Prepare Your Quilt

Be Kind to your Longarmer

I want to give you the very best quilting results that I can so that you will be proud to display your quilt or give it to a special person in your life. Here are some things you can do to facilitate a great result, speed up delivery, and possibly save you some money.

Backing Preparation

Fabric quality
Please select the best quality fabric that you can afford. A very inexpensive fabric is often weak, made with lower quality threads, and susceptible to tearing, raveling badly, or forming unsightly needle holes. A good quality fabric for the backing will give you the best result.

Size: At least 10" wider and longer than the top - finished.
Plan your backing so that after seaming and squaring, the backing will measure at least 10" wider and longer than the top. For example, if your top measures 80" x 100", the finished size of the backing should be 90" x 110". Why so much bigger? 
  • Clamps: They hold the sides of the backing fabric up and secure - preventing avoidable tucks and puckers! They can use up as much as 3 or 4 inches of space before being able to quilt without hitting them with the machine.
  • Checking Thread Tension: Every longarm machine needs to have the thread tension checked daily and sometimes with every bobbin change. Variations in thread type, air temperature and humidity, and other factors can affect thread tension. We use some of the space to one side of the top to test tension before working on  your quilt. We want beautiful stitch formation on your quilt.
  • Pinning to the Leaders: The backing is generally pinned to the leaders on the longarm rollers, or to removable zippers that attach the backing to zippers permanently attached to the leaders. It requires extra room for those pins and zippers in order for the machine to avoid them while quilting.
  • Quilt Migration: The process of quilting can result in the top migrating down the length of the backing a little. Quilters have been known to run out of backing before they run out of top, if the backing is too short. 

Piecing the backing
  • Remove all Selvedges: Selvedges do not flex - fabric does. The immovable selvedges cause issues when the backing is loaded that can cause the looser fabric to gather or pucker with quilting. They need to be removed before seaming.
  • Cut rather than rip: Fabric is never square on the bolt, and that means that the grain is probably not square to the selvedges. I suggest pre-washing and pressing the fabric (or at least pressing it) and making sure the fabric hangs square to the selvedges. Then cut your backing pieces to length with a rotary cutter and ruler.
  •  Seam Width: 3/8" to 1/2"
  • Press Seams: OPEN
Square the backing
Loading a backing onto a longarm absolutely requires a nice rectangular backing. If a longarmer receives a backing that is not straight and squared up, she often will either give it back to you to complete that step, or charge extra for doing for you. She will be happy to share ways to do the squaring.

Note: when squaring, make sure to remove selvedges along external edges. Leave no selvages on the backing.

Press the backing
Right before you bring your quilt to your longarmer, press the backing, fold it loosely. As you press, clip off any ravels (do not just pull them - that makes it worse), and make sure your seams are pressed open. 

Top Preparation

Construction Techniques
A longarmer will kiss you and give you chocolate when you bring her a well constructed top. It's not hard - just good piecing habits.
  • Accurate and consistent 1/4" seam -- after pressing! That means you will need to stitch a scant 1/4". Practice by stitching 2 1/2" x 4 1/2" pieces of fabric down the long sides, press, and measure. You are looking for that perfect 4 1/2" x 4 1/2" resulting square. Check your gauge frequently as you construct the top.
  • Press as you go. Don't wait to finish a block before pressing any of the seams. Press each seam as you go. Be gentle, you don't want to stretch your pieces and  units out of shape.
  • Press, don't iron! There is a difference. Ironing is pushing the iron back and forth or side to side under some pressure - no, no, no. Not with cut pieces. Pressing is a simple down and up. Press, don't iron.
  • Attach your borders square. This involves measuring the top before attaching the borders, cutting the various pairs of borders (left/right, top/bottom) the same length, and easing the top to fit your cut borders. The end result will be a lovely flat and nicely rectangular finished top. See “Square up your top with borders” below, for more instructions.

Trim Loose Threads and Ravels
Untrimmed thread tails, loose threads, and ravels on both sides of your top can become a problem during quilting. They can show through lighter fabrics on the top, or wave at you merrily as they poke through the seams and get caught in the quilting.
  • Trim loose threads and ravels from both the front and back of your top. It can take some time, so watch t.v. while you are trimming. Note: Never just pull out ravels. It makes them ravel more!
  • Shake off left over loose clippings from the top.   

Check for Secure Seams
Believe me, you want all of your seams to be fully stitched and secure. Otherwise, the machine can catch on a loose seam, tear the quilt, or damage the machine. Seams that un-stitch themselves with handling, especially at the edges of your quilt are not a good thing either.
  • Check your seams as you piece. Make sure you have caught all layers of fabric appropriately all long the seams.
  • Make sure your seams are secure at the ends. This is especially important at the edges of your quilt, where another seam will not cover the end of the first one. It is very easy for those edge seams to un-sew themselves under the tension of longarm quilting. You can either backstitch your seam ends, or start and stop seams using a very short stitch length.

Press the Top

Right before you bring your quilt to your longarmer, press the top, and fold it loosely. Handle gently.


You may bring your own batting, or I can supply it for you at my cost. If you bring your own, please select a quality batting that's not too thin. Warm Company batting, and Quilter's Dream (Select or above) work well. I have samples that we can look at. I always keep a supply of Warm Company batting on hand. 

If you provide the batting, please make it at least 8" longer and wider than your quilt top.


Every longarm machine has its favorite thread brands. I have color cards of my machine's favorites which will give us plenty of choices. 

Square up your Top with Borders

A way to be sure your top is nice and squared up is this:
  • Measure the top vertically down the middle and at the sides.
  • Use the smallest measurement, and cut your side borders to exactly that number.
  • Divide both the borders and the sides of the top into eighths, and mark with a pin.
  • Apply the side borders, matching up the pins, and press the seams toward the borders.
  • Measure the top horizontally across the middle and near the top and bottom (including the side borders.
  • Use the smallest measurement and cut the top and bottom borders to exactly that number.
  • Divide into eighths and apply the borders as described above.
Repeat this process for every border.

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