Big Changes at the Studio

Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter will have received this information yesterday. But here it is again for anyone who may have missed it:

After thinking about this for a long time, I’ve decided to semi-retire. While I still enjoy quilting, I no longer wish maintain retail space and quilt on a full-time basis. I have many projects in my home and yard that I want to complete, and I miss the flexibility of taking off on the spur of the moment for long weekends with my husband (he doesn’t work on Fridays) to go camping, bicycling, etc.

Therefore, beginning Monday, June 23th, I will only be quilting on a part-time basis and will no longer have regular shop hours. All drop offs or pickups will be by appointment or chance. (Email me at or call 605-878-4587 for appointments.)

I will not be taking in any quilts for the next few weeks as I had a huge number of quilts dropped off recently. However, if your quilt is here now it will be done in the timeframe I promised you.

I plan to sell my A-1 Quilting Machine, and will then move my other machine back to my home. The A-1 is a 2008 system on a 14’ frame. You can read about the features of the A-1 here. This is a great machine that I would like to keep but it will not fit in my space at home. If you know of someone who might be interested, please have them contact me.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.54.32 AM

I will have a sale sometime in the near future to reduce my inventory of batting and wide backs. There will also be some quilt tops, finished quilted samples and fixtures available, so watch for a future email letting you know of the dates.

I want to thank everyone who has supported my shop during the last 5-1/2 years. It’s been great fun seeing what you were working on, helping you with your next project, and turning your beautiful quilt tops into finished quilts. And I look forward to continuing to add my part to your wonderful quilts during this next chapter of my quilting career!



Ask the Longarmer – Thread Color

I want dark green thread on the top of my quilt, and white on the back. Why can’t you do this?

Actually, while this can be done, I usually advise against using two different colors of thread as you might not be very happy with the outcome. With a longarm quilting machine, we are moving the machine around in all directions over the quilt sandwich at a high rate of speed. As we change direction, the thread tension often changes slightly as well. Ideally the portion of a stitch where the top and bobbin thread meet will lock exactly in the center layer of the batting, but this is not always the case. Then you end up with what we longarmers call ‘pokies’ – little dots of the top thread showing on the backing, or bobbin thread showing on the top of the quilt sandwich. When you use two threads that differ widely in color or value, these ‘pokies’ are very pronounced.

Here is a design stitched with green thread on white fabric – pretty, isn’t it? (Panto is Holly Panto 3 by Donna Kleinke of One Song Needle Arts.)


The contrast of green thread on white fabric really lets this lovely quilting design show.

What happens when we use a contrasting thread in the bobbin? Now the back of the quilt is not very attractive, right?

    Using white thread in the bobbin allows 'pokies' of the top thread to show if the tension isn't perfectly balanced.

Using contrasting white thread in the bobbin allows ‘pokies’ of the top thread to show on the back of the quilt if the tension isn’t perfectly balanced.

(Sometimes we can minimize the effect by using a thinner thread, or a high loft batting. So if you have your heart set on contrasting thread colors, choose a loftier batting.)

Normally when I explain this to a client, and show them a sample of what can happen, they agree with me to use the same color thread on top and in the bobbin. After all, if you were hand quilting your quilt, and using white thread on top, what color would you use on the back???????

Ask The Longarmer – Backing & Batting

Do you really need the quilt backing and batting to be 8″ larger than the quilt top? I don’t cut them that big if I’m hand quilting or quilting on my domestic sewing machine (DSM)!

There are several reasons why I ask for the batting and backing to be a total of 8″ wider and 8″ longer than your quilt top. When you are hand quilting or quilting on your DSM, you baste the layers together before starting. Since you lay everything out flat, it allows you to see if you are going to come up short in one area or another BEFORE you ever start the quilting process. Then you can make adjustments so you don’t run out of backing over there in the lower left corner, or wherever.

I do NOT baste your layers together before loading them on the frame. First, I load the backing on a set of rollers. The backing is attached to canvas leaders, either by pins, or a clamping system. The clamps I use take up about 1″ on both the top and the bottom edges of the backing. Since I don’t want to hit these clamps while sewing, and break my hopping foot, I need to leave a little breathing room – let’s say another inch on each end.

Now let’s take a break from quilting and go read a magazine…..what?? Bear with me, and you’ll see how it pertains to our discussion!

See how the front cover (quilt top), pages (batting) and back cover (quilt backing) are all perfectly aligned?


Now what happens when I roll the magazine up???


All of a sudden the back cover is much shorter than the front cover! This is exactly what happens when I roll the quilt up on the frame as I quilt my way down it – the backing ‘shrinks up’. Different thicknesses (lofts) of batting will make this phenomenon even more pronounced. (So if you DO have a quilt back that’s on the skimpy side, you should request a thin batting…….or go buy a new backing ;-). Consider an extra-wide quilt backing – it means you don’t have to piece, and it will save you money as well!) So now you know why I need several extra inches in length.

Why do I need the extra width? Well, again, I use clamps on the sides of your quilts to apply the right amount of tension to prevent pleats and puckers on the backing. Those clamps take up an inch or so……don’t want to run into them with the hopping foot…..yada, yada, yada…..oh, and it also gives me a place to test my thread tension before starting to sew on your quilt top. Different combinations of backing fabrics and battings and threads can require some ‘tweaking’ to get stitches that look pretty. I’d rather test that out on the side than on your quilt top.

It’s also important for your quilt back to be square. If you give me a backing that looks like a parallelogram, when I load each edge onto the rollers and roll it up, instead of being nice and flat and straight, it’s going to look like a hammock.


(While hammocks are lovely for sleeping in on a warm summer day, they don’t make nice quilt backs. You will end up with pleats and puckers on the back of your quilt, I’ll be sad that I couldn’t do a nice job for you, and neither of us will be happy!)

Since many backs come to me that are NOT square, the extra inches also allow me to square your backing up without it ending up too short. Yes, that’s something that takes me extra time, and No, I do not charge a separate fee for squaring a backing (although I’ve heard that some longarmers do). But it’s just one more way that I can ensure your quilt comes out looking great in the end (and on the back)!

So now do you understand why I ask for an extra 8″? 😉

Ask the Longarmer….

When I’m working on a quilt, I often have lots of time to think. Sometimes I wonder if my clients question why I do some of the things I do, or have certain requirements for them to follow. (“Really?!?!? She wants me to do WHAT????”) 😉


I’ve been longarm quilting for over 10 years now, so most of what I do is second nature to me. But I realize what is commonplace to me may be very foreign to someone who has not worked on a longarm – or maybe even seen one in person. I’m starting a new feature here on my blog called “Ask the Longarmer”. I’ll offer tips and hints and insight into why I ask you for some of the things I do. There really ARE logical reasons for my requests, and the end result will be a quilt we can both be proud of.

I’d also like to answer questions from you if there is something in the process that is confusing or does not make sense. Please email your questions to me at I’ll keep copies of these posts all together on the “Ask the Longarmer” page – you can find that on a tab way up on the top of my blog. So you can always return to that page if you need a refresher on something. And if you subscribe to my blog (over on the left side) you’ll be sure to never miss a post.

So let’s get started. Here is something you might be wondering about:

What is the stitching around the edges of the quilt, and why is the thread color sometimes different than the main quilting design?

When I load your quilt on the frame, I baste the edges of your top to the batting and backing as I work my way down the quilt. This ensures that the quilt will stay square and straight. Not all LAers do this, as it takes more time, but it’s important to me to have your quilt look it’s best when it’s finished. The thread is sometimes different colors as this is how I use up partial bobbins ;-) . You may remove this stitching if you wish, but most clients tell me they like it as it makes it easier to apply their binding.

So now it’s your turn – what would YOU like to know? You can post as a comment below, or email me and I’ll try to answer in an upcoming post.

Christmas Trees and Snowballs Quilt

I haven’t posted any quilts lately, so I thought I would show you one that I finished recently. My customer Liz created the top by combining two patterns from Natalia Bonner’s blog/website (piecenquilt). Liz always does wonderful work and it’s a pleasure to work on her tops. She suggested wind or clouds in the blue,  a feeling of snow drifts in the white, and perhaps snowflakes in the snowball blocks. The picture below doesn’t show all of the quilt, I think there were actually five rows of blocks below the tree panel.


I did freehand work for the sky and the snow.


The sashing work was also handguided, using a ruler for the straight lines. Time consuming, with lots of stops and starts, but I really like how it looks. And yes, the four white ‘points’ were all hand appliqued!


My IntelliQuilter stitched out the snowflakes in the snowball blocks. I alternated between 8 different snowflake designs. Here are just two of them:



What a fun quilt for Liz to have on her bed for the winter!  I hope this is the ONLY kind of snow I have to endure this winter 😉

Edge-to-Edge or Custom Quilting? Part 2

So now that we know about overall/edge-to-edge quilting, (you can read my first post on that here) what exactly is custom quilting? Custom is any type of design that does NOT completely cover the quilt top with one pattern. There are actually different levels of custom quilting. I sometimes break them down into semi-custom, simple custom, full custom, and heirloom. (Other quilters may have different terminology.)

An example of semi-custom quilting. An overall design in the body of the quilt, with separate border treatments.

An example of semi-custom quilting. An overall design in the body of the quilt, with separate border treatments. (Click photo to enlarge)

The distinctions between levels is not clear cut. The simplest form (semi-custom) is an overall design in the body of the quilt, with a separate design in the border. But just as there is a wide variety of quilt tops, there are also many variations of custom quilting. Each time an additional treatment is added to a quilt, it adds time, complexity and cost. (A ‘treatment’ is each differing design, border, sashing, stippling around applique, etc.)

So if a quilt is made of 60 blocks, but they are all the same, I might only need to decide on one block design, one sashing design, and one border design. Another quilt may have only 30 blocks but they are all different. Now much more time needs to be spent on how to quilt each of the blocks. Therefore the first quilt might be simple custom (only 3 treatments), while the second quilt would be full custom.

Simple Custom - the same design in each block, with a different design in the sashing.

Simple Custom – the same design in each block, with a different design in the sashing. (Click photo to enlarge)

A word about stitch-in-the-ditch (SID). Many customers come to me and say “Do something simple like SID”. When you are quilting on your regular sit down sewing machine, SID is fairly easy, as you have feed dogs to guide the quilt sandwich and pull it evenly through the machine. However, on a longarm machine it is quite different. Not only do we not have feed dogs, but we are ‘driving’ the machine around on the fabric, rather than pushing the fabric through the machine. It is very difficult to move the machine perfectly along the (hopefully ;-)) straight line of the ‘ditch’. Most longarmers actually use an acrylic ruler to help guide the machine in that straight line (or along the twisty windy path around an applique design), and slow down considerably. So SID and other types of straight-line quilting are technically more difficult and slower than other types of LA quilting. For this reason, some longarmers do not offer it, or if they do they must charge a premium price for it. I actually like doing ruler work, and if you’ve seen the custom quilting I do, I often combine straight lines with other treatments. I love the way it looks, but it is time consuming, so it does cost more than other types of treatments.

Ruler work in the black sashing and outer border. These treatments take extra time to space evenly, mark, and sew with templates.

Ruler work in the black sashing and outer border. These treatments take extra time to space evenly, mark, and sew with templates. (Click photo to enlarge)

Heirloom quilting is the top-of-the-line show quilt stuff. I could quilt two identical tops with feathers, but one could be full custom and the other could be heirloom. What’s the difference? On a full custom quilt my feathers would be more freeform random feathers that are not necessarily symmetrical or identical. Background fills would be medium to small sized. There would be some SID to separate perhaps the body of the quilt from the borders, but no extensive SID or ruler work.

Informal feathers - these are not marked and may be more randomly spaced.

Informal feathers – these are not marked and may be more randomly spaced. (Click photo to enlarge)

Quilt B (heirloom), would have more formal feathers, usually using marked designs to keep them looking alike. Background fills would be smaller, there would be more SID, and many of the designs would require measuring and math to be sure they are spaced evenly.

Formal feather border

Formal feather border (Click photo to enlarge)


Center of applique quilt with heirloom quilting. (Click photo to enlarge)

I also try to come up with unique designs to fit the top – for instance once I had a quilt with a fleur-de-lis design in the fabric, and I repeated that design in open areas of the quilt. Which means I often custom design a motif just for that quilt.

Center of Wilderness quilt with custom designed pine cone motifs.

Center of Wilderness quilt with custom designed pine cone motifs. (Click photo to enlarge)

Now that you know about some different types of quilting, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself in order to determine which type is right for your quilt. I’ll cover those questions in my next blog post. To be sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to my blog for future updates (on the upper left of this webpage, or below if you’re on a mobile device). You can also “Like” my page on Facebook. And feel free to share my site with your friends!

Part 3 of this article has been posted here

Edge-to-Edge or Custom Quilting? Part 1

When deciding to work with a longarm quilter, or quilt your own top on a standup frame system, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether to have your quilt custom quilted or finished with edge-to-edge quilting. How do you decide? And what exactly are the differences?

Edge-to-edge quilting, also known as overall quilting, ignores the pieced design of the quilt top. A random, usually repeating pattern is stitched on all portions of the quilt. Sometimes this is done from the back of the machine, tracing a paper pattern called a pantograph (panto for short), with a laser light or stylus. An overall design can also be worked from the front of the machine as a freehand design – in effect the quilter is ‘doodling’ on the quilt top, making up the design as she goes.


An edge-to-edge pantograph quilting design

If you are a beginning longarm quilter, there are many things to learn – how to load the quilt on the frame and keep it square as you are quilting. How to choose threads and balance the tension between the top and bobbin threads. How to move the machine smoothly and evenly to get a consistent stitch length and lines that don’t wobble. If you are then trying to think about what design to stitch and how to not get boxed into a corner at the same time, sometimes it can get frustrating and overwhelming.

Using a pantograph pattern can support you like training wheels on a bicycle do. The wheels keep you from falling over while you are learning to pedal, steer, and keep your balance. A pantograph pattern gives you a map to follow, so you can focus your attention on keeping your movements smooth and even, instead of thinking of where to go next, and how to control the spacing so the design is even. Once you have quilted an entire quilt with a panto, I think you will find you have much more confidence in your ability to control your machine. Compare your first rows with the rows near the end – I bet your stitch length will be more even, and your long sweeping lines of stitching will have fewer wobbles.


A pantograph pattern on the back of the longarm machine.

Practicing a panto pattern also helps you learn to freehand. As you are following the pattern, notice how you need to slow down your movements on the long straighter sections (to keep the stitches from getting too large), and speed up as you are doing smaller, tighter motifs. When changing directions, you need to move in and out of points quickly or there will be a buildup of thread, resulting in a knot or the thread breaking. Pantos are a great way to learn the basics of longarm quilting, and while you are learning, you are finishing some of your quilt tops as well!

Although it’s been 12 years since I got my first longarm, I still remember the awe I felt at what this marvelous machine could accomplish, and my pride at finishing my first ‘real’ quilt top (I practiced on lots of muslin first), even though I just used a very simple panto on it!


The first quilt ever done on my longarm.
Quilted with the panto “Cotton Candy” by Norma Sharp.

In another post I’ll talk about Custom Quilting. If you don’t want to miss out, be sure and subscribe to my blog on the left side of this page (or down below if you’re on a mobile device) to be notified when I publish it!

Happy Quilting!

Part 2 of this article has been posted here

%d bloggers like this: