A lovely group of ladies in town make larger quilts every year to give all at once to a deserving charity. This year they are making twin size quilts for Mainstay, the local women’s shelter. It is difficult to quilt that size on a DSM, so I have agreed to do the quilting on six of their quilts. I have already done one, and three more have been delivered. I thought this would be a good time to talk about what it takes to get a quilt on the longarm frame, and why we need certain things. I may do this differently than some, but most people I know do it basically this way. This one was the first I did a few weeks ago. It was beautifully pieced and the borders were flat as pancakes!
The next quilt had a few issues. The first thing to know is that from the time I pick up the top in my hands, to the time that it is ready to begin quilting takes roughly an hour, and sometimes more if I have to deal with a problem. I start by inspecting the top and backing. I sometimes find this – uneven edges. These have to be cut to even, or the tension will be off where the edge is dangling.
So I line it up and cut that bit off.
Determining where the middle seam is, I plan to load it with the seam parallel to the rollers. I fold the backing in half, and line up the halfway point to the halfway mark on my leaders, and start pinning. The backing is loaded right side down.
Using long corsage pins, I put one every two to three inches. Some quilters use snap on thingys, or zippers, but I don’t have those.
Running the backing under the upper bar, I then pin the other edge to the front leader using the same pins, lining up the middle to the mark on that side. This helps keep the backing straight and on line.
Once it is fully pinned, I look to see if it is hanging straight, not pulling to one side or the other. If it is, then it is off grain, and I can repin with some adjustments to compensate. Luckily, this one looks good.
Now, I roll up the backing on the front bar, smoothing it with my hands as I go, keeping it straight.
When I reach the seam, if it comes over the bar in line, then I am doing good. If not, I unroll it and start over. This seam is really too thin for a backing, only 1/4 inch. It should be at least an inch wide and pressed open. This may come apart during quilting, and the bulk will be all on one side instead of distributed. If it was a nice wide seam, I would press it open, but since it is small I’ll leave it as is in case a thread breaks.
Have you ever wondered why you need to provide backing that is 8 inches longer and wider than your top? Here is why. The needle plate and the clamp take up space. Less than four inches means the base may contact the clamp and cause a jiggle or boo-boo in the quilting line. It startles the quilter to hit the clamp, and may also cause broken threads or a broken needle, which will require the quilter to stop to fix those issues. You need two inches for the base, and an inch for the clamp, and an inch for clearance. You’ll need even more if the quilt is to have ruler work which requires a larger base to be added.
Now I need to measure and cut the batting. I usually use the longarm to hold the roll, and lay the top on top of that so I know how much to cut. I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful support of The Warm Company, who generously provided the batting for these charity quilts for us. They have a warehouse distribution center near here. I like Warm and Natural, and Warm and White, always good quality batting and a joy to quilt. This roll is 90 inches wide, which means I just need to cut the width of the top plus 8 inches. While I have the top spread out, I’ll look for stray pins and threads to take care of before loading.
I raise the upper bar, and place the batting needled side up on the backing. I need to get it placed right and straight, then smooth it out. I usually put the excess over the bars under the table to keep the batting off the floor.
Placing the top on the batting, I need to get the top edge of the pieced top in a straight line, and be sure it is straight along the sides, perpendicular to the roller bars. Otherwise it will migrate to one side during quilting. I float the top, meaning I don’t pin it to any rollers, I will put a line of stitching at the top to hold that down, then use the upper bar for tension to keep it straight.
Uh oh, looks like this quilter used the slap and sew method of border attachment.
See the excess fullness?
I get the iron out, and warm it up. I try to steam out some of that fullness while it is on the frame before the quilting starts. Sometimes it will take out a little, but there is no substitute for correct sewing of a border. See my tutorial on this under quilting basics at the top of the blog. Not all the fullness came out with steaming. Batiks are really bad about this, you cannot steam them into shape like quilting cottons. But that is their appeal, not shrinking, isn’t it? All the more reason to measure borders and cut them to length.
There is some fullness in the blocks too due to bias edges, but not as much. I hope the quilting will disguise this.
Here’s another telltale sign that the borders are too big. When the top is folded up, lining the edge of the border up with the edge of the roller, the middle of the fold will bow upward like this one, indicating that the middle of the quilt is smaller than the edges. I am going to have a bit of a problem with this quilt, but will just do the best I can. The borders are at least 2 inches longer than the quilt top, and the left side is longer than the right. Please use the proper method for measuring and adding borders, not the slap and sew method. It saves a lot of headaches and heartaches, both for you and for your quilter.
After all this, I still have to wind some bobbins, chose a pantograph and lay it out, thread the machine, change the needle, and do a test for stitching integrity. I may have to adjust tensions to get the stitches balanced. Then I’ll be ready to quilt. I hope this helps your understanding of longarm prep and some of the problems we face. Let me tell you, nothing is more joyous to work on than a perfectly flat quilt top with properly applied borders, a hefty backing seam pressed open, and zero stray threads or pins.
I have several tutorials on preparing your quilt for longarm quilting with more explanations, proper application of borders and understanding why it should be done the right way, and more. See the links at the top of this blog for Quilt Basics Tutorials, and How to Prepare for Longarm Quilting.
Do you send your quilts to a longarm quilter? Or do you quilt them yourself?