Tag Archives: Longarm quilting

The Perfect Set-Up

Remember the fun we have as the year turns, defining our resolutions or choosing a word of the year? For the last few years I’ve tried the “word” game. When it’s working well, I have my word in mind often, and consider how to move my life more in line with the word’s intended values.

This year, I’ll admit, I haven’t thought much about my word. Actually, it’s two three words, “challenge and opportunity.” My intention is to see barriers or obstacles — and problems! — as chances for creativity and growth, and to face opportunities bravely, even when they are hard. But while I haven’t thought much about it, I’ve been living it. My quilty world has been rife with opportunities for growth, for re-engagement with my guild, for creativity in my quilting, and for cultivating speaking and teaching gigs.

One personal challenge I set was to create a special red and white quilt for my guild’s upcoming quilt show. I’ve shown you the unquilted top already.

Creating the top presented challenges of its own, including interpreting the original quilt in a way that would honor it, learning to paper piece those triangle borders, and appliquéing various parts of the motif.

Originally I planned to have it quilted professionally. For various reasons, including encouragement from my brother, I decided to do it myself. As you can see, it is a challenge and an opportunity! 

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a plan, including both design and implementation. For the stitching design, I’m inspired by Welsh hand-quilting motifs. My draft includes double arches and spirals, among other traditional elements.

Implementation is multi-steps. To start, I’m drafting the design with markers on plexiglass sheets, overlaid on the quilt top. I’ll transfer the design to a product called “Golden Threads” paper, a specialty tissue paper intended for quilting right through, and tearing away. If this works, it will allow me to avoid marking on the quilt top itself. I’d rather not, as I don’t want marking to stain the white fabric.

I’ll test the Golden Threads paper with a first go, which will also allow me to practice the shapes. I have a muslin whole-cloth top the same size as the red and white top. It won’t have the same effect without the piecing, but I’ll be able to tell whether the whole plan will work or not.

The muslin backing is loaded on the longarm frame, and I have batting the right size, as well as the top. Within a few days I’ll start quilting it. I’ll do the borders at each end (top and bottom,) and stabilize it through the middle with basting. Then I’ll take the whole thing off the frame and turn it 90°, reload it, quilt the other borders, and quilt the middle. IF it all works okay (learning as I go, I’m sure,) I’ll use the same process on the real deal.

Wow. This is the perfect set-up for challenge and opportunity. Wish me luck.


Yesterday I began quilting a gift for someone special. You may have seen the top before in this post. It’s been patiently waiting while I ventured through the Delectable Mountains, completed (except binding) a project with my small group, and survived Fire and Ice.

Sometimes I have trouble getting the right thread tension, so I checked now and then and it looked very good.

I got done with the first pass of quilting. It’s an area about 16″ x 74″, or something like that. It looked good, went easily. I was happy. I rolled the quilt to advance it on the frame.  And I noticed … there was a big pleatey area all down the right side of the pass. The backing fabric hadn’t been pulled smooth and taut enough when I pin-basted the edge, so I stitched in pleats. 

I climbed under the frame to identify and mark the pleated areas with pins through from underneath. From the top, I found the quilting line that led through the pleats. I free-motion quilt, so the line can range a bit, wandering backwards and forwards, left to right. The quilting line covered a larger area than the pleats did, about 16″ x 12″. I made a fence with pins around it, to define where I needed to unstitch.

An area that took less than five minutes to quilt took more than an hour to unstitch.

Once I finished and removed the pins, I clamped the back fabric to pull it smooth. I sprayed the area lightly with water, on both the top and back of the quilt. With drying, the holes from stitching close up, and the fabric on the back dried taut, not saggy.

Today after going to the gym and errands, I’ll get back to the quilting. Wish me luck!


I realized recently that when the longarm machine was new to me, I tried more difficult quilting designs than I’ve done in the past two or three years. I’ve opted for quick-and-easy quilting more often than not. In truth, medallion quilts often are so complex in design that fancy quilting gets lost, anyway. So there is some reason to simply add texture and not another layer of design. Also, I don’t like heavy quilting in general. But partly it’s just because that step in quilt-making is not my favorite, so I don’t make a lot of effort.

However, once I realized that, I decided to make a little more effort with my next project. Here is the result. This is the back of the leftovers quilt, shot in low light to show the relief.

Turned out okay. 🙂

One Weird Trick to Close Ugly Pores

It looks like a spammy ad, but you read that right. You trust me, right? So give me a minute…

On the last quilt I finished, the longarm tension fell apart, leaving a whole quilting pass with looping and nastiness on the back. I picked it all out, about two hours of work for about 10 minutes of quilting. Not a good trade-off.

But even once the thread is gone, all the evidence is not. When the needle punches through the backing fabric to grab the bobbin thread, it pushes the fabric yarns outward and apart. The remaining evidence is a line of tiny mountains, volcanoes, really, with an open crater at the peak. This is made worse by pulling threads back out as they are unstitched. The craters primarily show up on the backing fabric, but they can also on the top. Depending on the fabric pattern, they might not show, but the texture is not smooth, as unpunched fabric would be.

To fix this, or at least improve it significantly, there is a simple solution. Once the quilt is otherwise done, spray the area lightly with water (I have a mister) and then pop the quilt in the dryer for a few minutes on cool. When it comes out, the ugly pores will be mostly closed.

Some people wash their quilts before giving, which would also take care of the problem, I expect. I do not wash, as I like to give a quilt that looks new. This method preserves the new look.

And because above I said “the thread is gone,” and it made me think of “the thrill is gone,” I’ll leave you with a little B.B. King.


Quilting for Pay — The Longarm

I’ve discussed a variety of aspects of the quilting industry. A list of links is below. One part of the industry I’ve mentioned but not explored is longarm quilting.

While the longarm industry has exploded over the last few years, it is not new. In fact, quilters have used sewing machines to quilt since sewing machines were invented. (Note: “quilting” is the process of stitching through the top layer, stuffing/batting/wadding, and back layer.) Soon after, inventors were developing various methods for moving the layers under the needle, having secured the layers to a frame. As now, two different options were to move the frame with a stationary stitching machine, and to move the machine with a stationary frame.

This post from Hart Cottage Quilts (this link is no longer active) is worth reading in its entirety. Within it she explains:

By the end of the Civil War, sewing machines were entering homes at the rate of 20,000 per year; in 1871 Singer sold an amazing 180,000 machines. Mrs. Augusta Hoover received the first U.S. patent for a machine quilting frame. Its description as an “improvement” suggests that it was not the first of its kind. Like most of the systems that followed, it consisted of a two-bar, ratchet-geared roller frame that held the quilt taut. (A comparable modern example would be the John Flynn system.) The frame then slid along tracks attached to the bed of the sewing machine like the carriage of a typewriter. As the user operated the sewing machine, the frame would move along the track, allowing perfectly straight, parallel lines to be quilted.

By 1877 J.J. Crall decided it should be the machine, not the frame, that moved; his system will be recognized by modern quilters as the precursor to today’s longarm quilting system. Just as today, the machine sits on a platform which moves along a track underneath the quilt.

The origins of the modern longarm quilting machine began with Fred Nolting, a tinkerer, repairman, and inventor. In the early 1960s he rebuilt his first sewing machine, increasing its throat length to 24″. After several years of rebuilding machines for various employers, he was asked to build a machine from scratch in 1972. According to Nolting, “This machine was the first long arm, similar to the ones today, without the hopping foot.” Over the next few years he continued to improve the machine, adding a hopping foot, stitch regulation, and other things. He also built the first longarm machines sold under the Gammill name, before striking out and selling machines under the Nolting brand in 1984.

When I began quilting in 2003, longarm quilting services were few and far between. I first had quilts professionally done in about 2006. That quilter also had a machine in her shop, for which quilters could rent time after taking and passing a day-long class. I did the class, and I rented time to create a couple of quilts. When my sister purchased a longarm in 2009, I visited her and her machine a number of times, before buying my own in 2010. I never intended to quilt for others as a business, and I still have no interest in doing so.


Home ownership of longarms is much more common now, despite the price tag of the machine and frame. Depending on the size of the machine and its capabilities, as well as the frame, systems can run from about $10,000 to $30,000.

For some, quilting for others is their business and pleasure. In order to make it a business, quilters charge for their services. Depending on their offerings, quilters might use pantographs, computerized design, or custom free-motion quilting. This link and this link describe the differences in some of the possibilities.

How much do quilters charge? It depends on many factors including the style of quilting (see above,) the size of the quilt and/or the time required, the batting used if the quilter supplies it, the threads used as well as how many different colors, and if other services such as repairs are needed.

I’ve read a lot of informative posts over the years about longarm quilting. This recent post by andi of andicrafts explains her pricing. As a business owner, she is responsible for creating a high-quality product/service; paying for her own space, equipment, supplies, utilities, web access and website; paying her own salary and benefits; and advertising and performing all other administrative and marketing tasks. As a highly skilled worker, she should earn, after all those other costs, much more than minimum wage. (It’s a terrific post and I encourage you to read it, including the comments following.)

This is the same argument I’ve given before in some of the posts linked below. If a quilter is selling her quilts, she puts a lot of resources into them. Once she has created her quilts, paid for her direct and indirect costs, and paid her own wage and benefits, she should make more than the wage of a low-skilled worker. (And yes, I’m using the feminine pronoun here as a shorthand for members of a group that also includes men.)

Do you quilt for others as a business? How do you choose to charge? Do you send your tops to someone else to quilt? Do you quilt for yourself? Have you had either great or terrible experiences with customers or with longarm quilters? Tell us in comments what you think about longarm quilting. 

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs