Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What I Learned . . . . .

So I'm back to blogging about my week in Paducah attending the AQS Show.  Last week I covered what I saw and what I bought, today I'm going to cover what I learned.

I attended an all day quilting class called, "Jump start into longarm quilting"  Mary Beth Krapil was the Handi Quilter Educator who led the class.

The class covered preparing the backing, loading the machine, working with batting, choosing the thread and needle, adjusting tension, an intro into free motion quilting, pantographs and groovy boards, and using rulers.  Everything anyone would need to know to load and and start quilting a top.

The first thing Mary Beth asked the class was, "does anyone currently own a longarm machine".  I sort of snickered thinking who would be in a beginning longarm quilting class if they already owned a machine.  Well imagine my surprise when the majority of the class raised their hands!  Luckily Mary Beth taught the class as if no one had ever used a long arm machine.

One thing that is very important when doing free motion quilting is developing and maintaining arm and neck muscle memory.  You develop and maintain the muscle memory required for longarm quilting by practicing.  Practicing on paper and on the machine.

Using this sheet of quilting designs, that was inside a page protector, and using our arms and not our wrists, we traced each design with a erasable pen.  Once we had the sheet covered with ink we would just erase our "quilting" and start again.  Mary Beth said this was a great way to get used to the motion required to make these designs.  I saw a visible improvement in my tracing after just a couple of attempts.

So after tracing these designs we loaded our machines and tried to recreate the patterns using the long arm machine.  Here's my attempts, and even though they look pretty bad, nothing I would want on any quilt I've made, I have to admit I got better pretty quickly.

Mary Beth talked about the importance of practicing everyday.  An easy way to practice is to stitch on fabric with different designs and shapes in its motif to learn the movements required to make those shapes, like circles, points, curves.  A book she recommended was Quilting Dot to Dot by Cheryl Barnes.  In that book you are taught to look ahead as you quilt.

After practicing our free motion quilting we learned how to use pantographs.  We traced our design with our finger before actually tracing it with the machine, back to teaching our muscles how to move.

This was the design I was given.

And here's my go at it.

There's more to those pantographs than I thought, they require practice too, and I did see an improvement each time I quilted my design.  But still , that's nothing I would want on a quilt I pieced.

Here's a nice little sampler of work that Mary Beth made to show different designs and styles.  That's a plain piece of blue fabric that she brought to life with her quilting.

It was a great day that flew by,  definitely worth my time and money.  I have pages and pages of notes.  I feel like I now have the knowledge I need to actually quilt a top using a longarm machine.  I've always wondered if I could be a long arm quilter, and now I know that I can do it.  I don't think I have the natural ability to be great at it in a short time, but I think with practice I could be a good quilter.  But you know what else I learned, that I don't want to do it.  Spending 30 minutes everyday just practicing my quilting doesn't appeal to me at all.  Mary Beth talked about how she loved quilting her tops, it was her favorite part of the whole quilt making process.  I love selecting patterns, reading patterns and piecing patterns.  That's how I want to spend my available sewing time.  Before the class I was thinking that perhaps I could spend a couple of weeks piecing a top then maybe a couple of days quilting it.  It just doesn't work that way.  I've gotten compliments on my piecing skills, and I've really thought to myself, what's the big deal, the machine does the work.  But  now I see that I sew almost everyday, which means I'm practicing my piecing skills everyday.  I should be good at it.  If I only sewed on the weekends, or for a couple of days out of a month, I don't think I would be nearly as good.  And that's the way it is with quilting too, you need to do it often to be skilled at it.

I think I will also be a better long arm customer now that I have a better understanding of the whole process.   I have to say, I've never gotten a quilt back from any quilter with tucks or puckers in the backing, I have a whole new appreciation of what can go wrong if you don't do things correctly.

So that's what I learned, which was a lot!  If you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a good longarm quilter I would say you definitely do, you just need a good teacher and the desire to practice until you succeed.

Storage bin update -  Remember how I told you that I bought my fat quarter storage units from Staples?Well I stopped in Staples yesterday to pick up a new one, because my happy fabric maybe has grown from one bin to two bins, and there were no bins to be had.  When I inquired I found out they no longer carry those bins.  I looked online and they are currently available at Kmart and Lowes.  If I find them again I plan to get a couple, the bins are a perfect size and I want all my bins to be the same, so they stack nicely.  If you plan on looking for them forget about Staples.

Email associated with a comment.  Here's a link to a blog that does a nice job of describing how to attach your email to your comments on blogger.

Diane was kind enough to send it my way after I mentioned on my last blog that I'm getting questions from folks who don't leave their email addresses.  If you leave comments on blogs, and don't ever get a response, you may want to check out this link.  I'm also fine with folks leaving comments and not passing along their email addresses, I love hearing from everyone regardless.


  1. I have to agree that the more I practice the better I get. I am not always happy with my quilting results, but each time I quilt one of my quilt I learn something new.

  2. This class sounds like it was a very interesting class and you learned quite a lot of info for longarm quilting....always thought it would be nice to try and perhaps in the future.
    Thanks for web site on leaving email addresses and will check it out.Never knew it wasn't there....Thanks ;)

  3. I think the insight that you don't want to do long arm quilting, but rather the parts that you love, was well worth the price of the class. While I envy the quilters that can complete king size quilt after quilt, or have fancy computerized machines, I have no desire to join them. I'd rather use my available time on the parts of quilting I love. Adjusting block patterns, choosing fabrics, piecing by hand or machine, even hand binding are where I get my pleasure from quilting. Faster isn't always better. I just can enjoy the pleasure others get from their work too, without having to do it all myself. Great blog!
    Bev in Western PA

  4. That was so interesting to read. Thanks for sharing your learning with us so we can soak up your learning too! Sounds like a great class!

  5. I am hoping to practice, practice, practice machine quilting on my domestic machine when I retire the end of this year. The long arm intrigues me because of the speed in which you can quilt but I have no desire to spend days doing intricate designs on a long arm and a quilt.. would rather leave that to those who have mastered their craft.

  6. Interesting about the longarm class. A few years ago I took a class on quilting with your regular sewing machine and I had the same reaction you had. The amount of practice required to get to an acceptable (not excellent) level of proficiency was daunting and I just did not enjoy it as much as I enjoy picking out the fabric, deciding on a design, cutting and piecing. I've decided to leave it to the professionals!

  7. Very interesting post. I kind of thought I wanted a longarm when I retired, but the closer I get to that, the less I want one. I'd rather let someone else do what they do best on those big quilts. I do want to get more proficient at Bernina quilting to do the smaller quilts, though. I enjoyed doing the ones I've done -- well, all except the pinning part!

  8. I agree with you. I thought I wanted to learn and the guy demonstrating the frame would keep telling me "loosen up, relax", "relax, loosen up". I enjoy the picking out of fabrics and seeing the block come together too much to work that hard! Also, wanted to mention to you, Bonnie Hunter's blog had pictures of an antique Carolina Lily she saw in Maine while teaching there this week. I thought of you immediately.

  9. I tell everyone that by using the service of a professional Longarm quilter I am contributing to the economy while giving someone the chance to do what they love the most. You MUST love that stage of quiltmaking to do it for a living or even to take the time to do it well..
    Like you, I love the stage where I create the top. Piecing or applique. I love choosing the pattern, reading it forever and figuring out the best way to approach the process (which might not be the way the pattern says). Selecting the fabrics to bring my vision to life, cutting and putting it together...
    I was telling my sister that as I've become more experienced as a quilter I don't go to classes to learn technique, I go mostly for inspiration and the socializing, but I find I always walk away with new knowledge. A tip or an insight to my own techniques or just learning I don't ever want to do that. It's worth every penny.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing what you've seen and learned. We all learn something new from you. While I love the idea of long arm quilting, I don't love the idea of the cost of the machine, or the learning curve to get to where I want to be in skill. I quilt most of my own quilts on my Bernina, and am working on improving and "upgrading" my skills there.

  11. What I have observed is that piecing, appliqueing, and quilting are all very different techniques with their own skill sets. We seem to automatically expect the average quilter to be good at all three. Yes, there are extraordinary people out there who are brilliant at all three skills, however, I don't think that most people need to be. I do a bit of machine quilting on smaller quilts, and I enjoy it, but I don't see myself getting a longarm machine either. Like you, the practice just doesn't excite me like other aspects of quilting.

  12. Thank you for saying this. Better to find out now than after buying one. I have a frame with a short arm machine. I have to force myself to stand there to follow a pantograph. I do have a scrap quilt to do and I'll be trying free motion doodles. Maybe I'll like that more. That being said, if I could find a sure fire way to tightly sandwich a quilt, I'd gladly go back to stitch-in-the-ditch, or something easy.

  13. I'm so glad you learned something. Even though longarm quilting isn't for you, you know what's involved and I think that's important. I've never tried a longarm before. Too chicken. I'm afraid I'll love it. I love doodling with my sewing machine and fabric. But I would think long arm quilting is a whole different animal. Like painting (should really be called prepwork, not painting). I'm sure the prepwork for long arm quilting will be as much trouble. (Hope that makes sense).

  14. I went to AQS show in Springfield for about 5 years. At first I didn't even know what longarm quilting was, but I had a friend who wanted me to go with her. She now has a longarm machine and she lets me "play" on her charity quilts when I want to. It's fun, but not something I'd want to do on my own quilt after all my work of piecing. I think everyone should try their hand at the longarm if given the opportunity - just to see how it feels. And like someone else mentioned, now I can see how much work and skill is put into it.
    Thanks for your comment about the Staples containers. I went to find some and they didn't have any here either. Glad to know where I can now find some.
    Thanks for all your info.

  15. Several years ago I thought I wanted a long arm machine. Not being affordable at the time my husband purchased a short arm with a 12' table from Gammill. I tried quilting several times on it and just absolutely hated the process. My husband decided to try it and he actually liked it. He has very steady hands so he is very good at it. We eventually sold the short arm and purchased a long arm as he was too limited with the short arm. It really works out well at my house..I do the piecing and binding and he does the quilting.

  16. I love quilting on the long arm. I'm no expert and all I do is stipples and loops. Still fun, though.

  17. Sounds like the class was well worth it. It's good to find it what's not for us, as well as what is for us.


I try to respond to all my comments but sometimes I just don't get the job done. Please know that I am reading your comments and appreciate you taking the time to add a little of yourself to my blog.