Border Options with Robotic (Computer Guided) Quilting

Quilting edge-to-edge designs or blocks with robotic (computer guided) quilting is relatively easy to accomplish.  Creating a “custom” border treatment can be accomplished, but it is necessary to think out of the box.  We tend to think of stitching borders like we did when hand quilting or quilting on the home sewing machine.  For best results with a longarm, we need to begin thinking out of the box, diving the space into smaller, manageable stitching areas, or using techniques that achieve the results with less effort.

Most robotic software gives you the option of rotating and flipping which can help in designing and executing border treatments.  Here are a few ideas to try.  If you have never stitched a border treatment, start with one of the simpler ideas before trying something with a more complicated layout.

Six Border Treatment Options

  1. Dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  Stitch from one edge to the other edge of the quilt top and bottom.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, stitch the same pattern in the border space between the top and bottom border.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.  This pattern can be setup in the panto portion of the software and is usually defined with height and width of the pattern.
  2. Offset dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  The
    Offset Dead End Borders Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    Offset Dead End Borders – Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    border will be stitched as in #1, but on the top border will start at the inside seam line on the left and stitch to the edge on the right.  On the bottom border the stitching will stitch from the inside border seam on the right and stitch to the edge on the left.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, and stitch the pattern in the border spaces.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.

  3. Out of the box thinking border. Break the border into manageable stitching areas.
    quilt border cornerstone

    Cornerstone Border – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    These can be separated by “corner stones” stitched between the border pattern either using sashing junctions or creating your own separations.  Because the stitching is accomplished in smaller stitch outs, the quilt does not need to be rotated.  Rotate the pattern to stitch vertically on the side borders.

  4. Dead end borders with cornerstones. Similar to #1, but place a different pattern in the corners.  The border stitching would dead end at the cornerstone.
  5. Border and corner patterns. Many border patterns are also available with a corner connecting pattern.  Place the corner pattern first into the corner space and stitch.
    quilt border

    Border and Corner Pattern
    Sample by Joyce Blowers

    Using the panto setup of the program, create the border using the repeating pattern elements to fill the border space (height and width).  Save the design, place it and stitch.  Many programs have the option of placing the first and last stitch (connecting to the corner designs), as well as sizing the pattern exactly in the space.  Use these options to get the perfect fit.  The sample illustrated the corner and border pattern connected just to the right of center in the photo.  The corner pattern wraps around the corner while the panto portion simply goes across the border joining the corner on both ends.  This method would require the quilt to be turned to stitch the side borders.  It also takes more skill in working with patterns and using the placement features available with the program.  Practice this technique before trying it on a quilt.

  6. Create a unique border using triangles. Triangle patterns can be used to create interesting borders.  When linked together, like panto repeating elements, they can
    Border from triangle patterns. Quilt by Sally Mowers

    Border from triangle patterns – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    be sewn like a panto.  Select triangle patterns that start stitching on one side of the base of the triangle and stop on the other end of the base.  Do not use patterns that start and stop in the same point.

    quilt border

    Border created with triangle patterns.

    Use two rows of triangles, one row pointing up, the other pointing down to fill in the space and leave the end with a mitered corner.  Offset one row from the other and combine the rows so the two rows fit together.   This new panto of triangle units can be quilted onto the top and bottom border.  Remember to flip the border on the bottom.  The triangles create a beautiful complex looking border and may be easier than other methods of stitching a border with a computer guided system.    The quilt could be rotated 90 degrees to quilt the sides (create a new border if the length is different from the top and bottom).  Or, although fussy, the triangles could be placed one at a time to complete the side border.  Caution doing this.  Make sure you measure carefully when setting the individual triangles so that they will fit exactly in the side border.

Stitching borders using a computer guided system can be done.  Think about what results you want to see, then, challenge yourself to think outside the box to create it in a simpler way using the features and options available in your robotic software.

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Is Your Thread Unwinding Correctly?

It seems fairly easy. Put the spool on the spool pin and thread the machine. This simplethread selection task, however, may be the source of thread issues if you have not first noticed how the thread is wrapped on the spool.

How Thread Is Wound On The Spool

You have probably noticed that thread is wound differently with some thread wrapped around the spool in parallel winds (stack wound) while on other spools or cones the thread is cross wound creating the “x” signature.   How the thread comes off the spool or cone does make a difference in how it sews. In fact, some thread may actually kink up or twist as it unwinds.

Position the Spool/Cone Properly

Spools with thread that is stack wound or parallel wound should be positioned so that the thread will unwind straight from the side of the spool. On your home sewing machine the spool should be placed on a vertical spool pin so that the thread can unwind off the side of the spool as the spool rotates. For cones or spools where the thread is cross wound, the thread should come off the top of the cone/spool rather than the side. On a home sewing machine, these small cones or spools would be placed on a horizontal spool pin where the thread pulls off the top of the small cone/spool.

Longarm quilting machines typically use cross wound thread on large cones which unwind from the top of the cone when sewing. The cone holders are vertical pins near the back of the machine where the thread unwinds up off the top of the cone and up through a thread guide above the cone as the machine is threaded. Sometimes Longarm quilters want to use specialty, decorative threads that are usually used on a home sewing machine. Often these threads are stack wound (parallel wound). To use these threads successfully on a longarm, a horizontal spool pin must be used to prevent these threads from twisting and knotting. Additionally, because a Longarm machine stitches so much faster than a home sewing machine, the twisting and knotting can be very frustrating with many stops and starts to try and remedy this situation. Horizontal spool pin adapters are available and may be made of plastic or metal. Some of these adapters screw into the machine and others clamp onto the existing spool/cone pin.

Cone/Spool Adapters

The video below from Superior Threads below illustrates the two different types of thread wrap as well as how to use the Superior Threads thread stand for use with either type of wound thread. I have one of these stands and use it at my home sewing machine when using the large cones of thread I might use at my Longarm. These cones, of course, are too large to mount on my horizontal spool pin in the top of my Janome Horizon. Other times I might use a decorative stack (parallel) wrapped metallic thread. These threads are known to have kinking and twisting problems. The only way to successfully use these threads is with a side delivery method. The Superior Threads thread stand can be set up for this use, too.

Another spool pin adapter system is called “Specialty Thread Spool Pin Adapter,” This has a sturdy post adapter with a spool pin that is perpendicular to the post adapter. Depending on which way you attach it to a vertical or horizontal post it can be used for either stack (parallel) wrapped or cross wrapped thread.

Although you might “get by” positioning a spool incorrectly, using the correct thread delivery method for the cone or spool allows more successful stitching. While a stitching issue might look like a tension issue, it may really be caused by how the thread is coming off the cone or spool. Remember, when thread is manufactured, parallel wrapping goes on from the side and must come off of the side. Cross wrapped goes onto the cone from the top and must come off of the top.


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Binding Tips Part 2

framesLike a frame is designed to complement a photo or painting, a quilt is not complete with out its frame, the binding.  Binding nicely applied is even, has sharp mitered corners, and the quilt fills the binding.

In The Quilt Show video below, Julie Cefalu demonstrates a technique to make sharp mitered corners and another technique for a nice finish.  Add these techniques to her previous video and you are all set to perfectly bind your next quilt.

Although the video is made demonstrating the techniques on a domestic machine, the same techniques can be used when stitching the binding to the quilt using a longarm.

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What Quilters Should NOT Do

If you have made a New Year’s resolution to work on your quilting skills, congratulations! There are a lot of opportunities out there to do that from guild workshops, quilt shop classes, and even online classes. There are also a few things as a quilter you should not do. Angela Walters, Longarm quilter and author, has words of wisdom that are important for all quilters regardless of skill level.

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Selecting Thread for Machine Quilting

Why Machine Quilting Thread

Whether you are a Longarm quilter or quilt at your domestic machine, it is important to choose a thread designed for this type of work. Longarm machines operate at higher speeds than domestic machines. Also, stitching through the three sandwich layers of a quilt cause more wear and tear on thread than ordinary sewing. Fortunately thread manufacturers understand these demands and have designed thread for machine quilting.

Machine quilting thread can be found in both cotton and poly and is available from a number of manufacturers. Because of the larger volume of thread required in quilting a quilt, machine quilting thread is available on cones that hold 2500 yards or more. Although we may balk at the price of machine quilting thread on cones, we need to remember that they hold several times as much as a standard spool of thread. When compared to the price of the spool, this thread really does not cost that much more and often costs less per yard than spool thread. It is important to know that hand quilting thread should never be used on a Longarm or domestic machine as the glazing on the thread will gum up the machine.

Considerations for selecting quilting thread:

  1. It is designed for machine quilting
  2. Choose a fiber type
    1. Cotton – select long staple cotton for the least amount of linting
    2. Poly – usually is low lint
  3. The look wanted on the quilt
    1. Dull look to the thread or shiny look of the thread
    2. More visible – select thicker thread, less visible – select a thinner thread
  4. Color
    1. To blend with fabric color but show quilting texture, select a couple of shades lighter or darker rather than the exact color of the fabric.
    2. For contrast, select a totally different color than the fabric.

Angela Walters is a Longarm quilter and author of several books on quilting. In the video below from her blog, she answers the question, “What are your favorite threads?” As she notes in the video, these are her opinions and she is not promoting any particular product.


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Learn To Quilt Feathers

Feathers are a traditional and beautiful way to embellish a quilt.  Many quilters, however, shy away from them because they seem hard to do, don’t turn out “right” or look uneven.

Have you struggled trying to make feathers on either your domestic or Longarm machine?  The good news is that there are a few guidelines, but there are really no rules.  Feathers are as individual as handwriting and that is OK.

If you have struggled with feathers or feel you could use help in improving your quilted feathers, Lisa Calle’s video starts with the basics and walks you through feather techniques and several feather designs.  She then demonstrates how to stitch feathers on both a domestic sewing machine and a longarm.

Stay tuned – although the video is long, by following and practicing her suggestions, you, too, can make beautiful quilted feathers.

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Rusty Longarm Quilting

What does rusty quilting look like?  For me, it looks like wavy lines, flat curves, terrible feathers, and lack of confidence in executing designs.

Recovering this summer from total hip replacement surgery in June, I was not able to stand at the longarm and quilt for many weeks.  As a result, my hand guided longarm quilting skills have gotten a rusty.  I first noticed this (rust) when doing a quilt show.  The longarm systems were all set up and someone wanted me to demonstrate how to use a template and make more of it than the shape.  Stitching around the template was no problem, but my free form feathers were awful.  Not being able to quilt on a regular basis really showed.  I had become a rusty quilter!

Recently a friend brought two quilts for me to work on.  To be honest, I was afraid of one ofwall quilt 20150913_135722 20150913_135745 20150913_135852 the quilts.  It is only 32 inches square, but has a lot of design opportunities.  Starting with a mariners compass in the middle, three small paper pieced blocks, and every border different, this little quilt from a round robin challenge presented me with quite a challenge for custom quilting.  Not only did I have to dream up different designs, but then I had to quilt them.  The rust had to go!

Getting rid of the quilting rust is the same as first learning longarm quilting skills.  Thankfully muscle memory helped, I just need practice.  I put a large practice piece on the frame and spent most of a day practicing arcs, loops, stars, curves and points, swirls, straight lines, combinations of designs and more.  I got out my resource books and looked for filler designs to practice, worked with templates, stitched feathers, and as the day wore on, I felt more confident and less intimidated by that little quilt.  When the practice piece was totally filled up I declared now or never.

I used a number of tricks from the longarm quilters bag, templates for defining shapes, continuous curves, and ditch stitching, free motion feathers, swirls and emphasizing the fabric pattern.  With all of the detail on this little quilt it took a long time, but it certainly was a very good project to help me get back into quilting again.  I am not sure what Norma will name this quilt, but to me it looks like a bowl of summer fruits – cool, luscious, and lovely.

I can’t say with any certainty, but am told that medically a person will loose 20% of their muscle ability in just one week if not able to move.  If you translate that to longarm quilting, the 10-12 weeks of no hand guided quilting put me in the negative numbers.

Regardless of whether you have gone that long without quilting or only a few weeks, more than likely your skills have diminished.  My recommendation would be to always keep a practice piece around that you can easily put on the frame to brush up on your skills.  And, if still unsure, before quilting a special quilt, spend time quilting a comfort or charity quilt.  They are a great way to productively work on your skills, build or refresh muscle memory, and try new techniques.

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Out Of The Box Quilting

When working on a quilt with blocks, borders, and sashing, custom quilting usually places designs in those spaces unless a panto is used for an edge-to-edge pattern.  Most strip quilts made from jelly rolls are quilted with a panto.  After completing a jelly roll quilt this summer I did something quilt different, “out of the box” quilting.

The jelly roll was purchased at a quilt shop near Springfield, OH last winter.  Most, if not all

joseph's new coat

Joseph’s New Coat

of the fabrics are Caryl Bryer Fallert fabrics which are quite colorful.  Even before assembling the quilt top I was already thinking about doing something different with the quilting.

After sketching several ideas on a pad I finally decided to use a combination of diagonal and perpendicular designs to make the quilt seem more like a whole cloth quilt.  Loading the quilt on the longarm with the long dimension horizontal, using Quiltmagine, Nolting’s computer guided system, I first quilted the two diagonal rows using .  I then quilted triangles to square out the diagonal rows and continuous line designs, triangle, and block designs to fill in the rest of the quilt.

josephs new coat closeup

Joseph’s New Coat closeup

The quilt was a lot of fun to make.  I just pulled each strip off the jelly roll and stitched to the last one.  There was no planning in making the top.  Although it did not take long to make the top, it did take nine hours using my Quiltmagine computer guided system to quilt the top.  This is much longer than it would have taken if using a panto, but there was a lot of planning and marking for precise layout of each block, triangle and continuous line design that I used.  Most of the patterns used came pre-loaded with my Quiltmagine system, the rest were purchased patterns.  What was really fun was entering it into a quilt show, winning a second place ribbon, and having “WOW” remarks from the judges.

Next time you are faced with an open canvas of a quilt top, think out of the box and see what you can dream up that will be unique.


Longarm Tension – Identifying and Solving Tension Problems

Quilters that are new to longarm quilting are often overwhelmed by everything that is different about longarm quilting.  The machine is moved rather than the quilt, the quilt must be loaded, learning how to set up pantos and/or free motion quilt, adjusting tension, and more.

When teaching new longarm quilters or teaching seminars on tension, I always mention that the biggest learning curve in longarm quilting is becoming at ease with adjusting the tension. In fact, a quilter will probably feel more comfortable quilting than with adjusting the tension. Why? Unlike home sewing machines where the tension is rarely ever adjusted, the tension on a longarm must be adjusted.

If you own a longarm or have looked at longarms, you will find most longarm machines do not have numbers on the tension adjustment screw. Even more important is that the quilter recognize balanced tension and what to do if the tension is not balanced.

What Poor Tension Looks Like

thread tension

Thread Tension

When the tension is balanced, the top and bottom thread knot in the middle in the batting. When the tension is not balanced, the top thread may be seen on the backing or the bobbin thread on the top and either the top or bobbin tension, or both, will need adjusting. The question is, which tension should be adjusted?

Before randomly adjusting the bobbin tension, the top tension, or both, observe what is happening with the unbalanced tension. If the bobbin thread is seen on the top of the quilt, the top tension is too tight and is pulling the bobbin thread up to the top. This can be corrected by making the bobbin tension tighter or loosening the top tension. If the top thread is pulled to the back of the quilt, the top tension is too loose or the bobbin tension is too tight.  This can be corrected by increasing the top thread tension or decreasing the bobbin tension.

Best Method to Adjust Longarm Tension

Even identifying poor tension and knowing that it could be too tight or too loose still leaves most quilters wondering the best way to solve the tension problem. I will share with you the secrets to solving the problem.

Secret 1. Longarm machines sew best when the bobbin tension is loose. If the bobbin tension is too tight, then the top tension must be tightened more to balance the stitch. If the top tension is tightened too much, often the top thread will start breaking or shredding. Keep the bobbin tension loose. Follow this method for checking bobbin tension manually.  Lay the bobbin case the left hand with the open side up.  Gently pull on the bobbin thread standing the bobbin case up.  Loose bobbin tension is when the bobbin case stands up, thread pulls out easily, but the bobbin case does not lift off the hand.

Because “easily” and “loose” are very subjective terms, I recommend Secret 2.

Secret 2. Use a scientific instrument to measure and adjust the bobbin tension. The Towa Bobbin Gauge is designed to measure bobbin tension and also allows access to the tension screw so that the tension can be adjusted without removing the bobbin case from the instrument. For many M-hook longarm machines, the Towa reading would be 170-220. For Nolting machines I recommend 170-200. For L-hook longarm machines I recommend 100-125.  Each longarm brand has a sweet spot number that works best.

You will use the same Towa setting for all brands, types, and sizes of thread. It is your magic

towa bobbin gauge

Towa Bobbin Gauge

number. It is the number that your machine operates best at. And, because you always set your bobbin tension at the same number, only the top tension needs to be adjusted. If, after setting the bobbin tension, the bobbin thread pulls to the top, loosen the top tension until there is a balanced stitch. If the top thread pulls to the bottom, tighten the top thread until there is a balanced stitch.

My Tension Story

For several years after purchasing my Nolting Longarm, I struggled with setting the tension. I never knew whether I should adjust the top, the bobbin, or both, so ended up fiddling with both. It often would take a very long time to adjust for a balanced stitch. At times I would have thread breakage or shredding adding to my frustration. After being introduced to the Towa Bobbin Gauge and knowing the best adjustment number for my Nolting Longarm machine bobbin case, it usually takes less than a minute now to adjust the top tension for a perfectly balanced tension.  I no longer have frustration with tension and can concentrate on the fun part, quilting.

For more information on tension and using the Towa Bobbin Gauge see the video below.

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You Own It, You Love It, But What Is Trilobal Thread?

thread displayIf you are an embroidery fanatic or a quilter who loves and uses those bright, reflective colored threads, you are probably using trilobal thread.

Polyester trilobal threads have three lobes or sides which reflect light back giving atrilobal thead high-sheen appearance.  Silk is actually a natural trilobal fiber.  Poly trilobal thread is made of many individual micro-fibers which are trilobal (three sided) in shape, but when twisted together in the final thread, the result is a smooth, round, high-sheen thread.

Although most companies have a line of trilobal thread, Superior Threads has several lines of trilobal thread.  Each has slightly different properties and uses, but all are beautiful.  Superior Threads manufactures Magnifico, Fantastico, Twist, Rainbows, Nature Colors, Living Colors, and Art Studio Colors threads, all made from trilobal polyester fibers.

Magnifico, Fantastico, and Twist are three companion threads that are stronger than normal trilobal polyesters and offer the same high sheen.  Magnifico is a bold, strong thread created for quilting and embroidery. Magnifico is an extra-strength, high-sheen polyester that can handle the speed and tension of longarm and commercial machines, while displaying bold and beautiful shades of color and is available in 200 solid colors. Unlike most high-strength trilobal polyester threads, Magnifico is ‘heat set’ in processing, which eliminates unwanted shrinkage.

Next time you are looking for a special color, or a thread with outstanding properties to reflect the color, choose one of the trilobal polyester threads available.  Superior Threads can be found at many quilt and fabrics shops and online.  From their online store, you can also order cards with actual thread samples of each color of that line of thread, so it makes looking for the perfect thread color much easier.

Some information from Superior Threads.

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