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