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Tips to help you prepare your quilt for long arm quilting

Reprinted from McCalls Quilting Magazine March/April 2014 - with permission

 Long-arm quilting is a wonderful way to get your projects from the ‘top’ stage
to a finished product that can be used, loved, and enjoyed.
Remember it isn’t a quilt until it is quilted! 


Quilt Top

One of the most common complaints about quilt tops is that the borders are too long/full for the pieced top, and therefore the quilt cannot be quilted flat. Before adding borders, measure the top through the middle (not at the edges) in three locations, and take an average of that number…that measurement should be the length of the first border that you add. Do this each time you add borders, to ensure that they are the correct size and fit your pieced top.

Edge stitch
If your top has numerous
seams in the last border (e.g. piano keys, small pieces, bias edges) consider stitching completely around the outer edge—this will prevent your seams from distorting or popping out when the top is pulled taut on the machine.

Ensure the top is squared up at
right angles, unless of course it is supposed to be angled or a unique shape.

A really good final pressing will

enhance your quilt experience—any puckers or seams not pressed flat will result in possible puckers in your finished quilt, or distortions where there is excess fabric. While you are pressing your top, remove any and all stray threads, check for seams that are not closed, and look for any stray pins, etc.


Types Today’s quilter has numerous types
and qualities of thread available for long-arm quilting. The most frequently used threads in long-arm machines are either cotton or polyester. Discuss options and availability with your long-arm quilter. Thread used in a longarm machine is usually a stronger thread than thread used in a home sewing machine; it
must hold up to the speed and tension of a
commercial machine.

There is a vast array of colors as

well as variegated colored thread. Most quilt makers will tolerate a light thread on dark fabric before they will have dark thread on light fabrics. For example, if you have a red and white pieced top, you will either have red thread in the white areas, or white thread in the red areas—you have to decide which is acceptable to you. Requesting one color thread on the top and another color on the bottom (in the bobbin) can create problems referred to as “pokies”—when the tension is not perfectly balanced, the thread may pull up from the bobbin and appear as dots along the stitching line. This is fairly common and sometimes difficult to avoid.

These threads frequently
contain Mylar or plastic, and are not smooth. Many long-arm quilters find them difficult to work with, but they can be stunning if your quilter has adequate experience using them.





Most long-arm quilters require three to

five inches of backing completely around your
quilt top. This is necessary so that clamps can
be used on it to pull the fabric taut, and to
pin the backing fabric to the leaders on the
rollers. If the quilt top measures 80 in x100 in
and your quilter requires “four inches all
around your top” then your backing will need
to be a minimum of 88 in x 108 in. If your top
is pieced on-point or a diagonal set, consider
providing extra inches of fabric for the backing
since the top may give/stretch a bit more
than a quilt set straight.

When possible, it works better

to have any seams in the backing run from
side to side rather than the length of the
quilt. Ensure that you have a square edge—
no excess fabric on one piece that makes
it longer/wider than the fabric next to it. A
heavily pieced back is usually not a problem
as long as it too is pressed well, and the
outside edges are square.

If you have a
specific design or need the pieced top and
back to be oriented a certain direction, be sure and let your quilter know. It is simple to center the quilt top on the backing from side to side once it is on the machine; it is more
challenging to center the quilt top from top to

ALWAYS remove the selvages

from your seams in the backing. The weave
is different (tighter) than the actual fabric;
selvage will shrink differently when your
finished quilt is washed.

This fabric is usually a looser weave

than most quilting cottons. Generally it will
not enhance your finished quilt. If not prewashed,
it will certainly shrink the first time
your quilt is washed.

Wide fabrics
Fabrics, including muslin,

are available in 90 in. and 108 in. widths. These
fabrics are great for those who do not want
to have a pieced back. Although these fabrics
are usually cut when sold to the customer,
the fabric should be torn at some point prior
to providing it to your quilter. The fabric is
rarely straight when cut from the bolt, and
needs to be ‘straightened’ prior to putting on
a long-arm machine for quilting. If muslin is to
be pre-washed for the backing, keep in mind
that it will shrink considerably—ensure you
purchase an adequate amount to allow for
shrinkage and squaring up!

Print vs. plain
Busy prints will
camouflage the quilting on the back of your
quilt; plain fabrics will show all of the quilting.
Keep in mind which look you desire and the
skill level of your long-arm quilter. Although a
print may cost a bit more, over the life of
your quilt, it may be worth it. Sale tables
at quilt shops are a great place to shop for
backing fabrics.