Longarm quilters can take your finished quilt top, add wadding and backing fabric and then quilt the layers together for you. Something which can be hard to manage on a domestic sewing machine, especially if your quilt is large.
This article tells you more about the longarm quilting process, what to consider when looking for a longarm quilter and gives a list of quilters who provide longarm quilting services in the UK. It was written with the assistance of Abigail Sheridan de Graaff from cut&alter longarm quilting.
What is longarm quilting?
Longarm quilting is when the quilting is done on a dedicated machine that sits on a frame onto which the backing, wadding and quilt top are loaded. Unlike quilting on a domestic sewing machine at home where you have to baste the sandwich together before you start quilting, each of the layers is loaded onto the frame separately and then rolled up and put under tension.
The quilter usually stands at the machine and the quilting can be either hand guided, where the quilter moves the handlebars for quilting, or computer assisted, where a computer is installed on the machine and is programmed to move the machine on the carriage to quilt a certain design consistently. The biggest difference between longarm quilting and quilting on a domestic sewing machine at home is that when longarm quilting you are moving the needle over the fabric, much like you move a pen over paper to write, whereas at home you move the fabric under the needle.
There are different types of longarm quilting that can be offered:
Basting is where the quilter will just baste the three layers together and then return the quilt to you in order for you to machine or hand quilt it yourself.
Edge to Edge (E2E)/Pantograph/All-over Quilting
This is where a design is quilted across the quilt from edge to edge not taking into account the block structure of the quilt. It is generally the cheapest form of quilting and gives stability to the quilt whilst also giving texture. There are hundreds of designs that could be used for this form of quilting and your quilter will be able to advise what designs she can do. Interestingly most E2E designs suit most quilts – it’s really about personal preference of the design.
Semi Custom Quilting
This is where there is more than one design and/or thread colour change. For example, the centre body of the quilt might have an all-over design but the borders will have a separate design on them. This generally costs more than E2E quilting due to the increased time and skill required.
This is the most complex and expensive type of quilting. For custom quilting, the quilter will place different designs over the quilt, e.g. for a traditional quilt there may be a different design in each of the blocks with another design in the sashing and another in the border. More modern quilts can be custom quilted too and the design is generally worked out as a conversation between quilter and customer. There are invariably lots of stops and starts on this type of quilting, along with thread colour changes, and lots of different techniques may be used to achieve the finished result.
Pricing can vary a lot for longarm quilting because there is such a wide variation in services offered and pricing structures.
Why might you choose to have a quilt longarm quilted?
If you like quilting, either by machine or by hand, but don’t have the room, or the body (!), to baste a quilt then you might want to use a longarm quilter to baste your quilt for you.
You might be happy quilting smaller quilts on your domestic sewing machine but find a larger size to unwieldy – in which case you might want to use a longarm quilter.
You would like a design on your quilt that you don’t know how to do yourself and don’t want to ‘ruin’ the quilt that has taken a lot of time and money to make.
You might not like quilting and are itching to get on with piecing your next top!
Choosing a longarm quilter
As with most services, longarm quilters can be found in many ways: on websites like The Sewing Directory (see list below), on Google, by word of mouth or as a service offered by some quilt shops.
Ensure that you feel happy communicating with the quilter you choose. It is perfectly acceptable to approach several quilters and ask for a quote for your quilt and also find out how they operate. Whilst they all quilt professionally; they will each have their own way of operating with customers and may even have a personal quilting style.
Do not be afraid to ask for photos of work and references from previous customers. In this digital age it is easier to scope out a service provider on social media before approaching them directly, but don’t be shy about asking as many questions as you need.
Longarm quilters get to see a lot of quilts through their work and have experience in thread choice and designs that suit quilts. Many will be able to help you with your choices if that is what you require. However, if you know exactly what you want, design and thread wise, be sure the quilter understands your requirements and can ensure a finished result that you are happy with.
What can you expect if you go to a longarm quilter?
You should expect to be told how they operate and the processes that will be followed, regarding such things as:
- Delivery of the quilt – in person or by post
- Wadding and backing – do you have to supply it or do they stock it?
- Design consultation – face to face/digitally/by phone
- Quilting designs – options available and pricing
- Thread – colours and type available
- Timeline on finishing the quilt
- Payment – when and how
- Return of the quilt – collection or posting, Royal Mail/Parcel Force/Courier
- Insurance for your quilt when returning – do you want standard or more cover?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if they don’t cover something you would like to know.
How to prepare your quilt for longarm quilting
Each longarm quilter will have different requirements for quilt preparation so do ask them about this. You will need to supply a quilt top, wadding and backing separately – some quilters have wadding and backing for sale which can make postage cheaper and easier for you. Most longarm quilters will supply the thread although you can choose the colours.
In general terms the following apply:
Ensure that seams are well secured and if there are seams on the outside of the quilt make sure they are backstitched or stay stitched.
Ensure that there are no pins still in the quilt top.
Do not add any embellishments to the quilt top before sending to the quilter – you will have to add them afterwards because it is difficult to quilt around embellishments and this could lead to damage of your quilt and the machine.
Ensure that the quilt top and the backing are well pressed before giving to the quilter.
Ensure that the wadding and backing are larger than the quilt top – your quilter will advise what dimensions they require.
Indicate which is the top of the quilt and the backing.
Some longarm quilters have retail premises or work from a home studio and are happy for you to drop off and collect the quilt. This gives you a chance to meet the quilter and have a consultation face to face which can be reassuring. If a personal drop off is not possible, then most quilters do accept quilts in the post. It is a good idea to use a reliable, tracked mail or courier service if you are going to send the quilt to the quilter.
What if something goes wrong?
If you have had a recommendation for a quilter or if you have asked for photos/references from the quilter then hopefully everything will go well. It is a good idea to have confirmation of all the details before your quilter actually starts quilting so that you are both in agreement as to what is being done.
However, sometimes things do go wrong or you may not be happy with the result. Always get in touch with your longarm quilter to discuss the issue/problem. With honest, open communication most things can be resolved in a manner satisfactory to both parties.