Long Arm Lesson

A few weeks ago the chance came up to have a long arm lesson at the recently opened Sparrows Studioz here in Calgary. Matt Sparrow, also known as the Man Quilter, is the APQS rep for this part of the world. He has a big studio in Edmonton from which he sells, quilts, leases space, and rents long arm machines. And now he has a smaller version here in Calgary. Joanne Flamand, who is running the place down here is making sure all the local guilds get their chance to play and learn.

So one night a handful of us from the Calgary Modern Quilt Guild went up to the Wonderfil Threaducation Centre for a night of learning and play. So. Much. Fun.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would ever long arm my own quilts. I really enjoy the quilting part and when the tops pile up or a deadline looms I have an excellent long arm friend, not to mention a handful of others. But I did think it would at least be interesting. And now I would totally do my own quilts.

The long arms at Sparrows Studioz here are not computer guided. That means the quilter is still doing the work - whether it is entirely free motion or pantographs. There are certainly tools that make it easier, like guides, but it is still always up to the quilter to move the machine over the quilt.

And let me tell you, it is not as easy as you think it is! The machines move really well, which means it is easy to get it going in the wrong direction quickly. It requires standing and shifting your weight all while finding a rhythm to your movements. And it means that a lot of control is required, especially for the free motion or custom work.

Here are my observations and lessons.

1. When a long armer asks for 4'' extra backing fabric on the top and bottom they really need it. They aren't out to get you to waste fabric, they use that to load the backing and keep it in place when quilting. Don't scrimp and there will never be puckers.

2. Custom long arming is worth every penny, and probably more than what you are paying. It takes a lot of skill and time to do that work so don't ever feel like you are paying too much for it.

3. Pantographs are totally okay to use.

4. This is not the kind of sewing that you would do in bare feet. You need good shoes to support yourself.

5. Almost anything is possible on a long arm, but that doesn't mean everything is easy.

During our lesson we played with pantographs, a bit of free motion, some guides, as well as loading and unloading quilts. In theory, we could go and rent the machines now to quilt our own quilts. (I'm not sure I will get to that, although I would really like to.)

And it was total coincidence that a Just One Slab quilt got loaded up on the machine for us that night! But I may get more up there. I am trying to get the last of the quilts finished and in for distribution prior to the one year anniversary of the Flood and that is coming up in a little over a month.