The species called: Long-arm Quilter
I know the feeling... you are now finished with your quilt top, you spent hours piecing it, it looks exquisite and you can already visualize it on your bed. The only problem: it is not quilted... yet. What to do? You have a few choices: either hand quilt it, sew it on your home sewing machine or make use of a long-arm quilter. Being a long-arm quilter for some time, I often had to deal with quilters' fear of having their quilt tops ruined by an outsider, whom (to their minds) don't have the slightest idea of the money and hours they have thrown into the project, let alone the emotions and sentiments that were involved. I can totally understand that. You want to be proud of your end product, not pull your hair out because you trusted someone else with your baby and now you lost all respect for it and Woofie ends up snuggling in your treasure. But, a quilt is only a quilt when it consists of three layers, sewn together with beautiful quilt work, so you need to make a plan. I had many clients whose interest was mainly in the piecing of the top, but the quilting...that was a dragon to look in the eye! I also know many a quilter who did the most beautiful quilt work on a home sewing machine, but having experienced both ways, would like to tell you about the advantages to make use of a long-arm quilter:
1. You don't have to spend hours to pin or tack the three layers together. A backbreaking job at its best, whether you crawl on the floor, pin on a table or whatever other way you choose. The result is hardly ever as neat as when it is stretched on a long-arm and most often you'll end up with folds at the back after quilting. You also don't have to steal your son's knee pads, bought for skate boarding, to crawl on the floor.
2. I don't know if I did something wrong, but when sewing on the home model my pins were always in my way when I started quilting. I sent many a sewing needle to the graveyard and my pozzie in heaven is now cancelled because of all the swear words when I got scratched and pricked by the pins. So small, but so venomous.
3. The professional quilter with experience knows what the quilt top needs - is it an edge-to-edge quilt or does it need the love of custom quilt work? They mostly have a spread of quilting patterns to choose from and can really give good advice to ensure a successful project. Take applique, for example: would you really dare to sew all over your applique work? They use all kinds of fillers to make your applique pictures pop out and in-the-ditch is done with a smile.
4. Do you really want to tell me that it is a pleasant experience to wrestle your huge queen size quilt through the neck of your 12" to 16" home sewing machine? Nope, it's a pain - a neck pain, burning shoulder pain and a back pain. Sure, there are ways to roll the quilt or fold it or turn your machine sideways...but after a few hours of fighting you'd wished you had rather got married to a chiropractor. It is all about ergonomics...it has to be perfect and everything must be in balance not to experience discomfort. Most often you push your neck forward like a tortoise in this war, not even knowing, or your chair is too low or, or... Long-armers have the quilt on the perfect height, the machine glides freely on its rollers and moves easily over the top, row after row.
5. Sewing with a long-arm has a big advantage as far as big, edge-to-edge patterns are concerned. Making use of a laser and sewing on a pantograph, no marking is involved. You save all the way - money and time.
6. Most long-arm machines are equipped with stitch regulators, which means all the stitches will be the same length. She can set her stitch length to what she wants to achieve - shorter for stippling or longer for in-the-ditch or line stitching.
7. Now you'd say: "But Essie, the cost! A long-arm quilter charges too much!" What is better, uhm - some ching-ching out of your pocket, or a heap of UFO's (un-finished-objects) in your cupboard? Yeah man, we all have those...While your long-arm quilter sews your quilt, you can start on another top to piece, saving you grey hair and swear words, keeping you happy. There are plenty of long-armers out there who are not that expensive and still do excellent work. Why not try bartering? Maybe you supply a service that your long-arm quilter needs? Swap the service! I had many customers with whom I bartered - maybe she has a business in window washing, or carpet cleaning, or own a car wash? Please see the quilt I made for our South African running friend, JJ, who is an electrician and fixed all our lighting problems at home. OK, it took me a year to make, but I did not pay a cent for having all my electricity fixed. Thank you JJ! I miss you!
8. Sewing a quilt is a time-consuming business. An experienced long-arm quilter can sew your quilt in a much shorter time, although custom work can also be a tedious job.
There is a whole lot of trust involved in using a long-arm quilter and in my next post I'll tell you the secrets of how to get the best out of her. It is all up to you - how you deal with your quilter and how you present your quilt to her. Check this space...
Yours in Quilting