January 26, 2015
Long-Arm Practices That Work For Me
Last year in April I took several classes at the Machine Quilters’ Expo in Manchester, New Hampshire.
What I learned there–and also what I’ve learned from the long-arm quilters on Bonnie Hunter’s Facebook Studio for Quilters–has helped me so much.
So, I thought I’d share…
Make sure your bars are level. Get or borrow a four-foot level and check them. If they are off, tinker until you have them level.
This apparatus below involves suspending a curtain rod over the bars and bringing the side fasteners over it. AND, see the long rod with the blue ribbons? Underneath is a plastic piece that the rod snaps into. This arrangement gives the sides of the quilt a great deal of stability AND prevents you from quilting off of it. (There are several forms of this kind of stabilizing rod for the edge of the quilt.)
Here’s another view:
I load my quilt backing in the normal way.
But after being encouraged to do so, I float my top, just like the batting. See?
I sew a plumb line on the batting (using my channel blocker piece), then line up the top of my centered quilt on that line–and sew it down. THEN I measure both sides of the quilt from the frame on each side and as I move the quilt forward, I make sure that I keep those measurements constant along the length of the quilt. I sew down the sides every time I roll the quilt forward. Every time. Especially if I am using a pantograph.
BIG TIP: If I were to roll the top onto the top bar, I would try to place the quilt (and the backing if needed) LENGTHWISE–which minimizes the bulk of side seams being rolled up over and over on top of each other.
At the end of the quilt, I roll forward to expose the end and sew that down before making the last pass.
I make a lot of scrappy quilts that seem to do best with an overall, even pattern. So I use, mostly, pantographs–sometimes I free-motion a pattern, but less and less so as I like the patterns in the pantographs. I place the pantograph UNDER this grid that fits the length of my table–and mark on it with a wet erase marker that can be erased with water.
I estimate the amount of thread that one pass will take–and whether or not a whole bobbin will reach through two passes. On a large quilt, it will not. So, I estimate the number of passes I will be making and load that many bobbins–from 2/3 to 3/4 full, depending on what I think the pass will need. The leftover thread gets run off onto bobbins for my domestic machine and/or just used up piecing scrappy quilts I’m making. There is no thread waste. (I also use Signature thread, which is sturdy, has a good range of colors, and is way cheaper than that other brand that is so pricy. I do have to order it online and bought a thread card showing all the colors.) Here are leftover threads. More importantly, there are NO thread joins in the quilt body.
One of the BIGGEST TIPS I got last year was from Sue Patten (quilter extraordinaire): “Let the right hand steer if you are right handed. The left hand doesn’t like to steer!”
I was having some trouble with thread shredding at the needle site, and with the advice of the long-armers, I went up a needle size. As I do very scrappy quilts, there are a lot of seams, so I try to keep my backings pretty plain–which does not add to the bulk of the quilt sandwich. The thread shredding involved both the expensive and the less-expensive threads…
Before quilting, I put three lines of Sew Rite down the length of my thread cone. Magic! No more shredding.
If things do start to go wrong, I turn off the machine and walk away.
I think my own personal goal for next year is to try to use more of the speciality rulers I’ve purchased for the long-arm. Maybe I’ll see if there are some hands-on classes at this year’s MQX show in April…
But, I won’t put any pressure on myself, because, truth to tell, what I like best to do is to piece a top that will be used and loved and washed–so a lot of fancy quilting doesn’t draw me. I’m not sure that I have the patience for it!!