It’s not uncommon for quilters to try longarm quilting out of necessity. If you can’t quilt it on your home machine or find someone to do the work quickly, why not rent or buy a longarm machine and get to quilting? Such is the case for Sheryl Highsmith of Hedgehog Quilting. To find out more about how she got started and her process for longarm quilting, please read on!
1. How long have you been longarm quilting?
I’ve been longarming for four years, and longarming as a business for just about 3.5 years.
2. What made you get into longarm quilting?
Like many quilters, I began by quilting my tops on my domestic machine. My machine didn’t have much of a throat space, and it was a struggle for me that was definitely not very joyful! I learned that a local quilt shop rented time on long arms so I tried that on my next quilt and loved it! I rented time with them for my next four or five quilts over about six months’ time and decided I needed my own. My husband agreed to give up a large portion of the basement for my new endeavor. My mother-in-law is a quilter and she immediately and happily gave me a dozen quilt tops to practice with.
3. What is your favorite technique to use when longarm quilting?
My long arm machine is computerized and, while I love so many things about it, my very favorite is the ability to import an image of the quilt I’m going to be working on, and place digital patterns on top of the photo. The client is then able to get a good idea of the overall quilting plan and the proposed density. I love that I can show them what I’m thinking before I start.
4. Can you share a risk you took on a longarm project that surprised you?
I had a client who had made a stunningly beautiful raw-edge applique quilt and she wanted it quilted with an all-over, very dense pattern. I was terrified (and, honestly, a bit horrified) at the idea of quilting over such lovely applique (I wanted to outline the applique and free-motion between the motifs) but she insisted. I used an invisible thread and did as she asked and it turned out just as beautifully as she said it would. I was very pleased and surprised!
5. Any tips for people who would like to start longarm quilting?
When I was looking for a long arm, I spent a lot of time reading reviews to try to decide which machine was best for me, and I tried many out at a quilt show. I noticed, though, that most reviews were very positive, no matter the brand of machine, but the thing that seemed fairly universal was that people said, “I wish my dealer was closer.” So in the end, I bought the machine brand that the dealer in my town carried. There have been many times, especially early on, that I’ve been so happy she’s just 20 minutes from my house!
6. What are your go-to longarm materials?
I love Glide thread and Hobbs batting. I’ve tried other threads and batting and keep returning to these. All machines are different, though, and I think the most important thing is to find and use quality materials.
7. What is the scariest/most exciting part of the process?
That first stitch is always both the scariest (Is the tension perfect? Did I choose the very best patterns for this quilt?) and the most exciting. I’m always excited to see how my ideas are going to play out.
8. How would you describe your style of longarm quilting?
I seem to be a fan of more traditional quilting motifs. They are often the first I go to, even if I finally deviate in the end. Most enjoyable to me is when I can harmoniously combine both traditional and more modern patterns on the same quilt, and if I can add a bit of free-motion, that’s an extra bonus.
9. What is your favorite motif to quilt?
I just can’t resist the look of feathers. They’re timeless and can be designed to fit in any space.
10. How do you select your thread?
My goal is always for the thread to blend into the background just as much as possible. I like to see the texture of the quilting, but not the thread. On all-over patterns, it’s rarely possible for the thread to match everywhere, so next best is finding a thread that shows (or doesn’t show, as the case may be) evenly across the quilt top – a little dark on the very light fabrics, and a little light on the very dark fabrics. The customer and I will work together by laying out several threads across the quilt before selecting the perfect thread. For many customer consults, the thread selection often takes the longest amount of time.
11. What advice would you give someone who is using a professional longarm quilter for the first time?
I have a quilt preparation section on my website that I always refer new customers to. I also encourage them to look online to get an idea of what they might like for their quilting. I really love when customers let me do what I want with their quilt, but I also love when they have ideas for the direction they’d like to go.
Thank you, Sheryl, for taking time out to do this interview and sending all the photos of your work! To see more of Sheryl’s work, be sure to check out her website, Hedgehog Quilting, and Instagram profile.
The Fat Quarter Shop stocks a range of longarm quilting supplies.