How to Prepare Quilts for Longarm Quilting

Your quilt top is done (yay!) backing is chosen, and now it’s time to send your labor of love to the longarm studio! But wait– there’s still a few more steps before your quilt is ready to be handed off to your favorite longarm quilter. These steps help your quilt to look perfect after quilting, and makes the process easier and more efficient for the quilter. First, a quick overview of the longarm process– this will make the preparation steps make a lot more sense.

First, the quilter measures the sides of the quilt and backing, and marks the center of the top and bottom edges. The top edge backing is then pinned with t-pins to the leader cloth on the machine, then the bottom is pinned on the lower leader cloth. Clamps pull the backing fabric taut on either side. The backing is then tightened, and the batting is “floated” on top of the backing. The quilt top is then centered over the batting. Next, the quilter hand guides the machine in a basting stitch along the top of the quilt and down the sides. Finally, a design is programmed into the machine, or the quilter may free-motion a design onto the quilt.

While Sewing the Quilt Top

During the sewing together of your quilt blocks, be sure to back stitch or put a locking stitch at the beginning and end of every row. Even though skipping the back stitch makes sewing quicker, the seams at the perimeter of your quilt can split while being loaded onto the longarm, especially during the basting stage.

Make sure your seam allowances aren’t smaller than 1/4″– super skinny seams can come apart during quilting.

Try to reduce bulk in your corner seams where blocks meet by pressing seams open rather than to the side. Bulky corners can be difficult for the machine to stitch over and may result in skipped stitches or broken needles.

When sewing curved blocks, it can be hard to get them to lie 100% flat, but if you’re planning on having your quilt longarm quilted be sure to press those seams well and try to make the quilt as flat as possible to reduce bunching.

Choosing a Backing Fabric

Most longarm studios will tell you how much margin they need the backing fabric to have. Typically, this amount is 6″ extra in both length and width (meaning you’ll have a 3″ margin on all sides.) Wideback fabrics can make your life easier, since there’s no piecing, but no matter if your backing is wide or pieced you don’t want it to be excessively bigger than your quilt top. Check out our blog post with more details on picking a backing fabric!

Choosing a Batting

Most longarms can handle a wide variety of batting, though anything excessively thin or thick can cause problems. If you’re using anything thicker or thinner than what’s widely available in quilt shops, you’ll want to check with the quilter to see if it’s going to cause any problems. Make sure your batting is 6″ bigger than your quilt top so there’s that 3″ margin on all sides, but if it has a lot more margin than that you may need to trim it down. Many longarm studios offer batting as well, so you only need to check on the longarm quilting form that you’d like to purchase it and they’ll do the rest. If you’re unsure if your batting will work, ask the quilter first! You can read more about choosing the right batting for your project here.

Preparing the Quilt Top

First, press your quilt top and backing fabric as thoroughly as you can. Using Flatter or Best Press will help make the seams perfectly flat and prevent creasing. If your backing is pieced, really press the seam(s) open so they’ll lay flat. If you use a wideback, make sure any creases are pressed out. Some quilters choose to pre-wash fabrics and some don’t– if your backing is pre-washed, make sure to trim away fraying threads from the perimeter of your fabric.

Next, mark the top center of your quilt. Fold it in half lengthwise and use a fabric pen (one you’ve tested so you know it will come out!) to mark the very center at the fold on the front of your quilt top. You may want to write “top” or something of that nature as well. This well help the quilter to know which end is up on your quilt– important for ensuring the quilting design will be going in the same direction as your blocks. Do the same for the backing fabric.

Fold both your quilt top and backing separately and neatly, asking a buddy for help if the quilt is big. Don’t fold them up too small– the more folds you add, the more chances there are of creasing. Place the quilt top, backing, and batting in a tote bag you’re ok with parting with for a few weeks.

Choosing a Design

Long arm studios usually have a book in either physical format or digital format (such as PDF) for you to browse quilting designs, or you can make it “quilter’s choice” and let the long arm quilter choose a design for your quilt. Many people have a specific vision of what design they’d like, others have no clue– in any case, the quilter is there to help! Don’t hesitate to ask for their opinion on a design and remember some patterns serve certain quilts better than others. Super dense, intricate quilting may get lost on an already busy quilts, yet on a simple quilt a simple quilting design may look too boring for your taste. If a quilter doesn’t have a design you like, ask if you can purchase a design for them to download– there’s hundreds of designs out there on the internet.

Do you have any questions about longarm quilting or how to get your quilts ready to be longarm quilted? Email us anytime at admin@pinkcastlefabrics.com!