About Longarm Quilting

Why is longarm machine quilting different to quilting on your domestic machine?

The difference between using a longarm quilting machine and a domestic sewing machine is quickly understood if you think about how we write.

“If you are given a pen and a piece of paper and asked to write your name – would you rather hold the paper and move the pen or hold the pen and move the paper?”
Susan from McKinney Texas: Machine quilter

With a longarm quilting machine the quilt is held stationary on rods and the machine head moves the needle across the quilt in the same manner as when you write a letter or draw a picture.

The machine head sits on a carriage and moves along a table by means of wheels slotted into tracks. It can also move along the carriage resulting in a 360 degree movement of the machine head over the quilt.

The quilt top is rolled onto one rod and the backing is rolled onto a separate rod and both layers are then attached to a third “take up” rod with the batting positioned in the middle. The three layers are then gently tensioned to create a smooth surface for quilting. As the quilting is completed the quilted layers are rolled onto the take up rod to advance a fresh unquilted area.

From experience, I have found that the ideal way to achieve a square flat result, with the minimum stress being placed on the patchwork top during the quilting, is to have sufficient backing fabric to be able to attach this to the take up roller by itself and then layer the batting and quilt over this tensioned base.

I have also found that the amount of batting taken up in the quilting process varies depending on the type of batting and the density of the quilting. 

Therefore you will find that I recommend that the batting and backing fabrics be at least 15cm longer and wider than the quilt top. 

“The diversity and quality of quilting that can be achieved with a longarm quilting machine is only limited by the experience and creativity of the operator.”



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  1. Hi! Nice blog, my question is-on a form for a quilt show they ask if the quilting is done on a domestic machine or a long-arm. I feel that my Sweet 16 ON A Table is considered domestic quilting. I understand any machine on a frame is long-arm quilting-but I can not find an answer! thanks!

    • Hi Mary, Good question. I think the variety of quilting methods available today must cause exhibition organisers a giant headache. I am inclined to agree with you that a Sweet 16 requires the same skills as for domestic machine quilting eg: moving the quilt top under the stationary machine head compared to longarm quilting where the machine head is moved over the stationary quilt. However, it is always worth checking with the organisers so that you enter your quilt into the correct category.

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