This week I'm hijacking my own blog with a series of posts that I've been wanting to do for a long time.
When I bought my first longarm in 2005 it was shipped to the end of my 600' driveway. I had to drive down in the pickup truck, load everything off the delivery truck and onto my truck. Chris and I then hauled all of the parts to the basement and I spent the next 2 days putting it together. At the end of that process I was suddenly a longarm quilter. I had no classes and no dealer to call for help. I did have the web and that was very helpful but for the rest I just winged it.
Before the longarm I had owned the earliest version of the HandiQuilter frame and I had my Juki TL-98E on it with a whopping 9" of throat space. Because of that I knew some basics but there were a lot of things I learned the hard way.
By October 8, 2014 when my beloved FloMo arrived I was a pretty seasoned quilter and I almost didn't take the free new owners class that Virginia Longarm offers. But I felt that, at a minimum, it would give me a chance to get to know my dealer better. Of course the class was a lot more than that. I became much more comfortable with the machine and how it operates. I learned the benefits of basting my quilts instead of doing a full floats and I learned a LOT about managing tension.
I fell so in love with the machine that I was constantly emailing Val photos of my beautiful, perfect stitches. Through building the relationship with Val and Michele at Virginia Longarm/The Longarm Network, it eventually came to pass that I started teaching a day of the new-owner training. They had decided to add a day that focused on using the machine free motion and I was, and am, excited to be able to teach it.
But that one day class is not just about free-motion quilting motifs. It's also about removing fear so that the quilter can get to quilting. I designed the class to be the class that I had needed when I started quilting.
The first part of the class covers my advice nuggets for new longarmers and I'm going to spend this week discussing those nuggets int he hope that it might help other new owners out there.
Nugget 1 - Take time to get yourself and your body comfortable with the machine
When I first learned to drive my Dad insisted that I learn on a stick shift Jeep that looked a lot like this one. That car was hard to drive for a seasoned driver but he told me that if I could drive it then I would be able to drive anything. He was also a wise teacher. He took me to a farm where the only thing I could hit was a cow and they were smart enough to stay away. For hours I drove back and forth learning how to change gears, how to turn around and how to drive in reverse. My left leg was sore from working the clutch the first time. Dad did not expect me to drive on a highway, on a windy road or at night. He made sure that I started by simply becoming comfortable with the car and training my body to coordinate the movements I needed for driving.
That's exactly how we need to approach quilting on a new longarm. As new drivers we did not expect to enter a NASCAR race the week after we got our license. So why do we expect to quilt perfect quilts right away? Maybe it's because we are already seasoned quilters and maybe even great free-motion quilters on our domestic machines. But the longarm is completely different. It's like going from a bicycle to a car. It's a totally new things and you have to honor the learning curve.
When you get your new machine you need to first learn the machine and start building some muscle memory. You have to get comfortable threading it, setting and maintaining good tension, winding bobbins properly and learning to quilt and walk at the same time.
You also have to learn some ergonomics. When I started learning to drive I kept a death grip on the steering wheel because I didn't want the car to get away from me. As a result I built up a lot of tension in my body in those early sessions. But as I got more comfortable with my driving ability I was able to relax a bit behind the wheel.
The same applies to the longarm. New owners tend to hold on way too tight so they build up a lot of tension in their shoulders, arms and backs and their quilting lines are not smooth. As with driving, it simply takes practice for you and your longarm to become one together.
So what's a good way to learn your new machine?
Start with lines
Quilt your first quilt (or quilts) with lines. Straight lines or wavy lines, whatever makes you happy. Ergonomically you will be forced to relax. You cannot quilt good straight or soft wavy lines if you are tense.
Quilting is a balance between the brain setting up the pattern and the arm following it. New quilters are often out of sync between brain and arm and it's usually the brain that's following behind the arm and that always leads to quilting we don't like. We have drawn lines all of our lives so this give the brain a chance to get to know what the arm is doing and to build that communication path. It also give you time to get to know the machine. Ripping out one line of stitching because of bad tension is easy compared to ripping out a row of swirls. Quilting a whole quilt walking back and forth quilting lines will help you get to know each other and start bonding.
You will get used to the sounds of the machine, your posture, the connection between you and the machine and start to get comfortable managing threads and tension.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.