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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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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Nolting’s Quiltmagine and the New “NV” Machine

I have been stitching with Nolting’s Quiltmagine computer guided system for over two years.  A couple of months ago, Nolting released their new generation five “NV” longarm machine which I now have paired with Quiltmagine (QM).  Without much experience under my belt yet with this system,so far I can say that I am pleased with the quick response of the machine, how quietly is operates, the awesome high illumination LED task lighting over the quilting area, and the precision of the stitching producing even stitches everywhere. Because the NV operates from a touch screen tablet, Nolting has designed a tablet bracketNolting longarm

Nolting “NV” with QM tablet and bracket.  Machine color custom white.

 

for the QM tablet which is now mounted on the left side of the machine head. This is a convenient location, although I must say that I find myself wanting to go back to the center tablet (former) location. It is funny how habits are formed and I am sure that with time, I can re-train myself to the new tablet location.  Setting up QM with the NV was SIMPLE as the carriage plugs directly into the side of the machine.  Very clean and neat.

NV has a nice feature allowing up to five profiles be saved. I have set up one of the profiles just for QM quilting. I have the stitch length set for what I want, along with the basting stitch length, and the handle buttons correctly programed to work with QM.  Upon first trying QM with the NV I discovered my original handle programing to be faulty.  I learned from Lance at Nolting that the single stitch button in QM only interfaces with the red button on the right handle. For QM to operate correctly, the red button must be programmed for the full rotation stitch (down and up).   Handle buttons can easily be programed from the profile page and every profile can have different settings.  All other functions in QM work as they should without any changes to the NV.  In my QM profile, I also set up one of the left handle buttons as a full down/up stitch because I am used to doing it that way.  Other profiles could be set up for free motion quilting at the front of the machine, or even doing a paper panto at the back of the machine.

The NV has been easy to learn how to use, easy to program the features and has a wide range of spi settings, 4 to 22. Who in their right mind would stitch with 22 spi, I am not sure. I would never want to rip those out if a mistake happened!

Nolting NV - custom red paint.  QM tablet and bracket.

Nolting NV – custom red paint. QM tablet and bracket.

One new stitches available on the NV is the Idle stitch. (gray button on left between the two purple buttons)  This is a stitch regulated stitch (4-22 spi, your choice), with the machine idling (slowly running) as it travels in and out of points (you determine the speed), then switches back to the spi setting for normal stitching. This creates crisp points. If you decide to use this stitch with QM, you must be near the machine to use the handle stop button when the pattern finishes as the machine will continue to idle stitch at the end of the pattern.

All in all, I give the machine great reviews. 5 stars. Nolting has done their homework in the design of the NV.

Even if you decide that moving up to the NV is not for you, as quilters upgrade to the NV, there are and will continue to be very nice newer machines that are traded in. Check with your dealer and let them know what you might be interested in and what your budget is so they can keep an eye out for a “newer” Nolting machine for you. Remember, you already own your frame, so would just be trading heads.

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