This week the topic is long arms. What they are, how to decide on a design, and (if you’re not performing the long arming), how to talk to your long arm artist. This blog doesn’t discuss loading your quilt, tension issues, or anything else involving the mechanics of a long arm. A long arm is much like quilting on your domestic machine in that each machine is a little different and has a few quirks. The sooner you know those quirks and how to deal with them, the happier the relationship between you and your long arm will be.
Which brings me to Loretta. Most of you know that Loretta was my long arm. I’m using past tense here for a reason. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Loretta and I began to have severe communication problems. She worked fine before I left for Saint Thomas in April. Upon return, the tablet refused to talk to the long arm. I rebooted her, plugged and unplugged her, searched for software updates – all to no avail. I finally called tech support and was told that it sounded like I was having mother board issues. I was to pack her up, take her to UPS, and ship her to Sewing Machines Plus in California (where she came from). I did this and a week later she arrived safe and sound in sunny California. The tech replaced the boards, gave her the spa treatment (cleaning and oiling), packed her back up and three days later, she arrived on my doorstep….
In a box with the sides dented in.
Inside were the crushed remains of my sweet Loretta.
One more call to my tech and she was packed up again, winging her way back to California. I received the sad phone call she was beyond repair, but since it was Fed Ex’s fault she was crushed (I mean, Sewing Machines Plus had FRAGILE all over the box), I received a new long arm which is an upgraded version of mine. LeAnne is similar to Loretta, but there’s still a learning curve.
But now let’s talk about long arming quilts in general. Whether you’re long arming the quilt yourself or having someone else do it, the first thing that has to be considered is the style of the design. And this basically falls into two categories – and all-over design (sometimes called edge-to-edge quilting) or custom quilting. We’ll take a brief overview of both, kind of defining what each is and when to use them.
A all-over design is a quilting pattern that literally goes all over the quilt. If you long arm, you realize that this quilting is done in rows by using either pantograph or with a computerized design. It has lots of repeats and it goes from one edge of the quilt to the other. This is the easiest and quickest way to quilt a top (and if you’re paying some someone to quilt your quilt, it’s also the cheapest). There are some standard edge-to-edge designs, such as the meander or loops, but there are also some really cool designs with flowers and leaves and almost anything you can imagine. It’s easy to match either the fabric or the quilt block to the all-over quilting. If you’ve used floral fabrics in your top, there are quilting designs with flowers. If you’ve made a Christmas quilt, there are hundreds of all-over Christmas quilting patterns. So, if you’re quilt isn’t an heirloom one, or one destined for a show, or some other significant quilt, an edge-to-edge design is a great choice. This is particularly true if most of the fabric in the top is has a busy design on it. If this is the case, the quilting really isn’t going to show that much, so don’t spend your time or money on a custom quilting job. It won’t be seen, as the quilting will compete with the pattern in the fabric.
Custom quilting is exactly as the name describes – the quilting is unique to that quilt, with different designs used in different places in the quilt. Very little (or most likely, no) computerized quilting occurs. It’s all hand-guided and can involve ruler work. Labor intensive, it is generally reserved for heirloom quilts or show quilts. If you plan on having a quilt top custom quilted by a long arm artist, be prepared. It’s pricier than an all over design. If you want custom quilting by your long arm artist, this is the time to have a very frank conversation with him/her and ask to see photos of their work. Custom quilting can be limited by two factors – skill and available resources. For instance, if you want lots of ruler work, and your long arm quilter doesn’t have the ruler needed, you may be asked to either contribute to the purchase of that ruler or change your design to incorporate only the rulers the quilter has in hand (these rulers are expensive). If you want free-hand work, such as lots of feathers, and the quilter isn’t comfortable with the amount or type of labor involved with this, again, you may have to change the design plan for the quilt or work with another long arm artist.
Whichever type of quilting you decide on, it’s important to bring a few things to the table, no matter whether you’re performing the quilting or someone else is. And while this is not a blog about how to prepare your quilt for the long arm artist or your own long arm, let me throw this in here: Every long arm machine has its quirks. As a matter of fact, in my opinion, long arm machines are the most temperamental sewing machines out there (and that’s really all they are – a great, big sewing machine that will only perform a straight stitch). If you have a long arm, you become well aware of whether your machine likes solid backing or pieced, how to run the seams if you’re using a pieced backing, whether it can tackle a double batting, etc. If someone else is quilting your quilt, it’s very, very important that you have a long discussion with your long arm artist before you deliver the quilt to them. They will explain how to press your quilt top and your backing, how to mark the quilt if it has a distinct top, and lots of other things you probably haven’t thought of. Communication is the key if you want your quilt quilted according to your design plans and the long arm artist remains sane. Listen to them and ask questions. Ask lots of questions. If something is not clear, ask for clarification. Trust me, the long arm quilter wants this.
Besides these facts, there is something else you need to have in mind before you or anyone else puts a stitch in the quilt sandwich – you need to have a good idea of how you want your quilt to look when it’s quilted. If you’re hiring out your quilting, do not tell the quilter, “Just do whatever you think best.” Even if you’ve worked with this person before and they do just wonderful work, don’t say this. What your idea is appropriate for your quilt and their idea of what would work with your quilt may be two entirely different things. To avoid any hard feelings or disappointment, come to the table with some ideas. If you simply want an all over design and it’s a Christmas quilt, ask what Christmas edge-to-edge designs they have in stock. If it’s a Maple Leaf quilt, ask if they have a design with leaves. Get the conversation started and the long arm artist can then add to your idea and come up with a quilting plan that will knock your socks off.
If you’re thinking custom quilting may be the way to go with your quilt, still come with some ideas in mind. You really need some kind of vision of what you want in order to get the conversation started with your long arm artist. Once you give the quilter an idea of what you have in mind, quite often (most often, really), they can add to that and between the two of you, a quilting plan will fall into place that both of you will love. I realize that creating a custom quilting design takes some time and a bit of research, but it is really worth it. Here are some following ideas to get you started with your long arm artist.
If your quilt has a lot of hard, straight lines, go with a quilting design that is curvy, loopy, or has circles or spirals. These curved lines will help soften the design and actually enhance it. Sometimes these curvy designs are built into the computer design component of a long arm (if it’s computerized) but sometimes they will need to be done freehand in order to make them fit the design of the blocks in the quilt top.
Let the Theme of the Quilt Decide the Quilting for You.
If the quilt has cute little houses that are either pieced or appliqued, quilted fences, clotheslines, gardens, etc., would be perfect, fun, and wonderfully whimsical. If there are pieced or appliqued flowers, quilt bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and fairies into the picture. Quilt the veins in the leaves. If you have cats or other animals on the quilt, try for whiskers or dog bones or pet dishes. This is actually a really fun way to quilt the quilt.
Talk to Another Quilter, Do a Google Search, or Spend Some Quilty Quality Time on Pinterest.
Any of these can give you tons of inspiration and are a great starting point to get some quilting ideas moving along. A screen shot of some of the ideas to show to your long arm artist will help him/her, too.
Doodle Your Blocks
This is actually my favorite way to design any custom work I do or have someone else do for me. I either draw up each block, enlarge a drawing of the block to the exact finished size, or print the finished sized from EQ if I’ve used that program to design my quilt. Then I take a pencil and begin to doodle on the block. This usually begins after I’ve done some research on the quilt and looked at ways others handled the quilting. After I believe I’m happy with the design, I set it aside for a week or longer and then come back to it. If I still like the design, that’s what I go with. If I’m quilting an applique quilt, I will do this for every block. If it’s a pieced quilt and I have block repeats, I decide if every block that’s the same will be quilted the same or if I will change things up a bit. The important fact to come away with here is give yourself some time to make sure you really like the design idea. If you don’t, there may be many quality hours with a seam ripper in your future.
If You Can’t Come Up With Anything Your Happy About, Set It Aside for Awhile.
Let me state at this point, I don’t mean abandon it. And I don’t mean put the quilt away because truly “Out of Sight is Out of Mind.” Lay the quilt on the bed in a spare bedroom. Hang it on the wall in your quilt room. In my situation, I lay it on the dining room table because I pass through this room on the way to my quilt studio. The point is put it somewhere you can see it at least a couple of times a day. After a week or so, that quilt will tell you how to quilt it. I know that sounds a little hokey, and maybe even borderline psychic, but it will. One day you will look at that top and it will plainly tell you how to put those quilting stitches in it.
Moral of the blog here is that quilting is not the quick afterthought after months of piecing a quilt. It needs time to come up with ideas, perhaps do some research, and even some doodling. It may mean some on-line searching for the just the right pantograph or software download. And if someone else is performing the quilting component, it will mean at least one very frank and detailed conversation. Probably more. Quilting is more than just the stitches that hold the quilt together. For me, it’s what adds the soul to the quilt.
Until Next Week, Quilt with Passion!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam