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….

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.

Edge-to-Edge or Custom Quilting – Part 4 – Questions, Anyone?

So I was going to post photos of some of the quilts I’ve done, and tell you why I chose the design I did. I find I learn a lot just by looking at photos of quilts, or quilts at shows. I analyze what I like and what I don’t like about a particular type of quilting, and try to remember that when I’m choosing quilting designs. And if I can explain to you why I chose what I did, maybe that will help you too.

BUT, it is taking me SOOO much time to find photos, clean them up, resize them, then write a description, etc. So instead, I thought what if I answered some of your questions on anything I’ve discussed up to now, or on quilts you may be working on? If someone has a top that they are puzzled on how to quilt, email me a photo, and I will try to give you suggestions.

In the meantime, you can view some of my recent customer quilts on my Flickr account, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about why I chose the patterns I did.

We Have a Winner!


Thank you to everyone who entered my blog contest by answering the question “Why Do You Quilt?”. It was really fun hearing all the different answers. There were several recurring themes….being creative; giving gifts from the heart; challenging yourself yet having fun & relaxing; being therapeutic or relieving stress; nourishing the soul, an ego booster and the friends and community found within the quilting world. Wow – I wonder how many other hobbies can offer us all of those things?? Aren’t we lucky!

Speaking of lucky, I used a random number generator and came up with our winner………Julie Thomsen!! Julie gets her choice of any of my cotton wide backings (not flannel or batiks, sorry). I’ve sent you an email, Julie, please reply with your choice of fabric and your mailing address and I’ll get your prize out to you.

And don’t forget, if you didn’t win this time, there is a 2nd way you can win. (See rules here next to the #2 symbol.) Purchase any of my wide backs during March and you will be entered into the second drawing. At the end of the month I will choose one ticket and refund the amount of that backing to the customer. Click here to shop my wide selection of quilt backings.

If you are on Facebook and have not ‘Liked’ my AndiCrafts Quilting Studio page yet, be sure and do so. You don’t want to miss out on the quilt photos, funny links, and Facebook only specials.

Edge-to-Edge or Custom Quilting? Part 3

So now we know what is meant by Edge-to-Edge (or Overall) Quilting and Custom Quilting, but how do we decide which one is right for a quilt? I usually consider 3 things :

#1 How will the quilt will be used? Is it for a child or college student – meant to be loved, dragged around, washed often? (Choose E2E).

Edge-to-Edge Daisy pattern on baby girl's quilt

Edge-to-Edge Daisy pattern on baby girl’s quilt

Or is it to be brought out only on special occasions, or maybe hung on a wall – an heirloom to be passed down through the generations? (Choose custom or heirloom).

#2 Will the design of the top allow fancy quilting to show? For example, an appliqued quilt top will almost always be enhanced with a custom quilting job, as will a Lone Star or other pattern with large areas of plainer fabric.

The plain background of the Lone Star quilt lets custom quilting designs stand out.

The plain background of the Lone Star quilt lets custom quilting designs stand out.

Whereas scrap quilts with lots of small pieces, or quilts with busy fabrics, often will not show any kind of fancy quilting designs so an overall pattern is more suitable.

A strippy quilt with no defined blocks is the perfect place for an edge-to-edge design.

A strippy quilt with no defined blocks is the perfect place for an edge-to-edge design.

#3 What is the customer’s budget? (Or if you are quilting your own, how much time do you want to put into the quilting?)

After asking yourself these questions, you should have a better idea of whether E2E or Custom is the right choice.

Let’s say you decide on E2e. Now, what pattern to choose? The other considerations are the age and sex of the recipient – I wouldn’t put hearts or flowers on a 19-year-old boy’s quilt, nor would I put basketballs on a 6-year-old girl’s quilt (unless she really happens to be into basketball!). I often choose based on the recipient’s interests, or some motif in the fabric. Sometimes the quilt will tell me how it wants to be quilted. Now that may sound weird – but with some quilts, as soon as they come in the door, an idea will pop in my head of how to quilt it.

Softball T-Shirts made into a quilt just screamed for an overall softball quilting pattern.

Softball T-Shirts made into a quilt just screamed for an overall softball quilting pattern, featuring bats, balls and gloves.

Whereas others may take me a LOOOOONG time to decide. That is called the “Stand and Stare” factor. Because I do exactly that – I stand there, staring at the quilt for many days, trying to decide what’s right. This usually happens with custom or heirloom quilts, which is another reason why they cost more. I often have to go searching for or spend time designing just the right pattern to fit a particular space.

I plan on showing you some more examples, but it may take me a while to find them. I’m VERY good about taking photos of every quilt before it leaves my Studio. I USED to be very good about filing those photos into the customer’s folder as I took them. I’m NO LONGER good at the filing thing. I now have 12,500 – YES TWELVE-THOUSAND-FIVE-HUNDRED photos on my laptop!!!! Okay, not all of them are of customer quilts. I’m guestimating 1000 photos are of my quilts and quilts I’ve taken at quilt shows, and 500 are personal photos of my house, and yard, and dogs, and family, etc. That leaves ONLY 11,000 photos that I need to organize!!! I should be able to get that done in a couple of hours, don’t you think????? So as soon as I get that done, maybe I can post some examples of what I chose to quilt on a top and why…….

In the meantime, don’t forget to visit the website to see the large selection of wide quilt backs I now carry. Purchase one (or more) during March to be entered to win that back for free! And if you feel the information I’m presenting here would be valuable to other quilters, please feel free to share my blog with your friends, on your online groups, Facebook, Pinterest……wherever.


As for me, it’s back to sorting photos……

A Recent Customer Quilt

I’m working on Part 3 of my article on types of quilting and when to choose which one. But in the mean time, how about some eye-candy?

If you’re on Facebook, you may have seen this already. But I really had fun on this one, so I wanted to share. It’s called Glacier Star, which is a paper-pieced pattern by Judy Niemeyer. My customer did a great job piecing this. I think I would have given up before I got it finished (good thing she likes to piece and I like to quilt!). She wanted custom quilting, not too dense, thread to match, but other than that it was up to me.


Glacier Star, a Judy Niemeyer pattern

I wanted to play up the circular area in the center of the quilt so I quilted a circle with flame designs around the center star. I know she doesn’t like dense background fills, so I wasn’t sure what to do in the rest of the cream area around the flying geese. Then I decided that 1/4 inch outlining would be just the thing.


I like to have continuity in a quilt, so I repeated the ‘flame’ stitching from the center in the around the black spikes of the large star, and repeated the 1/4 inch outlining in the outer New York Beauty blocks.


Feathers would have been the obvious choice in the black areas, but I wanted to do something unexpected – so I chose an orange peel fill.


She was very happy with how it turned out, and I had a lot of fun quilting this one. Hope you enjoy the photos.

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

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