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What the long-arm quilter wants you to know...

Hi there dear quilting friends!

This is a Friday with a need to get back to work on Monday for some of us, because it is another long weekend here in Canada! Summer, sun and fun!

Last time we spoke, I promised to give you more tips on how to get the most out of your experience with a long-arm quilter. Now, the following was written in my little black book when I started off as an embryo in quilting...all the things I learnt through the process, things I got wrong and those that clients got wrong, what is acceptable and what not and so on. Let's look at a few things that can help you and your quilter to get on the same page:

* Know your quilter. Ask around among other quilter friends for a recommendation or try your local quilting guild or sewing shop; they always know about someone with a long-arm. Ask for samples or photo's of her work and make sure you are happy with the quality of the sewing. It's your call who you trust with your quilt. If you see her Woofie sleeping on other customer's tops, search for another quilter. No use crying over spilled milk when your favorite horse on your memory quilt resembles a strange kind of dog after quilting. Make sure she can handle the task!

* Make sure you know what YOU want - how dense do you want the quilting to be, what do you visualize for the end product, what must be sewn in the borders, do you want stitch-in-the-ditch work, what colour of thread to be used? What do you prefer for this particular quilt - edge-to-edge or custom work? For whom is this quilt made - male, female, child? Those are important info for the quilter to know and you alone can best fill her in on that. Even though it was very flattering when a client requested: "Just make it beautiful!", I wanted to go and hide away in my cupboard on that request. Beautiful is such an ambiguous word. Remember, what you consider to be beautiful, might not be her idea of the word and right there you create a chance for disappointment. Communicate! Most women have no problem with communication at all. We are blessed with many words per day!

* Decide about the color of the quilting thread you prefer to be used on the top before you buy the backing. Try to match those colours as far as possible. Some long-arm quilters (well...I,) experience tension problems on their machines if top and bottom threads are not the same colour. It causes pokies either on the top or at the bottom and can take hours for the quilter to fix. It is always a good idea to match your backing to your top anyway. (Just a suggestion...please.) Yeah, I am guilty...I overturn a quilt to see if I can find pokies on the backing and then make a check mark on the "do-I-have-respect-for-this-work" level in my head- that being said, as a Virgo (perfectionist, anal- story for another day...seriously, I'll be blogging about this...), even one pokie can spoil my day! Eish, being a Virgo, what can I say?

* Take the batting you prefer to be used into consideration as far as the quilting you prefer is concerned. The thinner the batting, the more it can be quilted. Thick batting ask for bigger, looser patterns, not so dense, otherwise you'll end up with something as stiff as your ironing board, flat as a pancake. Remember, thick is not dense and some of the thicker battings do not keep their loft when sewn through it too densely.

* Don't leave pins in your work. If the quilter sews over the pin, she might end up with a hysterical phone call to her technician. She won't be a happy chappy to be around. Apart from the cost to fix a bent needle shaft, her work screeches to a halt and her quilt deadlines start haunting her. She sews for an income, remember?

* A big problem on a long-arm machine pops up when borders weren't correctly measured before they were sewn on to the quilt. The result: a wobbling frill that cannot be flattened. Trust me, not even half a bottle of wine or all the Prozac in California will get your quilter motivated to work on that challenge. Be prepared to pay extra when your quilter had to take the quilt off the machine, unpick the border and fix the problem, if possible at all - the bare bone minimum of time to add for this is 3-4 hours in labor, plus materials that may have been needed to do this. Because some clients really get offended when their work is unpicked, I resort to handing their tops back to them to fix themselves - in which event you have to wait even longer for your quilt to be finished. Kick yourself in the mirror - not her fault!

* Iron the seam allowances properly. A twisted seam causes trouble for the quilter in more than one way, especially so when sewing in-the-ditch. It is best done when sewn in the "valley" and if she has to climb the mountain one moment and drop to the valley the next in the process, the work will not be neat. Take star patterns for instance - if not ironed correctly during sewing, the center point of that star will form a huge bulge, resulting in a number of broken needles when quilted over. Some quilters do charge extra when they have to do some ironing before they load the quilt. Time is money.

* Although there is much to say about pre-washing of fabrics (some are for it and others not), I can only recommend from own experience to wash all darker fabrics before you attempt to sew it into your quilt. If the quilter used markers that need to be washed out afterwards and those dark colours start running, you have booked her room in the asylum. Stress to all involved! I have experimented with a number of detergents to clear colour streaks, but when I think about it, it is not worth the tears, the time, the money or the anger that go with that. I realized that, to some clients, their quilt tops are like the holy don't mess up on it! Don't put your poor quilter in that situation, she deserves better.

* Very important: make sure you buy enough fabric for the backing and batting, for the long-arm quilter needs your backing and batting to be slightly bigger than your top. I always hoped for at least 5 - 8cm all around bigger batting than the top, with the backing also 5 - 8 cm bigger than the batting. That way it allows for shrinkage during the process and gives me enough fabric to load the quilt properly to my canvasses. Let the quilter save her prayers for the church, not the sewing room and allow her to arrive at the bottom of your quilt, backing (and soul in tact) and all - instead of it looking like the top of the quilt ate the bottom like Pacman...

* Be nice - square your quilt top, backing and batting. The more time spent on your quilt, the more money she is going to charge you! If the backing needs to be joined and you are not quite sure about pattern matching, ask your quilter if she'd be willing to do that (uhm, at a price...), but don't just toss it in the bag and assume that she'll be more than willing to spent free time to do the job! Also, when joining the batting, pin the seam before sewing. It is easy to stretch batting, which may result in a wavy seam, which in its turn can form a bulge in the quilt.

* Know the quilter's fee structure before she starts quilting. What is she charging for, what is included in the price and what not? Ask for the price list upfront, to prepare for the actual cost and see where you can possibly save yourself and your quilter time, money and embarrassment. There is nothing as unpleasant as a quarrel over the fee on delivery of your finished quilt, causing the end of a relationship because you were not informed. Do ask whether she has a special fee for pensioners - long-arm quilters are such angels, they most often think about your budget as well. [Wink;)-wink ;)] All that being said - for newbies to the craft or oldies looking for new long-arm quilters, chat to your prospective long-arm quilter and ask for advice beforehand. No one will think less if you ask and in fact this will just strengthen the relationship going forward. Be open for discussion, whatever the situation. (this goes both ways!)

* My personal red topic: don't rush the quilter! I always worked strictly on a calendar, where I assigned enough time for every quilt that I had to sew as they arrived! Which means that each client took a spot in the line-up, you know, much like when you are waiting for a ride at a fun park. Now, it is very unfair to expect preferential treatment from your quilter, because every client of hers has the very same need - they want their quilt top to become a quilt as soon(er) as possible. It just seems logic that, if you allow your quilter to work in peace within the time frame both of you agreed upon, the quality of work will be satisfying to all parties involved. I know I sound a bit... difficult, but I compare a phone call from a client to rush me forward as equal to those of a telemarketer. It leaves me feeling unsettled and that is NOT good for my creative spirit. I then make one mistake after the other in my newly created rush and the next time that person calls for a quilt to be done, I get the urge to pretend that she dialed the wrong number. If we agreed on a certain delivery date, I aim for that date, not two weeks earlier or later. Does the quilter not have a need to eat, sleep and buy groceries as well? Come on...she cannot work 24/7...even though your quilt is a matter of urgency to you. But, knowing long-arm quilters for the angels they are, I know that they'll bend over backwards to accommodate your rush, leaving them exhausted and burnt out.

Although I cannot vouch for other long-arm quilters, I feel comfortable to say that, when following the advice in this issue, you'll manage to build a long-term relationship with your quilter like no other. It is always very easy to satisfy someone if you know exactly what they are up to and what they want to achieve with your help.

So, talk to me...

Yours in Quilting


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