When we're demonstrating at shows visitors often comment that our machines must be for professional quilters. Well, sometimes they are bought by professional quilters, or by those who aspire to be professionals, but in fact the great majority are purchased by customers to finish their own quilts.
Even if you're not particularly artistic it's possible to acquire the skills and techniques to create professional looking results such as edge to edge quilting using pantographs or groovy boards on the stand-up machines. And with free-motion quilting, it's just a question of practice!
However, purchasing a Longarm Quilting machine such as a Handi Quilter is not for everyone for various reasons. In that case you might look at engaging the services of a professional longarmer.
So, what does a professional longarm quilter do and what are your options?
We have a list of Handi Quilter owners who will quilt or baste your quilt for you. You can find them on this link - Longarm Quilting Services.
Here are some summarised thoughts, advice and comments from those who do professional longarm quilting.
If you are providing backing make sure that it is bigger than your quilt top by at least 3" all around. So add 6" on to your calculations for your backing fabric dimensions. But check with the quilter what their requirements are.
You can see in the picture below how much bigger the backing and the wadding are than the quilt top. It's also useful for the longarm quilter so they can test the quality of the stitches on the excess at the edges, laying down similar fabric to those used in the quilt.
If you need to join the quilt backing it is better if the join is horizontal rather than vertical. If it is vertical the longarmer will find it harder to keep the quilt even as the seam will create bulk.
Some longarmers recommend using a 1/2" seam to do the join and pressing the seams open rather than 1/4" with the seam to one side. This leaves less bulk.
If it's a pieced back bear in mind that if the back is out of alignment with the front that it may be more obvious if there are small pieces - use large pieces on the back if you're doing a pieced back.
Make sure you remove the selvedges from your backing. There is less "give" in them than the rest of the fabric.
Choices on how your quilt is going to be longarm quilting can include:
edge-to-edge using pantographs, which means that the designs will be hand-guided using a laser pointer from the back table of the quilt frame. You'll pick a design that complements the quilt with the guidance of the longarmer, probably from their library of designs. Getting the right scale and design is something they can help advise you on. In the example above the quilt has an edge-to-edge pantograph design. The quilt was actually pieced on the frame in this example!
fully computerised edge-to-edge where the longarmer will use the Handi Quilter Pro Stitcher to curate designs, fit them to the quilt and stitch them out going from one side of the quilt to the other with a design. This is similar to a pantograph but in this case the computer is doing the guiding, not the longarmer.
computerised but custom quilting by block, borders or area. If you've got a quilt that is not suited to quilting over the whole surface you might like to explore having it custom quilted with a computerised system. With tools like the Pro Stitcher computerised quilting system, you can crop out the areas that you don't want to stitch over such as the applique. This will be a more expensive option than edge to edge.
custom hand guided quilting - a premium level of service. If you think about how long it might take to quilt a quilt yourself you'll understand why this is an expensive option. The longarmer might select from their experience of free motion quilting techniques, longarm ruler work and stencils to create the effect that you're looking for. This may also need more discussion with the longarmer. The picture below shows ruler work and the kind of chalk pencil that is used to make small reference marks on the quilt.
For any of these options you may want to see other examples of the quilter's work or get a personal recommendation from someone who has used their longarm quilting services.
Other tips for getting the best results from your longarm quilter
Always remove the loose threads from the back of your quilt. This is especially important if you have light fabrics. Dark threads may show through.
Square up both your quilt and backing fabric. When squaring up your quilt to create the borders take several measurements across the width of the quilt and use the measurement that will create the "best fit". Cut your borders to fit. If you use the lengthwise grain there will be less "give" in the borders.
You may also want to stay stitch 1/8" inside the edges of the quilt. This helps stabilise the border, especially if it's pieced.
Press your quilt and your backing fabric.
If you're providing the wadding make sure you provide at least as much as the backing fabric.
Label the top of the quilt. Some quilts designs are directional.
If you have a directional backing indicate which way up it is and label it.
Do not baste a quilt when giving it to a longarmer. They'll have to remove the basting stitches in order to put it on their frame. The exception is if you're hiring a frame like a Little Foot frame (see below) where you do pre-baste it as the quilt is only clamped in place.
Tips for using a Longarm Quilting Service
Check our Longarm Quilting Services List or ask around your quilt group for recommendations.
Visit quilt shows to get an idea of how different professional longarmers quilt other people's quilts. If the quilt has been professionally longarmed the quilt show label or guide will normally tell you this information.
Get a price estimate for your quilt. Pricing will depend on
the design and how intensely it's quilted
if it's custom versus edge to edge
the threads - polyester versus cotton
the wadding - will you supply your own or will they supply
the backing - again, will you supply your own
how big it is
is it urgent? If it is, there may be a premium for a fast turnaround and remember, lots of quilts are gifted so before Christmas can be very busy!
You could discuss these things face to face, by phone, email or Skype. Don't be afraid to ask questions, Consider getting quotes from more than one longarmer. But it's a personal service so don't choose based on price alone. As in most aspects of life, experience matters - you should expect an international award-winning quilter to cost more than someone who has just started their quilting business.
Are there extra services that you need such as trimming, binding or adding sleeves? Discuss these as well and the additional costs they will incur.
Is there a drop off or collection service, will you visit in person or send by post?
Find out when you can expect to get your quilt back. If it is time-critical, make sure the longarmer knows your deadline in advance.
Offering a Longarm Quilting Service
Becoming a longarm quilter can be a very satisfying occupation. Garden rooms, spare rooms (once the children have been evicted, gone to University or sold to fund the purchase of your longarm!), basements and loft spaces can be utilised to create a home studio. Combining your love of quilting with running a business from home could be the perfect balance. There are many things to take into account and some of those will be the subject of a future blog post.
Sometimes we hear of more unusual requests for quilting services. We had an enquiry from a costume designer - Jeffrey Bryant, who has designed costumes for Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones and Duran Duran. We were asked if we knew someone who could quilt silver lame material.
We passed the request on to one of our experienced quilters Joe Bennison. Joe quilted the silver lame fabric on her Handi Quilter Amara prior to it being made up into the finished jacket. In the photos below you can see how the fabric was quilted on the frame, prior to being made up. The jacket was designed to be used by John Taylor for the 2019 Duran Duran tour! Joe has previously quilted fabric that was used at the London Fashion Show for Top Shop.
We hope that you have found this blog post interesting. If you have any questions about Longarm Quilting Services or about purchasing a longarm quilting machine to become a professional longarm quilter please contact us.