Just last week I finished longarm quilting my oldest UFO using the machine we have in our office. Well, actually, the computerized machine did the quilting. All I did was choose the settings using the software, and roll and reclamp the quilt sandwich when necessary. (Aaaaaand rip out stitches on a handful of occasions.)
I’ll be honest: I thought computer-guided longarm quilting would be a lot quicker and easier than it ended up being. It’s not that it’s difficult as much as that there’s a lot to take into consideration; there is definitely a significant learning curve when it comes to using the software to its best advantage, a learning curve I was maybe a little too impatient for.
Part of the challenge was the quilt top I chose for this first experience. As I said, this was my oldest UFO, a queen-size, Amish-style double-nine patch, in an on-point setting with solid alternate patches that were originally intended to showcase hand quilting. You can read all about the making of the top and my many mistakes in “Finishing My Oldest UFO: Part 1”.
Because this quilt had been downgraded from the Precious category to the Not-Precious category over the past decade or two, I decided to use it for my first attempt at computer-guided quilting. It wasn’t the worst choice, but in keeping with the origins of this quilt top, I maybe bit off more than I could chew for a first attempt.
First off, because this Grace Q’nique machine has a 14” throat, I wasn’t able to quilt each 12” on-point block individually. (The ratio of a square to its diagonal is 1:1.414, so 12” x 1.414 ≅ 17”.) The Grace educator suggested I use two triangular motifs in each block/alternate square, which I thought was a great idea.
And that was basically the sum total of my planning for quilting this thing. Triangles. Everything else I would figure out as I went.
I chose a triangle motif I liked and managed, with Lori Baker’s help, to finally get it rotated, sized and placed properly to quilt one of the corner triangles. Apparently, I couldn’t start with something straight-forward, I had to start with something specialized.
On my first pass along the top of the quilt’s center, I quilted each setting triangle individually by placing the motif each time. The triangles look good, but it’s time-consuming to do it this way. On subsequent rows I figured out how to use the triangle as a pantograph with repeating motifs, how to flip the rows vertically, and how to stretch and size them to fit. Sort of.
One thing I learned the hard way is that the Creative Touch software takes the “safe area” very seriously. The safe area tells the machine where it may quilt and where it may not. You delineate the safe area before placing your pattern, though you can go in and adjust it as needed before you start quilting.
Scroll up and look at the photo I took of the loaded frame before I started quilting; do you see that red bar on the screen of the computer tablet? Well, it’s warning me very plainly that what I’m about to ask it to do is Out of the Safe Area, except I didn’t understand what it was saying, not having studied the manual before I started.
The machine will not quilt outside of your safe area, not even a stitch, but will instead slowly quilt along the boundary until it gets to a point where it can rejoin the motif inside the safe area. (Ask me how I know this.)
To be fair, once I got the hang of paying attention to the safe area and setting my start and end points for each row, it wasn’t too challenging. I had figured out just enough of what I needed in order to make it quilt roughly where I wanted, and just went with it.
Because my quilt top was “not mathematically reliable” as I call it, meaning the piecing was not accurate and the blocks didn’t always meet where they should, I gave up a lot of accuracy in placement by just stretching my rows to go from start to end point. I didn’t really put any time into figuring out how to get the motif to fall at the same spot in each block, and it shows. Some of the motifs are nicely centered, but many are not. There are overlapping lines of stitching in many places on this quilt. With a Precious quilt or one that was more mathematically reliable, I probably would have taken the time to get the settings right, but not with this quilt.
Once I got the center finished, I moved on to the borders. Again, I hadn’t spent time learning how to work the software specifically for borders, and when I wasn’t able to find an answer to one of my questions, I went back to quilting the borders as if they were pantograph rows. It worked, but if I ever want to quilt continuous motifs around corners I’ll need to put some effort into learning the software.
Here’s another thing I learned: quilting too close to the canvas leaders along the edges can cause problems. I wasn’t paying attention and the needle caught the leader a couple of times—there was nothing to do but bust out the seam ripper.
Still, when all was said and done, I think the borders came out looking pretty cool to be honest.
And taken as a whole, the quilt looks good, too. All I need to do is bind it. (And as it turns out, I had just the perfect amount of the royal blue solid fabric left for the binding — I’m impressed that my 1996 self knew just how much fabric to buy so I could finish this quilt properly.)
But after all this, I’ve decided that it’s time I take Maria von Trapp’s advice and start at the very beginning by learning the fundamentals of longarm quilting in a more formal, structured way. I would much rather go into my next longarming experience with a better grasp of all the tools at my disposal as well as have an understanding of basic troubleshooting techniques. Just winging it just won’t be good enough anymore—I have too many Precious quilts I want to finish, and finish well.
I looked through the different online courses available here on The Quilting Company website and have already started the first lesson of Longarm Fundamentals with Angela Huffman. This course isn’t going to help me better navigate the Creative Touch software on the Q’nique, but it’s going to give me a solid understanding of how longarms work, how to troubleshoot the settings, how to practice free-hand quilting, and how to quilt using pantographs and rulers. Just take a look at the lesson breakdown.
- Lesson 1: Longarm Quilting Fundamentals: anatomy and “care & feeding” of a longarm machine
- Lesson 2: Batting: how to choose and inspect proper battings for use on the frame
- Lesson 3: Threads: choosing the right threads for longarm quilting
- Lesson 4: Needles: sizes, types, and how needle flex influences stitch quality
- Lesson 5: Tension: setting proper tension in the needle and bobbin
- Lesson 6: How to Load a Quilt on a Longarm Quilting Machine Frame
- Lesson 7: What to Quilt on Your Quilt: paying attention to the clues provide by your fabrics, piecing pattern, colors and other factors
- Lesson 8: Using Pantographs
- Lesson 9: Easy Edge-to-Edge Free-Motion quilting: includes easy all-over patterns for beginners
- Lesson 10: Custom Quilting: includes stitch-in-the-ditch and easy block designs you can do right away
- Lesson 11: Using Cursive Handwriting to Develop Unique Border and Sashing Designs
- Lesson 12: Straight Line Quilting: includes selecting and using rulers and templates
- Lesson 13: Beginners Guide to Ruler Work: includes how to use rulers to break a quilt top down into smaller sections for spectacular results
- Lesson 14: Fun and Easy Beginner Feathers
- Lesson 15: Placing Feathers in Common Shapes
- Lesson 16: Heirloom and Show Quilting
- Lesson 17: Stencils and Grids
- Lesson 18: Quilting for Others
- Lesson 19: Wrap-Up
That is a seriously comprehensive course, with 13 hours of video instruction! But it will be worth it, both for using the office longarm and having the background to rent time on a shop’s longarm if I ever need or want to. I enjoy quilting my own quilts, and I’ll enjoy it even more knowing what the heck I’m actually doing!