Quilting from the Center Out on a Longarm

On Sunday, I posted a blog where I mentioned that I quilted Anne’s Judy Niemeyer Quilt from the center out.  Why, you ask?   Let me explain….

Before I start let me say: this story ends up with a solution, and I am very happy!

I have been Longarm quilting for 6 years. I love what I do, and I have an 8-month waiting list, so others seem to like my work too. Unfortunately, I have had one reoccurring semi-occasional issue with quilts that have lots of seams coming together in one spot, especially when these seams have diagonal lines. The issue is ensuring that the area where those seams meet remains flat. I aim for all my quilts to be technically correct, so this really bothered me. For the last two years, I have been searching for an answer.  I have talked to many other longarmers both in person and online. I have also talked to all of the instructors of classes I taken in that time (the subject of another blog in the works). I tried lots of things, and the problem was getting better.

Then I had an ‘ahah’ moment!  I was reading a post on the APQS Forum where someone asked how to longarm a quilt where the pattern needs to start in the center.  Linda Rech explained how she has quilted from the center on a longarm.  I asked a few questions, and then I was off to try it!

So why did this catch my attention? For 15 years, I have been teaching quilters using domestic machines to start quilting in the center of their quilt!  Let me repeat, start quilting in the center!!!  When I started quilting on a longarm, I, like most longarmers, quilted all quilts from the top to the bottom, because of the nature of loading a quilt on the frame.  Now I am thinking this is exactly the problem.  When we quilt from the center out, the problem area is stitched down 1st and then any excess fullness gets pushed to the outside of the quilt!

Ahah! Do you sense my excitement?!

So on this quilt, which was beautifully pieced by Anne Hall, there are many seams coming into the center.  It was laying perfectly flat when it came to me, and I wanted to keep it that way!  So I tried this new-to-me method, and it worked!  

 Here is the method I used:

  1. Load back and batting as normal.
  2. Lay top on frame in the same way you would to float a quilt, but do not stitch in place.  Instead, pin the top edge of the quilt as close to the edge as you can, with pins touching end to end.  When the quilt gets rolled on the rollers, it will fold over if the pins are not well placed. Not the best picture, but all I have: you can see these pins just under the edge of the black bar. 
  3.  Continue pinning in a 4-6 inch grid, rolling the quilt on the top roller as you go until you get just past the center.   
  4. Stitch some stabilizing lines in the center of the quilt. In this case, I ditched in the seams of the leaves from the center towards the outside of the leaf.  It was tempting to come back to the center down the other side of the leaf, but I did not.  I stopped and started again in the center. I the pinned inside these sections, to keep them from getting wrinkled when I rolled up the quilt.
  5. From the center, work down the quilt to the bottom edge.  I still did not stitch the very outside edge, I just used lots of pins.
  6. When you reach the bottom, roll up to the center.
  7. Continue stabilizing by stitching down major sections from the center to the top edge.
  8. Now return to center and start filling in all areas from the center out! 
  9. Done and flat!

It was a little more work than stitching top to bottom, but it had a couple of advantages besides keeping the quilt flat.  All the stitching was done and thus the quilting went faster.  I seemed to be changing colour of thread less often. Now, I may be a perfectionist, but then that is what I get paid to be!

Till next Tuesday, you will find me happily quilting!

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3 responses to “Quilting from the Center Out on a Longarm

  1. Thank you for your informative posts. They’re so helpful. In your first photo I notice that your leader grips are place facing up not down. When I load my backing they are on the bottom, then catch on my machine. How do you load your backing?

    You did a beautiful job on this quilt.

  2. Thanks for attaching the video on loading with leader grips. I found I was missing a few steps. I too have a problem with the machine catching on the leader grips. Sometimes my customers do not allow 4″ on top and bottom or at times it is off grain and the adjustment uses up the extra backing. Is it better to pin than use the leader grips?

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