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What to Expect for Longarming
So many times, people assume that bringing a quilt to a longarmer is going to be done the same as quilting it on a sewing machine. Believe me, it's not. There are some things you need to know before bringing your quilt in for longarming.
First, make sure you backing is at least 3"-5" wider ALL AROUND the quilt. That means 3"-5" extra at the top, bottom and EACH side. So many times people only leave a few inches and it is not enough fabric to stretch on a long arm. We have clamps on the sides that need to grab the backing to stretch it from side to side. We have to pin zippers to the top and bottom to attach it to the frame. We need room to work. Many times a backing is not straight and we may need to "skooch" an end to one side or another and we need that extra fabric. You do not need to "sandwich" your quilt when you bring it in. We actually have to separate the layers on the longarm.
Secondly, if you are using a wide backing, please try to square up the backing so it doesn't go on the frame crooked. Also, please IRON it. Many longarmers charge for ironing your backing. Iron it at home and hang it on a hanger. The few folds made on the hanger are nothing compared to the deep folds made when folded on a bolt. If you pre-washed your quilt top fabric, please pre-wash your backing. This way the quilt will shrink at the same rate when laundering in the future.
If you are making a pieced backing, please try to make your pieces as large as possible. It is very difficult to get a seam to stay in one direction on the long arm. Please iron your seams to one side. And please make sure all edges are trimmed and sized to the quilt top. If it takes us more time to trim your backing and it may result in another charge.
Also keep in mind it is very difficult to center a quilt on backing that has extra strips of fabric on the edges that you don't want us to sew on. We need extra "play" on the backing if the top was not squared.
Thirdly, when piecing your top, please iron your seams consistently. They should NOT be ironed open. The reason for that is because long arm needles are much bigger than standard sewing machine needles. If the needle hits the thread of the seam, it will break your thread resulting in a hole of your quilt top. Especially if the quilting design does not sew over it entirely.
Fourthly, please use a decent batting! So many times people bring in a cheap lofty poly batting they bought on sale at Joanne's or Walmart. Why take all that time to piece the top and skimp on the batting? The batting is the "bones" of the quilt. When you use a cheap batting, it can shift and pull during the quilting process and even when laundering in the future. Get a good cotton batting or flat poly batting like Quilter's Dream, Warm and Natural or Hobbs. Please do not get Hobbs in a bag- when it is unwrapped, it has waves like the ocean and it is almost impossible to work with. Get a batting that is on a large bolt or folded in a bag- avoid the rolled battings.
And, when piecing your borders, please do not cut the length of the fabric from the bolt. Cut the width and piece your borders. When fabric is cut lengthwise, it stretches. So when we go to baste the quilt top to the backing, a wave will appear on the borders. They are nearly impossible to fix. And we don't want to keep pulling the borders down because that will result in a crooked quilt.
The correct way to put long borders on a quilt is to measure your quilt- both the width and the length. Then cut your borders to measure exactly. If you are really bad at pinning them together, measure the half way point or quarter way points on both the border and the quilt and pin those marks first. Then go back and pin the rest. This will give you a beautifully fitted border with no stretch.
Hopefully these tips will help you in understanding what a long armer has to do for your quilt. Make our job easier and it will be cheaper for you when you pick up your quilt.