Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tips For Quiltmaking That Will Make Your Longarmer Happy

I had the opportunity today to be a guest at the Nebo Modern Quilt Guild's meeting, sharing some ideas to help your longarm quilter. I thought it would be good to post some of that information here. I forgot to mention a couple of things in my presentation today that I have included below.

First: Keep your quilt flat
Basic stuff here: accurate cutting, accurate seam allowance, keeping things as square as you can will help keep your quilt flat and avoid puckers. If there is extra fullness in the quilt some of it can be "quilted out" but it's really, really nice if we don't have to try.
This part I cannot stress enough!!!! If you add borders, you MUST MEASURE and PIN the borders onto the quilt to make sure that they are the correct length. Make sure to cut the borders the exact length that you need them, pin both ends, and then pin the middle. If you just cut them extra long and go for it, the edges of the quilt will stretch, making your borders longer than the rest of your quilt which makes them wavy. This can be extremely difficult to quilt and sometimes even requires that extra fullness be folded out of the quilt.
Personally, nothing frustrates me more as a quilter than having a beautiful quilt that I can't keep flat. Please, please, please try to keep your quilt flat.

Second: Piecing your quilt back
For proper loading on the longarm machine your quilt back needs to be 6-8" longer and wider than your quilt top. Usually this means that you will need to piece a back.
Extra wide quilt backs are available and I love using them because they are so easy, but they are not necessary.
When you need to piece your quilt back the way the seams are oriented greatly affects how easy it is to load on the machine and the ease of quilting the entire quilt. For example, if there is one seam the entire length of the quilt back and it is loaded perpendicular to the roller, as it is rolled around the rail the seam will stack on top of itself, making a really tight area on the back, while the rest of the back will not roll tightly and will actually be floppy. If all of the seams on the back of your quilt run the same direction it can be loaded with the seams parallel to the rail and will work out just fine. The direction that the seam goes on your back, whether horizontal or vertical, generally doesn't matter. It will only matter if you are having your quilt quilted with a directional design. Please keep this in mind when piecing your back.
If you want to put a pieced strip across the middle of your back go for it. Because there are many seams it will still roll evenly around the rail.
The back of this quilt that I made in 2012 was not ideal to work with because of the horizontal and vertical seams. 
If your entire back is pieced with many seams going in all directions then it should be fine. Some quilters don't like working with pieced backs so check with your quilter first. Personally I don't mind them, as long as the above guidelines are met as closely as possible.
Note: if there is a short seam, say two feet or less, that is perpendicular to the rails it is manageable. Just not the whole length or width of the quilt.
Minky: Please try to avoid piecing minky if you possibly can. It's just a pain to work with if it's not one continuous piece. Shannon Fabrics now has 90" wide minky available in eight colors. Here in Utah I know for sure that the Bernina dealer in Logan carries it as well as Gracie Lou's in Salem and at least one other place in Salt Lake, but I don't know which shop.
If there is any question at all as to which side you want showing, PLEASE LABEL IT. My idea of the "right" side may be different than yours.

We love it when you buy our batting. We keep it in stock as a convenience for you and many of us sell it at a very reasonable price. It also gives us a little extra income which is always appreciated. If you want to bring your own batting that's fine too.

If you want your applique to "pop" trim out the underneath layer of fabric to allow the batting to fill the area better. If you want it quilted down this extra step may not make a difference.
If you machine applique and are having your quilt custom quilted, ask your quilter if she can top stitch around your applique for you. Not everyone will go for this but I certainly would. If I'm going to outline the appliques anyway I can save you the step of sewing them down... as long as they are really secure either with applique glue or fusible web or interfacing. If they aren't securely attached then please sew them down.

Quilt edges:
When you piece quilts you don't need to backstitch. However, the seams that end on the edges of the quilt may stretch and pop open on the ends as we are handling the top. There are a couple of ways to avoid this. First, when you sew on borders please backstitch those. If your quilt does not have borders but instead has many seams ending on the sides it is really helpful if you sew a scant 1/4" around the entire top.

As you piece your quilt, especially if you are having your quilt custom quilted, please do not press seams open. Open seams cannot be stitched in the ditch because the thread will break and the seams will pop open.
Please also bring your quilt top and back carefully pressed. One of my clients brings her quilt tops and backs neatly pressed and folded over a hanger and they stay nice and wrinkle-free, which I really appreciate.  If you are shipping your quilt fold it as carefully as you can!

Most quilters, if not all, will baste the edges of the quilt before quilting. Some will trim off the edges for you after the quilting is finished, some don't. If you are planning to add a ruffle, prairie points, or some other special treatment to the edge of your quilt after quilting, please let your quilter know ahead of time so that your planned finish is still possible.

I hope this all makes sense. Please feel free to ask any questions or post additional tips in the comments. I'll edit this post as needed. As a quilter one of my favorite things is seeing happy customers. Keeping the above tips in mind will help me make you happy, which makes me happy too.


  1. Well said! And if I had to pick just one tip for everyone to know, it would be to measure your borders, pin, and ease the fabric in between those pins. Borders that end up flapping in the breeze at the bottom of a quilt are the things nightmares are made from :)


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