8 Tips for Tackling Longarm Quilting Machines

Freemotion Quilting on a Longarm Quilting Machine

New to Longarming?

Do you remember the excitement of jumping behind the wheel of a car for the very first time? With a freshly minted license in your wallet, you were ready for the freedom, independence, and endless open road that stretched out into your future. The Modern Patchwork editorial staff is feeling that same enthusiasm: our very own longarm was set up in our offices just last week (a HandiQuilter Amara!) and we can’t wait to rev the engine and quilt! Thankfully, we have lots of experts to guide our way and plenty of UFOs on which to practice. Longarm quilting machines have been dancing like sugarplums in our dreams for months.

Editors Rose DeBoer and Kristine Lundblad watched patiently as the machine was being assembled in our conference room.

Editors Rose DeBoer and Kristine Lundblad watched patiently as the machine was being assembled in our conference room.

Kristine Lundblad, associate editor and technical guru has already reserved time on the machine to work on her next king-size quilt pattern (did you know her quilt, King of the Cabin, was the cover project on the September/October 2018 issue of Modern Patchwork magazine?

Kristine is our office rock star! Her quilt is amazing and looks great on the cover of the most recent Modern Patchwork magazine.

Kristine is our office rock star! Her quilt is amazing and looks great on the cover of the most recent Modern Patchwork magazine.

But where do you start when you don’t have any experience with longarm quilting? Machines like this are not always straightforward. We suggest starting with either an online course such as Longarm Fundamentals with Angela Huffman then checking out a great book such as Teresa Silva’s Longarm Quilting Workbook, and searching for guidance from a teacher that address the needs of a beginner.

Modern Patchwork contributor Timna Tarr shares her insight into building good habits from the very beginning. These skills will help with long-term successful longarm quilting.

Meet Timna. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Meet Timna. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Read on as Timna shares her knowledge:

Fixing the sandwich

Unlike quilting on a domestic machine or by hand, longarmers don’t need to baste before stitching. The quilt sandwich is made when the machine is loaded with the backing, batting, and quilt top. Backing fabric and batting should be 3″ bigger on each side than the quilt top. No matter how square a quilt top is, it will shift and move during the quilting process. The extra backing and batting gives you some wiggle room for pinning to the machine rollers, as well as to compensate for any— shall we say—imperfections in the pieced quilt top.

Mark the center

Before loading a quilt onto the machine, mark the center points of each of the roller bars onto the fabric leaders. I use a small safety pin. You can also mark them with a permanent marker. These reference points help in centering the quilt backing and top onto the frame when pinning them to the leaders. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to load the quilt onto the machine, as each setup is slightly different.

As you roll up the quilt after it’s pinned, you don’t want the sandwich to be too floppy on the machine, or too tight. Either state can cause skipped stitches. The tension on the quilt is “just right” when the quilt is horizontal between the rollers yet not so taut that you cannot wind the rollers any tighter.

Pro Tip: Each time you advance the quilt, check that there aren’t any pleats in your batting or backing. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering a fold after you have quilted over it.

Timna shares other tips along the way, such as learning about your machine’s “bells and whistles” and becoming familiar with how to troubleshoot and fix things like tension.

Her tips to minimize tension headaches and skipped stitches include:

Our Amara in its new home

Our Amara in its new home

Thread the machine bobbin correctly! Most tension issues and thread breaks are the result of user error

When in doubt, completely rethread the machine and bobbin

Use the same thread on the top and in the bobbin

Learn how to adjust the tension on the machine head

Use a sharp needle. When in doubt, replace the needle

Listen to your machine If you hear anything odd, stop and find the issue

If you still have problems, take a break Have a cup of tea and a snack, and maybe even a nap. Then re-thread the machine or try a different bobbin.

Don’t forget your dealer can also help!

We’re looking forward to learning all of the ins and outs of our new machine, and know that Timna’s tips will be much appreciated. Her series of articles in Modern Patchwork are a huge help for these longarm beginners! In the meantime, why not try your hand at longarm quilting?

Best,

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