How NOT to quilt!
Because I’m a newbie longarm quilter, my Jacob’s Ladder store sample quilt shows some of the errors made by less experienced quilters. I considered ripping out the problem spots, but decided to leave them for my own “teachable moments” – those opportunities to show students what mistakes can occur and to discuss how to avoid them.
The same problems arise for domestic machine quilters – the longarm just lets us do it wrong faster! So, whether you’re learning to quilt yourself, or deciding which longarm quilter to trust with your masterpiece, be on the lookout for these problems [click on the photos for a closer look]:
- FLOATERS – the stitches look fine on the front of the quilt, but on the back, the thread “floats” between loops of thread coming through from the top. One or both of the following is probably causing the thread to float.
- Poor tension – either the bottom tension is too tight, or the top is too loose. Try pulling the bobbin thread: if it curls like ribbon, the tension on the bottom is too tight. [If you have a removable bobbin case, then 1/4 turn counter-clockwise on the set screw will probably be sufficient to correct the error. Consult your user’s guide.] If the bottom seems fine, try tightening the top tension slightly.
- Swooping around the curves – it’s instinctive to sew steadily on the gentle waves, then accelerate as you go around a curve: if your floaters are only on the S-curves, this may be your problem. Your machine doesn’t have time to complete a stitch properly. This is more common for domestic machine quilters as you operate the pedal like you drive, and with a car, you do accelerate into a curve….not so with quilting!
- Pile-ups – This one is pretty obvious. If you exaggerate the motion of stitching a couple of stitches to begin or end a line of quilting you get a nasty tangle instead of a nearly-invisible anchor.
- Crossovers – the best quilters may find they’ve worked themselves into a corner and need to cross their previous stitches to get out of the jam. Here, you can see the crossover is made more obvious because it is angular and it’s in a very close space. A better choice would have been a looser curve instead of a loop. Even better: avoid crossovers altogether!
- Toe-catchers – a smooth, steady rhythm for free-motion is essential to even stitches. Occasional long ‘toe-catchers’ or tiny too-short stitches are indicators of uneven speed. For those of us who don’t have stitch regulators, maintaining a smooth, even tempo is critical: quilting to music helps some people.
- Nubblies– when the quilter stops for a beat while changing directions, a nubbly appears: that’s a little pile up of thread formed while several stitches are made in place. Smooth, continuous motion while the machine is sewing, and coordinating stopping the machine when you stop is essential. Only practice will make this perfect. This is the most common sign of an inexperienced quilter. If you’re looking for a longarm quilter, ask to see examples of work: the occasional nubbly in a complicated motif is almost inevitable; a number of them in an overall [pantograph] pattern or in meandering is a warning. Find someone else to finish your masterpiece.
There you go! I hope this helps you identify what’s going wrong with your own quilting or gives you some things to look for in choosing a professional quilter. In quilting [as in life], if my mistakes can help someone else do better, I’m a little less disappointed in my own shortcomings.