WFMW–Basting quilts with a tagging gun

For many years I’ve used plastic tags and a tagging gun to baste quilts together for quilting. In fact, this is the only method I’ve ever used, since I purchased the tagging gun when i was making crafts to sell (BQ) and needed to tag them with prices and info. When I started quilting, I heard about the tagging guns and tags that had just become popular with quilters, so rather than going out and purchasing hundreds of safety pins to baste my quilt, I dug out the tagging gun and tags I already had.

Tag on quiltThere was only one small problem: the tags I had were 3/4″ and had a fat end and a skinny end, instead of 1/4″ with two skinny ends like what was sold for quilts. If I’d used them the way other quilters were using them, straight through the quilt from top to bottom, my quilts would have been quite unstable, with too much potential for movement between the layers. I decided to try putting the tags in like you would use a safety pin or a straight pin, into all the layers and back out again, so that both ends of the tag are on the top of the quilt.

It worked great, with the added bonus that I didn’t need to buy one of those funny grid things that lifts the quilt up slightly off the table or floor that you need if you use the shorter tags, since you have to put them straight through the quilt. I could always tell if the needle (and thence the tag) went all the way through the quilt because I could feel when the needle hit the floor or table under the quilt.

The quilt is secure and the layers don’t shift any more than they would with safety pins. Both ends of the tag are on the top of the quilt so they are easy to see and quilt around and the tags are easy to remove without digging around under the quilt for the other end after you cut it apart. Cutting the tags out of the quilt is safer too, since they’re longer and you can keep the scissors farther away from the quilt surface.

One thing I must point out: You may find that the needle on the tagging gun makes a bigger hole than a safety pin might, or causes a snaggy looking bit on the fabrics. I’ve been told this repeatedly over the years by quilters who tried the gun and don’t like it. Yes, sometimes it can do that, but I think the trick is to be very careful with your needle, and replace it at the first hint of a burr or bent tip. Treat the needle very carefully, just like you treat the needles on your machine; maybe even more carefully, since they cost much more per needle to replace.

Even if the tags really do make a larger hole than safety pins, other benefits make the tags the right choice for me. I’ve used safety pins here and there over the years, and find that they tend to catch on the sewing machine foot much easier and more frequently than the tags do, and aside from that rather annoying occurrence, the tags are much easier to remove when you get close to them with the foot, or you can just quilt right over them and cut them out later.

The most important feature for me is that it’s easier on my hands to use the tagging gun over and over than it is to insert and then fasten huge numbers of pins when basting a quilt. I’ve seen special notions for sale that make closing safety pins easier, so I know this must be an issue for other quilters, too. I’ve found that once I’ve finished the quilt and washed it, the threads that are displaced by the gun and the tags will move back into place and finding holes where the tags were is rather difficult because they just don’t show.

The other issue here is that, since I guess I’m the only quilter in the world who does it this way, the 3/4″ tags I use aren’t sold in small packages at the LQS. I order them in boxes of 5,000 (yes, 5,000!) from a retail supply store. Basting a queen size quilt can plow through 700-1,000 tags, so 5,000 isn’t as unreasonable as it sounds. I just hunted up a new source this week, and they’re happy to take small orders from me, even though I’m not in the business.

Tagging gun and tags to baste quilts

If you’d like to try this method of basting quilts, here are the links to the items you’ll need to get started:

Retail Service Company Home Page

Avery Dennison Tagging Gun

Fine Fabric Needles (replacements)

3/4″ nylon tags, 3 boxes of 5,000 tags

Note that this particular company only sells the tags in lots of three boxes of 5,000 tags. I realize that that’s a lot of tags! There are other companies out there who sell this stuff, and a Google search should turn one up that sells them by the box instead of by lots (search for “08938 Fine Fabric” which is the exact item number for this type of tag). I chose to order from this company because they were happy to send my order by USPS to my APO address (which is a problem many of you probably don’t have since you live somewhere “normal” with a street address that UPS can deliver to), which most other companies like this won’t do and it doesn’t bother me to have a stockpile of tags on hand because I know I’ll use them.

If you already have a tagging gun, and want to experiment with the longer tags that I use, check the gun to see that it’s an Avery Dennison brand, as some quilters I know who have the Dritz guns experience a lot of jamming, and I’m not sure that the Avery Dennison tags are compatible with the Dritz guns. If your gun is marketed under the name Quilt-Tak, it was originally made by Avery Dennison as far as I’m aware, so the tags should be compatible.

Find out more about Works-for-Me-Wednesday at WFMW headquarters at Rocks in my Dryer! Basically, the idea is that on Wednesday you post a little tip you’ve learned on any topic–anything that has “worked for you” in making your life easier. Visit Rocks in my Dryer for great tips on everything from kids to money on this Works-for-me-Wednesday!

13 thoughts on “WFMW–Basting quilts with a tagging gun

  1. Hey Nadine, guess what! You are NOT the only quilter in the world who uses a basting gun. There are two of us! True, they do make a large hole, but when you get the quilt wet after quilting, the holes disappear.

    Avoid Dritz basting guns.

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  2. Gretchen–You’re welcome! You’ll love it, it’s just soooo easy to baste quilts this way (well, in the relative scheme of things anyway). Thanks for stopping in!

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  3. Hi Rian! Wooohooo! I am not alone! Oh, wait, I meant I was the only quilter who uses the longer tags! Do you use the long ones or the short ones? That wasn’t overly clear up there about being the only one, was it?

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  4. Hi Nadine, I was checking out the basting guns online a few days ago, and ran across your article. I read many negative articles about the guns sold at the quilt shops, so I thought I would try the one you recommended. I ordered two Avery Dennison Mark 111 Fine Fabric Pistol Grip Swiftach guns. I wanted one for my daughter too, and we can share the three boxes of 3/4″ tags. I have never used a gun to baste a quilt, and I find the instructions included with the gun pitiful. I am at a loss at how to use it. I obviously have the needle inserted incorrectly, as when I squeeze the handle of the gun the needle comes off. I know what it should do, but I have no idea how the gun puts the tag into the quilt. I know it is me, but I would very much like to use it for my current quilt top, and after investing just under $100 in the guns, tags and additional needles, I would really like to use it. Is there a site with pictures of how to put the gun together and use it? Thank you for whatever you can do to help!

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    1. Hi Karen! If the needle is coming out, it’s not inserted properly, you’re correct. In the photo above, the small white lever on the side of the gun at the head is what keeps the needle in the gun. If it’s angled down as shown in the photo, the needle is locked in. If it’s straight (or angled up, I can’t remember) the needle isn’t locked. I would say that the gun is trying to work, but the plastic tag pushes the needle out instead of going through it since the needle isn’t locked in.

      Try angling the lever up, then inserting the needle and then moving the lever down to make sure that you start with the needle lever in the unlocked position. Let me know if this helps!

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    2. Hi Karen,
      Where did you buy your Avery Dennison Mark 111 Fine Fabric Pistol Grip Swiftach from?
      Thanks,
      Cathy Bertanzetti
      PS Do you like it?

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      1. Hi Cathy,

        I bought my basting gun from Retail Service Company. Towards the top of this site there is a spot where you can click on ‘Retail Service Company Home Page’. You can then select Tagging Guns. I bought the red Avery Mark 111 Tag Attacher Gun, Fine Fabric #1001256. It is a little over $21 if I remember right. Then click on Tag Fasteners. The tag fasteners I got were the 3/4″ size. They are Fine Fabric Paddle 3/4″ clear. They sell for $9.70 a box and you have to buy 3 boxes in order to buy them. I checked around and found that this was a great price, and I think I used about 750 to 800 on the quilt that I basted. I am happy that I won’t have to buy any more for a while, but I do make quite a few quilts.

        With the longer tags you go into the fabric top and then out to the fabric top, so you have both the ends of the paddle on top of the quilt. They really hold the quilt together! It takes just a few attempts to get used to using the gun, and I can tell you it saved me a LOT of time when basting. You can totally see when you will run over the ends while you are quilting. I would have to say if you are stippling, be careful not to go over the large end. You won’t break a needle, but you have to cut off the end of the tag and begin quilting again. If you come close, just stop and clip off the end. It is easy to stay away from them though, once you have hit a couple.

        I received the gun and fasteners in a very short time and I am looking forward to using it again. If you buy one I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I had no idea how to load the tags, but once I found out how to the whole process was very easy. We are away from home right now, and will be for the next few weeks, but if you have any questions that I can help with I would be happy to email you. I am not on daily, but I will get back to you as soon as I can.

        Good Luck!! Karen

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  5. Hi Nadine, Thank you so much for your input! I was going to try again tomorrow to ‘get it right’, but when I got your email I took the time to try again. It works great!! I have a quilt to sandwich and baste this weekend and I look forward to using the tagging gun. I am very impressed at how easy it was to use (once I caught on!!!), and I love the 3/4″ tags. I can’t wait to start basting! Thank you so much for your original information and additional advice.

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  6. Hi. After reading all your great info about basting, I ordered, on ebay, a tagging, quilt basting gun and fasteners. It arrived and wow, I’m thrilled! Takes no time at all to baste a good sized kid quilt. I couldn’t get the 3/4 fasteners so got 1″ which worked great. Ten years ago I became legally blind but because I’ve sewn all my life, I can still make simple quilts and tie them. I like the longer fasteners because the very short ones go one way and then when I try to clip them, it’s very hard to find the part on the other side and I don’t want to leave one of those scratchy things in the fabric, especially if it is caught in a soft backing, like fleece. Thanks so much for your very helpful information. Happily basting!

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  7. Hi Nadine. I just ran across your article about using longer fasteners to baste your quilt and was thrilled about it. I am a retail supplier and have been selling these quilt basting guns and barbs for over 14 years now. I always love to hear about how people find new ways of doing things. I would love to have permission to post your article on my website, http://www.vaaardvark.com, where I have several related articles. One is 100 Uses for your basting gun. Another is a tutorial with pictures on how to re-assemble your basting gun for troubleshooting. I will wait for your response as I think your article would be great to share with my customers. I appreciate your valuable information. Kindest regards, Becky H., Owner of Virginia Aardvark

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