Day Two at the Long Arm Shop

Last week I spent several hours practicing on a long arm machine. I decided to work on a quilt top that I made last fall. Using Kaffe Fassett stripes and solids, I made a strip quilt last fall. As often happens, it was put aside and left untouched for almost a year. By the time I finished this quilt top, it was distorted and nowhere near flats. Not sure if you remember this one, but here is the first post if you want the back story. In that post I mentioned that I had put some of the strips together incorrectly and had to do a bit of seam ripping to fix it. I think I handled the strips too much and they really stretched. If you haven’t handled Kaffe Fassett shot cottons, they are very soft. This makes for a cozy quilt but using a jelly roll of this was harder than I expected. Of all my quilts, I am sure this one has the most technical flaws. But it is also one of the prettiest because of all the color.

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Fast forward eleven months, I decided to finally finish it. The colors are gorgeous and it deserves to be used. I knew it would never be a quilt to brag on but oh, it is so soft. Quilting it on my machine or the long arm was going to be problematic either way. I figured if I took it to the shop, they might be able to help me to make it as good as possible. When I showed it to the owner, he said I could choose to make it flat and out of square (by a long ways) or I could square it and there would be some big folds that I would just have to quilt down. Without much deliberation, I chose to smooth it and deal with squaring it up later. The larger goal was to practice with the long arm. He helped me load it and played with it to get it as flat as he could.

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I didn’t have much of a quilting ‘plan’ in my head with this. More important was learning to use the machine and get the feel of it. The speed picks up on the machine and it is difficult to get into a rhythm that isn’t too fast and allows me to have good control over moving the needle. I did a random stipple with a few loops here and there. It was so much fun. I loved the freedom of movement since I wasn’t dealing with the weight of the quilt. When I think back on how it felt when I was guiding the needle, I am certain I was going to fast. My concern was if I slowed down, my stitch length would shorten and be inconsistent. Plus I would just forget and my speed would increase!

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Speed was my primary problem. Second to that was judging how close I could quilt near the top and bottom bars. I found myself going too close and getting trapped in places. There is no reason to go that close; it is cleaner to stay a couple of inches away from the top bar and bottom. But I would get my speed going too fast and dang it, I would find myself trapped again!

Even laying it as flat as possible, there are a few significant puckers. It couldn’t be helped. I think using the long arm to quilt it was much more successful than my home machine would have been. I could look ahead and as I moved the quilt over the bars I gently finessed it as flat as possible.  Now, remember he said if I went for smooth and flat, it would be warped and out of square? Oh my, he was right. 🙂

When I got it home I trimmed the excess batting and backing away with scissors, just to see what I was dealing with. Then I did a few dramatic, heavy sighs and asked Ray for help. I knew he would have a solution. The issue was that if I cut it square, it would be so obvious due to the linear pattern of the stripes. Both the top and bottom green stripes would have been sliced at strange angles. Ray suggested taking some of the striped fabric and enlarging the width at the bottom of the stripes. This would give a bit of an illusion of a straight line and I would be able to keep the full width of both green stripes. (I am married to a genius.) I never even thought of it. I have quite a bit of the striped fabric left over. There was no problem cutting a piece and matching the stripe up completely.

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imageMost of the extra width is covered by the binding. It was a simple solution and I am so pleased with the result. As I said earlier, this quilt is filled with flaws. But when I look at it I am quite happy with it. The colors are lovely and the feel is so soft. Learning to use the long arm feels a bit like going backward. I am just getting some confidence with my free motion skills on my domestic machine and now I am back at square one, learning to quilt all over again!

On Thursday this week, I will be back in the shop. I am going to quilt my plus quilt.  Hopefully I will be able to control my speed a bit. I am going to try to be diligent about leaving myself space at the top and bottom bars. My plan is to do loose spirals in the negative space and straight line quilting within the pluses. I think (I hope?) that is a reasonable goal for me at this point. Any hints or tips on my long arm practice sessions are more than welcome!  Also, while I am thinking of it, do I do all of the straightline quilting and then go back and do the spirals or do I just do whatever shows up within the space of the bars and keep moving it in the one direction? Inquiring minds need to know!

Linking to all of the awesomeness that is listed at the top of the page, under Link Ups.

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16 thoughts on “Day Two at the Long Arm Shop

  1. Wendy

    I love the colors in your quilt! I have that striped material, and you are right — it is really soft. Looks like your creative genius came up with a great plan for squaring the quilt! I’m sure it will be used and loved for many years!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      I washed the quilt last night and it is so cozy. The fix Ray suggested worked perfectly and is very hard to see, even if you look. Really you only notice if you try to fold the quilt and the edges are wonky. But that is not a big deal. Yes, he came up with just the right solution. Thanks Wendy.

      Reply
  2. Kaholly

    Very pretty quilt! Your first attempt at using a long arm came out great! Good luck on quilt #2! I’m envious! I want to play on a long arm, too! XO

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Thanks a bunch. I am looking forward to giving it another try tomorrow. Come on a vacation to Northern CA and we can go to the shop together! 😉

      Reply
  3. Tish

    That was a pretty clever suggestion for fixing your squaring up problem. If you hadn’t told the story, I don’t know that I would have noticed that there was ever an issue. And finishing up a UFO is always a great feeling 🙂

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      The extra piece is virtually unnoticeable. Especially now that I have washed and dried it. I thought it was so smart – It is funny because my husband is a wood worker and we both have given each other some solutions to the other’s issue based on our hobbies. There is quite a bit in common as far as cutting pieces precisely, squaring up, keeping pieces straight, etc. Not to mention stash – he is as bad in a hardwoods store as I am in a fabric shop!! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Kathyh

    Playing on a long arm is awesome. I got the opportunity a few years ago at a quilt show in Portland when Boersma’s brought their long arm machines in for a class. Fun, fun, fun. If you head right, eventually you have to come left. Don’t lock your knees and stop and shake your shoulders a bit once in a while. If I were ever to quilt something big, I would send it out to be quilted and gladly pay.

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      It is soooo much fun. I feel really fortunate to have this shop relatively nearby (an hour’s drive) and they are quite helpful with the mechanics etc. I can use the machine without having to maintain it, or find space for it! (Not to mention buying it!) Can’t wait to go give it another try tomorrow. Have a great day Kathy.

      Reply
  5. Yvonne @Quilting Jetgirl

    I’m so glad your husband was there to help you come up with a good solution for how to proceed and finish the quilt. In terms of what to do first – I have done things both ways. I do recommend stitching in the ditch around the different elements you want to quilt in. I am currently doing a quilt and doing all the stitch in the ditch and background on my first pass and then I plan to go back to the beginning and fill in the other shapes that were just outlined originally. There is a lot of negative space, to that works well for the quilt I am working on. If yours is much more 50/50, I might suggest doing both as you go along. Unless you think you might run out of time – pick one and go all the way through the quilt so it will be easier to unload and load again in the future if you need to go back a second time. I hope that makes sense!

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Yes, this makes sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to sketch it out. I would say there is at least 50% negative space. I’ll let you know how it goes!

      Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      I think that could be helpful Jean. When I was practicing over there today, I actually missed having music so I may bring some the next time around. Thanks for the suggestion. ?

      Reply
  6. Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow

    Your little quilted block table topper looks great in the latest post and so does this…glad that he was able to help with a solution and bottom line if it’s not going in to a show, and it is soft, used and loved, that’s the main purpose ! 🙂

    Reply
  7. TAMMY L STACK

    Longarm quilting is soooooooo addictive! Glad you enjoyed it. Btw, I rarely worry about my quilts being perfectly squared. They are perfectly lovedette by their new owners, and that’s all that matters to me ?

    Reply
    1. Bernie Post author

      Most of the time, I doin’t worry about things being perfectly done, perfectly square, etc. But this one was really a mess. I am happy that it came out as well as it did! Thanks for the sweet words though. And yes, it is a bit addictive. It is just much easier than working on my home machine. 🙂

      Reply

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