Some quilters love piecing, while others live for the style of stitching on the finished piece. These days you can get almost any quilting pattern you can imagine added to a quilt. A skilled longarmer can add custom designs to enhance the style of the quilt, or they can use computer software to run readymade patterns in an all-over design. In our monthly series on longarm quilters, we called on Allison Black, owner of AB Quilting Studio, to find out more about how she got started and her process for longarm quilting. Here’s what she had to say:
1. How long have you been longarm quilting?
I have been long arm quilting for almost 6 years.
2. What made you get into longarm quilting?
My story began while working for BasicGrey, who design for Moda Fabrics. I went to the International Quilt Market for the first time in Kansas City, and the beautiful quilts I saw inspired me to the point where I couldn’t stop thinking about fabric and quilt patterns. I came home from quilt market and began piecing for the first time in my life. After using other long arm quilters to finish my projects, I decided to take a long arm class to see if it was something I would want to do for myself. It only took one class and I was hooked. Not long after that, I purchased a Gammill Statler Longarm machine, and AB Quilting Studio was born.
3. What is your favorite technique to use when longarm quilting?
Definitely themes! I love knowing who the quilt is made for and the purpose of the quilt. For example, I am quilting a project that is floral and they’re giving it to a grandmother they adore so much. I might use a heart design to show the love. I also like to use themed stitch patterns for holiday quilts. My two favorite holidays to quilt are Christmas and Valentine’s. I try to attend a lot of classes to learn different techniques on my machine and be able to use it to the fullest.
4. Can you share a risk you took on a longarm project that surprised you?
Recently, I took on a longarm custom quilt for a customer, which I don’t do often. The customer told me to quilt it however I wanted. This is a big risk for me because my interpretation and the customer’s might be the total opposite. I try to get as much information from the customer as possible. The day the finished quilt arrived to the customer I received a phone call from her and she was elated. She could not tell me enough how much she loved the custom quilting. The joy in her voice is the reason I do what I do.
5. Any tips for people who would like to start longarm quilting?
I would recommend taking classes before purchasing a longarm machine. It’s a huge investment, and you want to be sure it’s for you. I also urge you to do your homework as to what type of machine you like and what fits your budget.
6. What are your go-to longarm materials?
It’s important to me as a longarm quilter to use and pay extra for nice quality threads and battings. I have used many different types of battings until I found my favorites. Hobbs and Quilters Dream battings are my top go-to products. I like to use Superior and Aurifil threads. They have many different types of threads and the quality is great. I’ve found that using cheaper threads and battings will lead to holes and broken threads, which in the long run cost me more because it takes longer to quilt.
7. What is the scariest/most exciting part of the process?
The scariest part of the process is picking the right design and thread colors. Most of my customers want me to pick design and thread color for them. The most exciting part of the process is seeing the finished project and knowing I picked the perfect design and the best thread color. Another exciting part of the process is seeing the excitement on the customer’s face when they see their quilt.
8. How would you describe your style of longarm quilting?
My style of longarm quilting is traditional to modern. I do like to use swirls and circles on quilt tops that are primarily straight-line designs. I will use straight-line designs on quilt tops that have a lot of circular patterns in them. As I mentioned earlier, I love to quilt with themes if possible. With thousands of designs available I tailor the design to the quilt itself. I tend to stick with edge-to-edge quilts vs. custom designs because I can give my customers a 7-10 day turnaround.
9. What is your favorite motif to quilt?
Flowers and swirls are my favorite motifs to quilt. Feathers are also beautiful on certain quilts.
10. How do you select your thread?
Most of my customers request the backside thread to blend. I usually use the thread color of the back of the quilt fabric so it blends well. For the top of the quilt I will blend or use an accent color that will also compliment the fabric. I love to use colored threads, not just the basic white and tan. My customers love having the choice of thread from clear to metallic, to any color of the rainbow.
11. What advice would you give someone who is using a professional longarm quilter for the first time?
When finding a longarm quilter to stitch your top piece for you make sure you find someone that is willing to do what YOU want and not what they want.
Here are a few preparation tips before taking your quilt to a professional longarm quilter for the first time:
- Make sure your top piece is pressed and that there are not any holes in your seams where rows and blocks have been sewn together
- When preparing your back piece use 5/8 to 1 inch seams. Press seams open to spread the bulk.
- Iron the back piece to remove wrinkles and fold lines
- Make sure the back piece is 3 to 4 inches larger on all sides than the top piece. This is imperative. Longarm quilters need the extra fabric to load the quilt on his or her machine and be able to quilt off the side edges if necessary
- Check to make sure your quilt does not have wavy borders. There are many videos online that can show you how to prevent wavy borders if this is a problem for you.
Thank you, Allison, for taking time out to do this interview and sending all the photos of your work! To see more of Allison’s work, be sure to check out her website, AB Quilting Studio, and Instagram profile.
The Fat Quarter Shop stocks a range of longarm quilting supplies.