quilting, I wouldn't hesitate to use the tacks there. And I would gladly eliminate pin basting.

For this test, I wanted to see the quilting and the holes clearly, so I chose a white muslin for the front and back of both test pieces. One test piece I filled with a light-weight poly batting. The second I filled with Warm and Natural, a heavy cotton batting.

Tacking The Poly Sandwich

After reading the directions and preparing the gun, I poked the gun's needle through the test sandwich filled with poly batting. I pulled the trigger -- and the tack didn't go in properly!

I checked the gun (the problem couldn't be me, of course!), then put the needle back in the same hole and pulled the trigger again. Another misfire!

I reinserted the needle in the same hole a third time, this time making sure that the needle was completely through the sandwich and that the fabric was against the nose of the gun. This time, sweet success!

Tacking The Cotton Sandwich

After inserting all the tacks I wanted in the poly sample, I began to tack the cotton sample. For my first shot at the heavier cotton sandwich, I once again failed to hold the gun firmly against the fabric, resulting in another misfire. So I stuck the needle back through the same hole and fired a second tack successfully.

When I felt I had mastered the basting gun, I got a little careless. I began inserting the needle improperly and moving too quickly. I had several misfires. I realized I had to be more careful to get the nose of the gun firmly against the fabric before pulling the trigger.

I also decided that using the same hole over and over might make the hole bigger. I suspected this practice might be the cause of the second warning I had received. So when I misfired, I moved to a new spot before trying again.

The Machine Quilting Test

Next I tested how well my tacked sandwiches would behave when I machine-quilted them. First, I slightly reduced the pressure on my presser foot so the sandwich would move with less effort. I put on the walking foot, and stitched a grid of widely-spaced horizontal and vertical lines on the test piece.

I suspected that the looseness of the tacks would allow a blousing of the fabric that would cause puckers at the junctions of the horizontal and vertical stitching. But I was wrong -- every crossing was perfect.

Next, I put on my darning foot and did a tight stipple on the poly sample to see if the fabric would bunch or blouse between the stipple lines. It didn't. Everything remained flat.

Finally, I decided to test the crossing of stitching in a tighter pattern. On the cotton sample I did a small random triangular pattern, constantly crossing and recrossing the sewing lines. I thought that I would see puckers for sure. I didn't. Every line crossed without a hitch.

Removing The Tacks

To remove the tacks, I used Tack-B-Gone by Dritz, a companion product to the QBG. This tack remover consists of a handle with two rounded toes spaced just far enough apart to accommodate the shaft of the "I"-shaped tack. The area between the toes is sharp enough to cut the tack's shaft.

I removed the tacks from the back side of the sandwiches as directed. After examining the holes where the tacks were, I used the round end on the toes of the Tack-B-Gone to brush over the spot lightly. The holes disappeared without a trace. All but two holes, that is. The holes that I shot the tacks through repeatedly were still obvious.

The last step of my test was to wash the sandwiches. I treated both with Orvis quilt washing detergent and threw them in the washer. When they were done, the two-shot hole had disappeared. But the three-shot hole remained obvious.

After examining this under a magnifying glass, I have determined that it is not a hole after all but just a tiny dark spot. Since it was the first hole I'd ever made with this gun, and since it was a three-timer, I think the dark spot was caused by a little manufacturing goo that probably comes on every new needle. The moral: Wipe off new needles before you use them!

The Advantages

After all this testing, I've found a lot to like about the basting gun. The tacks are easier to insert than safety pins, requiring a fraction of the time to use. This means that you are bent over the quilt for less time, which is easier on your back. And the tacks don't require a spoon or other tool to help close them.

A tack makes half the number of the holes in the quilt that a safety pin does, and they're easier to remove than safety pins. And I never got pricked, so I didn't bleed on my quilt at all.

Quilting is easier with the tacks, too. While using the walking foot, I'd pull the tack head to the side to avoid stitching over it. I didn't have to remove the tacks, as I would safety pins. I decided that is why the tacks are as loose as they are so they are easy to move out of the way when quilting.

Using the darning foot, I sewed right over the tacks without any problems with the needle or the stitches. When it came time to remove the tacks, I slid them out from under the stitching without leaving any trace. This was so much better than stopping to remove or move safety pins!

Used properly (meaning one try per hole), the holes made by the tacks disappeared completely. As a matter of fact, the shafts of tacks are much smaller than the shafts of safety pins.

The drawbacks

But there are a few drawbacks to these tacks. I used them on a piece made using hand-dyed fabric and Steam-A-Seam2. The holes were more obvious. But so were the safety pin holes and the sewing machine needle holes. The fusible web on the back of the pieces acts like a stablizer, keeping the fabric threads from moving back into place once they have been punctured.

And unlike safety pins, which are a one time purchase, tacks are used only once. So tacks are an on-going cost at about half a penny each.

Now that I know the real story about quilt basting guns, I'll use them any time I can get the quilting done quickly and there's nothing in the sandwich to keep the holes from closing up. The QBG is faster and easier than safety pins, and unlike basting sprays, it's chemical-free. And unlike the new fusible batting, I can use the batting that I already have.

Readers' Comments:

Penny C. writes:

"Well, I didn't want to hand baste and hated using safety pins. After mastering the tricky little basting gun, I wouldn't ever be without one again. I tend to use twice as many tacks as I would pins, and that's a definite plus when wrangling the sandwich on the machine.

"However I do not tack straight down. I tack like a safety pin and it holds the sandwich very tightly. All of the holes disappear. Great product."

Millie S. writes:

"I have a basting gun, but I won't use it now. The first quilt I tried it on put a hole in the block, and I had to replace it. Not fun when the quilt is together.

"I think the needle just hit a thread in the material wrong. I would be interested to know if anyone else has had that happen to them. Or was it just a freak accident?"

Marie C. writes:

"I've used the QuilTak brand basting gun for about five years with great success. I believe QuilTak is better quality than Dritz brand."

Cecily O. writes:

"I, too, love my basting gun. I also push it down, then back up through the sandwich, like using a safety pin. One thing I learned is that if you listen for the click when you fire the gun, you will have fewer misfires.

"I have tried safety pins and basting with thread. I think the basting gun is best."

Barbara G. writes:

"My concern about the basting gun is all those little pieces of plastic having to be manufactured, and then just going into the landfill. I much prefer safety pins, which can be recycled indefinitely.

"I think it's time we considered the environment, even if it means a little less convenience."

Tammy S. writes:

"I am fairly new to quilting, so I have never basted with anything except the basting gun. I hate safety pins! I always slip and get poked, so this gun seemed like a good thing. I lay everything on the floor and just baste.

"Be careful of the needle on the gun, though. If you don't know right where your fingers are under the quilt, it will put a big hole or cut in your finger.

"I have been able to find the tacks from "off-brand" companies that are a lot less expensive than the Dritz tacks."

A reader writes:

"I, too, use the tacking gun like I would a safety pin, and I am very happy with it. The holes disappear, and it's no big deal to snip the tacks out when I'm done quilting. The sandwich does not shift while I'm quilting. What a time saver!"

Catherine L. writes:

"I like the basting gun much better than pinning my layers together. I used it on the last quilt I hand-quilted (queen size). The tacks were very stable, and they held up the whole time."

Carol G. writes:

"What a great idea from Penny C. and others about tacking like a safety pin with the basting gun. I've used my gun for years and never thought of it!"

Rosemary B. writes:

"I have been using the QuilTak gun and a lighting grate for several years and have had no problem with holes in my quilts. I have found that a dull needle can cause problems with misfiring. And some brands of tacks are thicker than others. I do hand quilting with a hoop and have no difficulty.

"I purchased my lighting grate at the local hardware store. I have considered purchasing another and connecting them for use with large quilts."

Karin McE. writes:

"I have tried to use the basting gun many times, but with little success. I really like it for small projects, however.

"I find that the needles do not last very long. I was lucky to finish basting a medium-size quilt before it was bent and unusable. (I did use a grate so that the needle did not hit the surface of the table.)

"The last time I was so disgusted that I haven't bought any more needles and have gone back to safety pins."

Joan H. writes:

"Nix on the quilt basting gun. I received one as a gift. It kept jamming, and I didn't like the holes left in the quilt. Pin basting isn't for me, either, as my arms get scratched.

"I use a 2 1/2" needle and thread baste. I find the basting goes very quickly if I lay the quilt on a table."

Jan M. writes:

"I like to do mostly miniatures and love the little basting gun for the sandwich. My grid was free. I had a left-over shelf that once fit in my dryer for drying sneakers and it works perfectly! See, it does pay to save 'stuff'!"

Joan W. writes:

"I've been using the QuilTak gun for years and love it. Just have to take a deep breath before I buy each supply of new tacks!

"Be careful if you use the lighting grid with your tack gun. The grid is not as thick as the needle is long so you'll need to protect the surface you are working on, as well as the needle. I use a piece of foam under the grid."

Florence J. writes:

"I've used a gun to baste all of my quilts for over six years. I do not like the Dritz gun. I much prefer QuilTak, which came on the market earlier.

"I hand quilt and have had no problem with brittle tacks. While it is obviously easier to use on small wall hangings, I've had no problem even on king-size quilts.

"The only real trick is to be sure your batting is very smooth, but you would do that anyway, wouldn't you?"

Elizabeth N. writes:

"I have used a basting gun for about four years, and I love it. I encountered some of the problems you did, but I kept at it and I now breeze through my quilt basting. Whenever I see the basting tacks on sale, I stock up.

"I don't use the plastic grid. I just pin baste, then come along and baste with the gun placing my fingers safely underneath. Now I don't dread basting anymore."

Barb B. writes:

"I have used my basting gun since 1995. I finally did the machine quilting on the first quilt I basted with it. Yes, six years after basting it! No brittle tacks, no problems. It quilted just as smoothly as the more recently basted quilts that I've done.

"I love my basting gun and will never go back to safety pins."

Donna P. writes:

"Once I got used to the trigger on the basting gun, basting became a breeze! I believe it would be even better if I had the grid, so I plan to get one soon."

Sue S. writes:

"I have used my Dritz basting gun for at least ten quilts of various sizes and find it much easier and more reliable than hand basting. I have had no trouble hand quilting when basting this way, and since I bought the grid I use it all the time.

"I did cut a tack too close to the quilt once and had to fix a hole, but I embroidered over it and no one was the wiser. I, too, have used cheaper tacks with good results.

"A basting gun takes a little getting used to, but it sure saves time."

Patricia B. writes:

"I have used the basting gun off and on for a few years. I have not had any problems with the tacks not lasting through my hand quilting. As a matter of fact, I have missed taking some out and have found them months or years later when I have used the quilt."

Susan G. writes:

"I have a QuilTak basting gun and love it. I use mine for hand and machine quilting. I have used both QuilTak and Dritz refills. I believe the Dritz are more brittle, but they are a little longer, so I prefer them. I use the 'safety pin' method of basting and the extra length gives me a little more room.

"The tacks may indeed get brittle with age, but the only problem I have with brittle ones is while putting them into the quilt. I have never had one break after they are in.

"The thing I find with safety pins is that I always manage to loop my thread around the pins. Also if I fold the quilt before it is finished sometimes the pins get hooked together and I am always afraid I will accidently tear my quilt unfolding it. Also the tacks don't get in the way of hooping when hand quilting, the way safety pins do.

"One word of caution: The tacks seem to fit all guns, but the needles don't. I bought a Dritz needle for my QuilTak, and it would not fit. I have been using the same QuilTak needle for years. It has never bent. I don't know if they are made better or of different material than the Dritz, but I haven't had problems."

Julie S. writes:

"What do you do when the quilt basting gun jams up? Mine did. (I don't remember what brand it was.) As a last resort, I took it apart and still could not fix it. It ended up in the garbage. I have heard since that store employees that work with these guns can sometimes fix the jam-up.

"The other thing I could share about the gun is that I was hoping it would ease the pain from the repetitive motion of basting, as I have fibromyalgia. I had a friend with arthritis and she was hoping the same thing. It did not help either of us.

"For me it was worse, and a very expensive toy."

Elizabeth N. writes:

"Your article on basting guns is great! I received one for a Christmas gift. After a few moments of trying, I figured out that you must use a new, clean strip of tacks.

"After that, I couldn't put it down. I ended up basting two quilts: one for hand quilting, and one for machine quilting.

"I have had no problem, and will never go back to pins. I, too, have blood on too many quilts.

"Thanks for the idea of the 'safety pin' method. I will try it on the next quilt."

February 12, 2001
A reader writes:

"I love my QuilTak gun! I use the coloured tacks on white quilts and the clear tacks on dark fabrics. That makes it easy to see them to remove.

"With my basting gun, basting on the floor can be done in an hour rather than hours!"

May 28, 2001
A Quilter's Review reader writes:

I've just started using the QuilTak basting gun. No problems so far.

My friend, Linda, turned me on to it. She recommends QuilTak over Dritz. She has used QuilTak for years with no problems.

July 26, 2001
Betty H. writes:

With many fabrics that are tone-on-tone, like white with white paint-like stars, the needle hole does seem to show dark. Upon close viewing of this problem, I believe the paint-like areas are stiffer and react like stabilized fabric, so the fabric weave can't relax back into place. But I wash most of my quilted projects after binding, and the holes seem to disappear.

In response to the basting gun jamming, I took mine back to my dealer and the company replaced it. If we don't let the manufacturers know there is a problem with their products, they won't improve them. My tack remover broke after using it on one small quilt, and the company replaced that, also.

July 30, 2001
Angie M. writes:

I had an opportunity to use my Quilter's Basting Gun with some fasteners that came from a cleaning establishment where my daughter worked. They are Avery-Dennison fasteners. They are called paddle fasteners which are almost the same as the tacks for our basting gun.

They are 3/4 inch and I used them like safety pins in my quilts. I'm sure you can order shorter ones, too. They work much better than the ones you buy in your local quilt shop or Joann's.

August 2, 2001
A Quilter's Review reader writes:

I've been using my Quilt Tak gun for over 10 years, and love it. I am on the original needle. I have never had a problem with remaining holes, but I, too, always wash my quilts after quilting.

I, too, use the safety pin (down and back up) strategy for tacking, and find that this method not only keeps the layers tauter, but allows for easier removal as both ends of the tack are on top of the quilt.

I use the tack remover by EZ, and had the same experience where the company replaced one that had broken. I also find that the Quilt Tak brand tacks work better in my gun, with fewer misfires and less hassle -- they seem a bit thinner.

August 6, 2001
Jackie B. writes:

I, too, have had good and bad experiences with the tack gun. I have had to purchase two, because they jammed and of course I did not have the receipt.

My main complaint is that if one tack jams, it seems that you loose a whole shaft of tacks. I have had a problem with tacks being in the middle of my quilt, in the batting, and believe me, that is a disaster.

I had a laugh about only leaving the tacks in for a short period of time. I have one quilt that I have been quilting for over five years, and after doing some quilting on it the tack holes close in with just a rub of my fingernail.

Thanks for the info on getting the tacks more cheaply. I am going to phone around, for sure.

I don't know if anyone else does this, but it works great for me. I set up the quilt in my frames, and then tack it. The quilt is put together properly, and it is nice and tight, with no bunching. Tacks go in more easily, too!

August 6, 2001
Maureen H. writes:

My basting gun is a Dennison and I wouldn't be without it. Once you use it, you will find all kinds of uses besides quilting. For example, I use it to baste drapes to let them hang before I hem them. I have never had problems with holes.

August 8, 2001
Linda C. writes:

I am ready to take the plunge with the QuilTak. However, I don't understand what the term "pin method" refers to in the readers' comments. Can you help?

August 8, 2001
Sharon replies:

The way I use my basting gun is to put the needle nose through the fabric from front to back, then shoot a tack. Even though the tacks are not holding the fabric together tightly, I don't get any puckers when quilting.

Some quilters don't want that looseness, so they use the pin method. That means putting the needle nose through the quilt from front to back, and then through again from back to front before shooting a tack. It's like inserting a safety pin, and it holds the quilt sandwich together more tightly.

I hope that clears it up for you. Good luck with your basting gun!

They are the greatest. Much cheaper than the average quilting store. Thanks so much for the information.


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