[ Longarm Quilting Tips ][ Quilting Tips ]

Behind the Scenes – Loading a Quilt

Hello Friends!  Thanks for joining me for this peek at the process of quilting on a longarm.

First, you may be wondering –  what the heck is a longarm?  I explain it as an industrial sewing machine.  It is about four feet long, mounted on tracks on a 10-foot long table, and I stand in front of it to guide the needle with handles.  I own a Gamill machine, and you can take a look at their website here.

A quilt is made by sewing three layers together.  The most fun is piecing a top together. Then you add a layer of batting (some people call it “wadding”) and the backing fabric.

Helpful tip – most longarm quilters request the backing be 4 inches larger than the top on all sides, so add 8 to the length and width and make your backing that size.

The extra fabric gives us enough room to pin the backing to the leaders on our machine, as you can see in the following pictures. Here I have a top and backing laid over the rails of my machine while I measure one last time.


I start with the bottom edge of the backing, and pin it to the canvas leaders with corsage pins.


Then I secure top edge of the backing to the top leader, but only pin at the center, left corner and right corner.   This saves a little time when I add the batting., and pin those two layers all the way across.


Some quilters may say I do it wrong, but this works for me…I “float” the top and backing, so they are not pinned to the leaders and rollers of my longarm.  Next, I flip the batting back so it doesn’t get tangled, and I roll up the backing on the bottom roller.


Then I am finally ready to lay the quilt top in place and baste along the top edge.

With most quilts, I start at the top left and work my way down.  Sometimes I quilt with one color of thread to the bottom edge before switching to another color and working my way back up.  Recently, I have quilted with all the colors in one row before advancing the quilt.  I can talk more about that decision in another post.  For this particular quilt, I basted the edges and quilted the white center first, then switched to pink thread for the background designs.


As a final check before stitching the quilt top, I make a few loops in the excess.  It is painfully obviously that I just added some oil to my machine!  I wouldn’t want that dirty spot on the quilt, so it is a good practice to take those warm up stitches in a place that can be trimmed away.  Also, these warm up stitches give me a chance to check my tension.  I don’t adjust tension very often because I stick to one brand of thread, and it usually stays pretty consistent.

After all that, I am ready for the actual quilting!  Some quilts get custom free motion designs, while others get an edge-to-edge pantograph, depending on customer desires and the quilt’s intended use.

What is your preferred method of finishing those quilt tops – DIY (domestic or longarm) or asking someone to quilt for you?

I hope you Enjoy, Experiment, and Excel at every stage of the process!

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