by Mary Beth Krapil
If you’re new to the world of longarm quilting, it can be overwhelming; as there is seemingly so much to learn. As a 10 year veteran Handi Quilter National Educator, I’ve been all over the world teaching longarm classes. I’ve met thousands of quilters and the vast majority of them have been newbies. I’ve heard all the dumb (not really) questions, and all the (unfounded) fears and (silly) misgivings. Hopefully I answered all those questions and gave those newbies courage and inspiration to dive into learning how to use their new machines. I thought I would share the ten best tips I have. It was really hard to narrow it down to just ten. I also got some help from my fellow Educators, Jane Hauprich and Linda Gosselin. We had several tips on our lists that overlapped, so I knew they must be the good ones.
#1 First and Foremost: Do NOT be afraid of your machine!
Jane shared with me that she was so terrified of her machine when she first got it, she didn’t even want to step into the room! She went to the door several times a day and peeked in. For two weeks she told herself she could not do it. Thankfully she found her courage! She is an amazing quilter and a great teacher today. Don’t be afraid. It is just a sewing machine. You’ve likely been around sewing machines for some time now. Ya, it’s big. But it’s just a sewing machine.
#2 Give yourself permission to PLAY (It’s really practice, but call it play. It sounds so much more fun that way!)
Practice PLAY every day. It sounds like a huge time commitment, but it really is not. 15 minutes a day is all it takes. Did you notice the word “every”? That is 15 minutes every day. You cannot save it up and do an hour and a half on Saturday! The key is to do a little every day so that you will build your skills. What it takes to be able to do that is to be prepared. If you have a stand-up machine have a practice piece loaded on your frame all the time. If you have a sit-down machine have a stack of prepared quilt sandwiches sitting next to your machine, all the time. That way when you have those few 15 minutes, you can go and stitch. No excuses! Schedule that time for yourself to play, you deserve it!
#4 It’s just fabric and thread. You can always buy more. See that? I just gave you permission to go to the quilt shop. You’re welcome.
#5 Draw and doodle when you can’t be at your machine. That muscle memory thing? It’s real. You will develop your skills at creating continuous line patterns. You will train your brain to know where to go next. One rule: When you draw, you must not lift your pencil!
#6 Don’t be overly critical of your stitches. You do need to take a good look at what you are doing to figure out where you need to improve and what you need to work on, but don’t expect perfection. Even the best quilters on the show circuit are not perfect.
#7 Put your first practice piece away. Don’t throw it away. Then bring it out and look at it in 6 months time. You will be amazed at how much you will have improved! That 15 minutes a day really works!
#8 Never point out your mistakes to anyone. When someone admires your quilt, just smile and say, “Thanks! I had a lot of fun making it!”. Even if the tension is bad and the points don’t match and your quilted circles are more like squares and your straight lines are only straight-ish and you chose the wrong color thread. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, those looking at your quilt (with the exception of show judges) don’t know and don’t care. They just know they like the quilt and that you worked hard to make it, so they compliment you. Soak it up.
#9 Use the same color thread in the top and in the bobbin. It can hide minor tension issues. It does not have to be the same thread, just the same color. BUT, when you are just learning how to adjust tension, use different colors top and bobbin. This will help to see how your stitches formed and help you figure out how to adjust to get it perfect. Just remember: Righty, tighty; Lefty loosey.
#10 Take classes and keep learning. Then share what you know with a newbie. It doubles the fun!