Longarm quilting by Katie @thirdcoastquilting
Well it’s that time of year again! Everyone is gearing up Christmas sewing.
I wanted to write a blog for those of you who may be sending your quilts to a longarmer for the first time (or, if you are like me, just want to make sure you are doing it right).
So I contacted a couple of my friends who own their own longarming businesses and picked their brains about how the process works, what to expect and what we, as quilters, can do to help them longarm our quilts.
I spoke with Joyce @evamaecustomquilts and Terri from @quiltingrubies. Each does beautiful work and are very conscientious quilters.
They each gave some great tips for both first timers and long timers. Think of it as a “best practices” guide.
Please know that every longarmer is happy to work with you and will encourage you not to be afraid to send in your quilts. Your quilts do not have to be “perfect”, but I always like to improve where I can. If you are like me, read on for some helpful tips!
I’ve divided this into two parts: questions you may have if you have never sent in a quilt and part 2 is a best practices guide!
Longarm quilting by Joyce @evamaecustomquilts
Questions You May Have
If you have never sent a quilt to a longarmer, you probably have a lot of questions and fears. How much does it cost? What kinds of things do I need to know? Where should I send them?
Fear not, I’ve got you.
The first thing you will want to do is find out if there is a longarmer in your area. A simple Google search can get you started. While this is entirely up to you, I do prefer to send my quilts to longarmers that are fairly local, if not completely local. The further away I’m mailing my quilt, the more nervous I get about postal mishaps.
Another way to find a longarmer is to search the #longarmquilter hashtag on Instagram. Scroll through and see whose work you like. A word of caution, though—the more popular the longarm business is, the longer you may have to wait for your quilt to be quilted.
Of course--as any good quilter knows--good things are worth waiting for. But if you are under a time crunch, this may impact your decision. A very busy longarm business may have already closed their Christmas quilting window or may have a six to eight week turnaround.
Generally, expect longarmers to ask for a minimum of two weeks. Sometimes they can get it done sooner, but it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
Longarm quilters usually have a base fee that can be anywhere from $0.02 per square inch to $0.05 per square inch. So if you have a 60” x 60” quilt, that would be $0.02 x 3600 or $72.
However, that is the base fee. If you need the longarmer to supply batting or want them to bind the quilt for you, those will cost you extra. Even the panto you choose can cause your price to go higher. This is because a simpler panto takes less time and thread to complete.
Sometimes, there are fees for other things like if you want them to trim the quilt for you. There will also be a fee to ship the quilt back to you if you mailed it in. Make sure to read their pricing guide to get the most accurate pricing.
So don’t be shy to visit the longarmer’s website. Most longarmers will have many of these fees and services listed. But do remember that estimates are just that—estimates.
Types of Quilting
Example of Custom Quilting by Kate @piercestquilting
There are different types of longarm quilting. Some longarmers use edge-to-edge computerized designs. This means that the longarmer uses a computer to stitch the design on the quilt.
Other longarmers do their quilting by hand—meaning they use a special machine and guide the design themselves.
There is also custom quilting. With custom quilting, the longarmer varies the design throughout the quilt. It really can become a work of art with the longarmer tailoring the quilting to your design. It’s pretty amazing.
In general, edge to edge quilting is the standard now and will often be the most budget friendly type as well.
Decisions you have to make
Before your quilt gets quilted, you should speak to your longarmer about what batting and thread you would like used, the pantograph (the design you want used on the quilt) and whether there are any other fees you will need to prepare for.
Most longarmers will help you pick a pantograph if you need help, so don’t be afraid to ask! But do be mindful of the longarmer’s time. The longarmers I spoke with generally assume there will be 30-45 minute consultation with you regarding your quilt.
One tip I can offer is to be sure to save/bookmark any pantos you like on Instagram. You can even create a separate board to save these posts to. So the next time you see a quilt with a panto you like, bookmark it! And be sure to ask the quilter what the panto is if it’s not listed in the caption.
Best Practice Guide
Whenever I send in a quilt, I’m always wondering what I could be doing better to help ensure the quilting goes smoothly.
Things like bulky seams, loose seams or dirty/very wrinkly quilts will make it harder for the longarmer. So here are some best practices to help your longarmer do the best quality work.
1. Press your seams as flat as possible. There is a reason why pressing seams open is often encouraged—that has a lot to do with preventing issues if you are having it quilted by a longarmer. Bulky seams can create uneven stitching or even break needles.
However, I do like to press to the side—especially if I’ in a rush—so I make sure to just try to flatten those seams as much as possible. I’ll use starch and a heavy book to try to get them weighed down. You can also try steam and a tailor’s clapper—but I find that a heavy book works similarly.
2. Be sure to have a solid ¼” seam. If you are trying to use a smaller seam (maybe you had some cutting errors or had a lot of fraying) your seams may dwindle down. But the smaller the seam allowance, the greater a chance that those seams will come apart. Especially with normal use and washing.
3. If you have loose seams at the end of your rows, consider doing a basting/edge stitch around your top. This will ensure those seams don’t get stretch apart when being rolled onto the machine. (and also ensures the needle won’t catch them).
4. If you pieced your backing, it’s best to do a horizontal seam instead of a vertical seam. This is because the quilt backing will be loaded on a roller. The vertical seam will create consistent bulk in the center, which can affect the quilting later. Imagine if you taped yard down the center of a paper then rolled it onto a roll—the center would be much thicker than the ends, right? Same goes for vertical seams on quilts.
1. Trim any dark threads on the back of the quilt. Dark threads can become trapped behind a light background and you will see it forever. So do your best to try to trim those away prior to mailing. (As a fun side note, there is this TOOL you can use to try to pick out those stray threads if they appear later.)
2. Lint roll your quilt to clean off dust or pet hair. You may have seen my cat Agnes on Instagram. She refuses to stay off quilts. So right before I send off my quilt, I lock her away and lint roll the front and back so those cat hairs aren’t in the quilt forever. Agnes would love to have her fur memorialized in all my quilts, but I would NOT like that.
3. Even though you will be folding your quilt to send in, do give your top a final press before it goes to the longarmer.
Bonus tip from a longarmer!
If you have a quilt that has outside borders/sashing, this is an area that can easily get wonky. When sewing on your outside sashing, start by folding your sashing in half to find a middle point. Then attach and pin that to the middle point of the side you are attaching it to. Then keep pinning away from that middle point. This will help keep the sashing from stretching too much and getting ripply while sewing or being quilted.
I hope these tips will help you feel more confident when sending in your quilts. But remember—its ok if you haven’t done these in the past or if you don’t have time to do all these things. Still send those quilts in if your heart is set on it! Goodness knows I wasn’t following all these steps myself and my quilts still turned out beautiful and weren’t rejected by any of the longarmers I have used. (Knock on wood! lol)
Longarm quilting by Wendy @dancingpinesquiltco
Longarm quilting is an investment, but can add a beautiful and unique finish to your quilt. Plus, I like supporting small businesses whenever I can. I hope you will, too!
Lastly, here are a few longarmers I’ve used before whose work I love:
Joyce @evamaecustomquilts (Indiana)
Terri @quiltingrubies (Maine)
Valerie @threebirdsandstitches (New York)
Kate @piercestquilting (Michigan)
Katie @thirdcoastquilting (Michigan)
Wendy @dancingpinesquiltco (North Dakota)
Let me know who your favorite longarm quilter is! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram @midlife_quilter
I’m often asked for recommendations so if you have someone you have used consistently with a positive experience, I’d love to hear about them and be able to share.
As always, happy quilting!