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Tips and Tricks for Stress-Free Longarm Quilting

During our Spring Fling Festival, Grace Ambassadors and Educators Lizzy Allen and Jackson Cook shared their tips and tricks for stress-free longarm quilting! Lizzy and Jackson are passionate longarm quilters with many tips to share and a passion for inspiring others’ creativity. We loved their list of tips and tricks so much that we had to distill it here to guide you on a stress-free longarm quilting journey. 

Jackson and Lizzy used these materials for this demonstration:

 

Preparing your Machine

Change the Needle: 

Select the correct needle size for the thickness of the fabric and thread weight to ensure crisp detailing and stress-free stitching—generally, the thinner the material, the finer the needle. If you’re second-guessing yourself, search the type of fabric and recommended needle size. 

 

Oil the Bobbin & Machine:

Jackson and Lizzy both recommend oiling the bobbin at every bobbin change. This good habit will never go overlooked once it’s part of your quilting prep routine. 

Clean Any Lint from the Needle & Hook Areas

Lizzy recommends placing your batting scrim side down to prevent lint from accumulating in the bobbin case. Jackson likes to use compressed air to eradicate lint quickly. 

Warm-up the Machine & Automation

For peak performance, run your machine for a few minutes (this is a great time to do your tension testing) before quilting.

Adjust the Handles

Adjust the handles to your most comfortable position instead of adjusting your position to accommodate the machine. Your tools are meant to work for you, not against you!

 

Preparing the Frame

Clean the Tracks & Wheels

Use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the tracks and wheels. Lizzy likes to use Windex to scrub off any stubborn grime. Check the frame tracks for obstructions to avoid hiccups during your creative process. 

Frame Height & Level

Adjust height and level to your most ergonomic position. Pro tip: be sure not to lean on your frame as it can lead to distorted designs. 

 

Loading the Quilt

Loading the Quilt

Mark the center on the bottom and top of the backing to ensure it is easy to center as you load it onto the frame and secure it with quilt clips. Use a spray bottle to mist and release any creases in your fabric as you load it onto the frame. Jackson likes to hang his batting with clips to rest and allow it to return to its original, creaseless form. Use a ruler or long quilt clip to smooth the top as you load it onto the frame. 

Basting

It’s best to baste center to edges and bottom to top. You can choose to baste stitch a straight line or use Lizzy’s “wibble wobble” method and sway your machine back and forth as you baste stitch your quilt.  Jackson tucks the loose end of the thread around a pin to secure the first basting stitch, as shown in the picture below. 

 

Thread, Needles & Tension

Thread Weight 

Lizzy prefers a 60-weight thread for most quilting projects. 

Bobbin Cases

Lizzy and Jackson recommend having two pre-wound bobbin cases to ensure that you won’t have to pause to fuss with the tension midway through your project. 

Achieving Good Tension

Check your bobbin tension every time you change the bobbin, even if you wind the bobbins on your machine. The top thread is shown as the red lines in the figures below, and the bobbin thread is the black line. The top thread in the first image needs to be tightened to achieve good tension. The middle figure in the image below demonstrates good tension between both threads. The figure on the bottom of the image illustrates when the top thread is too tight and snaps, leaving you with only the bobbin thread. 

 

 

Beginning to Stitch

Anchor the Thread Before Stitching

Pull up the bobbin thread and anchor it as demonstrated with the pin in the photo above before stitching to prevent unraveling. 

Selecting the Foot

Select the proper foot height by putting the needle in the down position (not touching the quilt) and use a needle alignment tool to ensure the foot is at the proper height to quilt. Choosing the correct foot height prevents wrinkles in the quilt. 

Body Position

With proper frame height and handle positioning, your body should be comfortably close to the frame without leaning, hold the handles with a loose grip, and glide the machine across your quilt. Jackson remembers when he first began his longarm journey, he would grip the handles tightly and end up with sore, tense shoulders. Allow yourself a few moments to stretch your arms and shoulders between sections. Let quilting be a relaxing, creative activity, and you will see the difference in your quilts!

Selecting Quilt Pattern and Thread

When choosing a thread color, pull a few inches of thread from the spool to lay across the quilt top. Do you like how the thread color looks with the pattern? Does the thread match or coordinate with your vision and the colors of your quilt? Test a few colors to find your favorite thread option. For variegated thread, look at the top of the spool to see how it will appear when quilted. 

 

Finishing Touches

Before Removing the Quilt From the Frame

Be sure to check that you’ve completed each quilt section before taking it off the frame. Bury your threads with a self-threading needle. Sew around the outside edges of your quilt to secure all quilting before you trim your quilt. 

Lizzy says, “Building these habits will make for a much, much happier quilting experience.” Jackson reminds us that these good quilter habits will elevate your confidence and comfort as a quilter. Don’t let minor setbacks frustrate you. Set yourself up for success in a hobby as complex and detailed as quilting with minor adjustments to your routine and with great equipment. Hopefully, you found a tip (or several) that will change how you quilt or create more ease in your practice!

 

Happy Quilting, 

The Grace Family

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