The Ins and Outs of Longarm Quilting

By Angela Mitchell

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You made a quilt top, congratulations! Hours were spent choosing fabric, cutting carefully, and sewing those pieces back together to make a finished quilt top. What an accomplishment! Now it is time to finish your quilt. You have several options: quilting by hand, quilting on your home machine, and longarm quilting. Today we are going to discuss the third- longarm quilting.

A Definition and History

Let's begin with a definition. Longarm quilting is the procedure of using a longarm sewing machine to sew together the three layers of a quilt (quilt top, batting, and backing). While the first sewing machine was made during the late 18th century, the beginning stages of a longarm sewing machine occurred almost a hundred years later. At that time, a simple frame held the layers of a quilt together, and it was moved by hand under the sewing machine. As time went by, the longarm went through many changes.

How does this machine differ from a domestic machine? For starters, this is a large industrial piece of equipment. The machine head is the part that does the sewing. It is guided either by computer or by hand over the quilt sandwich. This head is mounted on wheels and a track, enabling it to slide freely across the entire quilt while sewing. In addition to the actual sewing machine head, there is a frame, rollers, and a worktable. These parts work together to hold the layers of the quilt securely in place.

There are basically two ways to quilt with a longarm. One way is by using a pantograph. This is a long design that is placed above the quilt top. The quilter traces the pantograph by hand or by computer, quilting the design into the fabric. The pantograph can be repositioned in rows or columns all over the quilt top to create an end-to-end design that is seamless. The second way is custom quilting. This is done freehand by the quilter. Any number of designs can by sewn this way, including the very popular feathers and meandering. Out of these two methods of quilting, custom quilting tends to be the more expensive of the two. This requires more time, energy, and resources.

longarmed quilt

Advantages of Longarm Quilting

When it comes to having a quilt finished on a longarm, there are quite a few advantages.

  1. The quilt maker does not need to baste the quilt. Since each layer is loaded into the rollers and frames of the longarm, there is no need to spend time crawling around on the floor with pins or spray. This is a strenuous part of quilting that many people struggle with.
  2. Whether done by hand or on a machine at home, quilting is time consuming. Many people just don't have that kind of time available, and they would argue that the expense of having their projects quilted professionally is well worth it.
  3. Longarm quilters are very accessible. What once was a rarity is now rather common! It is fairly easy to get ahold of a local quilter. There is also a broad range of longarm quilters online that are more than happy to provide services to customers from all over the world.
  4. It's easy! Machine quilting is strenuous and cannot be achieved by everyone. If you don't like wrestling your larger quilts in your home machine, then hiring a longarm quilter might be for you. Due to a rise in popularity, this service is more affordable than ever.

Longarm Quilting Pricing

Speaking of money, how much does this service cost? The price of longarm quilting varies depending on the type of quilting the customer desires. All over pantograph quilting is significantly less expensive. Many longarm quilters charge approximately $.015 per square inch for a basic all over design. More complicated custom work can cost anywhere from $.04 - $.06 per square inch.

In terms of batting, many quilters provide a variety of batting that you can purchase for your quilt. The price can range anywhere from $7 a yard to the upper twenties. Most allow you to provide your own batting if you choose to do so.

Do you want to do your own longarm quilting? Some local quilt shops and quilters provide rentals and Craftsy offers classes. Maybe you are interested in buying your own longarm quilting machine and starting your own business! Longarm University online has an informative article on this topic that includes a comprehensive list of machines.

Tips for Hiring a Longarmer

When looking for a longarm quilter, choose carefully! After all of the time and effort put into finishing a quilt top, finding the right quilter is essential. Browse through portfolios of both local and online quilters. Ask friends and family members for recommendations. Pin your favorite quilting patterns on Pinterest (www.pinterest.com). Check out your favorite quilting blogs.

Here is a list of questions to have on hand when you speak to a potential longarm quilter:

  1. How long have you been longarm quilting? Have you been to conferences or taken classes? Have you won any prizes for your quilting?
  2. Do you quilt by hand or computer?
  3. How much do you charge per square inch for simple pantograph designs? How much do you charge for custom work? Can I have an estimate for my quilt?
  4. How much do you charge per yard for batting? What types of batting do you have available? Can I provide my own batting?
  5. How long will it take for me to get my quilt back?
  6. What type of thread do you use?
  7. Can I see your portfolio and/or examples?
  8. What pattern do you recommend for my quilt top? What color thread?

Longarming at Home

Perhaps you desire the look of longarm quilting but prefer to do it yourself. Craftsy has some excellent online courses that you might be interested in!

Machine Quilting with Templates (Creating Design Perfection) with Kathy Brunner.
Kathy will teach you to make geometric quilting designs with just three basic quilting template shapes.

Machine Quilting Negative Space with Angela Walters.
Here you will learn to turn your quilt's negative space into gorgeous designs! Angela shows how to complement pieced sections with motifs and texture.

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