Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Make your Longarm Quilter Love You

I love my job. Every day, I get to look at the luscious quilt tops people have made, and add my finishing touches, in order to return them to their owners as completed quilts. It's rewarding on so many levels. I get to explore my own artistic side, but more importantly, I love the connections I make with my customers. It is such a great feeling to talk with them about the vision they have for the finished quilt, and to work together to create a cherished product.

Now, while I love what I do, some days at work are easier for me than others. Sounds familiar, right? I mean, we all have bad days at work. The thing is, every quilt that enters my studio is a work of art, a piece that someone has loved and labored over, and has special meaning to them. From a longarm quilter's point of view, they are all beautiful, but some are easier to work with than others. Today's goal is to provide you with some tips to help you make you and your quilt be the "popular" girl or guy at the office.

GenerationQ magazine has a wonderful article in their Spring 2013 issue by the incomparable Lisa Sipes Using her great sense of humor, she explains many of the items longarm quilters wish their customers knew. I'll touch on them here, as well as add a few of my own.

The Basics:
  • Be prepared to wait. Lots of people have quilts to be finished, so your longarm quilter probably has some in line ahead of yours. Plan accordingly. Quilts you want to give as gifts need to get to your longarmer WELL before the date you need them. (Think at least a month or two.)
  • Longarm quilting is a business, and generally a small one, run by just one or two people. That means time is a limited resource. The better prepared your quilt is, the smoother (and less costly) the process will be.
The Quilt Top:
  • Is it squared up? There are a couple of things you can do to help your quilt be a squared one. If your quilt has blocks, measure them as you go to be sure they are the correct size, then sew them together. Please, please, please, attach your borders correctly. That means no more sewing a long strip to the side and lopping off the extra. I admit it. I have been guilty of this practice in the past, before I knew better. Take the time to measure your quilt thru it's center points, then cut your borders to the appropriate length, pin them to the side, and ease as needed.
  • Does it have holes? It happens to the best of us. You're sewing along and don't realize that the bottom piece moved a bit, resulting in a hole. Take some time to check your quilt. A longarm machine sews at a fast rate, and if I don't see a hole, but my machine's hopping foot finds it, well, there's trouble. The result could be as simple as I need to take time to rip some stitches (doesn't make me happy), OR your quilt may get torn (that won't make you happy). 
  • How are your threads? Do you have stray threads popping up thru seams? Are there frays on the back? Take the time to trim them.
  • Is your quilt flat? In most cases, the best way to make a flat quilt is to press it well. (And press it well during the construction process, too.) Some good things happen when you press your quilt. First, your longarmer will love it. For me anyway, I love to quilt, but pressing, not so much. Also, when you give your quilt a final pressing, you can use that time to go over it carefully, checking for holes and those pesky threads.

The Quilt Back (and batting):
  • Buy good quality backing! Think of your backing as the framework or skeleton of your quilt. The backing provides stability on the quilting frame. A flimsy backing can stretch while the quilt is rolled, but a top quality backing is like a good bra; it will be supportive, and let your quilt top be shown to it's best advantage.
  • Square it up! I have yet to meet a longarm quilter who enjoys making and squaring backings. For me, if you do this one step, I will greet your quilts with delight. In order for a quilt to be done on a longarm frame, the backing needs to be squared up. (Remember how I said backing is the framework of your quilt.) Crooked backing = crooked quilt. Your quilter will do this step for you, but keep in mind...time is time (you want your quilt back sooner, right?) and time is money. Not sure how to square a backing? Ask your quilter, or check out these instructions.
  • What size should it be? Both the batting and the backing need to be larger than the quilt top. Quilt backs are loaded onto a longarm frame by attaching them to canvas leaders. A quilter needs extra fabric in order to attach the backing to the leaders. There are also clamps on the sides to provide stability, and your quilter will need an area to test tension before the quilting begins. Most quilters prefer you give them 4-6 inches extra on ALL 4 sides, for both backing and batting. If you're not sure, ask.
  • If you need to piece your backing, one quilting caveat changes. Use a 1/2" seam, and press the seam open. The bigger seam will be sturdier, and pressing it open will provide less bulk.
Whew! Lots of information, right? Please remember that while some of these items are requirements (like backing/batting size) most are requests that will earn the love of your longarm quilter. Well, a good cup of coffee will also pave that road with this quilter, too!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Snow and Sew? (Let's just read some quilting books)

A little over a week ago, Mother Nature provided those of us who live in the northeast a very interesting weekend. Early in the week, we knew snow would be coming by the weekend, and of course, the closer the storm came, the better the forecasters were able to predict the outcome. It was clear that by midday Friday, something BIG would be looming in our neighborhood. Schools and businesses were closed...and we waited. Sure enough, winter storm Nemo (or blizzard Charlotte - I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to call it) bore down on my little town and packed a wallop! We went to bed on Friday night with the snow piling up, and by the time it stopped on Saturday there were 31 inches of the pretty white stuff in my yard...and on my driveway. Since we all think in fabric, that's almost a yard of snow. Too bad it wasn't fabric. For a little perspective, here's a shot of me, trying to dig out the deck. The snow here had drifted over my head. It made for an excellent upper body workout!

After hours and hours, literally 6-1/2 hours of solid work by two able-bodied adults, the way was cleared to the road (which had not seen a plow). When I got back inside, I was just too tired (gasp!) to sew! It seemed to be the perfect weekend to relax with a cup of tea and a couple of the books I received for Christmas.

I will admit to being in love with modern quilts and quilting. My fabulously talented, and incredible friend, Jess Smith from The Quilt and Needle introduced me to Angela Walters' concept of quilting in negative space. I am the lucky owner of both books Angela has written, so I spent time reading and practicing my drawing. We longarmers doodle. A lot! In "Free Motion Quilting", Angela teaches the reader designs that work well with modern quilts, then follows with ways to incorporate these designs into actual quilts. I love this book and highly recommend it! "In the Studio" builds on the ideas Angela discusses in her first book. You can learn more about Angela at

My final book is pure, unadulterated eye candy! I'll admit it. I just sat and looked at the pictures...and dreamed. Karen Stone's (learn more at quilts are jaw-dropping. I always say I'll make one of beauties, but I don't know when that day will come. What quilts do you dream of making one day?

Wishing everyone a day filled with fabric and dazzling ideas! Lizzie

Friday, February 8, 2013

Gadgets Anyone?

Are you a gadget girlie or guy? You know who you are. When something new hits the quilting market, you're one of the first in line to buy it. I admit it. I am a gadget girlie. Heck, sometimes I see something in a magazine BEFORE it's in the shops, and I go crazy searching for it. I am always sure that this new magical item is going to save me time, or make my life easier, or both.

Since I like to reorganize my workspace in January, that means I've spent some quality time over the past few weeks looking at all these gadgets. It made me wonder, "Which of them do I really believe I can't live without?" The ones I love.

I love to piece quilts, and make bags and other pretties, but I also have a longarm quilting business, so I decided to let myself identify my favorites from each category. So, without further ado (and in no particular order)...

My "seam ripper on a stand". It is so handy when chain piecing. (And those who know me understand the importance of the purple base.)
Creative Grids rulers. I've tried a lot of rulers, but these are, by far, my favorites. They are easy to read with sharp black and white printing on a clear plastic ruler. I love the textured "dots" on the back side that help keep the ruler in place when cutting. I have many of these and my two favorite sizes are the 6 1/2 x 24 on my cutting table (and in my bag) and the 3 1/2 x 12 next to my sewing machine for all those quick trims.

I'm a bit addicted to marking pens and pencils, and these Frixion pens by Pilot are wonderful. They come in a variety of colors to make marking easy. The best part is the marks disappear with a hot iron!
(I have heard that to be sure the marks are really and truly gone it's best to wash them out, but since I'm only using them on the wrong side of the fabric, I haven't needed to do that.)

I have only one photo to share regarding my two favorite longarm gadgets. The first is another Creative Grids ruler in a 20 1/2 inch square. It really helps when squaring up backings.

I cannot say enough positive things about my headlamp! It was a gift from my son. I am positively anal about thread tension and have been known to look at stitches under a magnifying glass. With my headlamp, I can crawl on the floor, under my frame, and check my stitches to my heart's content.

So now we know about my favorite things. What gadgets do YOU love?

Lizzie at Frolicking Threads

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And so the blogging has begun...I'm sitting in Pittsburgh on the pull-out couch at the apartment of my son and his girlfriend of forever. No quilting done this weekend, but I've learned a bit about blogging (thank goodness). This process has been a hard one for me, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that. Let's face it. I used to make my living working in the computer services department at a small college. How can I have become so UN-computer savvy in the last 20 years!

Tomorrow will be my 8 hour drive back to Connecticut. I'll be sad to say goodbye to my wonderful kids, but it will be great to see my husband and dogs, and fun to get back to my studio. Last week, with the help of my friend Jami Carr, I finally figured out how to make an embroidered quilt label. Just in time too, since its starting to feel like every young person I know is entering that amazing world of parenthood! I managed to get two labels finished before I left for Pittsburgh. Go me!

More when I get home. Hope everyone has a crafty day!