Long Armed

What a fun day I had at my long arm class yesterday! I took lots of pictures to show you, so buckle up for a ride.

This is the machine we were learning to use.

One really should be licensed to drive it.

This is the sampler quilt we were referencing. We brought sampler tops and then stitched off lines into a 6-inch grid for practicing our stitches.

We loaded our quilts onto the machines...Here's my quilt back.

Now here's something: Did you know there is a right and wrong side to quilt batting? Get outta town! I sure didn't. I use Warm and Natural or Warm and White most often, and it's easy to see in the Warm and Natural brand. I would have taken a picture...in fact, I did...but you can't really see it in the pictures I took. Just pull out some of your own batting and take a look. There is a nobby, "seedy" side and a smooth side. The nobby side goes up. Apparently, there is some sort of "bearding shield" on the smooth side, and if you put that side up, the needle will actually push the batting through the holes, causing bearding. With the shielding down, it prevents that. Wow! That alone was worth the price of the class!

So anyway...thoroughly impressed with my old dog for learning a new trick, I proceeded to load the quilt top on the machine.

Here, our instructor showed us how to make sure your quilt is loaded in straight. We folded back the top...

Then we put a big clamp so that the machine couldn't move forward.

And then we ran the needle along the folded edge of the quilt until we were satisfied it was straight. Then we folded it back and ran a basting stitch across the top.

This is our instructor, Capri, in the image below. I really enjoyed her. She had a nice teaching style and a good sense of humor...definitely a plus when learning something like this. Here she's showing us how to thread the machine.

It was pretty straightforward until you got to this doodad. Oy. The thread had to wrap around that groove three times before catching in the spring and moving on.

I took a lot of pictures of this part and referred to it during the day every time I had to rethread the machine...approximately 1,168 times. Practice makes perfect, you know.

And then we were ready to stitch! Here are a few of my little samples.

I like this next design...look for it in future quilts.

Also, this alternative to feathers. Mine isn't done very well, but it has potential. Capri called it a fern. I think I'd have better luck with this doing free motion quilting on my home machine. I felt pretty clumsy dragging the long arm around and trying to do it smoothly.

We also drew a chalk grid on some of our spaces and then tried some other designs. I did a terrible job on this one, but with practice, it could be very cute on the right kind of quilt block. It had a "T" name...something like "Terrible Turns" or maybe that's just how I translated it. 

We did way more designs than the ones I'm showing here. I'm just showing you some of my best ones. Pitiful, isn't it?

Also, we learned to use pantographs. For this you move to the back side of the machine. You lay out the pantograph paper...

Then you get everything lined up (no small feat), and then follow the design with your laser light.

I bravely chose a difficult and confusing one.

I found this part to be rather cumbersome. For one thing, you can't see what's going on with your quilt unless you happen to be about 7 feet tall...which I am not. I actually sewed nearly a whole row not realizing that the thread had broken right at the beginning, and so I was sewing away with no thread in the needle. Since my design went back and forth (rather than starting each row at the right and moving left, or vice versa), who knows how long I might have sewn like that before realizing I was only just practicing? It didn't matter much yesterday since the practice was great, but if I'd been sewing for real, I probably would have said some bad words about that time. (For reference, when I was a little girl I thought "bad words" consisted of things like "stupid" and "shut up". My vocabulary has matured since then.)

Anyway, bad words aside, here's what I ended up with. Not terribly smooth, but not too bad either.

We also used these templates. Of course, I chose the cat. Smitty thought this cat looked a lot like Uno...no meat in the middle.

So you load this little platform thingy on your machine.

And then slide that whole thing under the quilt and then put the template on top.

Then you hold it with your hand while NOT applying pressure that will distort your quilt. (Try doing that. For me, the day was a lesson in not gripping everything with white-knuckled fervor.) 

And here's how my cat turned out. I was trying to do some of my little heart-shaped paw prints around it, but again, my movements were not very smooth. Practice, practice, practice. 

By this time, we'd been standing literally all day...with a half-hour sit at lunch...and my feet were killing me. Not to mention my aching back. I was actually standing on the sides of my feet. We sewed a little while longer. This design below was one of Laura Fritz's continuous line designs. I kind of liked it.

We chatted a little more about various things, learned to wind bobbins, etc., and then we packed it up. It was a very fun day. The time flew by, and I was very glad I went.

That said, I left feeling fairly certain that long arm quilting is not for me. For one thing, renting time on the machine isn't cheap. At this shop it's $50 for a half day, $100 for a full day. I can't imagine that I could complete a quilt even in a whole day. Renting a half day would have me rushing around making all sorts of mistakes, and so I don't see a half day rental being a realistic appraisal of my skills for some time to come. 

In comparison, I paid $170 for the queen sized quilt I just had quilted by my long arm quilter, and that included the price of the batting and thread. It also included me spending a day at home working on my other projects...and my time is valuable too. So, I'm not sure the amount I would save is really worth the hassle of packing everything up and spending a day on my feet away from my home and from my kitties. You would need to decide for yourself whether it would be worth it to you.

I'm not giving up on the idea, because for me, quilting my own quilts is about more than just the cost. I'm never as proud of a quilt that I've sent off to a professional quilter, and so there is intrinsic value in quilting them myself. That said, I have a couple of thoughts about it. First, I would need to spend at least two more days just messing around on the machine before I would feel comfortable quilting a "for real" quilt...and that's just a guess. It might actually take me more days of practice than that. I wouldn't know until I tried. Fortunately, Capri makes herself available during the month for that, although she drives down from Olympia, Washington to be there. If I were actually going to do that, I'd be sure to schedule my practice days on days when she would be there to help.

The other thing is this: my friend Marei swears by the HQ Sweet 16 sit-down machine that she has. It's like free motion quilting on a domestic machine, only with the throat space of a long arm. You can see how it works in the video below. And if you can't see the video, then click right here.

Nifty, huh? I like the idea of being able to sit down because my feet were really hurting by the end of the day. Further, I already know how to move the fabric around, which seems easier to me than moving the hefty long arm machine around. And--bonus--these machines are less expensive than a full-up long arm machine.

So...anyway...it was a wonderful day learning something new and giving the long arm machine a good try. Even if you don't think this is something you'd ever want to do, it was well worth the time, effort, and money I put into the class just to see how it works, and to appreciate what my long-arm quilter does. If nothing else, I have a better idea how to prepare my quilts for professional quilting now.

And this was my "something new" for the Something Old, Something New challenge in April.

Never too hot to Stitch!

Speaking of challenges, the April NewFO Linky Party goes live tomorrow. Are you ready to show us your new stuff?


works4me said...

Wow! You had a full day. It's nice to see the variety of designs that you did and I am impressed with how well you seem to have manoeuvered the machine.

I agree with you that it is better to have spent the money to see how this is done so you know whether a true long-arm goes on your wishlist or not.

Vicki W said...

I love having a longarm and being able to quilt quilts. But it is certainly a totally different activity and requires a completely different skill set. You are wise to try it out like this. Your samples are 100 times better than my first samples!

Lisa England said...

No, I did NOT know that batting had a right and wrong side! Thanks for getting me clued in! I have a mid-arm machine and it took me lots of practice to master it. I still don't do much fancy stuff, but being able to finish my quilts myself is a wonderful thing. I have a friend who loves the HQ sit down quilter. Since I never learned free motion quilting by moving the fabric I think it would be hard for me to learn after so many years of moving the machine. I'd say it would be the same thing for you to go from moving the fabric to moving the machine. Almost like learning to write with your non-dominant hand.

Dana Gaffney said...

That was a lot to learn in one day, I think you would be perfect if you practiced just one thing when you go, I'm really impressed.

WoolenSails said...

That is a great class and I didn't know about the batting, thanks for the tip. I have noticed that my batting pushes through sometimes, now I know why.

I was looking at the table tops and thinking that would be a nice alternative, especially with the large table space and the machine facing that way, would be a lot easier to move the quilt around.


Debbie said...

I love your class review! You gave some great points...both good and bad about the LA. Your practice bit look very good for a first timer. With just a little practice you would get the hang of it.
I did the LA thing and hated not being able to see and the aching back and feet/arms. So I absolutely love my sit down Tiara/sweet 16. For the $ for the LA you better start a business.

Jeanie said...

Looks like a great class! I'm not sure that I'd ever own a long arm because of space limitations (and money limitations, too, of course). Thanks for the batting tip... I had no idea there was a top and bottom!

Betty said...

Thanks for a thorough review of the long arm class. Some times the most valuable lesson learned in a class is not what we expected it to be! The cost of renting time on the machine seems high compared to the cost of having a professional do it. But then there is the self satisfaction factor to consider also. It really comes down to which is most important to each individual. I'm thinking for me, letting the professional do the job is the best choice. I don't make that many big quilts anyway.
I think you did a great job, especially being your first attempt with the machine!

Kristine said...

I would love to have a large throat machine for free motioning. I like having the fine control, and it doesn't seem possible with the long arm. I still want to try it sometime, though.

BillieBee (billiemick) said...

Looks like you had a blast!

Vroomans' Quilts said...

You were working on a very high level machine - something more mid-size might appeal. Also, the sit down machines do appeal to me. Each has it's mastery. Loved your review and Kuddos on your 'something new' - you are getting brave!

Kate said...

Interesting review! I rent long arm time and I love it...but mine is $10 an hour, two hour minimum. I've found I can do two baby quilts or a lap quilt in my two hours, all over or simple custom designs. My real customs take 3+ hours and I do get tired of standing...but I can't take a break during rental time! One tip I have, and I'm not sure it's useful if your quilting place just doesn't allow it - we renters don't thread the machines. We tie our cone onto the cone before us, then pull it all the way through. The tiny knot has never gotten caught all the times I've done it, and easy peasy, threaded machine without having to remember any steps.

Mandy said...

Everything you talked about I was nodding my head in agreement. I bought an Innova in Dec and learning to run it was a bigger challenge that I'd originally thought. I never even considered paper patterns for all the reasons and more you mentioned-bad words happen when you can't see what you're doing. With that being said, it does get easier and I found I could quickly do free motion designs that turned out looking good without much practice. Nice post.

Shari said...

I took a long arm class a few months ago and would be totally embarrassed to show my work. Yours turned out so well. You have a natural talent. I've decided for me that it's worth every penny to have my quilts sent to a long armer!

Cath said...

Now if you lived near me, I would just say come on over....your company would be payment enough for a days quilting on my longarm. I did consider the sit down HQ16 but for me the drawback was still pinning those quilts! Here's how I manage to rethread mine. I leave the machine threaded and break off the old thread near the reel, tie the left over into a knot onto the new thread and then slowly pull it all the way through from the needle end to (hope that makes sense) A bit of thread is wasted but boy my sanity is spared.

quiltzyx said...

I'm glad you had fun in your class - and for telling us that batting has a top & bottom! I never realized that either.

Brown Family said...

I had heard about the right side/wrong side of batting, but could not remember which was which. Maybe now I will. My husband was very interested in your experience. He is now thinking he needs a class. I have found a couple for him to go to.

You did great for the first time. It takes a lot of practice!

Tami C said...

I stopped by a local quilt shop that teaches LA Quilting. The person in the shop explained that there were several different types of quilting that she taught. They sounded a lot like the ones you went through. My knees and feet really were hurting just from standing around while she explained. I decided right then and there that a long arm wasn't for me. I'll be waiting to hear what you think of the HQ Sweet 16 sit-down machine. Thanks for sharing!

Barb H said...

What a day! Great review of your class. For a few years, I've been debating getting a sit down quilting machine but I wish I could get one that had feed dogs so I could do straight line quilting on it instead of on my domestic machine. Maybe the manufacturers will include that feature. Then I'd be a happy lady!

Doris Rice, The Quilting Queen said...

Coming from a long arm quilter, you did a pretty darn good job for your debut. I think all people need to do this before they purchase a long arm machine and you would be surprised how many don't! You're smart in weighing all your options and what ever decision you make I know will be the best fit for you. I own a Statler Stitcher and love, love the perfection of the computerized stitching. However, there are many times when I consider selling it. I could have a lot of quilts quilted for myself with the $20,000 plus I have invested in it. Yes, I do quilt for the public but it's a choice I could easily give up if the right person came along at the right time with the right amount of cash. lol

Diane Wild said...

Thanks for the tour of your long-arm experience. I know it takes a lot of practice to use the beast but I prefer to do my own on the Bernina. The Sweet Sixteen looks like fun, however. Probably not in my future.

Lyndsey said...

That looks like a lot of fun but like you I like the idea of quilting sitting down. I love some of the designs you tried especially the fern one. May give that a go on a quilt soon

Kate said...

Sounds like a very long, but productive day. I have to agree that one's time is valuable too and you have to decide what's the right way to spend it (as well as your money).

Deb@asimplelifequilts said...

I have learned that a sewing store about 45 minutes from me rents their long arm but I haven't been there to get all the details. I'd like to give it a try.

But I also love sending my larger top out for their spa treatment and I think I love them more because of how much is added to them by the expertise of a LAQ. Isn't great that we have options!