Beginning Quilting

Things I Wish I Knew – Loading the Frame

January 6, 2024


In thinking about what to write about this week, it occurred to me that there are lots of tips and tricks I have learned along the way. Many of are things I wish I knew when I was starting out with longarm quilting. I think this is a good idea for an entire series of posts. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing all year, things I wish I knew.

In keeping with the perfect quilter’s world I will choose a topic and share 4 things I wish I knew, way back when. If your wondering what a perfect quilter’s world means, read last week’s post here.


Aside: If you read last week’s post, I just want to let y’all know that I… 

  1. Changed my rotary cutter blade.  Ahh…why do I always wait so long?
  2. Picked the UFO I want to finish. More on that in future posts…
  3. Chose the person I will surprise with a quilt this year.
  4. Have not had an opportunity to make a new friend yet, but I am keeping it top of mind. My guild, the Southern Wake Quilters Guild, meets on January 16th. I’ll let you know how it goes!

4 Things to know about loading your frame

1. Take your time

Loading your quilt is the foundation for success. So take your time. Don’t rush through the steps. Don’t skip steps. One of the steps many quilters skip is loading the bottom edge of the quilt top to the leader. They do what is commonly known as “floating”. When you float your quilt top you merely lay the top on the backing, paste across the top edge and call it good. The bottom edge of the quilt top is not secured in any way.

The goal when you have finished quilting is to have a flat, square quilt.

Having the quilt flat means it lies flat and has no tucks, pleats, or puckers. That is fairly self-explanatory.

definition of square

When I say square, I don’t mean that all 4 sides are the same measurement. I mean the top and bottom edges are straight and parallel to one-another, the left and right sides are straight and parallel to one-another. Also, the 4 corners are perfect right angles.

Having the quilt square means that when it is on a bed it will hang over the sides nice and evenly. When it is on a wall, it will hang flat, without waves.


Floating the quilt increases the chances that the quilt will not remain square (assuming the top started out that way). It is a known fact that stitching draws up fabric. When you stitch any fabric, it causes the fabric to draw-up and shrink. If you have an embroidery machine you likely have seen this happen. So when we baste across the top, and baste down the sides (in the throat space), and use our side clamps, we are stabilizing the top edge and the sides.  The bottom edge is not attached to anything, it is free-floating. When (not IF, but WHEN) stitching draws up the fabric, it will come from the bottom edge. The edge that is not stabilized in any way.  At each advance of the quilt this draw-up will happen. The shrinkage will accumulate, so by the time you get to the bottom of the quilt, you will have a frown instead of a straight line.

It does not take all that much time to pin that bottom edge to the leader. And it is worth it! Loading the bottom edge will keep it nice and straight throughout the quilting process. Don’t float.

2. Press

We want to avoid tucks, pleats, and puckers. Pressing the backing and the top is the first step to that end. Sometimes the piecing can cause issues but that’s a whole ‘nother story.  Press out all wrinkles and creases. Check the seam allowances and press them in the way they should go.

I also steam the deep wrinkles out of batting too. Doing this not only makes the batting nice and smooth, it gives you a chance to inspect the whole batting to make sure there are no defects.


3. Measure and square

Measure all the pieces (backing, top and batting) before loading so you know what you are dealing with and you are sure you have enough. If you are quilting for someone else, don’t take their word for it. Measure it all yourself. There is nothing worse than coming up short on backing or batting. And write it down!

Take the time to square the backing. I use a carpenter’s tape measure and a laser level (tools not found in the quilt shop) to make this job easier. Read the post about how I use them here. A square backing will load so much easier and you’ll get better results.

4. Pin straight – roll carefully – don’t stretch

When you are pinning to the leader, place the pins straight and equal distance from the raw edge for the best results. I pin to my leaders. Whatever method you use to attach your quilt to the leaders, be sure to do it straight and evenly. And take care to not stretch the fabric as you go.

Roll carefully and try not to stretch the fabric when smoothing.

When you have the backing loaded, it should form a nice flat table top with no puckers, wrinkles, or sags. If you squared the fabric well, you’ll have no issues. If you have wrinkles or sags, try rolling the fabric all the way onto the take-up bar. And then all the way back onto the belly-bar. You can do it again if needed. It is miraculous how doing that rolling fixes things right up!

The most important thing I wish I had known about loading is to take the time, don’t skip steps. Loading is a very important part of attaining success and making your quilts the best they can be.

Be sure to take a look at all the excellent videos on our YouTube channel about loading your frame. You will find one for your particular frame as well as general tips.

Quilt Every Day!

by Mary Beth Krapil







Written by

January 6th, 2024

In thinking about what to write about this week, it occurred to me that there are lots of tips and tricks I have learned along the way. Many of are […]

12 responses to “Things I Wish I Knew – Loading the Frame”

  1. I am so glad you are doing this series. I am waiting for my HQ to be delivered and I am a beginer! I have never quilted on a longarm before! Thanks for the info. I will be following your posts!

  2. This is great information, but I don’t use a frame, I have a sit down long arm. Can you give tips for that? Thank you! Looking forward to reading your blog.

    • Hi Judy, Most of my tips will be for both stationary and moveable machines, so I hope you’ll keep reading. There will also be posts specifically for stationary quilting.

  3. I have a 2004 HQ16. I am having problems . I am in regulated. I am getting with skipped stitches and my needle will hang up on the air and not go down. Do you have any idea that the cause of this may be? I got my HQ16 used and have not been using it except to practice a little.

    • Hi Joette, Sorry you’re having difficulty. When was the last time you had your machine serviced? HQ recommends bringing your machine to an authorized Handi Quilter retailer every 2 years or 10 million stitches which ever come first. I recommend talking with a Handi Quilter tech about your issues. You can find a retailer near you at

  4. my advice is to remove your bobbin and reload it into the bobbin holder. Check the bobbin space for any bits of thread.
    Rethread your machine from start to finish. This solves 95% of my problems.

    • Hi Bonnie, the Little Buddy is the exception to the rule. With the Little Buddy you will always float your quilt top.

  5. All I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I confess I am a floater. On my last loading I really wanted to attach the bottom but did not know how. Can you explain why one side of the lining and batting(or both sides but not the center) can sag as compared to the center of the quilt- when it is rolled up? I am explaining that the top edge(of lining) is pinned straight and the batting laid on top, then I roll this up to the bottom and I am so careful to keep the tension the same and I usually get a sag on one side. It just disappoints me so much and I don’t know what to do. I also see my fabric ends don’t seem to roll up staying even. I guess I need a good video.

    • Hi Susan, I think you are not squaring up your lining (backing) fabric before you load it. Make sure you take the time to square it up and you’ll get much better results.

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