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.