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The Care and Feeding of Your Longarm Quilter

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Tips, Ideas, Patterns, and more by the crew at Bernina Sewing & Design

 

The Care and Feeding of Your Longarm Quilter

Marsha Cowan

You’ve cut and pieced and pressed, made blocks and rows, added borders, and now you’ve got this awesome quilt top. You know what the next step is, but…  Making tops is rewarding, but you find the quilting process overwhelming or tedious. You happily quilt smaller pieces, but that king size quilt you made for your favorite niece’s wedding gift won’t be done by her 10th anniversary if it’s left to you to quilt it.

What to do? Find a longarm quilter!

A longarm quilter uses a longarm quilting machine, like the HandiQuilter Fusion pictured above, to quilt border-to-border or custom designs on your beautiful project, leaving you with nothing to do but put on the binding and wait for the compliments to roll in! Here’s what you need to know so that you and the quilter you choose can work together to realize your vision.

How do I find this rare creature?

Ask around! That’s the best way to find one. Inquire at your favorite quilt shop, ask your sewing friends, or get recommendations from your bee. If you go to a local quilt show, and love a quilt you see on display, the name of the person who quilted it will be noted (although this person may not do it professionally, it doesn’t hurt to ask!).

I’ve got some names! I’m going to call right now. Hmm, it’s Friday, so if I drop off my quilt to someone today, it should be done next Tuesday.

In a magical, fairy-tale land this might be true. For us, it’s going to take some more time. Longarm quilting doesn’t work like the drive-thru at a burger joint. When you first contact your chosen quilter, they will let you know if they are accepting quilts, and what the timeframe is for getting yours done.

They’ll want to meet up with you, look over the quilt, help you choose a design, and perhaps discuss batting and thread.

Here are some important things to consider:

  • Your chosen longarm quilter is probably not hanging around with an empty machine. There are going to be quilts in line ahead of you, waiting to be done. The size/complexity of those quilting jobs is going to affect how long it will be before she can get to yours. You should take this into account when planning your quilting, which leads us to the next point:
  • Christmas. We love the idea of gifting a beautiful quilt to a special person at Christmas. If you want to have that quilt done by a longarm quilter, plan ahead! You should be ready to deliver it to her in AUGUST if you want it by DECEMBER! Many longarm quilters will have a set deadline date for this.
  • Longarm quilters are human beings, and this means sometimes they get the flu, or have a family emergency. Their machine may develop an issue, and need a house call from a service tech. If this happens, it might take longer to get your quilt done.

Will I need to take out a second mortgage to pay for this?

Longarm quilters charge by the inch.* You should expect to pay a minimum of 1 ¾ cents per inch for border-to-border quilting. This means one design stitched from edge to edge.

For custom quilting, where you choose different patterns for different blocks, etc., you should expect to pay a minimum of 5 cents an inch. Because of the time and effort involved in custom quilting, not every longarm quilter offers this service.

Experienced and talented longarm quilters will charge more than the minimums listed here for their work.

To figure the number of inches on your quilt, you measure the width and the length, and multiply those numbers together to find the total square inches.

A full/double sized quilt top might measure 54” x 75”.

54 x 75= 4,050.

Border to border: 4,050 x .0134 = $54.27

Custom: 4,050 x .05 = $202.50

You can see that there is quite a difference, even at the lowest prices, between basic and custom work.

*There may be other costs involved in addition to the per inch price.

 

Prior Planning Prevents Problems

Before you bring that quilt top to be worked on, here are some important steps to take to make sure all goes smoothly.

  • Quilt top should be starched and pressed. If the top is wrinkled/unpressed, it is harder to load onto the frame, and you are less likely to get a good result. Pressing beforehand is up to you, and is not part of the longarm quilter’s job.
  • Check all seams for gaps or missed stitches-it happens to the best of us. A seam with a gap will have to be repaired before quilting can be done, and that will add to the time and cost of the job.
  • Backing. Your backing should be pieced and prepared, and extend beyond the quilt top by 4-6” on all sides. The extra inches give room for the clips needed to hold quilt on the frame, and provides some leeway if your quilt is not perfectly squared up. Don’t guess or eyeball the measurements! There is nothing more frustrating than getting a phone call letting you know that your backing is not wide enough, and your quilt can’t be finished until you correct it.
  • Batting. Ask the quilter which brand of batting they prefer. The cheapest brands do not perform well. The quilter must move and smooth the quilt on the frame many times while quilting, and cheap batting begins to pull apart and clump during this process. Batting, like backing, must extend 4-6” beyond the top being quilted. Some quilters will provide the batting they prefer to use, and add that to the cost.
  • Threads. Again, ask the quilter what they prefer to work with on their particular machine. Longarm quilting machines have powerful motors and stitch an amazing number of stitches a minute. Cheaper threads will break more often in this situation. Some quilters will provide the thread they prefer, and charge for the amount used.

 

The relationship you build with your longarm quilter is one of the most important in your quilting life. They will be your creative partner, helping to make your quilting dreams come true.  We hope our tips and info will make that partnership a happy and productive one.

Happy Stitching!