Saturday, April 24, 2021

Tips For New Longarm Quilters

As a quilter since the late 1970's, I hand quilted many quilts.  Took about a year for each bed sized quilt!  While I loved the process of hand-quilting, it frustrated me that I couldn't get more quilts completed. 

In 2001, I took my first longarm quilting class.  My first experience on the longarm, I custom quilted this applique quilt.   That meant I mostly did 'squiggles' and quilted around the applique pieces.   After that first experience I was hooked.!

Quilt is Rosewood Cottage by Nancy Odom

As you can see on the close-up - the quilting was pretty 'rough' squiggles. I clinched and carried on. But, finished quilting this puppy in one day (all except about a 12" x 20" section at the top of the quilt that I totally missed....). I was exhausted. Oh, also have to mention that I had to do one of the side panels over again, as I left it on the tour bus while in Italy! Piecing by machine, all the applique/button hole stitch is by hand.

My Best Tips for Successful Longarm Quilting

My adventures as a longarm quilter since around 2001, there are several tips that I can suggest for new longarm quilters.
  • Breathe
  • PPP - Practice practice practice
  • Drink some wine (optional - It's 5 o'clock somewhere!)
  • Quilt Charity quilts
  • Jump in with both feet
  • Don't worry, be happy
  • Good shoes, anti fatigue mats
  • Make it Your Own
Breathe - Most new longarm quilters HOLD THEIR BREATH. Stop that. Just relax

Practice. Can't say it enough. Use newspaper, scratch paper or whatever. Repeat the pattern over and over Use a pencil (I like the idea of the pen*) and KEEP TRACING it over and over. This creates a 'memory'. Think of handwriting that you practiced it over and over when you were learning.

* Using a pen instead of a pencil will psychologically seem more permanent, no erasing 

Wine - Helps you relax!  

Charity Quilts - There is a great need for charity quilts; for nursing homes, Linus project, and a multitude of other needs. This is a great 'no pressure' way to get some practice in. No one is going to complain if you 'mess up' a bit. Just do your best, and the next one is better than the last one!

One caveat - don't quilt your 'buddies' quilts for free. You will be setting a precedent if you want to go into business.

Just Do It - Kinda like the famous shoe slogan - "just do it".    Load that quilt, don't procrastinate and just start quilting. My quilting bee in Houston (Thursday Night Bee) would meet in my shop every couple of months. We would load charity quilts, and I would let my bee members 'have at it', trying their hand at quilting. (Several of my bee members ended up purchasing their own longarm or mid-arm quilting machine.)

Take it Easy - Don't stress over this. It's all about taking it easy and enjoying the process. If you are stressed out and gripping the handles like your life depended on it, you are not going to be successful. Relax (that is where the wine can be helpful), put on some good music (or in my case, geek that I am,  binge watching Star Trek or Stargate TV series)

Be Comfortable - Good shoes (for me it was Croc Flip Flops) and anti fatigue mats in front of the machine. It's HARD work standing there for hours. Take care of yourself.

Making it Your Own - Don't try to copy exactly someone else's pattern - Yes, it is OK to copy a technique that someone else has come up with. Probably, the most popular one when I was learning was "McTavishing". This was a great background fill, but my 'McTavishing" was different than the original. Make it your own. YOUR feathers will (and should be) different than MY feathers.

Summing it Up

The takeaway from this to just take it easy, relax, practice and don't stress.

Get some cheap fabric, make a quilt sandwich and start quilting.  Use a pencil and mark squares on an area.  Try different patterns (feathers, McTavishing, squiggles, whatever) and stitch over the same area again and again until you feel comfortable.   This practice piece is NOT an Heirloom, no one is going to judge you.  Keep practicing, and then toss this practice piece in the trash (or save it for posterity so you will feel great ten years from now) .  

My biggest hurdle when starting out was procrastinating. Just jump in there and own it!  You'll do great.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Great tips. Of course my favorite was have some wine and breathe. I'm not a long-armer but I can understand the frustration, the struggle, then the joy of completing.
Have an awesome week