Living in Eastern Massachusetts, usually by the time the new year strolls in we've already had our first measurable amount of snowfall. Now I'm not really a cold weather sort of girl but the first big snow day is exciting. I especially love how the snow blankets the ground softening the noises of a typical day and how the day seems to lull along endlessly. Lately, I have been soaking up some peaceful hours of quilting and it kind of reminds me of a snow day where my mind is quiet and I let the stitches take me on a journey like I have nothing else to do and no other place to be. Other times when I'm quilting it's the complete opposite as my mind kicks into high gear and I can't seem to shut off the random thoughts. Those random thoughts may not be as soothing as a snow day but they can be beneficial. Often times this is when some of my best ideas pop into my head. Today, my mind was in high gear and it was focused on tips for quilting mosaic designs on a longarm. Here are few I'd like to pass along.
Tip #1 - Be Prepared & Wind those Bobbins
Like most quilters, I like to start my day of longarm quilting with everything ready to go. I dress comfortably, make sure there's adequate lighting on my quilt, check that the quilt is set up properly on the quilt frame and that the machine is threaded correctly. I look at the needle to see if it needs to be replaced, do a quick clean out of lint in the bobbin case and hook area as well as oil the longarm machine if needed. I gather my snips and other necessary longarm tools and keep them close at hand. Lastly, I warm up with some practice quilting in the "margin" of the quilt. But there's is one more thing I take into consideration and it has to do bobbins. Its a sure bet that at some point while you are in your quilting groove the bobbin will run low. So before I even begin quilting, I make sure that I have plenty of pre-wound bobbins. And if not, I take the time to wind a few. I use Superior Threads MicroQuilter, it's a 100 weight as my choice of bobbin thread and for several good reasons. It works in sync with my top thread which is an invisible thread (Monopoly by Superior Threads) and I think I've said this before but its worth repeating, the thread is so fine that the quilting melts or disappears into the backside of my quilt. Just one bobbin filled with this thread lasts forever especially in our larger sized longarm vs. domestic sewing machine bobbins. With moderate quilting, I can quilt an entire 40" x 30" quilt using under two bobbins.
Tip # 2 - Properly Thread your Longarm Machine
Double check that your longarm machine is threaded properly. I used to give home sewing machine lessons and the number one cause of most sewing or quilting issues was that the machine wasn't threaded correctly or that the thread wasn't seated in the take up lever. In the case of a longarm you may have missed passing the thread through a thread guide. I listen and I look. If the machine is making an unusual noise, different from the normal machine sounds or if the stitch quality doesn't look as good as usual then I stop quilting and start troubleshooting. The first thing I immediately check is the thread along the entire thread path and then I check the bobbin area but if I can't see the issue right away I will completely unthread and rethread my machine. Here's an example. In this first photo, I'm guessing that I snipped my thread tails too short and that it caused the invisible thread to bounce out of the needle and needle guide. Then when I rethreaded my machine I missed passing the thread back through the needle guide. As I started to quilt again I heard a different sound and then noticed the irregular stitches that the longarm was suddenly making.
In this next photo you can see the thread is fed properly through the needle guide.
Tip #3 - Take Three Stitches and Don't Cut the Thread Tails to Short
Every time I start to free motion quilt on my longarm, I take three small stitches in the narrow black space between the mosaic applique shapes as this locks the stitches into place before I start to quilt. Then I pull up my bottom or bobbin thread, snip the tails and start quilting on and off each of the mosaic applique shapes. I do the similar process when I end quilting in a section. You'll want to be careful not to snip those thread tails to short because sometimes as you start quilting the top thread can come out of the needle and you might not catch this right away especially when working with invisible thread.
Tip #4 - Don't Quilt Yourself into a Corner
The type of quilting that I do is a random stitching meaning no planned stitch pattern, its a cross between stipple and a jagged stitch pattern. I quilt on and off each mosaic appliqued fabric piece by stitching on one mosaic fabric piece and then stitching off and onto its neighboring mosaic piece. Sometimes you can easily quilt yourself into a corner which is illustrated in this photo below. There's not really anything wrong with this however it does interrupt the flow of your quilting. When this happens there is no other mosaic shape left in that immediate area for you to continue quilting. Basically you have quilted yourself into a corner. To help prevent this you want to stay ahead of quilting. Look ahead and plan where it is you want to quilt before you get there with your needle. But if this happens, you simply lock off your threads and start quilting in a new section.
This is what a complete section of what my mosaic quilting looks like after I have quilted it on my longarm.
Cheers quilting friends!