This is part 2 of the Longarm Quilting Demystified series
– read part 1 here!
Technical proficiency is the foundation of longarm quilting. Taking your time and following the same steps each and every time ensures consistency. The key to a square quilt begins with the backing preparation and properly loading the quilt on the longarm machine.
The backing and batting need to be at least 8 inches wider and 8 inches longer than the quilt top. This allows room for attaching the backing to the leaders, space so the machine won’t hit the clamps, and a place to check tension and shrinkage during quilting.
Square up your backing and batting. Leave the selvages on, and whenever possible, attach them to the leaders. The selvages are straight, which will help keep the quilt square. Press the backing and the top.
Fold the top, backing and batting in half vertically and mark the center points on the edges with pins (photo 1).
Open and repeat horizontally. Double check your measurements and be sure your backing is oriented in the proper direction before attaching it to the machine.
The partial float method is best for quilts that are square. The quilt top will be literally locked in place and remain square as you quilt. Bring the top leader up and over the belly bar. Lay the quilt top right side up over the roller assembly (photo 2), and working from the front of the table, align the centers of the quilt top and the leader (photo 3). Pin the quilt top to the leader with a corsage or T-pin. Working from the center out, pin approximately every 5 inches until you reach the edge.
The pins should be parallel to the roller approximately 1/4″ from the canvas edge. Now, work back toward the center to fill in each gap with a pin (photo 4). Repeat for the other side. Roll the top partially onto the roller, flip the quilt top over the roller and let it hang down to the floor. The wrong side of the quilt top will be facing you.
Unroll the backing roller leader and bring it up over the belly bar. Lay the backing over the roller assembly with the wrong side up. Pin the bottom of the backing to the backing roller leader, matching centers and pinning as before. Roll the majority of the backing onto the roller.
Next unroll a little of the pick-up roller leader and attach the top of the backing in the same way as you attached the quilt top. Roll the backing onto the pick-up roller, and then back onto the backing roller to ensure the backing is smooth and not skewed. Stop when the top edge of the backing is several inches below the pick-up roller (photo 5).
Attach the clamps to either side of the backing (photo 6).
The fabric should be smooth, but not taut. You want a little bit of give in the fabric. Loosen or tighten the clamps and rollers as needed.
Lay the batting on top of the backing with the centers aligned. The batting should be a few inches below the top of the backing. Engage the channel locks and baste across the top of the batting. Align the top edge of the quilt top to the basted line. Engage the channel locks and baste across the top and then down the sides of the quilt top, using the edge of the hopping foot as a 1/4-inch guide (photo 7). Adjust the rollers as needed. Your quilt is successfully loaded!
The full float method allows easier access to all layers of the quilt and enables you to manipulate the top if it is out of square. For this method, load the backing and batting first. Then simply lay the quilt top on the batting, aligning the centers (photo 8). Baste across the top and down the sides as before. The bottom edge hangs or “floats” freely (photo 9). You will have to work more to keep the sides square as you roll the quilt, and I find a T-square and a longarm tape measure attached to the machine are invaluable tools.
Keep an eye on the blog for part 3!