Amy Wade is our resident long-arm quilter and owner of Amy Wade Originals. In her periodical “Quilty by Association” posts, she gives us a peek into the long-arm world and shares her tips and tools of the trade. Hi, Amy!
Before I started my long-arm quilting journey, I will admit to being intimidated with the process of preparing my quilt to be quilted. I didn’t understand how a quilt gets quilted by a long-arm machine, and it seemed like such a huge effort. But after loading dozens and dozens of quilts, I will tell you that there are definitely ways to make your long-arm quilter happy—and a happy LAQ (long-arm quilter) can do so much more than a grumpy one. If you could hire a sous chef to prepare all your ingredients before you began cooking tonight’s dinner, you might be more inclined to truly concentrate only on the cooking process. (Run that one past your partner!)
First up, accuracy. While you may believe that you have completed a perfectly square and perfectly pieced top, you very likely haven’t. And that is more than okay: you’ve finished it! Squaring up your back and your top is probably the most important thing to try to achieve before handing your quilt over. Besides the obvious, why? The top, batting and backing are aligned on rails that are perfectly parallel for the long arm quilting process. The machine only has a certain amount of “throat” space; therefore, your quilt will be rolled on the rails as it is quilted. Keeping an even surface will result in a well-balanced finished top. Some LAQs will baste the entire quilt once it is on the rails and others will float tops. Either way, a squared up top and back are crucial. Do this by using a large square ruler and extended (36” or more) straight edge on a large table or hard surface (not carpet!). As you are squaring up your quilt, be careful that your borders, if you have them, are not wavy. Wavy borders can cause overlap or puckering in the fabric when quilted. If your borders are wavy, figure out why before taking it to the LAQ. Quilting will never improve wavy borders; it will only enhance this design challenge.
A few small details about your backing might not seem that important, but they could ultimately challenge your enthusiasm for the finished masterpiece. Make sure to seam all backing parallel to the quilt top and the bottom edges. If the seams are horizontal, there is a possibility that the back fabric will stretch and distort when it is loaded onto the quilting table.
For most fabric lovers, it is hard to imagine why you need to make sure the backing is at least 4” larger than your quilt top on each side. Isn’t this wasting fabric? Until I long-arm quilted, it felt like it was. Ultimately, though, your quilter needs the extra space to balance the quilt, allow for shrinkage, and also to have space on the sides to check needle tensions. There are clamps that hold the back’s vertical edges steady and although there are tricks that the LAQ has for minimizing the weight of these, there still needs to be some extra fabric on the back to help. As for the extra fabric on the top and bottom, something needs to be able to be pinned to the rails!
Also be sure to press your top and backing, because it is realistic to expect to pay added charges if the quilter needs to take the time to press for you. Seams should not be pressed open on the back. A sturdier, longer lasting quilt will have seams pressed to one side. This will lock the fabric better and generally give your finished quilt a longer life. A pressed open seam opens the door for a single point of tearing in that stitched seam.
When all of this has been achieved and you are getting ready to head over to the LAQ, you are going to fold your top and back, right? Well, folding it accordion style and hanging both of them over a padded hanger just might have your LAQ weeping with joy. I guarantee I would probably throw in a jig or hug or something equally embarrassing! Last but by no means least, be sure to indicate the direction of your quilt. Pin a piece of paper to the top left edge of both the quilt top and the backing. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! Directional quilting can really enhance your piece work.
These are steps that I appreciate when I receive a quilt from a client. It gives me more confidence and allows me to focus on design. And speaking of design and design choice, that will be another post! But until then, make sure to communicate, communicate, communicate with your LAQ about your likes and dislikes. No mind reading allowed!