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.

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