Dealing with Quilt Issues

You know, I don’t ask for much when I agree to do longarm quilting for charity.  All I ask is that the quilt have 8 inches of extra fabric both lengthwise and crosswise on the batting and backing.  Particularly when I am quilting for charity (and by that I mean for free, no matter which organization it is for), if I am going to give away over $100 in value for longarm quilting, the least that can be done is provide the proper size backing and batting.  Recently, I was given this one to do, and it had some issues, but I really was miffed when I loaded it.

Quilt Problems at

So let me show you again, why longarm quilters need the extra fabric.  The base of my machine is small, but it is still 2-inches from the needle to the edge.

Quilt Problems at

The clamps need 1-1/2 inches to comfortably hold the project.

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So, add those together, and you get 3-1/2-inches, plus only a half-inch for clearance.  Any less, and the base of the machine will hit the clamp before the needle reaches the edge of the project top.  That means I need four inches of clearance all the way around the quilt top, or a total of 8 inches longer and wider for the backing and batting.

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OK, so what?  Well, hitting the clamps can create one or more problems.  First, the most minor is a wobble in the stitching line as the machine bounces around the clamp like this.  The circle should flow evenly off the edge, but it bounced inward.  Remember, I am quilting from the back of the machine, I am not looking at the clamps, nor can I reach them to move them as I go.

Quilt Problems at

No big deal, that’s not a problem for the piecer, I hear some saying.  Aside from the fact that hitting a clamp is startling to me, and that it results in less than my best work, that is only the most minor thing that can occur.  What happens more often is a thread break at the point of hitting the clamp.

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So now, I have to stop, come around to the other side of the machine, and pick out a line of stitching to get enough thread to tie off.  Often this means rethreading the machine as well, and removing the bobbin to check the tension again.  This has just cost me about 15-20 minutes, not to mention the aggravation.

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The stitching has to be pulled out for several inches, and carefully so as not to nick the quilt top, nor cut the thread again.  At least it only broke the thread, it is much worse if hitting the clamp breaks the needle, too!!  Longarm needles are not cheap.  And worse yet, it can possibly throw a machine out of proper timing, which is a LOT of time to fix, as re-timing a longarm is a royal hassle.

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Another thing is stitching the edges down can sometimes result in bunching of the fabric at the edge as the machine maneuvers around the clamp, if I don’t pick it up in time.  This will have to be taken out and redone so the top lays flat.  More time and effort that I shouldn’t have to do.

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But this is what really frosted my cookies.  The note pinned to the batting clearly indicates that the person KNEW it was only 5-1/2-inches wider instead of the 8-inches needed.  I can just hear someone saying, “oh well, it’ll be fine” in total ignorance of what it means to the longarmer.

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Add to that, the poor cutting resulted in even less batting in the middle than at the edge, seen here at the top laying on the longarm.  That is a 2-inch difference!!

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I was only able to get this little bit to stick out by pulling the batting a bit to stretch it, not the best idea.

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So, here we are loaded up, and I see another issue.

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My fold up method of checking quilts reveals there is more fabric in the borders than on the center section.  See how the middle is bowing up?  It isn’t much, just enough to mean I need to pay more attention to the borders.  As if I didn’t have enough to pay attention to before.

Quilt Problems at

Here’s the problem, bias seams on the borders, never a good idea, even if you are ultra careful and use the proper measure and cut method of applying borders.  They stretch and distort even with simple handling, and that is before it is loaded onto the frame.

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I worked through the quilting and got it done, but it took a fair amount of time longer than it should have.  I used dark red Glide in the top and Bottom Line in the bobbin.

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This pantograph is called Tiger Swirl and is good for a guy quilt.

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Overall the final result was good.

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I gave it back without my usual trimming, and with a note attached, so the organization that gave it to me could see the problems.  Hopefully, the next one will have the required amount of backing and batting.  If not, it is going to be returned un-quilted.  I just don’t think that it is too much to ask.

Quilt Problems at

What do you think?

FQS has the Hoffman Dream Big Panel, in all kinds of colorways.  Amy at Amy’s Freemotion Quilting is going to do a series on different fills, so it would be fun to quilt along.  The sections are small enough to do on a domestic machine, so you don’t have to have a longarm to play.  Get yours and let’s have some fun!!  I’ll be working on mine after Autumn Jubilee, coming October 2019!!

54 thoughts on “Dealing with Quilt Issues

  1. karenfae

    seeing as your volunteering your services it should be presented as you state you are willing – I would make sure in the future when you accept a quilt from groups that you tell the leader of the group or who is in charge of the quilts on their end that they need to double check or the quilt tops will be given back unfinished – it might make it look like you are being picky but if they want their tops done — well let them figure it out – it seems like you put in a lot of effort but you shouldn’t be expected to correct the mistakes on their part – you are not getting paid.

    1. I should have made this clearer in my post, I have done that MULTIPLE times! I have called the leader in the past, and I have emailed her too. She got pretty snippy with me saying she knew that the backs needed the extra. The problem is not everyone in her group has gotten the message, and she doesn’t check every bag assembled to go to the longarmers. Yes, they have been told, but they just don’t believe it or they are just sloppy, I don’t know which. But I meant it, I will not do any more quilts where the backing isn’t large enough.

      1. Terena

        Totally agree with you. Could it be that as you are donating your longarm skills, they don’t value your time as much as if it was costing them money?

      1. joyce t swearingen

        Oh my gosh, how refreshing to read this. It is all so true. Machine quilters want to do their absolute best whether for charity or pay. It’s so disheartening to have to work so hard and stress about these things. Really not fair. I totally agree, hand it back and stick to your guidelines!!

  2. stephzw

    This is a great explanation I think everyone should read it. Then they would realize we aren’t just being picky, we have reasons for asking this.

    1. Joy

      Absolutely you should return any more quilts that don’t have the required amount of batting and backing. If the person who made the quilt doesn’t give you the required allowances, she’s just not going to be able to get it long arm quilted! The risk of damage to your machine, not to mention the time and frustration for you, are excellent reasons to “disqualify” a quilt that doesn’t meet the requirements. I would return it with a copy of this very well written post, and a note saying that it does not qualify for long arm quilting!
      That being said, I love the quilt top on this one and you did an excellent job of quilting it, especially with all the obstacles you had to overcome.

  3. Thanks for that information. I have a sit down machine and don’t know anyone personally who has a long arm, so I didn’t know how critical that was. I knew that a minimum of 8″ was required but didn’t really know the significance of it. That is a good idea not to accept any more like that. Maybe you will just let people know up front that it will be returned if it does not have sufficient backing and batting. I know that was frustrating. I am a little surprised though that she sent it knowing the dimensions needed. Even if I didn’t know why, I would have following the requirements just because they were stated as required.

    1. I don’t have a long arm, but have friends that do & I follow the blogs of others, like you. I am often asked by other quilty friends how much extra they need for their backing & batting if sending to a long arm quilter. I always say, check with the person who will be quilting it. There are different machines as well as personal preferences, and to get the best result we need to give the long arm quilter what they need to do their job the best. You are absolutely right to return it unquilted if it doesn’t meet your needs. It turned out beautiful. May I link back to your post from my blog? I think everyone needs to hear this.

  4. Donna Weeks

    Perfect explanation on the longer quilting process for the longer quilter. So many quilters simply do not understand the need for extra fabric on borders, or quilt tops that lay flat. I have had a few tops quilted by a friend who is an artist with her longer quilting. She prefers to use her own batting, and add the cost to my bill. I provided more than enough backing and a top that was flat. She certainly appreciated that. As a quilt instructor, I always tell my students to ask their longarm quilter what their requirements are for backing and batting.
    Hope that the groups that ask you to quilt for charity will understand your needs and comply.

  5. Diane

    Thank you for this informative blog. I knew that setting up a a quilt on a long arm was time consuming but all the other info I did not know. If I ever send a quilt to a long arm quilter I will be VERY mindful of having the proper size batting and extra fabric on the top. I’m going to keep this blog in my files for future reference. Thank you again for this blog.
    Blessings. Diane

  6. You do a beautiful job on the quilting! Your attention to the details is excellent too. As for the piecer/group/leader not paying attention or listening, it is the same old story. I support you for returning the entire project to them with simple comment of follow instructions for long arm charity/free quilting. Period. They will go somewhere else or follow the rules.
    When I did a few long arm tops, I actually charged more for quilts with problems……that was in the early day of LAing. I do the sit down mid arm now for just me.

  7. Lenora

    Carole, I don’t know if I will ever have enough courage to donate a project for a longarm volunteer, but I really appreciate learning (or at least reading) what should and should not be sent. I have donated pieced tops to Linus and will check next time to see if I need to improve those donations. (I just try to send money for the batting, etc.) Kinda is like taking trash to the Thrift stores! Thanks for the information.

  8. Oh Carole, this is the bane of my long arming life! For 15 years I have drilled this into groups I give talks to, as well as my own customers, but some just never get the memo. Trying to center and squeeze a quilt onto too small backing (or batting) is so depressing, and ruins what could be a pleasant day quilting. I make the effort to always write a nice note to the customers who present a flat, square quilt with an appropriate backing. They are the few angels who make this job fun. Maybe you’ll write another post about wonky pieced backs… Baggy bits and multiple seams with the uneven edges all along the four sides! Ha ha ha. Now, back to the quilt on the frame.

  9. Brenda @ Songbird Designs

    I would definitely return the quilt unquilted if they did not meet the requirements. As you said, improper measuring and biased pieced borders, do not make a fun quilt to quilt. I do some charity quilts as well and totally understand your issues. I now ask customers for at least 5 inches on all sides of the quilt – just to keep my sanity!! I’m really picky about batting as well and always have them purchase it from me. They get a better deal and I know what I’m dealing with!! Of course, with charity, you get what you get.

    I have several of the big dream flower panels. I think this quilt along will be fun! I will go check it out! Thanks for the info. Have a great weekend!

  10. wlbg149

    I’d be honked too. Whether for free or $$$ you do a terrific job , and it’s the least someone can do to send the correct materials. Thanks on their behalf, Carolyn W.

  11. Cindy beal

    Thanks Carole for the detailed explanation of this issue. I had no idea! Thanks for educating those of us who do not LA. I will be extra careful in the future about what I send out to be quilted.
    The pictures helped a lot. Yes, I would reject those quilts that fail to meet your requirements. Not worth the hassle, whether it is charity or for $$$$. The quilting was beautiful by the way.

  12. Sylvia E Anderson

    Good morning Carole. I hope, that after all that aggravation and frustration, DH took you out for a nice quiet and romantic dinner, to help calm you down. I think every member of that group should be given the link to this post, so they are aware of what you had to go through, all because they didn’t pay their due diligence when sending it out for FREE quilting.

  13. Grest job on the quilt despite the issues. You should return unquilted in future with a copy of this post and your requirenents. That might get them to realize they need to follow the rules. I would not risk your machine in future. That is your income. Thank you for all you do for charity organizations. It is greatly appreciated.

  14. Mary Stori

    You’ve done a great service by taking the time to explain the issues that long arm quilters are faced with, backing it up with photo examples. No, it’s not too much to ask that guidelines are followed…and even more so when you are volunteering your time! Just because it’s a donation quilt quality should still be adhered to.

  15. Beth Stanfield

    I’m so glad you explained the extra fabric requirement. I’ve done quilts for friends and they often grumble. This is why I’ve never opened myself up to Quilting for the general public! Not brave enough.
    Your blog is a blessing. I’m a North Carolina girl and I love your neck of the woods. 💜

  16. joymcd305716439

    I know exactly what you mean.. it is VERY frustrating to receive quilts like that, especially if they know that it isn’t how it should be. I had one given to me once, with a little laugh, as if to say, oh well, you sort it out… that was in my beginning days of long arm quilting.. now I would say something! You did a great job on the quilting though, so you can give yourself a big pat on the back!! xx

  17. debby

    I’ve not had a quilt long armed and wondered why the extra inches were needed. This was a great explanation and such useful information.

  18. Patricia Evans

    I’ve sent two quilts out to be longarmed and I’m aware of the need for at least 8″ extra (I try to add more) but I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to join border on diagonal. You didn’t mention it here, but I also recently learned that if a backing is pieced the seam should go from side to side, not top to bottom. Any time I’ve read directions on how to piece a back when you need a wider backing, it always shows vertical seams.
    Anyway with this particular group I would definitely return any future quilts that don’t meet your specs, since you have repeatedly tried to educate them. Is the group located close enough that you could offer to do a presentation?
    As always, thank you for all you do for so many good causes.

    1. The backing seam should run parallel to the longest axis of the quilt. Most of the time that is top to bottom. Whomever told you side to side, or the shorter axis, is either mistaken, or is a longarmer who loads her quilts that way instead of using the longest axis parallel to the leaders. Most of us prefer to quilt the longest path in one pass.

  19. Pam Hanson

    That was the most logical explanation of longarm preparation I have ever heard. Thanks as I’m sure to remember to talk to my longarmer for her requests. And, it does look marvelous finished! Pam

  20. Tami Von Zalez

    Great explanation post! I think I overdo it on the backing, providing more than needed.
    I would have sent it back to the creator to add more material, not worth the risk to you and your equipment.

  21. Loris Mills

    Great explanation, Carole! I longarm quilts for the Quilt of Valor group in our guild. The quilt tops themselves are sometimes challenging but the backing and batting are always presented to me in the most readliy useable form I could ask for. It makes it a pleasure. I’m sorry you have had to deal with such issues and rudeness when you tried to deal with it. Your work and salvaging is beautiful though. I hope this group pays attention to the needed changes.

  22. Tina W from Oregon

    Hi Carole. Great explanation about what’s needed for longarming. It would be nice if people would make the backing and batting the same size. I’ve had instances where the batting was WAY wider than the back. Do you charge extra for having to trim before loading the quilt?

  23. Sherry V.

    Hi Carole, you are absolutely right in expecting to be given the opportunity to do your best work by having the correct amount of batting and backing.

    I think many people just think, “well it is a charity quilt” and don’t bother to do their best work.

    Our guild is currently doing quilts to build up our charity quilt stock. . . and I took one of the tops that needed to have borders put on it. Oh goodness! Not one of the sides is the same measurement as any of the others (luckily thought they aren’t too far off so I can ease the borders on) but once I got to really looking at the top. . . there are “nips and tucks” all over the place! It almost embarrasses me to think that we are giving this to someone.

    I always treat every quilt as if it was something that I was giving to a family member. . . . because everyone deserves our best work. But, I am guessing that I am in the minority at times.

    I do have a question, if you don’t mind. . . . . when you have a thread break do you hide the top and bobbin threads together or separately?

    I have a long arm and am, for the most part, self and YouTube taught and I have never been able to find a good answer. . . . so I thought I would ask.

    Thank you & have a lovely weekend.

    1. Yes! Quality is a longarmer’s reputation, and a shoddy job due to not being given the correct size backing always reflects back on the longarmer, not the person who didn’t provide what was needed in the first place. Even with charity quilts, my reputation goes out with each quilt, and less than my best doesn’t sit well with me. Particularly with veteran quilts or cancer care quilts, but actually with all quilts given as gifts, our best work is mandatory in my opinion. For thread breaks, I tie them together and bury them together.

  24. Bonnie coleman

    I agree with you on this. You are being generous…..and careful and a good job. It should work both ways.

  25. Sharon Vrooman

    These are points that a lot of quilters who quilt by check just don’t know. We had 4 of our guild members who long arm do a program on what they like to see when quilts are handled by them – from prep to dimensions, preferred batting and why, thread use & stitch length and motif selection – to name a few. It was a great program and we have a lot of new members – time to repeat this.

  26. I don’t blame you for being miffed. I just got a quilt back from a longarmer, and I was very sure to ask her requirements before even beginning the backing. It’s not that hard to communicate ahead of time in order to do what’s necessary. Especially when the longarmer is working for free. It’s not like you’re going to be able to recoup your time by charging extra for the difficulties. I’m with you 100% in refusing any future quilts that don’t come correctly prepared.

    1. sgrancio

      Ouch! I feel your pain. We try very hard in our large senior community quilting group to explain how back and batting must be prepared for long arming. A ‘studio tour’ at one of our long arm volunteers homes did a good bit in resolving the problem, but … still
      A work in progress.

  27. Debby Shrader Gorman

    Thank you for this very explicit and informative blog post. My sister is a long arm quilter and she runs up against the same issues. I’m sure many quilters just don’t realize the problems they can cause for you long armers. Piecing a quilt is a labor of love and I think most long arm quilters don’t want to hurt the makers feelings. But the truth needs to be told, and you are well within your rights to expect a quality of product. After all, they expect quality from you.

  28. Sharon Schipper

    I have a friend who long arm quilts for me, she has a Gammill. She has a website, which is how I found her, and she very carefully lays out what she needs from patrons. She asks for 3 inches all around, but she uses a computer operated edge to edge so I don’t know if that makes a difference. Point being, although I’m paying her for her work, she still has some expectations from ME and I make sure I meet them, because I appreciate her labor! Most of the time, I pay HER for her preferred batting, and she keeps a thread inventory that suits her machine. When she sends out a coupon, it is based on the cost w/purchasing her batting and thread. And yes, I hope to have my own machine when I retire from secretarial work! Thanks for your very good explanation! sharon in colorado

  29. Myrna Watson

    Oh, Carole, you made me laugh. I can’t wait to use your expression “Frosted my Cookies” Wow…do I hear your frustration and yes we all should be more kind to our long arm quilter. Thank you for all your generous volunteering you do. I support you from Canada , like I am sure many others do.

  30. Very honorable of you to push through and proceed! ….And people are people. You have clearly noted so when it gets bound, someone will see. Word will get to the individual, if not be the talk of the whole group. It turned out marvelous!

  31. Thank you so much for that information. I have sent two of my quilts to a long-arm quilter and she never explained why she needed the extra yardage, but I always made sure that it was there. I think you are well within your right to refuse to quilt the charity quilts, if they aren’t given to you with the appropriate yardage.

  32. Melanie

    You are absolutely right, Carole. Your time is valuable, and you always solve problems, but it is not too much to ask for the extensions you need to get the job done. Congrats on such a beautiful job. It is a beautiful quilt and will be well received.

    1. Ann Beckee

      When you offer to quilt for charity you should not have to deal with these situations. I used to do Quilts of Valor at no charge, but I had to quit do to very similar situations. I have a longarm business. My time is important to customers who understand the process. Unfortunately that is not the case when you offer your services at no charge. Thanks for your great visual and explanation.

  33. Kathy Inozarks

    I can totally understand your frustration and your time is valuable-even if it is for charity I would send it back and say it can’t be done to your quality standards-

  34. Bev

    Bravo! I quilt only for charity or myself, and I run into all these problems and a few more. I’ve switched from the clamps you use to the wider ones that actually require more space to avoid bumping them.

    That said, I have another “pet peeve.” The charity quilts you show always look good enough to give to anyone. I’ve seen so many that actually look they were made without much thought for the recipient. The seams are falling apart and/or don’t come close to matching; cutting has no relation to grain; nothing has been pressed. In general, the attitude of the maker seems to be “anything goes” if it’s for charity. I wish these donors would realize the recipients are people who deserve good quality work even if it’s a quick and easy scrappy pattern.

    1. You hit on my pet peeve too, just because it is done for ‘charity’ doesn’t mean shoddy is OK. The attitude of ‘oh well, it is just a charity quilt’ drives me insane. Especially if the recipient is a veteran, a cancer survivor, a disaster victim, every quilt made as a gift should have our best work, whether that is someone in our family or a total stranger. Thank you for your comment!

  35. It is such a lovely quilt that it is a shame t o have it spoilt with all these problems. I am amzed you were able to get it done.
    Thank you for explaining a lot of the reasons why the extra amounts are needed. It makes a lot of sense when you know what is going on.

  36. Christine Brickley

    I think you had the patience of a saint! How about producing a checklist which has to have all ‘long arm essentials’ ticked on it and given to you at the time they hand over the quilt. Put a note on the bottom stating the quilt will be rejected (😢 feeling sorry for the rejected quilt here😢) if these are not followed. Also put a price list in showing how much they would be paying if it wasn’t done for charity. I think if it’s done for charity it should be of the same high standard as normally applies. Why would people not want their hard work quilted well? Obviously all this would be written in a friendly manner but should get the important message across. If they don’t ask again, that’s up to them. I think you can tell I really feel for you.

  37. jean fletcher

    Thank you so much for explaining and illustrating all this. It really helps us quilt-makers to be more attuned to your needs to finish our art works that you quilt. We need to pay more attention to the details of our quilts meeting the LAQ’s requirements.

  38. You said it gal!!!! And so much better than I could have said it myself. I’m including this as a link in my blog. I have given back quilts in the past and asked people to add on muslin on all 4 sides of the back. I have also told them that I would try, but not guarantee to not include the muslin sides in my quilting. Too true that a too short back turns a pleasant day of quilting into a nightmare.


    I am so sorry you had so many problems. It was a beautiful quilt for charity. I do not think people have any idea what is needed for the LAQ. I like the idea of a check list. It would be helpful. Liz

  40. debdevo

    I just sent a link to this write-up to a customer who gave me a backing that was a total of 3-1/4 inches wider than the top!!!!! And this was after assuring me that her Florida Longarmer never required that much fabric. About an inch and a half on either side is NO WHERE NEAR enough (as you well know). I offered her a couple of solutions and am waiting to hear back. I LOVE all of your informative posts :~).

  41. Ty

    Thank you for the many hours that you have contributed to charities. Your efforts are appreciated and needed.

    Your post was extremely informative and I understand your dilemma. You have volunteered to long-arm quilts, that are to your specifications. You have not volunteered to fix or make adjustments to accommodate quilts that don’t meet your specifications thus requiring additional time and possible additional expenses.

    I would return the quilt untouched and include a note with the “required repairs” before you will long-arm it.
    – For this particular quilt, “require proper-sized batting and backing”.
    – Or in the case of poor workmanship, “mending and restitching required”. And include the reason: poor seams, or isn’t square, or doesn’t lie flat, etc.

    If you continue to work with problem quilts and produce amazing results, then no one will believe there is a problem.

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