Tag Archives: Quilting equipment

I have clamps!

No. NOT cramps. CLAMPS!

My long-arm quilting system consists of the machine and frame. When a quilt is loaded on the frame, the layers are stretched between the take-up roller at the back and the “belly” bar at the front. Those provide even tension at the back and front of the frame. However, to get a smooth quilting surface, I also need to apply tension on the sides.

The system came with two clamps per side, and they have quite a grip! The mouth of each is about 1″ across and coated with orange vinyl, giving a smooth texture that doesn’t snag.

I wondered, though, if I’d have better results with wider-mouthed clamps. A wider mouth would distribute the tension more smoothly.

There a few clamping systems out there. One that seemed simple is similar in nature to what I have, but with a broader grip. The Grip-Lite brand has a 6″ mouth. It’s sold in-house by my long-arm dealer, as well as at retailers. It’s also $27 per pair (and can be found elsewhere for somewhat less.) That’s $54 for 4, which is the number I would need.

It’s no secret: I am frugal. If I can pay less for something, I’m glad to do so. I looked around, looked at other methods and tools. I looked at the hardware store and the office supply store.

Ultimately, I bought chip clips. You read that right. Chip clips. They have a 6″ mouth and cost $4. For 4 of them. Yep, that’s it. A dollar each.

The original clamp on the right. The chip clip (held by the original) on the left.

As far as I can tell, the Grip-Lite’s main advantage over this is there is no more need for the original clamps, as they come with their own Velcro strap. Other than that, they’re the same.

So why pay $50 more? I didn’t. I won’t.

I have clamps, which distribute the layer tension better than I had before. And they cost me $4.

What great, cheap solutions have you found to some of our quilting problems? I’d love to hear your stories.


I Always Wanted Longer Legs

I’m not very big. Okay, a lot of people would call me “short.” It doesn’t bother me, though there are disadvantages.

It’s hard to reach stuff up high without a stool, ladder, or help.
It’s hard to see over people in a crowd.
Long legs give a longer line, aesthetically considered attractive.
Long legs make long strides easier.
Small weight increases are large, proportionally for me.
It’s hard to buy clothes that fit without altering.

But there are advantages, too.
I’m not real impressed when other people are taller than I am, since most adults are.
I learned good table manners, since my arms are too short to make a “boarding house reach” very effective.

Mm… I can’t think of others.

I’ve gotten over the disappointment that I didn’t grow taller. Still, I always wanted longer legs.

And the other day, Jim made my legs longer.

Okay, they aren’t MY legs. They’re the legs of my cutting table. There are a lot of things we can do to make our work spaces a little more comfortable. I determined that a slightly higher cutting table would reduce the stress on my right shoulder. (Sharp rotary cutter blades make a big difference there, too. Don’t ignore that simple improvement.)

Years ago he bought PVC pipe and cut it into lengths to raise the surface of my table. It’s a plastic, folding banquet table, the kind you can buy at the big discount stores. The PVC pipe pieces are longer than the table legs, so when slipped over each leg, they raise it up. (Some people use bed risers to raise their tables, too.)

To make the table even higher, he bought another 12″ of PVC and cut it into 4 pieces. With a piece added on each leg, the table is 3″ higher than it was before the alteration.

The additional 3″ piece of pipe.

The pipe pieces are longer than the table’s original legs, and they support the crossbars, raising the surface.

I love my long legs!


As quilters we use our senses of vision and touch. You might not think about using your hearing, also. Listen to your machine when it is clean and correctly maintained, with correct tension, a new needle and full bobbin. Listen to it when stitching slowly and when sped up.

Remember the sound. It will help you recognize when attention is needed.

Is your needle dull? If so, it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

As for me, I don’t pay much attention to how long I sew between needles. Instead I try to pay attention to two things. I change the needle when it sounds dull, or when I’m beginning a new project (or phase of projects, if ya know what I mean.)

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!

Does your machine need maintenance? That might seem scary or expensive, but basic maintenance begins with you and is easy to do. (Consult your machine’s manual. If you don’t have a copy, you may be able to find it online.) As with a dull needle, a dirty machine, clogged with lint, makes the motor work harder. The extra work sounds different. You may not be able to describe the difference, but you can probably hear it.

Maintenance you can and should do includes cleaning the lint out of the works. A soft brush may have come with the machine. If not, small, soft make-up brushes work well. Cotton swabs and tweezers may come in handy, too.

Remove the foot, needle, and face plate. Take out the bobbin. You may want to remove the bobbin case, too. Again, consult your manual. Use the brush to loosen and grab lint around the bobbin case, in the feed dogs, and around other surfaces. The cotton swab and tweezers may help, depending on where and how your mess is lodged. Some manufacturers recommend using compressed air to remove built-up lint gunk. Others warn against it. Please check first.

How often should you clean? That will depend partly on what thread you use (some is lintier than others) and on your fabrics and/or battings. As a quilter, I rarely care what color of bobbin thread I use while piecing, and I sew until it runs out. I clean every 3-5 times I change my bobbin. If I’m changing the bobbin and the mess is evident, I clean.

You may wonder if and how to oil your machine. Many modern machines have self-lubricating parts and don’t need oiling. Others have simple routines recommended for oiling regularly.

Your machine’s manufacturer probably has a recommended cycle for shop maintenance. Consult your manual or dealer for advice.

Is the bobbin full and wound correctly? Of course, you don’t have a full bobbin most of the time! Fancier bells-and-whistles machines may give you a warning just before the bobbin runs out. Mine does not. But on my machine, it sounds just a little bit different when full than when nearly empty.