Long Arm Quilting Adventure: Somerville Homeless Coalition Quilt

by Judy Tucker

While I usually do the quilting on my projects on my domestic sewing machine, sometimes it just makes more sense to quilt it with a long-arm quilting machine. It's fast, the quilt is flat and stable on the quilt frame and using a computerized design, the quilting is high quality and very consistent.

Janet, just starting the quilting with the long-arm

My friend, Janet, (chief quilter on this project), decided that she wanted quilt the raffle quilt for the Somerville Homeless Coalition on the long-arm.  She just felt it was a bit too large at Queen size to quilt on a domestic sewing machine.  So off we went to one of our favorite quilt shops, Bits 'n Pieces Quilt and Fabric Shoppe, in Pelham, New Hampshire.

Liz, the shop owner, rents the Handi Quilter long-arm machines.  (She'll be happy to sell you one too, if you so desire)!  The first time you use the long-arm, a lesson is included.  But even when you have been a number of times,
the staff is always there to help you with the set up, re-setting the computer when the bobbin runs out in the middle of a section or any time if you have questions or concerns.

Liz is a wizard when it comes to the ins and outs of the Handi Quilter Long-arm machines. She can solve problems that look impossible so that your quilt comes out looking fabulous.  It is just so much fun to work with her.   Her daughter, Alyssa, is often there to help as well and she is great too.

They have two large binders full of computerized quilting designs.  I've used pantographs which are linear and run across the body of the quilt and designs that just fit in a single block.  They have a design that will be just right for your quilt.  They also have a huge collection of quilting thread.  Both the thread and the quilting design are included in the cost of the quilting.  I love looking at all the quilting patterns and then finding just the right color thread.

The staff is happy to help you choose if you don't know what might work best.  This time we were just quilting the center of the quilt and stopping at the borders. Alyssa looked a the first design we picked out and showed us that the pattern was going to leave a number of empty un-quilted spaces because of the way it started and stopped each line.  So we went back to the patterns and found something at worked perfectly.  They had an example of the design we decided to use on a quilt in the shop and she sent us off to look at it before we started.  That was really helpful.

If you prefer, you can also do your quilting on the long-arm manually with whatever design you want to create.  I've always chosen to use the computer driven designs.

Pinning the lower layer of the quilt to the long-arm frame
With long-arm quilting, the quilt top and bottom are pinned to fabric that is on the rollers of the frame and the batting is then slipped in-between the two layers.  It is nice not to have to sandwich the quilt by crawling around on the floor with a container of safety pins!

Backing is on the frame, and rolled tight.  It's ready to add the quilt top.

Ready to quilt!  The quilt top is rolled on the 2nd front roller and the batting is draped over the first roller.

I down-loaded these two video clips from my phone.  I don't think the start arrow in the frame will work on the blog site, but you should be able to see a couple seconds of the long-arm in action.
The computer on the long-arm can stitch a design itself--"Look, Ma, No hands!"

Close-up of the quilting process.  

Is this not seriously cool??

If you live in the greater Boston area or Southern New Hampshire and are interested in trying long-arm quilting, I highly recommend you try it at Bits 'n Pieces!  (They also take quilt tops and will quilt them for you).

PS--The shop has a huge inventory of fabric on bolts and pre-cuts.  Just visiting to shop for fabric and supplies is totally amazing!

The quilt is almost finished.  The binding just needs to be completed.  I'll post again when it the quilt is totally done.