Once a quilt top is pieced and the batting and backing are added to create a “quilt sandwich,” the quilt is ready for the next step in the construction and design process: quilting! Stitching on the quilt sandwich holds the quilt top, batting and backing together firmly and locks down seams, but it also has an artistic element to it. The stitched patterns added by a longarm machine (or sometimes a home machine) can complement your piecing and elevate the overall design of the quilt depending on whether they’re loopy or straight lines, flowery or abstract. For this reason, getting to know your longarmer and what they do is important for all quilters. Whether you aspire to use a longarm yourself, quilt on your home machine, or just want to learn more about the art and craft of quilting, this post is for you.
In our monthly series on longarm quilters, we called on Carole Carter From My Carolina Home to find out more about how she got started and her process for longarm quilting. Carole is spearheading the Carolina Hurricane Quilt Project to help those on the North Carolina coast whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael and the flooding those caused.
Here’s what she had to say about longarm quilting:
1. How long have you been longarm quilting?
I got my longarm in 2010, took my first classes that year, and more a year later. Taking classes at a major convention really improved my skills.
2. What made you get into longarm quilting?
After sewing quilts for a number of years, I thought I’d like to quilt my own. Now as a pattern designer too, I enjoy the entire process, with longarm quilting making it possible to finish quilts quickly.
3. What is your favorite technique to use when longarm quilting?
I tend to use pantographs and free motion quilting most. As my Scrap Dance series patterns have lots of pieces, an all-over design works best.
4. Can you share a longarm quilting experiment you did that you liked the results?
Yes, on a small patriotic quilt, I decided to quilt in three colors overlapping the quilting designs. The first pass was fireworks in red thread, then stars in blue thread, then loops in white thread to fill in the empty areas. I really liked how that one came out, the quilting was so interesting, yet it was done like an overall free motion.
5. Any tips for people who would like to start longarm quilting?
My best advice is to choose your machine with care. There are many high quality brands of machines, so test drive a lot of models and take your time making the decision. The best machine for your friends or someone else on a forum may not be the best one for you. They all work and feel a bit different, and the only way to know what you like is to try as many as possible. I spent a year going to shows, showrooms, and visiting friends with different brand machines before deciding on the one that fit me the best. Take your time, it is a huge investment. Then, buy a Towa gauge to set your bobbin tension, it will save you lots of headaches with broken threads.
6. What are your go-to longarm materials?
There are several things I really like using when longarming, and I know from experience that quality makes a difference. When I want a thicker thread on the quilt top especially variegated thread, I love King Tut thread with Bottom Line in the bobbin. I use Aurifil in both the top thread and bobbin for wonderful texture. I also love Glide for a bit of sheen, and usually pair it with Bottom Line in the bobbin. Batting is so important as well, with Hobbs and Quilter’s Dream being my go-to battings. I love the wool and silk battings in the Hobbs Tuscany line, and I also love Quilter’s Dream Green for its positive impact on our environment. I’m starting to use more rulers and expand my skills with more custom quilting, and like the heat erasable gel pens and chalk for marking.
7. What is the scariest/most exciting part of the process?
The scariest part of the process to me is also the most exciting – deciding what design to quilt on a top. Should I do a custom treatment, or would a pantograph look better? Do I want heavy quilting for the design aspect, or keep it light for the cuddle quality? So many questions to ask with each quilt top! In fact, I have developed an entire speaker presentation for guilds and meetings called Decisions Decisions to address all the things to consider when making a plan for quilting. It has been very well received where I have spoken so far.
8. How would you describe your style of longarm quilting?
I am still a traditional quilter for the most part. I like gentle curves and motifs that soften hard edges on triangles and squares.
9. What is your favorite motif to quilt? I love leaves and feathers.
10. What advice would you give someone who is using a professional longarm quilter for the first time?
I have an entire blog page devoted to those things longarm quilters wish their customers knew – How to Prepare for Longarm Quilting. Doing the borders properly is the number one thing most longarmers wish their customers would learn. I have a full tutorial on Quilt Borders, Understanding the Why which explains the difference with measuring versus slap-and-sew. I made two identical quilts and put the borders on with different methods to show the difference.
11. What is your current goal for longarming?
Being in North Carolina, my current goal is to quilt at least five queen size quilts for the victims of the Carolina Hurricane flooding. Quilters interested in helping this effort can click on the sidebar button on my blog From My Carolina Home for the latest information.
The Fat Quarter Shop stocks a range of longarm quilting supplies.