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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

S...tuff Happens...

The quilts shown are done so to visually display a particular result that may be encountered by a Longarmer during the process. It is not a reflection of poor crafting of any quilter…rest assured the topics discussed here are by no means uncommon or an indication of any skill level. Just as I spend time with Jack the Ripper so do many quilters to make sure their completed top and backs are of the best possible quality and craftsmanship prior to handing it off to a longarmer. The problems discussed may in fact not develop until the Longarmer is prepping the quilt. An example would be a short quilt, lap, baby, etc. A ‘pieced’ back may in fact be provided and because there is not a significant amount of material rolled up on the Take Up Bar…a vertical seam is a non-factor.

The contents of “Quilt Preparation for the Longarmer” (here on the blog and at are by no means written in stone. To some it may not be complete, to others, overkill. It is, based on my experience, what many Longarmer's look for when they take in a quilt. Are we going to get everything, every time? No. We don’t live in an ideal or perfect world. So, we adapt, improvise and overcome.

In my case it all starts with the “Spec Sheet” or what others may call the “Intake Sheet.” Quilt Size, thread choice, pattern choice, per inch cost, etc. And there is the all important “Special Instructions/Notes” Box. Here I’ll make notes regarding whether the quilt may me directional and other quilt top/back needs. It is here where I record the loaded quilt measurements once it’s ready for stitching and for Edge 2 Edge once the pattern is laid out the measurement for the starting point for each row to keep the distance between rows consistent.  

These measurements indicate the left and right side of the quilt and the benchmarks for keeping the quilt ‘square’ throughout the longarming process. Naturally if the top is wider or narrower than the bottom, some adjustment must be made as the quilt is advanced on the machine. But the goal is to keep it as close as possible to the beginning measurements. If one side is longer than the other that too is dealt with as the longarming progresses. I don’t think there is a Longarmer that wouldn’t emphasize the importance of a ‘square’ top. The same measurement across the top, middle and bottom, left, center and right. The back as well should be ‘square’ and the four edges even. Too often backs, when pieced, are not. This too can create difficulties during the process.



An even edge…Both the top and back for optimal longarming and accurate measurements as the process is ongoing. This tape remains in place until the bottom has been basted.


                                                                                                              NOT THIS


…Backing seams should run horizontally (left to right) This eliminates puckering as the quilt is being advanced on the frame. A thick vertical seam can easily cause issues as the quilt is advanced in the longarming process. One reason 'selvage' should never be left on a seam edge. Remember…when it is all said and done…the back is 50% of the quilt you have spent hours crafting. Don’t short change your efforts by cutting corners on the backing. The” back” should have four evenly trimmed edges…
Vertical seams…may save cost in material.  Most Longarmer's will work with vertical seams but if you want to eliminate a possible problem stick with horizontal seams when backs are pieced. These photos depict a pieced back, square, and in this case 10” longer and wider than the top. But you can see the problem a vertical seam can create. We do a lot of Quilts of Valor a year…each one gets 108” fabric cut to 10” wider than the top to be completed. What is left over becomes ‘blender’ to be used later. If you quilt a lot, we recommend 108” fabric for backs. What’s left becomes part of your“stash.” And who don’t like stash?


I’m certain, I’m one of the few, that don’t have additional charges. My motivation to longarm is Quilts of Valor. Over the last several years I’ve developed some friends that allow me to longarm their quilts. I am very grateful and having plenty of time to longarm is my blessing. As a result of not being a business I don’t have a bottom line so I can do some prep tasks that are otherwise charged for. But that doesn’t mean a quilter should skip essential responsibilities before passing on the top for longarming. Ironing and pressing being one.

                        This is a task and I can understand why longarming businesses charge extra.


In the Marine Corps you quickly learned the correlation between Irish Pennants and Push-Ups. But because there are no push-ups in quilting (thank goodness) the lesson isn’t necessarily drilled home. Irish Pennants: loose threads, string or straps that detract from a squared-away appearance. In our case the loose threads can be a problem to many Longarmer’s and can easily create their own problems during the process and take away from that squared away appearance.
The quilt top and backing should be clipped of loose threads, both front and back. Either could cause snags and uneven stitching. The longarm foot can catch in loose threads on the top and break the quilting thread and easily cause a straight line to veer and a curve to straighten as the quilt is being stitched. They could even be the guilty party of a fabric tear. Loose threads can also get into the wheels and encoders causing skipped stitches. Take the time to remove those loose threads before it gets to the Longarmer.

Again, Longarmer’s strive to ‘compliment’ a quilters craftsmanship and enhance the overall beauty of the quilt. With this goal in mind it is understandable for some to charge a fee to take the time to prepare the quilt for longarming by ironing, pressing and clipping loose threads if these tasks are not completed before it gets to the Longarmer.


If you are not putting a border on your top, stitch the perimeter of the quilt as close to the edge as possible to eliminate seam separation when tension is applied when loaded on the longarm frame. 

It may not seem like much…but when it is loaded, and tension is applied the edge stitching goes a long way in aiding the Longarmer in doing a good job in relation to a great job. As much as we would like to take credit for great jobs…it always goes back to the piecer and their efforts in preparing the quilt properly for the Longarmer.

Like we say here in Studio 708…Quilt till you wilt…we do. 


  1. Thank you for sharing how to make quilt tops easier to quilt for the long armer. I was the notorius one in my group for doing all the bad things for the longest time.

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