Monday, March 12, 2018



A long armer is the last step in the process to finishing your gorgeous quilt.  We want more than anything to make you happy with the final result, and as quilters ourselves, we know how much time and effort, money and classes, heart and love has gone into your quilt top.  Long armers have a lot invested too, in equipment, (the long arm machine itself is usually in excess of $15,000. and up before the computer) supplies like threads, books, rulers, samples, batting and templates, and a lifetime of learning the skill and creativity it takes to work with the quilt maker to fulfill your dreams for each quilt.  It's difficult to charge a fair wage for work that many quilt makers don't understand.  A large quilt frame is used, and therefore extra fabric is needed to attach your layers to the rollers.  And it's not a long armer's job to fix basic problems when quilts arrive unprepared.  Your long arm quilter wants to receive your top and layers and get quilting to make the very best finished quilt possible.

I recently quilted a beautiful, huge bedspread size quilt.  I am not judging the quilt maker in any way, in fact, am so proud of her for returning to this project again and again until it was finished.  I don't think she has any other quilting experience, so she didn't know a lot of the things we learn in class.  But there were a few issues with borders and sashing that had not been measured carefully, and the quilt had been constructed on and off over 25 years, by hand and by machine...there was over an inch extra border fabric at every corner that I had to work in with the quilting to make the quilt lay flat! The sashing puckered and had to be careful quilted so as not to have pleats, and not one seam on the whole quilt was straight, due partially to using French (enclosed) seams during at some times I was quilting through up to seven layers.  It was so much extra time and care, and frustration.  Many broken needles and shredded threads.  (I, like most long armers charge by the square inch, and lose money when extra work has to be done in just prep and problem solving)  I had to adjust my quilt designs to take up lots of extra fabric, and had to increase the density in the pieced appliqué blocks to keep things flat and straight working down the quilt from top to bottom on the frame.  In addition, because of having been stored on and off, there were several spots on the quilt with water marks from being wet, or bleeding from prints onto lighter background fabric.  I took pictures as I went and tried my best to use designs to hide places where discoloration might show.  I decided from the beginning not to mark the quilt since the fabric was old enough to be unreliable.  On the up side, I learned to solve problems I had never seen before, and came out a better quilter!  But I think I ended up making about $2.00 an hour with a $24,000.00 long arm machine.  Not ideal to support my studio.




When spending all that time and money piecing your beautiful quilt, it is so important to measure accurately, cut correctly and sew exacting 1/4 inch seams to insure your quilt is straight and true.  For a long armer, stitching in the ditch and around appliqué, and designing and quilting lovely sashing and borders depend on straight seams, and accurate piecing.  A long armer can cover some small indiscretions, and can straighten and adjust to a point, but the end product and finished beauty of your quilt starts with you!


There are different styles and preferences of which way to press:  open seams, to one side or the other, and to the dark side (darker fabric color/print).  But which ever you choose, when your top is complete, press and steam your beautiful work thoughtfully and thoroughly.  When the long armer loads your top onto the frame, the best success can be achieved with crisp, smooth and flat seams!  Stitching in the ditch makes your finished quilt look so beautiful, and with a good pressing to one side, the SID threads are almost invisible as they sink into the seam in the groove left by the layers beneath pressed to one side or the other.  It makes the long armer's job easier, but more importantly, looks amazing when it's done!  Designs pop, or blend, or flow.

*one school of thought is that pressing to one side or the other is actually prolonging the life of the thread/quilt.  By burying the seam threads of the piecing in the double layers of the seam pressed to one side, you are protecting those threads for longer wear, more washing, and more loving use.  By pressing open, it is believed, you expose those threads to more wear and stress, reducing the life of the threads and the seam.*


Especially with darker fabrics, when a quilt is made in a home with pets, there are the tell tale signs of their love and attention (hair, lol) left on the quilt top.  If possible, use a lint roller or tape to remove as much as possible before you send to the long armer.  In my case, I have a lint roller next to my machine, and I do the pick up of threads and pet hair as I go, but it does take extra time away from what I want to be doing...quilting your lovely quilting!

Also, when piecing, watch for those threads that get caught between seams and end up poking through on your quilt top.  Or clip them yourself after or during pressing, to insure the top is ready to start.  I am always nervous when a top arrives with lots of extra thread, frayed fabric threads, or unclipped construction threads because I don't want one more possibility of damaging your lovely quilt top when I have to cut them on the frame.  And of course, all that clean up takes time.


Backings should be at least four inches longer on all four sides than your quilt top.  If seamed, they should also be straight and true, and pressed.  If the backing has piecing designs, it should be clear in which direction the piecing should go, and if labels are included in the piecing, the orientation should be made clear to the long armer.

Batting should not be pieced in most cases, and should also be at least 3 inches or so larger on all sides than the quilt top.  If possible, it should already be cut to fit, and not left to the long armer to sort out larger sides or pieces if it comes bagged and not as yardage.  The least left to chance or communication error, the more success the end product will achieve.

If you need the long armer to do extra services for you, (like piecing your backing, providing batting, or squaring up your quilt for binding, or actually binding the quilt...some long armers do not do these extras, but many do for an added charge), please arrange for them in advance, and make sure the long armer knows what to expect.  It impacts the wait time for other quilts in the cue, and will keep everyone clear and respectful of time, cost and outcome.

Do as much prep work as possible in advance, and the result will be more time for the long armer to work on the quilt designs for your glorious quilt!!!

Monday, September 18, 2017

ASSEMBLY LINE or One of a Kind

It's Fall!!  Pumpkin-ticipating!!  Sweaters at the ready!!
Time to dust off the pumpkin colored stash and throw together some awesome hostess gifts, home decorations, and new class projects for the season.

A quick and fun table runner project quickly became multiplied by four as I got a custom order from a long time client when she saw the fabrics I was using to make this runner as a gift for a fall wine and cheese party.

I decided to do the piecing chain style and put together four table runners at one time.  Each is still hand made.  Each is still individually quilted and lovingly finished, but I'm addressing the issue of saving time by making a few at once.

First I picked the center panel and sashing and border fabric, and did it almost improv style in terms of "measuring from the hip."

I guesstimated the fabric lengths by using width of fabric cuttings, and ended up with very little waste.  I figured the center panel at around 26 inches by 12 inches, enough to highlight the fabulous fun of the print, and fit any table or countertop.  I estimated sashing and borders by one WOF cut per side and one WOF cut for top and bottom combined.  I did the same with borders, adding one extra WOF cut for error room.  I did end up piecing the short end of each border, but had the extra from trimmed long sides, and it all came out very close.  I didn't stress over seam allowances in cutting, since this is an easy pattern to replicate or customize to your own size demands.  I DID apply exacting 1/4 inch seams, so all the sides would be square and straight.

I clipped, squared, and pressed as I went along, to keep organized and chain pieced sashing and borders two runners at a time.  It was a really fun process (like the feeling you get when improving) to just cut and go on to the next, and not spend so much time measuring and stressing over perfection.

I have other blog posts about how much I love smaller projects for not only gifting and classes, but for returning to the joy and instant gratification we need every now and then to keep our creative juices flowing and not get bogged down in huge projects.

I mounted them all on the quilting frame side by side and advanced after finishing all the sections in a row.  Another time saver, and a fun way to work on various skills and quilt designs in new ways.

I loved finding swirl fabric in my stash to compliment the swirls in the newly purchased pumpkin and crows fabric from this season at Timeless Treasures.  Even the burnt orange sashing from Michael Miller was in my stash and made a great frame for the autumn theme.  

I used muslin for the backing for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it's inexpensive, easy to stock in the studio in various widths for the longarm frame and co ordinates with the cream ground of the center panel.  And secondly, I didn't use fall quilting designs.  I used curls and swirls and brackets and stitched in the ditch to outline borders, and that makes this table runner reversible.  You can flip it and use the solid side on into the fall past Halloween and get more use from the table runner than just a seasonal decoration.

Can't wait to get these off the frame and onto my kitchen island.  Make something of your own (times two or three or four) with these simple techniques of chain piecing and assembly line multiples.  Have fun, and share pics in the comment section!!!

Happy Fall, and let's quilt!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

STAGGERED COINS...improve and color

A wonderful repeat customer of mine recently ordered a custom quilt as a gift.  She traditionally picks one fabric, a Batik, and then turns me loose.  This time, the gift was a housewarming thank you for a relative in England moving into her new home.  Mid Century Modern, minimalist, neutral.  She picked a gorgeous neutral Batik with quiet pops of bright sea colors, green and teal and blue.  Perfect to add a stack of coins in solids and use the Batik as the primary focus.

I decided to improv the stack of coins and stagger them in organized chaos.  I took a strip of solid and a strip of Batik and sewed them into a tube.  Then I cut each tube into even strips about 3 inches wide but width of tube.  Then I laid them out to sort a good balance of color for the stack.  In the photo below, the tubes are already assembled and cut to width.  The under side of each strip is a strip of Batik with a seam on each short side.

And then, I turned the tube over and cut each Batik side apart at varying places so that when assembled, the solid area would never line up.

You can see the coins being pressed and that each outer edge has a different length of Batik to stagger the stack.

Then, I added large sections of Batik to each side.  And on to my favorite part, the long arm quilting.  The request was to have the fabric and the quilting be the stars of this quilt, so large areas of Batik were dedicated to swirls and pebbles in order to add texture and detail.  The light tan fabric in the coins is used as the backing, so every stitch shows up on the reverse side on a nice solid blank canvas in contrast to the busy Batik front.

I originally planed a feather for the staggered coin stack, but when I got there I loved the idea of each solid strip getting its own special design so I could show off a whole bunch of different stitches.

So the finished product was a quick to piece color study, that was especially fun to quilt and added subtle pop to a neutral room with great success.  

Starting with one fabric and limiting your palette keeps things simple while with big impact in texture.

Let's get quilting...what colors next??

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Small Project Success: TableRunners, Mats and Hot Pads

TABLERUNNERS:  Perfect Project for Samples!

working with batiks and sashing ideas

jelly roll race challenge made three holiday runners

finding designs that compliment a favorite print

How do YOU learn a new technique or try a new design?  I have had students waste yards and yards of fabric and batting trying out new things.  But we HAVE to practice!!  So rather than throw those swatches away, I try to make small projects with them, and they don't have to be perfect.  There are some great suggestions for what to do with these samplers, even if they're quilted over and over with stitches.  My favorite is:

Dog Beds!!   Take your muslin or sample fabric larger practice quilts and square them and bind them for shelters and rescues as little sleep mats for dogs and cats in temporary housing till they find their forever homes.  For smaller animals, even a rectangle 24" x 20" can make a perfect quilted bed.  Make larger pieces when you have them for larger dogs.  When you have several made up, find your favorite rescue or shelter to drop off.  They'll love them, and your stitches don't have to be perfect.  

I also save the little bits of fabric and batting scraps I trim off when working on all my other projects and use them as stuffing for pillow style donation dog and cat beds.  This is a great project for using up larger pieces from my stash that I no longer want.  (I actually love to go through my fabric bins from time to time to thin out storage for new purchases.)  I take my large scraps, and then my practice quilt samplers and sew them together right sides together leaving an opening for turning.  Then I cut up my bag of scrap cuttings into smallish pieces and stuff the bed and top stitch the opening closed.

In one of my earlier blogs, you'll find a fun tutorial on making journal covers out of smaller quilted projects.  In that case, I did a strata technique for the quilt sample.  But of course, you can use any sample the right approximate size.

But my favorite is to make table runners and table mats and hot pads out of my test stitching.  I just can't stand to waste anything, and these are also great ways to try out different fabrics without piecing to see how they look when quilted.  Often I learn a lot about size of print and size of quilt design, scale and what works and what doesn't.  Theory isn't as good for me as actually seeing the results of my ideas.

I'd love to hear what you do with your practice samples, and see pics if you decide to try any of these ideas.  Pair the runner or mat with a candle or interesting pottery pitcher or bowl and it makes a fantastic and thoughtful gift!

Let's quilt something!  ~Beth

Monday, April 11, 2016

Day of the Dead: The Quilting

In an earlier post, I talked about a repeat client of mine who is not a quilter, but who found a piece of fabric that she fell in love with, and bought a big chunk of it, and saved it for some time before deciding to ask me to make it into a quilt.  She didn't give me many parameters, but did want me to work in the medium blue color into whatever fabrics I could find to accent the very busy and unusual Dio Des Los Metros fabric skeleton band.  And she wanted it big enough to wrap up in to watch TV or read a book or take a nap.

As I built the center fussy cut feature diamond, and worked several complementary fabrics into the simply pieced design (she wanted the feature fabric to be the star) I decided not to quilt a skull design edge to edge as I originally considered, and threw my shoulder into unusual combinations that did not overwhelm the prints, but worked well together and tied the feathers from some of the strips together by adding them to the corner units of the center diamond medallion. 

I circled the fussy cut skelly band in the center diamond, and microstippled around them so when the quilt is washed, they will puff up.  I then feathered the outside of the circle, and echoed out tot the sashing border.

Then a curvy oyster clam design for the side feature panels.

And each strip of accent fabrics has its own border design.  Adding some feathers, and some jungle fern borders kept things curvy but not obtrusive.

Just have to bind it now in the chevron fabric, and make a label with machine embroidery...a little saying she wants to add about life as a journey.  Should be fun when it's finished, and it was a challenging and interesting project.  I'll post again about a particular problem with the blue backing fabric and how to be creative when bad things happen!  Till then, 
happy quilting!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Breast Cancer Quilt in Loopy Edge to Edge

One of the great things about having your own small business is being able to make choices for yourself without hesitation!  Recently, one of my long arm clients decided to make a quilt to donate in honor of some things she's going through in her own life, and I had the great pleasure of quilting it for her.  She wanted a large edge to edge and we decided on a loopy swirl flower design that complimented the rail fence straight lines of the piecing.  And here's the best part:  I split the long arm service with her so that I could participate in a small way in her generous gesture.  I lost my own mom to breast cancer four years ago, and I always try to participate whenever possible in any kindness extended to women fighting the good fight.  (My mom got 27 years more by taking treatment and continuing her fight.  During that time she met great grandchildren, saw many family victories and celebrations and inspired so many with her courage.) 

Geometric piecing of rail fence design is set off nicely with the feminine texture of swirly loopy flowers.

The backing fabric is tiny pink ribbons on a creamy ground, so I used the palest pink thread on top and in the bobbin to set off the texture and not conflict with too much color statement to interfere with the lovely collection of pink piecing fabrics!  (thread is 50 wt. So Fine by Superior, my favorite quilting thread ever!)

So honored to be a part of this kindness.  Great job, Karen!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


I recently was asked by a dear friend to quilt her bargello quilt from a class she took.  She used great autumn colors as well as prints with leaves and nature motifs to establish a theme in her project.  When we got to discussing quilt designs, she knew she wanted whimsy, but also wanted to incorporate her theme of autumn leaves into the quilt designs.  We had fun looking at leaf samples and drawing out a few sketch ideas, and settled on one kind of three section leaf and curls for the outer border, then swirls for a thin sashing, and all over oak leaves (five section leaf) with echoes and swirls for the center bargello section.  Her backing was pumpkin colored flannel, which was soft and cozy, but some of the detail of the quilting was lost on the back, as the thread sunk into the nap and left behind mostly a feeling of texture.  All in all, I was very happy with the outcome, and that the theme was successful in its execution from piecing to quilting.

A couple of weeks later, I heard from another lady in my friend's quilt class who had liked my work and wanted me to quilt HER bargello as well.  I was excited to try a completely different approach to the same basic quilt, but when she brought it to our consolation, she had liked the whimsy of the autumn quilt and wanted to use a theme for her Christmas version as well.  She had picked fabrics with holly in almost every print, and a tone on tone holly and swirl print for the backing.  So we again went to the theme, in this case holly, to help us select the quilting designs.  We ended up sketching the outer border with holly, berries and swirls, and she did not want dense quilting, so I tried to do more curls and swirls than holly leaves.  In the thin sashing, once again she liked the curls, so we did simple reverse curls about two inches apart to keep even this smaller detail more open.  And for the bargello center, we went with a meander of curls, berries, and occasional holly leaves in the busy piecing.  I love how this turned out.  It is somewhat similar to the autumn quilt in style:  whimsey and curls and natural motifs, but used the elements in the fabrics to help us settle on a quilting design that made the whole thing cohesive and theme oriented.

I sort of hope I'm not developing a personal style that I can't break out of, so my next personal project will be something completely different, like ruler work, to keep mixing it up a bit.  Over and over I hear quilt teachers mention your personal style developing over time like a signature.  But it's always a part of a quilter's journey to stretch, learn and grow, and I hope I can keep fresh ideas and emerging skills at the forefront of my own quilt projects to continue to improve.

What a pleasure to work on two such fun projects, and thank you to both quilt makers (Debbie and Karen) for trusting me with your lovely work.