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!

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