It’s the Weather

rain clipartI know it sounds like a lame excuse because, regardless of what it is, the weather gets blamed for many things.  “My shoulder hurts every time it rains.”  “My hair gets frizzy when it is humid.”  “Mom, I failed my test.  It was too hot to think!”

Can the Weather Be Blamed for Poor Longarm Stitch Quality?

While there may be some justification and truth to the above statements, to blame poor stitch quality, tension problems, and the machine “doesn’t like me today,” on the weather does sound like a lame excuse.  But, not so fast.  Before we dismiss this as a lame excuse, let’s examine the facts and the science behind it.

A few weeks ago one of our longarm customers contacted me by email wanting help with her Nolting Pro machine.  It normally stitched beautifully without any problems with stitch quality and tension, but had developed problems.  The tension could not be adjusted satisfactorily, and once adjusted, it didn’t stay and within a few inches was bad again.  I replied with the standard list of things to try such as, change the needle, check the thread path, make sure the bobbin area is clean and oiled.  Along with a few other suggestions, Sue did her best, but after several days of trying, nothing worked and we scheduled a time to go check out her “Miss Daisy.”

terrible quilt tension

Really terrible tension!

We arrived on a warm humid afternoon and went to her beautiful new studio.  Armed with all of the tools we might need we checked the tension assembly and decided that the tension spring seemed a little weak and might need adjusting or replacing.  Sue had already purchased a few replacement parts and had one on hand (we had more in our spare parts), so we decided to replace the tension spring.  This repair is easy to do and instructions are found in our book, Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting.  The repair, however, did not completely solve the problem.  Because she complained of a bigger tension problem stitching in one direction, we had her demonstrate.  Immediately I knew it was needle flex, so we also adjusted the timing.  Although there was some improvement, neither of these fixes solved the problem tension issues.  At that point we began talking about the weather.

About the time Sue’s problems started, the weather turned quite hot and humid, and there was a heavy rainfall which even seeped into their basement.  The studio is not in the basement, however, it is in a converted garage.  The floor is raised above the original ground level floor, but in years past, the garage floor would take on moisture.  Having done all we could do and after giving Miss Daisy a checkup, we knew that mechanically she was perfect.  Our prescription was to purchase a dehumidifier.

As Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of The Story”

We do not like leaving a customer with an unsolved issue because it looks like we haven’t done our job.  But, in this case, there was nothing more we could do.  A few days later Sue purchased a dehumidifier.  She called me about three days after starting the dehumidifier running to give me a thumbs-up report.  She was back to quilting and Miss Daisy was working perfectly without making any adjustments.  In fact, the dehumidifier bin had filled several times and she dumped many, many quarts of water pulled out of the air in her studio.  The humidity in the studio the day she started running the dehumidifier was 78% and was now down to about 50%.  The best news, of course, was that she was back to quilting without any problems, without making any adjustments, and could finally work on her customer’s quiet.

Other Similar Experiences

This was not the first time the humidity has been a problem.  Several years ago one of our Canadian customers contacted me with a similar list of complaints.  Yesterday it quilted perfectly, today, nothing but tension problems.  Although she did have a dehumidifier in her basement studio, her husband had turned it off to save on the electric.  They had been having a spell of very hot, humid weather.  I recommended that the dehumidifier be turned back on.  She did and  emailed me several days later that her Nolting machine was stitching perfectly again.

I have also experienced similar issues.  Prior to having my nice studio, my studio was located in the second floor of our Cape Cod house.  There was very little ventilation and it gets quite hot.  Summers here can be humid, too.  On a number of occasions I simply had to quit quilting for awhile until the weather changed.  Nothing I did mechanically or with adjustments corrected the tension problems.  When the weather became more normal, cooler and much less humid, I could go back to quilting with no problem.  (solving other tension problems)

The Science Behind This Type of Tension Problem

Let’s talk about the science now.  Quilts are made of cotton fabric, both the top and the backing.  Often the batting is cotton or a blend of cotton and poly, and very often the thread is cotton.  Cotton is a natural fiber and does take on moisture.  Think of what happens when you are wearing a cotton t-shirt when you are working outside on a hot, humid day.  The t-shirt gets wet from perspiration.  If you hang your laundry outside on a humid day, you will also realize it takes a very long time for it to dry.  The facts are that cotton can take on and hold 40% its weight in water.

OK, but the quilt isn’t wet, or is it?  Science lesson #1.  (I was a high school science teacher – sorry)  Things (like moisture) always move from where there is more of it (the air with high humidity) to where there is less of it (the quilt, batting, thread).  Remember studying osmosis in biology?  Well, probably not.  Never the less, although not osmosis, this is a similar physical phenomena that is happening.  And, even if you are using poly thread, the moisture taken on by the quilt sandwich causes uneven drag on the thread resulting in tension issues.

Science lesson #2.  This transfer (of moisture) will continue to take place until equilibrium is met.  Eventually both the air and quilt would be the same humidity.  This is not likely to happen as it would take a very long time because the body of air is so much larger than the quilt.  However, as long as the quilt is in the humid environment, there will be a subtle increase in the moisture in the quilt sandwich which cause adverse affects on stitch quality.  The illustration below shows how with time the particles in the left side will migrate to the right side until equilibrium is reached with he same number of particles in both sides.

Science lesson #3.  Warm air holds more moisture than cooler air.  As a result, when the temps go up in the summer, that air will be able to hold more moisture.  The relative humidity of 78% at 90 degrees holds much more moisture than the relative humidity of 78% at 70 degrees.  Stated another way, at 90 degrees and 78% humidity, the air is holding 78% or what it could at that temperature.  The key phrase is “at that temperature.”  The higher the temperature, the more moisture it can hold making hot, humid summer days very uncomfortable. The higher the actual level of moisture in the air (because of higher temp) the more moisture transferred to the quilt sandwich.

Solutions to the problem

  1. Forget quilting when the weather is hot and humid, or even normal temperature, but humid.  It is the changing  weather, upper trending temps and humidity that are the problem.
  2. Run the air conditioning making sure it is also dehumidifying the air.
  3. Get a dehumidifier and run it during humid weather.  We always recommend using a dehumidifier in a basement studio.  Basements, regardless of how well they are made will usually be higher humidity.

Conclusion

heat and humidity

If you are uncomfortable with heat and humidity, likely your quiet sandwich is too!!!

Yes, it can be the weather.  Higher humidity conditions can cause poor stitch quality and tension issues.  The tech staff at Nolting Longarm are now realizing that humidity can be a contributing factor.  If you are uncomfortable because of the weather, more than likely your quiet sandwich is too.   As frustrating as it seems, once the quilt sandwich takes on moisture, even though it doesn’t feel wet, quilting may not work and you will simply be frustrated because nothing you do will solve the poor stitch quality.  My best suggestion is to just walk away.  Get a dehumidifier going to pull the excess moisture out of the air, the quilt sandwich and thread.  When the humidity levels return to normal in the studio and quilt, go back to quilting.  Think of the time off from quilting as a mini vacation.  You now have time to go to the beach, visit the museum or park, or, piece another quilt.

 

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Computer Guided Quilting – Is It Cheating?

Certainly computer guided quilting (robotic quilting) is a long way from hand quilting, but is it cheating?  Even in the years since I started quilting a lot has changed, and certainly in the years since when my Grandmother quilted.  The antique quilts I own that go back to the late 1800’s were hand pieced and hand quilted.  The binding on one, however, was put on with machine stitching.  As women in the 1900’s began using their sewing machines for everything, piecing by machine became common, however, quilts were either tied or hand quilted.  I have a lovely old baby quilt from the 1930’s like this.

antique quilts delightful quilting & sewing

Antique Quilts 1880-1930

History of the Longarm

The longarm machine as we know it today was developed by Fred Nolting in the 1980’s.  Displaying his longarm at the Houston Quilt Show, he soon realized that many felt it wasn’t “quilted” unless quilted by hand.  Never the less, Fred was encouraged to go forward with longarm development.  When longarm machines were available, the original Gammill machines were actually made by Fred Nolting.  After Gammill decided to go on his own, Fred Nolting continued to manufacture under the Nolting brand.  Besides being the original longarm, Nolting was the first to offer stitch regulation.    Since those days, of course, machine quilting, either on a home machine or a longarm, has become a perfectly acceptable method of quilting.

Nolting NV delightful quilting & sewing

Nolting’s newly released NV model with touch screen tablet operation.

Fast forward into the 21st century and we are seeing mostly machine quilting, home machine, hand guided longarm, or computer guided quilting with very little hand quilting.  Some feel that computer guided quilting is cheating, that all you have to do is program a pattern and press “start.”  They feel it is unfair to compare hand guided quilting, which requires dexterity and skill, to precision computer guided quilting.  I once felt this way, too, but no longer.

Journey To Computer Guided Quilting

My quilting journey began with hand quilting, then machine quilting on my home machine, then longarm quilting on my Nolting Longarm.  I was one of those who felt computer guided quilting was cheating and it was unfair to compare my hand guided quilting to something done with a computer system.

Several years ago, because I am a Nolting Longarm dealer and Nolting releasing a computer guided quilting system, I felt obligated to know how Quiltmagine (Nolting’s computer guided system) worked.  After all, how could I represent a product I knew nothing about.  After installing Quiltmagine on my Nolting machine, I learning how to use it, and have since done an about face on what I thought about computer guided quilting.

computer guided quilting with quiltmagine from Nolting delightful quilting & sewing

Quiltmagine home screen.

Yes, computer guided quilting is precision quilting.  Yes, you can stitch beautiful blocks and pantos. It is interesting because with home machine quilting, hand guided longarm quilting, and computer guided quilting, beautiful quilting depends on the very same thing, pattern or design selection and execution.  It doesn’t matter which quilting method is used, as in all methods, home machine, hand guided, and computer guided, poor pattern or design choices and poorly executed placement and stitching can ruin an otherwise nice quilt.  The bottom line is the skill.  It takes skill, regardless of the method to tastefully choose patterns and to stitch them neatly in the spaces.  So, can you just pick a pattern on the computer (tablet) and press “start?”  NO.

Computer Guided Quilting Is Not Cheating

In my adventure learning how to use Quiltmagine, I learned about placement methods, fill methods, and how to alter the pattern, design, or panto to make it look best in the space.  I had to use all of the same skills I used with hand guided quilting (pattern or design choice and execution), but with the additional challenge of working with a computer program and making it do what I envisioned.  Sometimes that was possible, and sometimes, because the software just can’t do it, it wasn’t possible.

quiltmagine delightful quilting & sewing

Easy block placement with Quiltmagine.

What I have learned about computer guided quilting since those early attempts is that a lot is possible, you need to think like the computer thinks at times, and, if you are up to the challenge, you can go way beyond simple.  I often will quilt patterns and designs that are complex or dense, something I would find difficult, if not impossible to do with hand guided longarm quilting.  I have learned that it is often faster to hand guide some things, like background fills, rather than use computer guided which requires more setup.  I have learned to step out of the of the quilting “box,” too.  Taking a cue from the modern quilting divas, I have learned to not just think of placing patterns in blocks, but to create whole designs in spaces.  Whatever you can dream up and quilt with hand guided is probably possible with computer guided.

quilt delightful quilting & sewing

Joseph’s New Coat, made and custom quilted (Quiltmagine) by Joyce Blowers

About two years ago my business, Delightful Quilting & Sewing, was asked to become a dealer for IntelliQuilter, a well known computer guided system that works with most major longarm brands and models.  Computer guided systems are not all the same and have a wide range of price points and features.  You basically get what you pay for.  If you want to do the fancy stuff, you must pay more.  IntelliQuilter costs more than some of the other systems, but it can also do more.  Since becoming an IQ dealer, my computer guided quilting skills have soared even more because IQ can do more, especially with custom quilting.

Thoughts On Computer Guided Quilting

The bottom line is this.  I love quilting, I enjoyed hand guided quilting and continue to grow those skills, but I love computer guided longarm quilting.  I love the options open to do more, much more than I would have dreamed of doing with hand guided longarm quilting.  And, I love the challenge that comes with working with a computer, that of making it do what I want it to do.

computer guided quilting with intelliquilter delightful quilting & sewing

IntelliQuilter tablet

Is computer guided longarm quilting hard to do?  No.  But it does take time to learn, just like any skill takes time.  Is there a learning curve?  Yes.  When we sell either Quiltmagine or IntelliQuilter, we train and teach our customers in the fundamentals of computer guided quilting, how to place blocks, pantos, how to work with their particular system to get the best results, and so much more.  There are even more online helps through video tutorials.  Is computer guided longarm quilting cheating?  For me, that answer is NO.  Is computer guided longarm quilting fun and rewarding?  YES, YES, YES!!!

More on computer guided longarm quilting.

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The Biggest Learning Curve for Longarm Quilters

One of the joys and satisfaction of longarm quilting is in seeing the end result, a beautifully quilted quilt.  Regardless of the amount of quilting, or the complexity of the quilting, the quilting is like frosting on a cake.  It adds the final touch.  The quilting adds definition to the quilt piecing or creates a whole top design, adds texture and interest to take the quilt top from a piece of fabric to a composition where the piecing and quilting work together complimenting each other.  And, as much as there is to learn to become an excellent quilter, the quilting is not the biggest learning curve.

quilt winnter MQX April 2019

“Featheration 2 Blu” by Lyn Crump, Custom Our Daily Bed category, MQX New England, April 2018

What is the biggest learning curve?

Having worked with new quilters for a number of years teaching them the fundamentals of hand guided quilting, I can say with assurance that almost anyone can become confident with hand guided quilting.  Some have more creativity, savvy, and desire to push their hand guided skills than others who prefer to stick with pantos.  That being said, I would point out that starting with pantos does help the quilter develop muscle memory for the fundamental quilting “moves.” It is a great way for new longarm quilters to become confident in operating their machine, developing muscle memory, and ending up with a nicely quilted quilt.   By far, however, the biggest learning curve for longarm quilters is becoming comfortable adjusting the tension.

quilt, MQX april 2018

“North Country Girl,” by Karen Terrens, shadow trapunto, custom Our Daily bed category, MQX April 2018

Poor tension can be problematic.  Even more, hesitation to touch the tension dial and lack of knowledge on what to look for when adjusting tension is a bigger problem.  That is why, as a Nolting longarm dealer, I spend time working with my new Nolting owners on tension.  When they come for their free class, I have them bring something they recently quilted so I can see how the tension is and work on that, if needed.  When I receive calls for help from Quiltmagine or IQ computer guided system owners, very often tension is also an issue.  I even have quilters stop at my booth at shows with tension questions.  There is no magic solution, wish there was, but there are principles on balanced tension to know and techniques that will work.  And sometimes tension problems can’t be solved by adjusting the tension dial but are the result of other machine or frame issues.  It is a learning curve, but one that must be mastered to achieve excellent quilting results.

How shows look at tension.

I attended MQX New England in Manchester, New Hampshire a few weeks ago.  I went as a participant, not a vendor, which was a real treat.  One of the “classes” I signed up for was “Why Quilts Win, a Private Winning Quilts Tour with Kathy Beltz.”  Kathy is a quilt judge, but did not judge at MQX.  She, however, was in the judging room during the three days of judging.  I found her tour of the show’s winning quilts very informative and extremely interesting.  MQX is a juried show, every quilt is judged on a numerical scale of twelve criteria, each worth a total of 10 points.  Ribbons and prizes are awarded based on the score.  The judges work together on each quilt during the judging process.

Walking tour of winning quilts by Kathie Beltz, a Studio 180 instructor, teacher and judge. It was very interesting to learn more about the judging process and criteria used for judging. It is a 120 point score.

Posted by Delightful Quilting & Sewing on Thursday, April 12, 2018

Kathy began our walking tour by telling us what the twelve judging criteria for MQX are.  Besides those you would think that included composition, use of color, and other things relating to the visual impact of the quilt, binding is a category.  That’s right, a whole category just for binding.  The binding is a frame and  really important, it is not something to just cover the raw edge.  Because MQX is a machine quilting expo, about two thirds of the judging criteria are on the machine quilting.  Choice of thread, how the quilting enhances the quilt piecing or quilt design, and tension are three of the seven “quilting” categories.  Yes, a whole category just for tension.  Judges look at this with a critical eye.  They look at the front and the back of the quilt.  Tension must be perfect to achieve a high score in this category.

Kathie Beltz, MQX april 2018

Kathie Beltz, walking tour of winning quilts, MQX April 2018
Quilt: “Diamond Effervescence” by Beth Nufer, Custom Our Daily Bed catefory

Why is tension a problem?

The question is, why is tension the biggest learning curve for longarm quilters?  It has to do with the variables each quilt project presents.  The combination of fabrics, cottons, batiks, thread count, printing or dying method, the type of batting used, the backing fabric, thread, and even the weather are all factors.  Even quilting with a computer guided systems throws another factor into the mix.  Each plays a part in the overall equation and every quilt is a different combination of those factors.  Because these factors are changing with each quilt, there is no one perfect tension setting.  Quilters must understand what excellent tension looks like and become comfortable in adjusting the tension on every quilt.

A longarm quilter should not be discouraged when presented with tension issues because they will occur.  In fact, they should take it as an opportunity to become educated on tension and the techniques used with longarm machines to manage tension properly.

This blog has addressed the issue of tension a number of times.  Please use the links below for help to learn more about longarm tension.

See these blogs for more information on tension.

Not All Tension Problems Can Be Solved By Adjusting The Tension

Yikes! Terrible Tension – What Do I Do?

Is Perfect Longarm Tension Possible?

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The Enjoyment of Quilting Really Lovely Quilts

Taking in a customer quilt a few days ago, I was reminded once again why quilting for others is enjoyable.  Certainly not everything about quilting for others is enjoyable, such as those wonky quilts or quilts with wavy borders.  But, I do have the opportunity to quilt some really lovely quilts.  Quilts I would never think of or have the time to make.  Quilts made of fabrics that are over the top beautiful, fun, or even from another part of the world.

The most recent quilt was made by the Mom of a student I had a number of years ago when I was teaching high school science.  When she called the other day to make her appointment I never gave her name a second thought, that is, until just before she arrived.  Then I began wondering if she was who I though she was.  It was a pleasure to see Carol again, find out how the family was doing and where her son was today.  As teachers we remember our students as they were as kids.  It is often hard to picture these kids as grown up adults, off on their own, working, married and with children of their own.

Carol’s African Theme Quilt

Carol’s quilt is interesting, made for her daughter-in-law with fabrics her daughter-in-law purchased when she was on a mission trip to Africa.  Although we spent some time talking family, we did finally select an appropriate quilting pattern and thread to compliment the African fabrics.  It will be fun quilting an all over African type pattern and leaving a no-sew zone around the elephant.  The elephant needs custom quilting to emphasize its features.  I enjoy working with my customers and prefer to have their input into pattern design and thread color rather than just have them tell me to do what I want.  After all, it isn’t my quilt.  They should see what they would like.

Carol R quilt top

Quilt made by Carol R.

Interesting and Unique Customer Quilts

Thinking back over customer quilts, there are several that stand out because of the interesting quilt design which gave me the opportunity to quilt using fun techniques like echos, unique borders, fun fills, and even hand guided feathers and fill techniques.  Yes, this is all custom quilting.  And yes, you must charge more for it because it takes more time.

Abby’s quilt was made by a quilt club friend for her granddaughter.  Marcia designed her own applique and did a lovely job making the quilt.  Marcia picked out the wide border quilting pattern, butterflies, along with the thread.  The butterfly border is just a whisper on the quilt so it doesn’t detract from the applique.  The applique areas were lots of fun, echoing around each and filling in the background with fun fills like bubbles and clouds.  Each applique area has a different background fill.

Another friend I have known for many years made an applique quilt for her granddaughter, too.  This one, however, had very large applique flowers nearly 12″ across.  Patty’s instructions were no quilting over the flowers.  Again, echo around the flowers.  But, because of the large size, they did need quilting just to keep the quilt layers stabilized.  A spiral was quilted in the center of each with some detail in the petals, enough to hold the quilt together and add interest.  The highly patterned fabrics in the border and center was quilted with an edge-to-edge pattern.

Some quilts are just way too much fun to quilt, like Cindy’s octagon quilt.  This quilt was such a bright, cheerful quilt that she named it “Amusement.”  It needed a lot of fun quilting.  Planning the quilting for Amusement took quite a lot of time and several sketches of the blocks on my tablet using a sketching app before I finally decided on how to quilt the blocks and space between the blocks (sashing).  Cindy’s favorite color is orange, however when I told her I had selected purple to quilt the blocks, she decided on purple thread for everything.

Another more recent quilt, made by Norma, was a wall hanging.  It is a Judy Niemeyer paper pieced pattern with very large leaves in the center.  This quilt has a combination of batik fabrics that are interesting and fun to look at.  The border fabric is especially interesting with bubble filled paisley and, I thought, needed a really fun border treatment.  This quilting was a combination of both computer guided and hand guided quilting.  Although Norma doesn’t like a lot of heavy quilting, or the quilting to be too prominent, she was very happy with the quilting choices.

I am glad to have these interesting customer quilts come through my studio door.  They give me the opportunity to be creative and try different techniques.  It often takes time, sometimes days, to develop a vision for the quilting design I work up.  Once I have a vision, I am ready to get started.  And, depending on how much detail goes into the quilting, it may be several days, or more, before the quilt is finally finished.  For example, I worked on “Amusement” for well over thirty hours, just quilting.

Fortunately most of my customers piece their quilts very well which makes the job of quilting both easier and more enjoyable.  I enjoy the quilting even more when the quilts are interesting, have beautiful or interesting combinations of fabrics, or are unique in some way.  Although I can’t keep any of these beauties, I have enjoyed putting the finishing touches on them.

 

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It Costs WHAT!!!!

When we purchase a product or even consider a quilting class or workshop, we have an idea in our mind what it should cost and we would like to spend.  Of course, we would always like to spend as little as possible.  On the other hand, even when we pay little, we want high quality and value.

Why is it that sewing machines, embroidery machines, longarm machines, and even some classes and workshops cost so much?  Are they really worth that much?

Cost vs Value – Machines

Sewing machines have a very long history going back to 1846 with Elias Howe’s patent ofantique sewing machine the first practical sewing machine.  These machines were revolutionary and a huge improvement over hand stitching.  Can you imagine creating the wardrobe we enjoy today stitching all of those garments by hand?  Or even hand stitching the long dresses worn in the 1800’s? When sewing machines came out, women immediately could see their value.  They were a huge time saver allowing them to be much more productive making more clothing, giving them more time to work on other necessary tasks,or even allowing time to enjoy craft sewing.

Although the first machines were expensive at $300 ($10,000 in today’s money), Merritt Singer perfected the sewing machine and began selling them for $125 ($4,166 in today’s money). Singer offered the very first “buy now and make payments” ever was on any product.  What a novel and savvy business idea so that women could benefit from the use of the sewing machine while paying for it, possibly by making things for others.  Regardless of the cost of the sewing machine, it was worth the purchase because of the value it brought.

Fast forward to today’s sewing machines.  Quality sewing machines have many features that we enjoy, zig-zag stitching which offers many specialty and decorative stitches, needle down, scissors (we do love those!), a longer sewing bed, and more.  Could we do without those features?  Of course, but do we want to do without them?  NO, we love those features because they make our sewing more pleasurable, even easier and more productive.  Sewing machine manufacturers have noticed and designed machines with features we WANT.

How many of us have an embroidery machine, or a sewing machine with an embroidery

Nolting Longarm System with optional light bar

unit?  These machines are not cheap.  In fact, many cost more than most mid-range longarm systems, including the Nolting longarm CLX model I sell.  At quilt shows prospects are often shocked to find out that they could actually purchase a full longarm system (machine and frame) for what they paid for their embroidery sewing machine.  Are these machines and systems just expensive, high mark up, high dollar items, or is there more to the story?

Every product on the market, including sewing machines, embroidery machines, and longarm and computer guided systems have evolved from their simpler and less expensive counterpart, to what we see for sale today.  Over the years there has been a lot of changes, improvements, additions of features, and incorporation of electronic technology replacing mechanical in the product.  The total product costs include design and development, purchasing the raw materials, manufacturing costs, labor, overhead, transportation, and a little profit for manufacturer and seller.  This all add up.  The question is, do we find value and benefit in these improvements?  If the answer is “yes” and we want those improvements, then we must pay the price to have them.  In fact, to be truthful, our machines today are a value.  Based on pricing in the 1800’s converted to today’s dollars, many of these machines would cost between $30,000 and $40,000 for the basics!

Cost vs Value – Classes and Workshops

Now, what about workshops and classes?  A half day longarm hands-on class at a national quilt show will cost $200 or more.  Other classes will cost from $50 to $125.  Why so expensive?  (1) The show must cover its costs, venue, overhead, and profit.  (2) The teacher has expenses that include travel and lodging at the show and he/she expects to earn some money, not just cover expenses.  In fact, for some of these teachers, this is their only income, while others teach in addition to quilting, digitizing, or making show quilts.

Hands on technique workshop at Genesee Valley QuiltFest 2017

When you take any class or workshop, what are you really paying for?  Experience and knowledge.  That teacher has spent a lot of time, often many years, acquiring knowledge, practicing the skills, and developing techniques that they are willing to share with you.  You are actually buying years of experience.  Perhaps with time, a lot of time, you might stumble onto the techniques, and with a lot of practice get sort of good.  But, by taking a class and learning up front what works well, you can shave off years of trial and error and frustration.

Buying Years of Experience

Years ago I owned a carpet cleaning business.  Because my background is in education, naturally I felt learning everything I could about my business would be helpful.  My husband and I took 25 certification courses which were costly, included travel, often long distances to where they were offered, but in the end were the equivalent of a college education.  Because of what we learned, I built a high end, well respected business in our area.  What was more beneficial to my business than even the knowledge and techniques we learned on cleaning and restoration was the value of the experiences shared by our instructors.  We learned so much from our instructors, not only knowledge, but the valuable information they shared on their bad and often costly mistakes.  These were experiences we definitely did not want to repeat.  As a result, we were much smarter and more profitable in business early on because we didn’t make those same mistakes ourselves.

The same is true of the value of classes and workshops for quilters, regardless of the class or workshop.  It may be a class teaching a different technique, hands-on class, computer guided workshop, longarm class, or even an introductory how to use it class.  There is something to be gained from every workshop or class.  When you pay for that class or workshop, you are buying the years of experience of that teacher.  That knowledge and experience took time, often a long time and expense for them to acquire, and it can be valuable to you.

So, how do you justify that expense?  There is value and benefit in everything we learn.  I have always felt that no education is ever wasted.  It may not have immediate benefit, but at some point there is an “aha-ha.” moment and you remember something you learned.  When you think about your investment in your sewing “tools,” your sewing or embroidery machine, your longarm, or computer guided system, the cost of the workshop or class is a relatively small investment in its proper use, techniques that could save time or frustrations, or techniques that could expand your skill, capabilities, creativity and enjoyment.  If you own a business, continuing education can be written off as an expense.  And, regardless of whether you own a business or not, the value of what you learn, may in a very short time, have its own rewards.  A new skill or technique correctly learned will offer its own rewards, and for a business owner, it may very shortly return its value with increased efficiency or a new “service” to offer the customer.

It costs WHAT!!!  Don’t count the cost, look at and count the benefits and value.

 

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Free Motion Quilting Tips

Whether you are free motion quilting at your home machine or at your longarm, the same tips apply.

Overwhelmed by Free Motion Quilting?

quilt by Merilee MacWilliam

Made and quilted by Merilee MacWilliam

Looking at the whole quilt can be intimidating and overwhelming.  It is large, there are many spaces and blocks, and may even have sashing and borders.  Avoid becoming overwhelmed and intimidated by dissecting the whole into small chunks.  Develop a plan looking at the smaller chunks, perhaps just the blocks, then expand outward into the sashing.  Patterns may be stand alone in each space, or you might think out of the box and integrate the block patterns out into the sashing for a different look and secondary pattern.  Think about breaking up the parts within a block with different patterns and fills.  For example, one pattern in star points, another fill type in the corners of the block.

In the quilt above, Merilee placed a larger design within the ray of this star point.  Smaller designs were across the flying geese and in other areas.  A mixture of large scale and smaller scale designs adds interest to the overall appeal of this quilt.

Adding Interest

Looking at a quilts at shows, quilts that stand out have elements that set them apart.  Texture adds dimension and depth to the quilting.  Build a “catalog” of a few texture type patterns to use in spaces, such as borders, sashings and blocks.  Don’t be afraid to mix and match designs for added interest.  For example, use patterns that are flowing and organic along with patterns that are more defined and geometric in shape.  The contrast between these types of patterns adds interest.

In the quilt below, notice how Vickie has taken the “white” space and divided it into block areas which she repeated between each of the star points.  These spaces have the appearance of a “block” with a pattern with both free flowing, organic designs and other more curved defined elements.  It is the mix of defined shapes and background fills that give this very large quilt the pop it needs and why it won Viewer’s Choice. (Genesee Valley QuiltFest, 2015)

free motion quilting

Made and quilted by Vickie Coykendall

Tips for Getting Good at Free Motion Quilting

Getting good at free motion quilting boils down to practice, practice, practice.  Developing muscle memory can only happen when you practice.  But, who wants to practice on the “special” quilt?  The solution is to do small projects, such as table runners, baby quilts, or to volunteer to quilt charity quilts.  These are not large projects, won’t take a lot of time, and offer the opportunity to try many different techniques on a smaller scale (fewer repeats).  Try a variety of patterns, add texture for interest, get creative.  Try different thread colors and see how that affects the overall look and appeal of the quilting.  Experiment without worrying about the outcome.  You will learn a lot about color, contrast, and quilting density, along with getting plenty of practice.  Best of all, these projects won’t take a long time to quilt.

Keys for successful free motion quilting are to relax, stop worrying, and to let your brain take over.  Create a sample of different designs.  Load a practice quilt on the longarm, or baste a quilt sandwich to use at the home machine.  Divide the space up into 6″ x 6″ spaces and fill each space with a different design.  Leah Day has many, many design ideas for this.  Another great resource for quilting ideas is Pintress.  Find what works for you and what you like to quilt.  Save this sample to refer to.  Don’t ever feel that your quilting needs to look like another quilter’s.  Like hand writing, every quilter has their personal style.  Develop your own style.

Finally, you will be the most critical observer.  Others will look at your quilting and love what you have done.

LONGARM TIP

Load several table runners horizontally next to each other on one backing and batting.  It is a time saver and offers many free motion quilting opportunities.

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Buying A Longarm – Five Common Mistakes

When it comes to buying a longarm, there is more to the equation that simply deciding how much to spend.  Purchasing a longarm is a big decision and often a large financial decision.  As a result, it is important to know what is important to avoid these common mistakes.

As a Nolting Longarm dealer, I have helped many quilters by providing accurate information about longarm machines and frames.  Many of these were making a longarm purchase for the first time.  Others, however, very disappointed with their first longarm purchase, were trying to make the right decision this time.  Common problems these quilters experienced were too short a throat, machine did not perform as expected, machine constantly had tension issues, company tech was not responsive, frame flimsy with rollers that distorted (bent), and more.

Mistake #1  Purchasing a “longarm” that has a throat that is too short.

More than once, I have worked with a very disappointed “longarm” owner.  They had purchased a longarm that didn’t really meet their needs.  In fact, many “longarm” owners really own a short arm machine, aka a home machine on a frame with a throat length less that 12 inches.  They had grand thoughts of quilting wonderful pantos and block patterns, but very soon after their purchase realized that they only had about 5-7 inches of quilting space.  It was far less than what is needed to quilt a standard size block or even an ordinary panto.

Every longarm system is set up the same way.  There is a roller called the take-up roller that goes through the arm of the machine and is over top of the throat (see photo below).  This roller must be placed in this location, but takes up valuable quilting space.  As a result, when considering any longarm, subtract at least 5″ from the throat length to determine the amount of quilting space actually available.  If the throat is 12″, the quilting space is only about seven inches.  If the throat is 24″ long, the quilting space is about 19 inches.

Nolting longarm Pro

Measure from needle to inside of arm. Subtract 5″ for size of quilting area.

How much space do you need?  Most quilts have twelve inch blocks.  To quilt the block as one unit without having to advance the quilt, it is necessary to have a little more than twelve inches of space.  If the twelve inch block is turned on-point, it takes at least eighteen inches of space to quilt the on-point block as one unit.

Avoid this mistake by purchasing a “longarm” with a minimum throat of at least 17″ to 18″ and is called a mid-arm machine.  The longer the throat the better to provide adequate space to quilt normal size blocks and pantographs that are 9″ to 13″ wide.  A quilting machine is called a longarm when the throat is 18′ or longer.

Mistake #2  Purchasing a frame that is not long enough for the quilt width.

Cost effective (Inexpensive) “longarm” systems are usually sold with a ten foot frame, sometimes wood, sometimes metal.  Quilts are often large.  A typical queen size quilt is around 90″ x 100″.  To quilt a queen, you need at least a ten foot long frame.  If you quilt a super queen or king, a twelve foot frame is necessary.  And, even though the frame may be ten feel long, you are not able to use all ten feet for quilting.  The machine is on a carriage which is typically ten inches wide or wider.  Taking this into consideration, you need to subtract about about one foot from the length of any frame to determine the actual quilting space.

Nolting longarm

Nolting machine and carriage on Nolting frame.

In addition, the backing and batting needs to be a total of eight to ten inches wider than the quilt top to attach the side stabilizing clamps to.  This extra space is necessary to keep the throat of the machine from bumping into the clamps during quilting.  As a result, a few more inches are lost from the actual quilting space.

Nolting longarm

Notice batting and backing extending beyond the sides of the quilt.  About 4 to 5 inches extra on each side. 

A twelve foot frame is 144 inches long (outside measurements).  Subtract four inches for the ends of the frame plus twelve inches lost due to carriage width and you only have 128 inches for loading the quilt sandwich.  King quilts are about 120 inches wide (only 8 inches to spare).  Do the same math for a ten foot frame.  120″ minus 4″ for the frame ends and 12″ for the carriage leaves 106 inches for the quilt, just enough extra space to load a queen quilt.

Avoid this mistake by knowing how long a frame you need to quilt the quilts you are making, or will be taking in if you plan on a longarm business.

Mistake #3  Buying a frame that is flimsy or poorly constructed.

I realize that others may not have the same background as I do in recognizing a well built frame.  However, there are a few little tests anyone can do, along with a few questions to ask to determine the quality and strength of any frame.

Longarm frames are not all created equal.  In fact, there are big differences in the construction of frames.  Besides the physical length of the frame, take a good look at the construction of the frame.  Is it sturdy, or does it wobble or move if you try shaking the ends or rollers?  Can you lean on it without it tipping over or caving in?  Does it need a center support or is it clear span from one end to the other (clear span is an indication of better design)?  Are the rollers sturdy, or do they bend easily?

Frame Questions to ask:

  • Is the frame height adjustable?  Find out how it is adjusted and how high or low it will go.  Remember that any frame with a center post is much more difficult to adjust to make it level or change the height.
  • Are leaders included with the purchase and what kind of material are they made of?  Thicker canvas leaders are best as they do not stretch and retain their shape for many years.
  • If you decide to trade in the machine for a newer, larger model, will it work on the current frame?
  • Will this frame work if I decide to add a computer guided system?

Avoid this mistake by purchasing a frame that is solidly build, preferably out of steel, without a center post, and one that can be used in the future as you upgrade machines or add a computer guided system.  I often tell customers, invest in a really good frame and, if necessary, buy an entry level machine with the idea of trading up later on.  A really good frame is like the “good bones” of a well built house.  Putting a top of the line machine on a poor quality frame will not produce top quality quilting.  Frames that wiggle and jiggle, have rollers that bend and bulky plastic gears will not adequately support the quilt or machine and will compromise the quilting results.

Mistake #4  Purchasing a machine that requires regular dealer or factory servicing or is hard to take care of.

Several years ago when we were looking for a longarm we attended a large quilt show where we were able to check out all of the major longarm brands.  We had a list of questions that we asked each manufacturer.  Because my husband’s career was machining, fabrication, and machine maintenance (among other things), he wanted to know how much maintenance the longarm would require.  We learned a lot about the various brands with this one question, “What kind of maintenance is required by the owner or dealer.”  We discovered that some machines required a diaper to catch oil dripping from the machine, another machine had to go back to the dealer or factory every year for service, and another had to be split in half and packed with grease every six months.  We felt that none of this had any place around my quilts and steered clear of these brands.  We selected Nolting which never needs to go to a dealer or factory for regular service, and is very simple for the owner to take care of with only four spots to place one drop of oil every eight hours of quilting.  What could be easier than this?  We did learn that the bobbin hook area on all brands does need oil every two or three bobbins.  Some bobbin areas were a little harder to access than we found on the Nolting.

Avoid this mistake by choosing a longarm brand that is easy to maintain and won’t present a problem with stray oil or grease.

Mistake #5  Purchasing a longarm system that you have to set up yourself.

A longarm system is not quite like a “plug and play” device.  Sometimes even those need more expertise to install properly.  A longarm system includes an over sized sewing machine on a carriage which is on a frame.  This is precision equipment and requires adjustments to make sure they will work best.  The frame needs to be level, the machine axles might need adjustment to make sure there is correct contact with the track as well as other adjustments to fine tune the setup for optimum quilting.  You may think you are saving money by installing your longarm system yourself, however, dealers are experienced in setup and adjustment and have learned through dealer training and experience how to fine tune a system.

Avoid this mistake by purchasing from a dealer and have the dealer install the longarm system.  I realize that some quilters live in very remote areas, or in countries where there is no dealer and may have no option except to set up the longarm system on their own.  My advice for them would be to be even more carefully to choose a longarm machine that doesn’t require regular service and does have excellent, responsive factory tech support.  My experience with Nolting is that they fit this description perfectly.

Final Decision

Although the photos are of Nolting machines, deciding on which longarm to purchase is really answering a series of questions about what you really need.  If you purchase a shorter throat machine or a shorter frame than you really need, you are compromising and may soon be disappointed with your purchase.

Other very important considerations with any longarm purchase:

  • Who will trouble shoot and help when there is a problem?
  • Who will train you to use the longarm?
  • Listen to what other longarm owners are saying about their system.  Are they happy with it?  Have they had problems and if so, how was it resolved?  Did the machine and frame perform as they had expected or were there problems?  Did they wish they had made another choice?
  • Listen to what other longarm owners are saying about their longarm company and dealer.  Positive or negative comments?

“Determine” what to purchase.

Although the cost of a longarm is a consideration, I have purposely not included that in this discussion.  Unfortunately I have seen many longarm owners spend too much on an inferior system that really didn’t meet their needs.  Instead of an emotional longarm purchase decision, they should have started with these five “determine” thoughts that could have saved them money along with the regrets of a poor purchase.

  1. Determine the throat length needed for the blocks and pantos you plan to quilt.
  2. Determine the frame length needed for the size quilts you plan to quilt.
  3. Determine to purchase a frame that is strong, sturdy, can be used if/when you upgrade the machine or add a computer guided system, and that comes with everything needed, such as high quality leaders.
  4. Determine to purchase a machine that is easy to take care of without needing regular dealer or factory services.
  5. Determine to purchase from a dealer that will set up the system and train you in how to use it.

Once you have made these determinations, know your budget and start sifting through the longarm brands to find what matches your criteria for purchase.  Start your research on line, ask other longarm owners the questions above, and go to large and small shows to try different makes and models and ask many questions (above suggestions).  Don’t compromise and settle for less than you really need.  You might be surprised to find that you decide to purchase something different than you originally thought, but your decision will be made starting with a search for what you really need and what is right for you.

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It’s The Little Things That Really Count

I recently taught longarm quilting and computer guided classes two days in Iowa. The thought occurred to me during one of the classes that what I was trying to get across was that successful quilting is the result of doing many little things right. Quilters often wonder why the quilt is a little askew, the blocks are not quite square, the panto isn’t quite straight, or the tension is not quite right. The results they had hoped for were not quite there.

What are the little things that count? After careful thought, here is my top 10 list of things to pay attention to for an outstanding quilt.

  1. Choose quality fabric for both top and backing. Yes, there is a difference in fabric. You do get what you pay for. I prefer to prewash my fabric tossing in a color catcher to capture any fugitive dyes. I don’t like finding dyes bleeding and even color fast fabrics may have a little color loss in the wash. The color catcher captures the dyes keeping them from migrating and attaching to the fabric in other locations.
  2. Besides careful piecing using a consistent 1/4 inch seam allowance, trim subunits and blocks to size before piecing into the next larger unit. Because I like to trim, I always cut patches slightly oversize. In fact, I use Studio 180 cutting rulers that start with a slightly oversize measurements to allow for trimming to size. The subunits and blocks come out perfectly sized, points in tact and look awesome when sewed into the quilt.

    careful piecing

    Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design’s Wing Clipper ruler.

  3. Learn the correct way to add borders to a quilt top. Borders when properly applied will “square up” the quilt. Both top and bottom border should be cut the same length, even if the length of the top and bottom of the quilt are not quite the same measurement. Ease in any fullness, but always cut the borders the same length. The same is true for the side borders. Cut both of them the same length. Ease in any fullness. Sew top and border together with the fullest one on the bottom where the feed dogs gently pull the fullness evening it out for a perfect look.
  4. Spend the few extra minutes it takes to load the quilt correctly on the longarm frame. Always square up the top and bottom of the backing piece so that the backing is square. If you try loading backing with an uneven top and/or bottom, scoops of backing may develop on the sides of the backing, which when quilted may pleat the backing. Even with squaring the top and bottom of the backing, it is best to roll and smooth the backing onto the take up roller, then, transfer the backing from the take up roller to the belly bar roller holding onto both rollers keeping tension on the backing.  Stop rolling periodically to smooth out any little wrinkles in the backing as it rolls onto the belly bar roller.

    loading a quilt

    Transferring quilt backing from take up roller to belly bar roller keeping tension on the backing.

  5. Use quality batting. Quality batting has a consistent thickness throughout and has nice even edges that are not warped. The batting is very important in the quilt, not only as a filler between the top and backing, but it provides the place for the top and bobbin thread to meet when the knot is formed. When batting is poor quality with thick in places and thin in other places, it is impossible for the tension to be adjusted to create a perfect stitch every time.  In places where the batting is very thin, there is no hiding place for the knot to form resulting in what looks like poor tension with the top thread pulled to the bottom or the bobbin thread pulled to the top. You only cheat yourself by using poor quality batting.
  6. Open the batting and let it relax for a few hours before using it. If that is not possible, put the batting into the dryer on the no heat cycle for about 10 minutes to fluff it up and help remove the folds.
  7. Baste the batting to the backing with the vertical channel lock engaged to create a basting line that is perfectly parallel to the rollers. Use this basting line as a placement line for placing the top. Your quilt can’t possible end up square if you don’t load it square with the frame.
  8. Center the quilt top with the center of the frame.  Use a zero center tape mounted on the frame to reference when loading the quilt and each time the quilt is advanced to keep the quilt top tracking squarely centered on the frame. The quilt top should be smooth, but never distorted or pushed to one side or the other and the sides always kept at the designated measurement regardless of variances in width of the quilt.

    zero center tape

    Using a zero center tape to keep the quilt top square with the frame.

  9. Train your eyes and your fingers to recognize quality tension. You should see defined stitches, not the thread as a flat line or pokes of the bobbin thread on top or top thread on the bottom. Your fingers should feel the thread pulling into the batting on both the top and bottom. Physically check the tension by looking at the stitching, especially on the bottom if you are not sure.

    quilt sample

    Flat line thread and “pokies” where the batting is very thin.

  10. Use thread that is engineered for machine quilting.  Machine quilting thread is stronger and designed to work at the higher speeds longarm quilting machines
    quilting thread

    Quality machine quilting thread available in a wide array of colors and sizes.

    operate.  Machine quilting threads come in all weights, #, and TEX, fiber content, and a huge selection of colors.  Yes, it is a little more expensive than regular sewing thread, but the total cost per quilt would only be from a few cents to a few dollars more.  Don’t forget the machine needle.  Size the needle to the thread.  It is the groove that carries the thread below the quilt where the top thread loop can be picked up by the hook and bobbin thread.  If the groove is too small, tension problems result.

Are there more?  Yes. Each of these might seem like such a little thing.  But the sum total of the little things done right result in an all over top quality quilt.  Just think about it.  If you purchased a new car that had just a few little things not quite right would you be happy with the product?  It’s only one tire that is just a little out of round, a little scratch in the door paint, one tail light that is dim, the cup holder not quite large enough, and a little stain on the seat.

Resolve to do the little things.  You will be happy you did.

 

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Not All Tension Problems Can Be Solved By Adjusting The Tension

As a Nolting Longarm dealer, I have received many calls over the years for longarm help and advice.  The calls can be broken down into two categories, (1) mechanical, such as broken needle, timing, or frame problem, and (2) stitch quality and quilting problems.  Tension issues seem to top the list over all.

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are many situations where adjusting the

bobbin and top tension will NOT solve the problem.  In other words, when there “seems” to be a tension issue, there can be one of a number of other reasons causing the tension to be unbalanced.  When you find that adjusting the bobbin and/or top tension are not helping, then you need to look further to see what the real reason is for the poor tension.  Here is a check list of some common issues that can cause poor tension.  Some of these can be corrected by adjusting the bobbin or top tension, but for most of these, the problem must be corrected.

What is good tension versus poor tension.  Good tension is when the top and bobbin

thread tension

Thread Tension

thread form the stitch in the middle creating a balanced stitch.  When quilting, this is in the batting.  Poor tension is defined as an unbalanced stitch with either the top thread or bottom thread laying on the fabric surface or railroading.  Railroading is when the top thread is pulled below the backing or the bobbin thread is pulled through to the top of the quilt.  Poor tension never looks good and can even be felt with the fingers.  The flat line thread can be felt, and railroading feels bumpy.  When the tension is balanced, both the top thread and bobbin thread will pull slightly into the batting giving the quilt texture.  The fingers feel a slight indent in the backing and top and the thread feels smooth.

Tension Check List – What To Check To Correct Poor Tension

Poor quality batting.  Regardless of what you pay for batting, if the batting is inconsistent in thickness, you are asking for problems.  Batting that is inconsistent in thickness will be thick in places and very thin in places.  In the thin areas of this type of batting, there simply is no place for the top and bottom thread to form a stitch.  As a result, the stitch is pulled to either the top or bottom of the quilt.

To prove this point, I stitched a side by side sample using Quilter’s Dream select cotton

Sample testing tension of two different battings.

next to a poly (unknown brand) that varied in thickness from very puffy to so thin you could see your finger prints.  I FMQed (free motion quilted) feathers and other designs across the sample without making any tension adjustments.  Results: The tension was perfect on the Quilter’s Dream batting top and backing, but varied from acceptable to poor to unacceptable on the inconsistent thickness poly.  In poor places the thread laid on the top of the fabric and in unacceptable places there was railroading (the top thread totally pulled to the bottom).

Purchasing the best quality, same consistent thickness batting is a small investment to make to assure quality stitching, a quality quilting job, and time spent without frustration trying to constantly make tension adjustments.

Poly batting (left) very thin, Quilter’s Dream (right) consistently same thickness.

Nice even, well defined stitching on the Quilter’s Dream consistently same thickness batting.

Poly sample with railroading (see pokes of top thread), flat line thread laying on fabric, and a few places where the stitches are sell defined. With inconsistent thickness batting, tension changes quickly from good to bad.

Needle.  The machine needle is a very important part of a successful quilting equation as poor tension can result from a number of needle issues.

  1. Using the wrong type of needle.  Have you experienced tension or inconsistent tension problems when quilting batik, especially when batik is on both the top and backing?  We now recommend using a ballpoint needle when quilting batik fabric. Because most batik fabrics have a higher thread count, it is harder for the needle to pierce the fabric to deliver the top thread to the correct spot to make a balanced stitch.  The ballpoint needle for longarm machines (different than the ballpoint for sewing knits on home machines), has a slightly rounded point that pushes the fibers apart making penetration better and placing the top thread correctly to make a stitch.  Groz-Beckert makes a needle with a “light ball” point that is suitable for woven cotton fabrics.  The Groz-Beckert ballpoint packages are labeled with

    “light ballpoint” needles from Groz-Beckert. Look for FFG on package.

    “FFG”, the needles are titanium coated, and are SAN 11.  (these work with Nolting L and M hook machines) To avoid damage to your longarm, make sure the numbers match the needles required for your machine.

  2. Needle incorrectly inserted in the machine.  For a perfect stitch to form, the hook point must pass behind the needle in the scarf (indentation) to pick up the top thread loop as the needle starts pulling up.  If the needle is inserted backwards (will likely hear clicking), or turned slightly to the left or right, the thread loop will not be in the correct spot to be picked up by the hook, or will be picked up too soon, or too late, causing the tension problem.
  3. Dull needle or damaged needle.  Needles do wear out.  In fact, the point on them wears down much faster than you would think.  I have often solved a tension problem by simply changing the needle.  The reason is that a dull needle has trouble penetrating the fabric resulting in a delay in delivering the top thread at the optimum time for a balanced stitch.  Always change the needle every 8 hours of quilting.  Remember, too, that even a new needle might be defective.  If you are experiencing problems, replace the needle.
  4. Needle too small for thread.  A needle that is too small for the thread being used does not have a deep enough groove on the front of the needle to carry the thread through the quilt sandwich.  As a result, there is a delay, or even non delivery of enough thread to make the loop.  When the thread loop is not picked up at the right moment, the thread tension will not look right.  It is always better to over size the needle rather than undersize the needle.  Yes, the slightly larger needle will leave a little larger hole, but the holes will close up.  The higher the number on the package, the larger the needle and the larger (wider and deeper) the groove.

Top thread caught.  If “all of a sudden” there is a change to terrible tension, look for a problem with the thread path or thread delivery from the bobbin.  Once in awhile the top thread will spin off the cone so fast that a loop of it will get caught some place.  Recently this happened to me.  When the tension changed and the bobbin thread was visible on the top, I started tweaking the top tension, but the tension problem did not go away.  When I checked the thread path I found the top thread looped around the three-hole thread guide above the tension assembly.  Rule of thumb, always look for something obvious when tension changes “all of a sudden.”

Quilt sandwich too tight on the frame.  Remember that the machine is constantly moving in different directions as you quilt.  It does not stop moving as each stitch is made.  As a result, the needle will flex as it is going up and down through the quilt sandwich.  If the quilt is loaded too tight on the frame, there is more needle flex displacing the position of the top thread loop, often causing what appears to be a tension problem.  Loosen the quilt roller on the frame one or two cogs.  You should be able to see the throat of the machine moving under the quilt.

Quilting too fast.  Just because we can make our longarm machines go fast doesn’t mean we should.  Do you rush your brownies baking in the oven 10 minutes instead of 25?  It takes time for the brownies to bake to the right doneness.  The same is true for quilting.  The faster you go, the more needle flex and the more likely there will be what looks like tension problems.  Slow down and enjoy the journey.

Thread quality.  Poor quality thread and thread not designed for machine quilting can be weak, inconsistent in thickness, have slubs, or even be knotted part way through the cone.  Using poor quality thread or thread not meant for machine quilting could result in thread breakage which can cause broken needles, scratches to the hook and pricks in or around the needle hole from a broken needle, and could even knock the machine out of timing.  This is in addition to the thread not performing causing what looks like a tension problem.  Always select thread that is labeled for machine or longarm quilting.  These threads are designed with extra strength for the rigors of machine movement as well as running through the machine and stitching three layers together.

Type of batting and thread.  Battings and threads are made from different types of fibers.  Some battings and threads are more abrasive than others.  This wears on the needle eye and point and can result in needle penetration problems and poor stitch quality.  Realize that every quilt is a different set of variables.  With each quilt project, start fresh with a new needle sized for the thread being used.  Sometimes a particular thread will be more difficult to use with some battings, causing the thread to “drag” creating tension problems.  If the particular thread combination (top and bobbin) is not working with the quilt sandwich, try a different thread.

The weather.  Do you have more tension problems quilting in the summer than during the winter?  It could be the humidity.  Cotton can absorb up to 40% its weight in moisture, right from the air.  The quilt top and backing is usually cotton, the batting is often cotton, as wellas the thread.  As the temperature outside and inside goes up, the air can hold more moisture and the relative humidity goes up.  The science principle of substances moving from where there is more to less holds true here.  The moisture in the higher moisture air moves to the lower moisture cotton fabric, batting and thread.  As the cotton absorbs moisture, the fibers swell.  Thread may not flow as easily through the machine or needle eye and the fabric and batting may resist the stitching, all of which may cause what looks like tension problems.

Solution: Keep batting in the package until ready to use.  Fluff it up in the dryer on no heat.  Run a dehumidifier, especially if your studio is in a basement, or run the air conditioning which typically removes moisture from the air.  If you had no problems yesterday and today everything is the same with the same quilt and same thread, but the tension is terrible, run the dehumidifier or air conditioner, wait a day or two, then try again.  When the humidity goes back down, everything will work better.  I have experienced this problem as have other quilters.  If you are feeling uncomfortable from the humidity, your quilt is, too.

Tension problems can be very frustrating.  Even becoming comfortable adjusting the bobbin and top tension can take time.  It is important to realize that there are many factors that can affect the creation of the perfect balanced stitch.  The next time you run into a tension problem and adjusting the bobbin or top tension doesn’t work, take time to go through this list and analyze what might be causing the problem.

 

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself – We All Start At The Same Place

I was cleaning out a notebook that was turned in with a traded in longarm machine recently.  Nearly everything had something to do with the machine, maintenance, how to use it, our troubleshooting issues.  There was one paper, however, I came across that I decided to keep because it reminded me of where I was a few years ago when I first started to longarm quilt.  It was the same place that all longarm quilters start, at the beginning.  Below is the content of that page written by Carrie Dugan in 2004.

Beginning Longarm Quilter Oath and Rules

Please remember these things when you get your longarm machine and start quilting.

  1. When I was learning to tie my shoes, I made a knot.
  2. When I was learning to write, no one could read it.
  3. When I was learning to ride a bike, I fell off.
  4. When I was learning to cook, I burnt the dish.
  5. When I was learning to drive, I landed in a ditch.
  6. When I was learning to piece a quilt, my seams were not always 1/4 inch.

I will repeat the Beginners Longarm Oath Each Day for the Next 3 Months. (or longer if I need to)

  1. I am learning, so, it is OK if I make mistakes.
  2. I am learning, so, NO Longarm Quilting Police will be at my door for at least 1 year.
  3. I am learning, so, my circles may look like squares.
  4. I am learning so, my feathers may look like chicken scratch.
  5. I am learning, so, my quilts may not turn out square.
  6. I am learning, so, my threads may break, I will figure out how to adjust my tension.
  7. I am learning, so, my pantos may not line up correctly.
  8. I am learning, so, my quilt may not win an award.

I am learning!!

I will Practice!!

I will improve!!

I am having fun learning.  I will become a confident and proficient longarm quilter.  It will take practice, practice, practice and more practice.  I will be patient and not hard on myself.  I will love the process.  I will reach my goals.  I will be happy with the rewards.

!!!I will become an excellent longarm quilter!!!

Learn, practice, and you will improve.  Take classes, read books, watch videos and practice some more.  You will improve.  Perfection comes with time and experience.  None of us are born with experience, we all travel the same road to become confident and proficient.  Have fun and enjoy the journey.  Thank you Carrie for this important reminder.

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