For many years after I began longarm quilting (2005!!!) I did nothing but hand-guided custom quilting or hand-guided edge-to-edge quilting – usually a flurry of feathers. I never had the desire to follow a paper pantograph but sometimes I wished I could do some of the designs – especially theme designs like animals, sports, etc that can be found with pantographs. So a few years ago I took the plunge and purchased a computer-assisted system. These are robotics that can be wired into your longarm and run it much like a computerized scrollsaw can cut wood. The sky is the limit with what these systems can do…you just have to have the computer tech savvy and the desire to learn learn learn. My desire is limited (for the time being) to edge-to-edge quilting. The computer system can do it efficiently and accurately and there are literally thousands of patterns you can purchase and download. My goal was to give my body a rest and to give my clients choices……in patterns, in budget, etc. They can have their special quilts (for show, weddings, etc) custom quilted and the other ones quilted with a beautiful edge-to-edge pattern. I’m happy – they are happy. And it has worked out very well.
But sometimes I get the “but don’t you just push a button and walk away?” question. Meaning – boy you have it easy anymore. So….I’m going to share some of my latest computer assisted quilting projects and talk a bit about what this process entails.
To begin with the longarm quilter (that would be moi!) still has to load the backing, batting, and quilt top. I have to make sure the backing is square and loaded smoothly. Same with the batting and the top. I always measure the top before loading it but then I use my long centering tape that goes clear across the frame and the top to get an exact horizontal measurement.
After the backing, batting, and top are loaded then I have to decide on a pattern. I look to the piecing and the fabric for clues for a theme…floral? feathers? sports? masculine? for a child? Once the pattern is selected it has to be downloaded into the quilting program. Then I have to set it up for the width of the quilt – selecting a size, figuring out the repeats. The same for how many passes it will take to quilt all the way down the quilt. I take into account the size of the piecing, etc as the scale of your quilting pattern needs to complement the scale of the blocks in the quilt. And finally I select the thread for the quilt. Then I move the sewing head to the correct spot and yes, I hit a button (or two or three – it all depends). The machine starts sewing and the computer system moves the machine across the quilt.
When the row/pass is complete – the computer tells the machine to stop. And then I have to bring up and clip the threads. Advance the quilt forward. And set up for the next row. Sometimes that is pretty straight forward – but many patterns do something called nesting – which makes them more interesting but also a bit tricky to set up for the next pass.
And even while the machine is sewing and the computer is moving it you still have to stay vigilant. My system does not have a thread break or out of bobbin alarm. But a trained ear can hear when it is sewing but there is no thread. I can “walk away” but not very far. More than once I have not caught an open seam in the quilt top and of course the hopping foot gets caught up under. Then I hear the screech of the fail mode. Makes my heart drop to my stomach. That doesn’t happen as often as I’m pretty good about checking for those open seams now. Some of the newer machines have a cupped foot available which won’t get caught in an open seam or on the edge of the quilt. But I retrofitted my older machine and I don’t have that luxury.
Now that you know I’m not just sitting and watching TV and popping bon-bons while your quilt gets quilted – enjoy the eye candy of these computer assisted quilts. Not every quilt needs custom quilting and these quilts are proof positive that edge-to-edge quilting can be beautiful.