I have been thinking about adding a longarm quilting machine to my studio for about a
year now. Several years back I bought a sit down HQ Sweet 16 – I used it on a few quilts and then didn’t touch it for several years so I sold it. I tend to work large and moving all that material under the machine was just not something that I could get used to nor did it add anything to my enjoyment of the quilt making process. Fast forward to last January when I popped into Nashua Sew&Vac to pick up something for my Bernina and happened upon the Babylock Coronet. A longarm that only took up 5′ of space but wouldn’t restrict me to only working that wide – brilliant! I took a little spin on it and liked it but purchasing one of these machines is an investment and before I shelled out thousands of dollars I wanted to make sure of 2 things – first that I really wanted one and that it would add benefits to my current quilt making process (I quilt as I go instead of as the last step) and two that it was the right machine for me. So I did my due diligence. I researched all the machines out there, did an assessment of just how much space that I have to give up in the studio for one and I test drove every machine available when I was Houston at Quilt Festival. And after all that research I went back to Nashua Sew&Vac a couple of weeks ago and placed my order for the Babylock Coronet about a year after I had first test sewn on one.
Now that it’s here in my studio my next challenge is to learn how to use it and use it well. It’s much different sewing on a longarm than it is when you do free motion at a sit down machine because you are moving the machine instead of the fabric. Your body position is different, you are looking down at the fabric and your hands are above the fabric instead of on it. So there is definitely a learning curve for me and although there are lots of great free videos (Jamie Wallen, Grace Longarm Quilting, to name a couple) and books available on the subject I am finding that there is still a lot of information missing and questions that I haven’t come across the answers to. So beginning with this post I am going to do a series of blog posts about my adventures with this new machine so that if you are just getting started with yours or are thinking about buying one you might find some of my experiences with it helpful.
One of the first things that the books and videos tell you to do is practice on paper because it’s supposed to help with your muscle memory once you get to the machine to quilt your design. Everyone learns differently and for some the drawing on paper might be a helpful exercise but after a week all that seems to have done for me is create a pile of paper for the recycle bin. Holding a drawing with a pencil and standing in front of and holding the handlebars and sewing on the longarm are two completely different things. Drawing a quilting design on paper first will no doubt be helpful for me once I start wanting to incorporate more complex shapes and overall designs but for right now what I need to do is actually stand at the machine and use it to get a handle on the basics.
For me the most sense seems to start at the beginning of the process. I know that I am going to want to quilt straight lines, swirls and circles and at some point I am going to want to break out and do echo quilting, design feathers and other more advanced designs. So I started with straight lines and circles. Stitching straight lines seemed easy enough and to help my practice with that, I drew lines on the fabric with a sharpie and I am practicing stitching down the center to mimic what I will need to do on my own quilts when stitching over the black outlines. I stitch down the center of the lines travel between them and then stitch down the center of the next. I am making sure that I am stitching both left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top because that’s how I will do it on an actual quilt.
When it comes to curves and swirls however, that’s a different challenge. My circles looked like rounded squares! So I have been standing at the machine this week for 5 – 10 minutes at a time practicing. Just to get the feel of the machine and how it moves, how I need to move with it, how fast I can move it, where and how I need to stand and place my hands on the handlebars and something I am learning is a critical part of the process – where my eyes should be looking. You have to look where you want to go, not where you are stitching or where you have already stitched. My circles are getting better! I will keep working on them and once I feel really good about how they look I will move on to swirls and curves…
If you are at the beginning of your longarm quilting adventure and have some tips or resources to share I would love to hear from you. Just leave a comment on this post.