10 Tips to Make Your Longarmer Happy

How can you make your longarm quilter happy to quilt your quilts? Here’s how.

If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy the quilting part of making a quilt you can usually find someone nearby who has a longarm machine and is willing to quilt your top for a fee. Choosing a longarm quilter is a little like choosing a dance partner: you’ve got work together for the result to be great. Both sides must give and take and be sensitive to the other’s needs.

So as one quilter to another, here 10 tips to make your longarm quilter love quilting your quilts:

  1. Make sure your quilt top is clean, square, and freshly pressed.
  2. Make the quilt backing 4 inches bigger than your quilt top on all sides.
  3. If you must piece the backing, horizontal piecing (seams run from one side to the other) is better for a longarm quilt frame.
  4. Mark the top of your quilt if it is directional. Do the same for the backing if it is also directional.
  5. Ask for multiple design suggestions if you’re choosing an all-over quilting pattern, which is also sometimes referred to as an edge-to-edge or E2E design. E2E designs work better when the quilt top is very busy. Custom quilting is more expensive; you may want to reserve custom quilting for very special quilts or quilts where there is lots of unpieced space in the quilt top. Ask your longarmer which pattern he or she would choose and pay attention to the recommendations – she/he knows what they are talking about!
  6. Ask for thread color suggestions; the longarmer will know from experience which threads work well and how they impact the final design. Don’t ask for different colors of thread in the top and the bobbin. Invariably, some stitches will show through and you’ll be disappointed with the final result.
  7. Make sure you have a clear understanding about the pricing. E2E designs are usually priced by the square inch. Custom quilting may also be priced by the square inch, usually at a higher price. Bobbins, batting, and any finishing might be extra. Don’t assume anything; having a debate about pricing after the quilting is finished is no fun for either of you.
  8. If you wish to provide your own batting, be sure the longarmer is willing to work with the batting you want to use. Some longarmers have batting preferences to ensure good quilting results. Find out if you must provide the batting or whether you can purchase it from your longarmer.
  9. Be patient. Pestering your longarmer with questions about when it will be done just takes them away from actually doing the work. Agree on a tentative (stuff happens, right?) date when it will be ready and then be flexible to an extent. If the timeline drags on longer than you want, don’t be afraid to retrieve your quilt top and take it to someone else who can quilt it faster.
  10. Above all, show your appreciation with more than just your checkbook. Like everyone else, a longarmer wants to know that her or his work is appreciated. Hearing quilters express their appreciation is meaningful. Another way to express appreciation is to  refer new clients to the longarmer.

If you’ve never taken your quilt top to a longarm quilter before, it will be a little scary and exhilarating. So follow these tips and before you know it, you’ll have a quilting dance partner who collaborates with you to finish stunning quilts!

Happy Quilting!


Log Cabins on the Design Wall

Drum roll, please…

Isn’t that fun?!

In case you’ve never used a design wall, I highly recommend it for laying out your quilt blocks. Many materials will work -batting, felt, drapery lining, etc. Mine is simply a king sized batting piece hung with thumb tacks.

Stepping back a bit, I can see that one pale purple square really stands out (4th row down, two in). It looks out of place and will need replacing before piecing the top together. This is exactly why arranging your finished blocks on a design wall is a good idea: you can see any changes you may want to make before you sew the top together.

It also allows you to play with the arrangement of blocks to find the most pleasing arrangement for your top. I like this arrangement so I doubt any changes will happen to the layout. But I have been known to change my mind…

Before beginning to sew this together, I need to trim each block to ensure they are all perfectly square; it makes assembling the quilt top much easier. I used a Creative Grids 15″ square ruler for this job.

By placing the ruler along one edge so that the 45 degree angle line cuts through the corner of each row, I can cut off any parts of the edges that aren’t square. This will take some time but it sure makes a big difference in sewing the top together.

I’ve assembled quilt tops without first squaring up the blocks and it was so frustrating. Seams didn’t line up, rows were too short or too long, and sometimes an entire side of my quilt was out of square. So I truly believe this is one step you just shouldn’t avoid doing. You’ll thank me later when all your blocks go together easily and your seams line up!

On to the trimming now. Ugh!


Colorful Cabins – first few colorful blocks

The log cabin blocks are coming together very nicely!

I’m starching each FQ before I cut to give the fabric a little body for a better cut. Luckily, the cutting plan makes my cuts on the straight of grain so there’s very little stretch in the strips. As long as my quarter inch seam is good, the blocks should turn out the right size, or at least close to it.

I’m also starching each block when I complete all the piecing. I’ve noticed in prior quilts that this makes assembling the rows easier. It also prevents stretching if I have to trim the blocks slightly before assembling the top.

I’m really pleased how the six blocks from each set of three fabrics looks completely different except for the color palette. The placement of color is key and I’m paying special attention to slight nuances in the fabric.

I try to link each row with its neighbor using a color that the two rows share. At the same time I’m attempting to maintain contrast between the rows so there’s clear definition rather than blending. It’s more easily achieved in some blocks than in others.

As you can see, it’s going to be a busy quilt but I think the variety in colors will prevent it from looking ‘muddy.’

Twelve blocks done, 38 to go! Check back next week to see more.


My first log cabin quilt

One of the students my spouse taught in high school has kept up with us since graduating. We received an invitation last week – he’s finally getting married. And what should we give as a wedding gift? A quilt, of course!

quilt sampler mag

After paging through nearly all my pattern books and bunches of downloaded patterns I found a simple log cabin quilt in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of BHG’s Quilt Sampler magazine. It’s called Colorful Cabins.

I’ve never made a log cabin quilt before. While I’m certainly aware of their popularity, a log cabin quilt never appealed to me before. Even after quilting for nearly 7 years, I tend to choose patterns that have more of a central medallion. But this one is different: its got nothing but patterned fabrics and THAT appeals to me.

The scrappy modified log cabin blocks are mostly medium to dark prints, with the blocks set on point, so it’s a lively, energetic pattern. The setting triangles are a black multi print as well, so it’s a visual feast of pattern on pattern with no solid fabric in sight. We both thought this was perfect for the gift. With a little over 7 weeks to the wedding, I had to start right away.

I have a large collection of Kaffe Fassett fat quarters (FQs), so I pulled them from my stash and began grouping them for a “planned scrappy” look. To make sure I got a balance of darks and lights, I photographed the fat quarters with my iPhone then used the edit function in the camera to change the photo to black and white. See image on the left? That’s over 65 different fabrics. I never knew I had so many Kaffe FQs – and there are even more that didn’t make the cut.

Using the black and white version it’s easier to see the value of each fabric. For the quilt to be exciting and visually pleasing it needs to contain high, medium, and low value prints. It also needs a variety of types of print to create contrast between the log cabin rows. Some need to be organic patterns (like florals), some geometrics (like stripes), and some need to act more like blenders.

I grouped fabrics with similar hues into sets of three, paying attention to value, pattern scale, and pattern type.┬áThen my spouse and I took turns voting on the fabric sets that would go in the quilt. Here’s the final selection; it will be a spectacularly colorful quilt.

Tomorrow I begin pressing and cutting the FQs. I drew a cutting plan last night so I can maximize the use of each fat quarter. The pattern explains how to achieve planned scrappy look by grouping the fabric in sets of three to make six different blocks.

I can cut the FQ in strips parallel to the selvage on each piece, which means it’s on the straight of grain. Perfect! Less chance of stretching as I stitch. The cutting plan also helped determine how many FQs I need and how to make the most of each FQ. Using the plan, I’ve determined that I can create at least 6 different blocks from a set of three coordinated fat quarters.

Here’s the cutting plan. The selvage is on the short side of each FQ.

So check back later to see the progress after I make my first few blocks.