Quilt Top Preparation

How to Have a Happy Longarm Experience

 

Confessions of an imperfect piecer:

Every quilter has to make a “first” quilt. I have yet to see a perfect first quilt (or tenth, for that matter).

 

The other day I dragged my first quilt out of the closet and looked it over with a loving but critical eye. (I was so proud of that quilt when I finished it and it hung in our foyer for several years until we moved).

 

As I saw that some of the seams in that quilt are trying to separate in some areas, and at the not-so-squared-up edges and the lumpy back, I take satisfaction in knowing that I have improved since then.

 

At the time I did not have a longarm quilting machine and proceeded to quilt it on my domestic (regular) sewing machine as best I could. It came out "ok" but a closer look makes the problems mentioned previoiusly quilte obvious.

 

If I tried to put that same quilt on my longarm quilting machine frame now,  I’d have to do some remediation first, because I did not know how to properly measure for borders, that I needed to make sure all my seams were sewn tightly, that I should remove loose threads, that the top and and bottom of the backing and quilt top needed to be cut evenly, etc.

 

Having said that, I’m going to share with you what I know now so your first or fifteenth or one-hundredth quilt will have a happy longarm experience.

 


Tip 1: Measure Accurately for Borders (Measure the middle of the quilt, not the edges!!!!)


- Why would I measure in the  middle of the quilt and not on the sides and top?

No matter how carefully you measure and piece and work toward that perfectly straight ¼ inch seam on your blocks, by the time the blocks are sewn together in rows and columns, the fabric on the edges of the blocks and the quilt have stretched. Remember: cut fabric is stretchy fabric.   By the time you get to the outer edges of the quilt, the dimensions may have grown by and inch or more. If you measure here for your borders, you will get “wavy” borders that are very difficult if not impossible to tame on the longarm frame. So here is what you need to know:

 

- Left and Right Borders – How Long Do I Cut the Fabric?

 

Let’s say you are going to cut fabric for the left and right borders of your quilt. Instead of measuring the side of the quilt, instead, fold your quilt in half vertically and measure the length of the fold (from top to bottom). This is the length you should cut your right and left borders. IMPORTANT: Do not try to cut fabric for the top and bottom borders yet.

 

- But Now My Border Fabric is a Little Shorter than the Length of my Quilt Top!

 

If the quilt top is a little longer than the border you have cut (and it almost always is), you will need to find a way to “ease” the shorter fabric to the longer one. To do this, find the half-way point on the right and left edges of the quilt top and mark them.

 

Now find the half-way point on your border fabrics. Mark these points. When you pin the border fabric to the quilt top, make sure you match those points and you will be able to “ease” the shorter border fabric onto the quilt top. Sew the border fabric to the quilt top using a ¼ inch seam.

 

- Now what? Do I press the seam?

 

Carefully press the seam to the side, making sure it is not rolled up when you look at it from the front. To which side do you press it? Usually I press toward the border but if the border fabric is a pale color and the quilt top is dark it would show through so use your judgment and press toward the side where it will not show through.

 

- Top and bottom borders – How long do I cut the fabric?

 

Now, let’s say you are going to cut fabric for the top and bottom borders. Well, you see now that the side to side dimensions are bigger now that they include the two side borders.

 

Fold your quilt top in half horizontally and measure on the fold from side to side (including the borders). That is the length you will cut your top and bottom border fabric.

 

If the quilt top is a little longer than the border you have cut (and it almost always is), you will need to find a way to “ease” the shorter fabric to the longer one. To  do this, find the half-way point on the top and bottom edges of the quilt top and mark them.

 

Now find the half-way point on your border fabrics. Mark these points. When you pin the border fabric to the quilt top, make sure you match those points and you will be able to “ease” the shorter border fabric onto the quilt top. Sew the border fabric to the quilt top using a ¼ inch seam.

 

- Ok, but now I want to add more borders – do I use the same technique?

 

Absolutely!

 


 

Tip 2: Remove Loose Threads

 

Every quilter ends up with loose threads on a pieced quilt top. If only little elves would come in the night and clip these all off!

 

Alas, it is left for the quilter to remove loose threads to prevent them from showing through the top and/or from snagging the longarm sewing foot during the quilting process. Take some time and methodically clip your threads on the front AND back of the quilt top. (We can do it for you but there is a charge for our time).

 


Tip 3: Make Sure the Backing Fabric is Long Enough and Wide Enough for the Longarm Experience.

 

One of the advantages of using a longarm service is that you do not have to crawl around on the floor trying to center and attach your quilt sandwich (the quilt top, the batting and the backing).

 

The longarm frame accomplishes the job by rolling the quilt backing between two poles,  then keeps it smooth and tight when the batting and quilt top are applied evenly on top. Then clamps are applied on the sides during the quilting process to keep the quilt sandwich evenly stretched from this direction.

 

Obviously, there needs to be some extra backing fabric to allow us to clamp the top and bottom of the backing to the poles and avoid hitting that area with our needle. AND… there needs to be some extra width on the sides to allow us to clamp from this direction and have enough distance to keep from hitting the clamps as we move the quilting machine near the edges.

 

- How much extra fabric?

 

We ask for four inches extra on the right and left (8 inches total extra width) and six inches extra on the top and bottom (12 inches total extra length).

 

- What if I don’t have enough backing fabric to accomplish this?

 

You can sew strips of another fabric to the sides as well as top and bottom to get enough length. Obviously, you need to make sure the “real” backing fabric is at least as large, if not a little larger than your quilt top – otherwise you’ll be getting your helper fabric as a permanent part of your quilt! We can do this service for you, but there will be an extra charge.

 


 

Tip 4: Make sure your quilt top and backing fabric is “squared up”

 

Rolling an unevenly cut fabric backing onto the quilting frame or adding an unevenly pieced quilt top to the quilt sandwich results in an uneven quilt.

 

We take pride in our work and do not want to do a poor quality job so we cannot proceed with longarm quilting unless the quilt top and backing have evenly cut top and bottom edges and even side edges. We can even-up your quilt top and backing for you but we charge for the service.

 


Tip 5: Make sure all your seams are sewn tight and pressed to one side

 

It is virtually impossible to get a good longarm result when seams are coming loose or wrinkled and bunched up. Take the time to press all seams to one side, making sure there are no rolled up seams when you look at it from the topside. We cannot proceed with longarm quilting unless this is accomplished. We can do this for you but we charge for this service.

 

 



OUR PROMISE

We will do our very best to make sure your quilt is prepared and quilted with tender-loving-care – just as we would handle our own personal quilts. By working with us on the tips above, you can save money and ensure a beautiful result.

 

 

Jeannette and Ken Ruark
Jeannette's Hill Country Quilting