Learning to longarm is a journey. Fortunately, Longarm Quilting Workbook author Teresa Silva is an excellent guide. She’s quilted for some of the biggest names in the quilt community and fondly remembers what’s it’s like to stand in front of a new longarm machine for the first time. In Longarm Quilting Workbook, Teresa offers a comprehensive resource for quilters of all skill levels, covering everything from buying a longarm machine to choosing thread and making practice fun. “I like to quilt from the heart,” says Teresa. “So I always encourage others to load up some fabric and just play. Quilt what comes to mind and see what happens. It’s a great way to build your skills and confidence in free-motion quilting.”
Teresa’s Tip: “Leftover backing fabric is great for practicing motifs. It’s easier to not be intimidated about messing up because it’s just a piece of fabric, not a quilt top that may have taken hours to construct.”
Teresa’s Tip: “Don’t be afraid to change up the sizing of a motif to fit into different areas of a quilt top. Just keep quilting and see where it takes you.”
Whether you’re new to longarm quilting or just looking to hone your free-motion skills, here’s a snippet from Longarm Quilting Workbook to help you on your way. Key takeaways: Practice, have fun, and never stop doodling!
Doodling & Drawing
Quilting is much easier once it becomes intuitive, and doodling can help with developing that ability. Doodling is not only a great way to learn new designs; it can help you improve your hand-eye coordination, which is essential for longarm quilting. The more you think about what you’re doing the harder it will be, so it’s good to just relax and let the quilting happen. I quilt best when I get in my ‘quilting zone,’ where I’m in my own world, and the quilting feels natural and free. The process becomes fluid, and my brain knows where to go with the design almost without me consciously thinking about it. This happens partly because I practice a lot on paper, and I mean a lot! I doodle all the time: while making dinner, watching television, talking on the telephone, and riding in the car. There is always time to doodle, even if only during the few free moments you have in a day. It’s very relaxing to sit and draw out designs, and sometimes the doodles turn out pretty amazing.
Teresa’s Tip: You will find that once you draw something and get the flow of the design, you can easily take it from paper to fabric.
Doodling on Paper
My favorite way to doodle is to start with a design I can make well, such as a basic swirl. Then I keep adding other designs, and pretty soon I have something amazing. While practicing, remember to keep your pen on the paper; you don’t want to have starts and stops, just like with longarm quilting. This is excellent training for traveling, which is a longarm quilting term for following along previously quilted lines to easily make your way around the quilt with the longarm machine. In the end, all this practice will make quilting more enjoyable and a lot quicker while creating the necessary muscle memory needed for good hand-eye coordination.
Teresa’s Tip: “With practice, you’ll learn how to travel on the lines you’ve previously quilted so no one will be able to see the transition.”
From Paper to Fabric
When you’re ready to try your hand at doodling with the longarm machine, I recommend practicing on a whole-cloth quilt. As the name implies, a whole-cloth quilt has a solid piece of fabric for the top rather than a pieced top. Typically, the quilting designs are quilted with tone-on-tone threads. These are usually traditional-style quilts and involve very exquisite designs and lots of feathers, pebbles, and dense quilting.
For your practice purposes, however, a whole-cloth quilt serves as a beautiful way to show off what you’ve learned. Quilt your designs, and when you’re finished, you will have a wholecloth that you can bind and use as a table runner or wall quilt. The bonus is it will be fun to look at a year down the road and see how far you have come.
Remember that these are for practice, and you’re going to learn from your mistakes. I promise you if you practice enough, you will get better. Don’t be hard on yourself. We quilt for fun!
Teresa’s Tip: “For a wholecloth that has designs drawn out, I use a ruler because it’s more precise. But for practice, definitely teach yourself to freehand. It’ll make it so you can get quilts done faster and your ideas will flower easier because you’re not stopping to find a ruler to quilt that area. Just start in the in the left corner of the fabric and quilt your way through the entire piece in free-form fashion.”
-Excerpted from Longarm Quilting Workbook by Teresa Silva
For more tips and motifs, check out Longarm Quilting Workbook by Teresa Silva.