Monday, June 1, 2009

Front? Back? Where & how to pin a quilt to the leaders

One of my customers e-mailed today, asking about the correct way to pin the quilt sandwich onto the leaders on her Innova frame

Here's what she asked:

I’ve been pinning to the take up leader from the back of the machine and my pins end up underneath the canvas and cause me grief as they get caught by the throat of the machine but especially when I have the ruler plate on. Now I’ve noticed that the pins are generally visible from the top of the work and can’t figure out how to pin to the canvas from the back with out the pins ending up under neath the canvas. Do you pin to the take up roller from the front of the machine? I’m really stumped about how to solve this. Any advice?

I figured if she is asking, probably other quilters are wondering, too.
So, here's my advice:

I typically pin both leaders while standing at the front of the frame. But you can work from the back side of the frame to pin the take up leader if that is easier for you.

I usually start by pinning the backing fabric (face down, with printed side facing the floor) on the "belly bar" leader first. I match the center point of the backing to the center point of the leader, and then pin all the way out to the right edge. Then I work from the middle and pin out to the left edge.

Start by pushing the pin down through the canvas and out through the backing fabric, so the head of your pins are visible from the canvas side.

NOTE: Use pins that are long enough so that you can bury the tips (pin tip goes in through the leader and out through the backing fabric, back in through the backing and out through the leader, and then back in though the leader so the tip is next to the backing fabric). You are MUCH less likely to get stuck on the pin tip this way.

After your backing fabric is pinned to the front leader, I will roll it up on the front pole, smoothing as I go, leaving enough unrolled that I can easily then pin it to the back take up leader without struggling. I stay working from the front of the machine, and match center points and pin to the right, then back from the center to the left edge. (Dan seems to prefer to pin the take up leader by working from the back of the frame, but this seems awkward to me.)

After the backing is pinned to both the front leader and the take up leader, I tighten the take up handwheel. Then I start rolling the front pole to tighten the sandwich, smoothing and straightening as I go. You should find your backing is evenly rolled and taut across the width when you get it fully rolled and tightened. If not, you may need to repin parts of it and/or take it off and square it again if you didn't square it evenly the first time.

After your backing is pinned and rolled taut, line up the straight edge of the batting with the edge of the take up leader. Making sure your pins are at least a couple of inches away from the edge of the batting, pin the batting to the backing fabric, maybe every five or six inches. The pins should be parallel with the edge of the batting.

The next thing you will want to do is use a channel lock (or a clamp on the wheel) so you can sew a straight line across the top edge of the batting, near the take up leader. Work slowly and use your fingers to make sure the batting doesn't slide or creep around.

After you have stitched the straight line, you can start loading your top on the frame.

I typically pin the top (right side facing up, towards the celing) to the front leader first, again matching centers and pinning out to the right, and then back to the center and pinning out to the left. I then roll the quilt top up on the front roller, smoothing straightening until most of it is rolled up.

Then, matching the center of the quilt to the center of your take up leader, line up the edge of the quilt top with the straight line you stitched through the batting and backing fabric. I work from the center and line up the top to the right edge and then back to the center and line up the quilt top out to the left edge. After you have the top lined up across the stitching line, smooth it down a bit and then pin every few inches, making sure the pins are several inches away from the edge of the quilt top. When you have the top secured with pins BUT BEFORE you fully tighten the belly bar, again lock your wheel and baste the top edge of the quilt, about 1/8 inch from the edge, across the whole top. Remove the pins.

Using your fingertips in sort of a raking motion, straighten the quilt top down from the stitching line towards the belly bar and make sure your seams are all lining up pretty straight.

Then start rolling the quilt top onto the belly bar leader, smoothing and straightening as you go. If your top was square and you pinned it on straight, it should roll up nice and smooth with no pouches of loose fabric or puckers or distorted seams. Check everything carefully before you begin to quilt. Look underneath for puckers or pleats in the backing fabric. Make sure there are no folds, wrinkles or pleats in the batting. If the batting needs straightening, lift the belly bar up and then you should be able to ease the batting into correct position.

When you put the belly bar back down, again make sure your top is smooth and straight. You may need to use your fingertips to guide the top back into place in spots.

The other thing I highly recommend is that you baste down the sides of your quilt top as far as your machine will allow you to on each pass, staying about 1/8 of an inch from the edge. The stitching line will fall under your binding, so no need to worry about using a basting stitch. This will keep your quilt top from pulling into the center as you progress down the length of it.

Use your side clamps ONLY on the backing fabric, not the top or batting, and tighten them to make sure the side edges of your backing fabric are taut but not too tight.

Hope this helps.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Does size matter?

One of the most common questions I am asked by people considering an Innova is, "Which Innova model is right for me?"

Both of the Innova models are virtually identical other than the size and weight. The Innova 18 has an 18-inch throat, with a minimum quilting area of about 11 1/2 inches for a king-size quilt with average batting when it is fully wound up on the frame. The Innova 26 has a 26 inch throat, with a minimum quilting area of about 19 1/2 inches on a fully advanced king-size quilt with average batting.

To help would-be Innova owners decide which model, I ask them to think about the following:
  • Will you be quilting for yourself or others? Will you be doing mostly custom work or all-over pantograms? Will you be able to take advantage of the Innova 26's larger quilting area on a regular enough basis to justify the additional cost and space in your quilting studio?
  • Do you do a lot of quilts with large blocks set on point? Will you want to be able to quilt inside each block without having to advance the quilt sandwich? The Innova 26 will allow you to quilt a 12-inch block on point without having to advance the quilt or split the design into sections to complete. With the Innova 18, you can quilt an 8-inch block on point without rolling.
  • Do you plan to do a lot of ruler work, or even a small amount of large-scale ruler work? Because the ruler plate takes up some of the quilting area, you may be happier with the 26-inch throat.
  • Is space in your quilting room a consideration? The 26-inch Innova sits on an 8-inch deeper frame than the 18. Both can be ordered on either 10-foot or 12-foot frames (or other custom lengths), but the widths cannot be altered.
  • Are you short, or have short arms? The 26-inch requires a slightly longer reach.
  • Are you a "hurried" quilter, where time matters a lot? The 18 will require you to advance your quilt more often. It's not a big consideration, but the 18 will take a little longer to get a quilt done.
  • Both machines move easily on their frames, but the Innova 26 weighs about 12 pounds more. Will this extra weight bother you?
It's always best if you can test drive both models side by side so you can compare the two sizes at the same time. But many, many satisfied Innova owners have purchased their machines after only trying one size, or not having tried one at all!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Don't just take my word for it

I was surfing the net tonight and found a Blog by Connie Griffin that says:

"I don't know if you've heard the buzz about the ABM Innova quilting machines by ABM International or not, but let me tell you....they are wonderful!"

If you want to know more about why this quilter was so excited to buy her own Innova, check out her posting at and also read some of her later posts.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Delectable Cakes and other temptations

I took a quilting class yesterday at the Joyful Quilter quilt shop in Scotia, NY. I was looking for some inspiration and a chance to immerse myself in fabric for awhile. One of my good quilting- and general-life buddies joined me.

We each started piecing Delectable Cakes quilts in shades of burgundy, pink, green and black in the five-hour class. My blocks are done; now I just have to decide on an arrangement. They are scrappy, and I am always torn between truly random and organized random placements of the blocks.

But even more challenging for me will be trying to come up with a quilting design that complements the pattern and that I can do a decent job with when I start quilting on it with Faith (my ABM Innova midarm quilter). I am sort of stuck in my pantograph rut. I can do pantos reasonably well without a lot of struggle, so I am always tempted to just take the easy way out.

In fact, I am wrestling with this very same dilemma for an April Easter Basket wall quilt I just finished piecing today. The pattern is one of 12 quilts in "Simply Charming Seasons" by Moose on the Porch Quilts. I started out thinking I would do a lot of cross hatching and custom quilting in the baskets, but then I made myself nervous just thinking about it. And I found a really nice panto in my collection that would look really good on it. So I don't know.

Maybe I will just go work on the Delectable Cake a little more, and try to avoid the temptation to load the April Easter Basket quilt on the frame just now. Maybe if I wait a little while, I will get the nerve up to do something a little more creative. I know the Innova is up to the challenge... The question is, am I?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting started

There are many things in this world that I love, and quilting is definitely one of them!

I learned the basics of piecing quilt tops about eight years ago and soon found out that finishing them is the hardest part of quilting. I struggled trying to tie knots; manual dexterity is not my strong suit. I struggled just trying to do stitch-in-the-ditch with my sewing machine, and even with a walking foot, my lines were not all that straight, and the fabric seemed to pucker in the direction that I was quilting. Free motion quilting? I did OK with that, but my shoulders and neck were tired by the time I got finished with even a medium-size quilt. That's when I decided I NEEDED a longarm quilter! And not just any longarm... I wanted one that worked amazingly well, that was reliable and solid, and -- most importantly -- one I could afford.

Last year I discovered the ABM Innova through an online Yahoo chat group, and as soon as I read about it, I knew this was the machine for me. I believed in it so much, my husband and I decided to become dealers! Now almost a year later, we are operating our At Home Quilting studio in Johnstown, NY, where we teach new longarmers how to get started and rent time on our studio Innova 18. We have also criss-crossed the northeast introducing the Innova to quilters at a variety of quilt shows, from small local guild shows to the bustling MQX show in Manchester, NH in April. We are truly sharing the love!