Tips For Learning to Use a Longarm Quilting Machine
Many quilters focus on working their projects on their home quilting machines. Some never take the chance to try a project on a longarm quilting machine. Quilting on a longarm machine is much different than using other machines.
Learning to use a longarm quilting machine will take time and effort. While it comes easily to some people, others will find that the adjustment isn’t as easy as it might seem. There are several things that can help make longarm quilting for beginners a bit easier.
One of the most important things for you to remember when you’re getting started on a longarm quilting machine is to read the instruction manual. Different machines will have slightly different instructions, so you should make sure you understand the one you’re working with.
Quilting shops will sometimes offer lessons on how to use the longarm quilting machines they sell. Taking advantage of those or finding private lessons on the machine you’ll use can also help you do the projects you want to finish. There are also online tutorials that can help you fine-tune your skills on the longarm quilting machine of your choice.
Start with a Scrap Quilt
There’s a learning curve when you learn how to use a longarm quilting machine. You should plan on starting your learning on a scrap quilt or one you’re going to keep. You probably won’t be able to sell the first quilt you make on the longarm quilting machine.
Some people start off with a smaller quilt for their first try on the longarm machine. This gives them a chance to try different things without having to worry about wasted effort on a larger quilt.
If possible, try to use a fabric that has a busy design when you do your first longarm quilting machine project. Busy patterns are more forgiving, which is beneficial if you’re just learning to use a longarm quilting machine.
Keep the first quilt you do on the longarm machine and compare it to one you complete after you’re experienced on the quilting machine. This can help you see how far you’ve come.
Plan Your Design
While experienced longarm quilters might be able to quilt without planning a design, it’s usually best for you to draw out your design or at least have a basic plan for what you’re going to do with the quilt. Sometimes, having this visual reminder of what you want the quilt to look like can be beneficial as you get the quilting done.
Make sure you consider the pattern of the fabrics you’re going to quilt on when you’re trying to plan the type of stitching you’re going to use. The stitching should work with the fabric’s design to create a cohesive appearance. It might help to visualize or draw the stitching as you're piecing the quilt together.
You also need to think about the quilting blocks you’re going to use. Some quilters like to put together different-shaped blocks. If this is the case, consider those as you’re planning the stitching you’re going to place using the longarm quilting machine.
Choose the Proper Supplies and Materials
Use the highest quality supplies you can find and afford when you use a longarm quilting machine. Make sure everything is compatible with the machine. Trying to use cheap thread, for example, can lead to thread breakage as you quilt. It may also lead to damage to the machine.
The batting and backing you use should also be good quality. This helps give the finished product the polished look that shows people you’re an amazing quilter. Using high-quality supplies and materials can also help the quilts last as long as possible. This means you might be quilting a family heirloom that gets passed down through a family. An example of this is a baby quilt that's used for multiple generations.
Remember the 8-Inch Requirement
You can’t skimp on the quilt backing and batting when you’re using a longarm quilting machine. Some people think they can get away with using a 6-inch overage for these items, but this is a recipe for disaster. Even if you have some left over after the quilting is done, using the 8-inch rule overage for the batting and backing ensures you aren’t going to be cutting it too close.
Can you imagine getting almost through with a quilting project only to find you don’t have enough batting or backing? That would be devastating and might lead you to take a break from quilting.
The 8-inch overage for the backing and batting over the quilt top also helps to ensure you aren’t having to try to pull them too much while you quilt. You don’t want a quilt that curls because the backing and batting are pulled too tightly. Having to stretch them too much can also cause the finished quilt to look like it was poorly crafted.
Try the Free Motion Quilting Method
The free motion method enables you to guide the longarm quilting machine in whatever way you want. You may have a certain motion that you’re comfortable with, or you may just freestyle the stitching. This is often the preferred way to start working with a longarm quilting machine because it enables you to get a feel for how the machine works.
The free motion method can produce beautiful quilts, especially if you get into a groove with the motions and can produce consistent designs or quilt consistently straight lines. If you have a scrap quilt to use when you first start learning how to use the longarm quilting machine, you can try out some different quilt pattern stitching.
It’s easy to become very familiar with a specific free motion stitch pattern, but remember that branching out can give you some variety of quilting designs for your projects. Consider watching videos or taking classes to learn new patterns. Even enjoying a quilting retreat may give you some new ideas.
Work with a Patterned Pantograph Design
A patterned pantograph is a paper template you use for the stitches in your quilt. Unless you have a fully digital longarm quilting machine that’s completely automated, you’ll still have to guide the stitching. At first, it can be difficult to follow the pattern, but you have to stick with it. Eventually, you’ll find it’s much easier to follow the pantograph.
Once you’re able to follow the lines of the pantograph, you'll open up seemingly endless possibilities for stitching patterns. You can even create your own quilting pattern pantographs based on the patterns you feel will work best for your quilting projects. This enables you to personalize every quilt you make.
Prepare to Work and Move
You aren’t going to be able to jump onto a longarm quilting machine and get an entire quilt done in one sitting. Instead, start out small so that your muscles and mind can slowly grow accustomed to the machine. Try to focus on making time to quilt on the longarm machine for 15 to 20 minutes a day at first and slowly work up to more time.
You should also ensure that your body is ready to quilt, because you likely won't sit down much with a longarm quilting machine unless you have a rolling stool. Be sure you’ve eaten and are hydrated. Stretch so your muscles are ready to get the job done. All these points can help you make it through your quilting session feeling your best. They also reduce the chance that you’ll feel sore after you've gotten your project quilted.
Wear comfortable shoes since you’re going to be walking around as you quilt. You should also wear comfortable clothing, but nothing that’s too loose because loose clothing might get caught in the longarm quilting machine.
Double-check your supplies to make sure you have everything you’ll need to get the project done for the day. You should also check the machine to be sure it’s in good working condition.
Relax Your Mind and Body
One of the most important things to remember is that longarm quilting is a full-body exercise. Try to stay relaxed as you quilt on the machine. If you tense up, you’ll likely find that your muscles begin to ache and you can’t focus as you should.
Take the time to relax your body and mind as you quilt. You’re going to need your arms free to follow the pattern or create the free form design. Your feet will need to move to keep up with the machine as you quilt.
Remember that quilting is a marathon and not a sprint. Be sure to schedule periodic breaks for yourself. During those breaks, walk away from the machine. Stretch a bit and try to think about something other than your project. You’ll probably notice that you can look at the project with fresh eyes after the break.
Routine Care for the Machine
You should ensure the machine is in good shape so it can handle the projects you’ll complete. You don’t have to do this each time you use it, but it’s a good idea to check these points often. People who quilt daily may need to do this once per week. Those who quilt less often might be able to do this monthly.
Clean the display using a cloth that won’t leave lint behind. You don’t need to use any cleaning solutions.
Dust off the machine, even if you have a dust cover. Even a little dust can have a negative impact on your project by causing staining or uneven stitching.
Inspect the longarm quilting machine for loose threads. Any threads that are along the track or on the work surface can change the quality of the stitches you make with the machine.
Wipe the work surface of the longarm quilting machine, but never use any cleaner. This can help prevent staining and discoloration on your fabrics.
Check the bobbin and change it as necessary. A bobbin that’s in good condition helps produce the high-quality stitches that make your finished quilt look amazing and even better than one that's done with hand quilting.
Professional Maintenance for the Longarm Quilting Machine
Making sure that your longarm quilting machine is in the best shape possible means you’re going to have to get it professionally checked and maintained. This should occur at least every two years or every 10 million stitches.
During the service, the technician will clean the machine and check to ensure that everything is within the specifications for your particular machine. They'll make adjustments as necessary to get them within the correct parameters. This includes checking the stitch regulator and verifying that the stylus, machine head and hopping foot are in good shape.
The machine will also be lubricated with a special lubricant that’s made to last. This helps it continue working as intended for as long as possible and helps protect the parts so you don’t have to repair it as often.
Contact Stitchin' Heaven Quilt Shop
Whether you need to find supplies for your next quilt or purchase a new longarm quilting machine, the experienced staff at Stitchin' Heaven is ready to help. Just give us a call at 903-760-7397 to talk to us about your needs. We have new machines and also offer some preowned options when they’re available.
We also have regular service and repair options for quilting machines and other sewing machines, including BERNINA machines. You can count on our technician to clean, oil and adjust the machine as needed. These help ensure your machine is calibrated and ready to help you produce the best projects possible.