The Most Amazing Quilting Techniques

Quilting is made easy by applying the right quilting techniques for loading longarm quilting machines at a beginner quilting level.

The increasing popularity of owning a longarm is a new phenomenon for quilters.

Along with new technology comes a whole new learning curve for adapting to longarm quilting.

The affordability of owning longarm quilting machines have made it possible to quilt all those tops without the hassles of trying to scrunch a quilt top in order to fit it under the throat of your regular sewing machine.

quilting a quilt

Be sure and visit our Machine Quilting Patterns and Continuous Line Quilting Patterns for ideas on getting started with your quilting venture.

Loading a quilt is not difficult and the process is getting even easier as companies come up with more innovative ideas to improve the machines.

For our review we will float a quilt top. But first we need to understand a few quilting techniques such as just what is a leader and how is it used. What are the various parts of a longarm quilting machine and how are they related when loading a quilt.

Quilting Techniques for Adding Leaders

quilting accessories
  • Leaders are used for attaching the quilt to the rollers. They are made of a strong piece of material that has very little stretch such as muslin.

  • It’s easy to make your own leaders. You will need to purchase a length of fabric plus a little extra, say a quarter yard. Square the length of fabric and cut it the exact length as the rollers on the longarm.

  • Once everything is square and the length has been cut, you will now split the piece lengthwise. This will give you two pieces of fabric about 22 1/2-inches wide and as long as your rollers with one selvage edge per strip.

  • On all other edges that do not have the selvage edge, turn under a double quarter inch and stitch with a straight stitch using your regular sewing machine. Or finish the raw edges with a serger. Be sure and run the serger on the ends too. There should be no raw edges.

  • Measure and find the exact center of both strips and mark using a permanent black marker about a quarter inch long.

  • Some frames, such as those made by the Grace Company, are made with a groove in the bar and rubber tubing to wedge the leader into place. In this case follow the manufacture's direction for securing the leaders to the rollers.
quilting tool

  • To attach your leader cloth for all other frames, use hook and loop heavy duty adhesive backed Velcro.

  • Cut two strips of the Velcro loop the exact length as the rollers and two more strips of the Velcro hook the exact length as the leaders.

  • Clean the roller surface where Velcro fastener is to be applied. Peel backer from hook Velcro and press firmly into place on two rollers. Adhesive reaches maximum strength after 24 hours.

  • Repeat this process by adding the loop Velcro to the selvage edge on both of the fabric leaders. Using your sewing machine run a basting stitch down both sides of the Velcro strips to stabilize the tugging when removing and adding this leader to the leader that is attached to the rollers.

  • If you prefer to purchase your Leaders they most likely will not have any Velcro attached to them. Handi Quilter makes leaders that are clearly marked, will withstand tugging and pulling without much stretching and come in various lengths for different size quilts. Most likely you will have to add the Velcro strips.

  • The Velcro on the leaders allows you to quickly attach the leader to the rollers on your frame to which you have permanently applied a strip of self adhesive Velcro.

Quilting Techniques
for Longarm Quilting Machines

Payout Roller: The payout roller is the front roller and some quilters call this the “belly bar” as it is the one that touches your belly from the front of the machine. The bottom edge of your backing will be rolled onto this roller.

Take-Up Roller:The take-up roller runs inside the throat of the sewing machine (where the quilting needle is) and the entire quilt will be “taken-up” on this roller.

Quilt Top Roller: The quilt-top roller may or may not be used depending on whether you float your quilt top or not. If you do use it the top will be rolled onto it.

 Payout Roller or Belly Bar

Lay the quilt backing, right side facing the floor, over the top of the take-up roller. Then, bring the backing fabric down under and up over the payout roller (belly bar).

With the right side of the backing facing down toward the floor, match centers and pin-baste to the edge of the leader that has been attached to the payout roller with the Velcro strip.

Begin pin-basting from center mark going to the left; then pin-baste from the center mark going to the right. Make sure all pins are facing one direction for easier removal later.

The quilting technique for Pin-basting is the process of placing the pins as if you are using a needle and thread and making a long running stitch. In other words, the point of one pin will touch the head of the next pin. Make sure the pins are close together with point-to-head and running parallel with the leader on the payout roller.

Here is where the Velcro pays off. For those who do not like to baste with pins you can remove the Velcro leader from the payout roller and machine baste the edge of your squared backing to the edge of your leader (making sure to match centers) and then reattach the Velcro leader to the Velcro strip on the payout roller matching the two centers. 

This quilting technique alone is worth more than all the quilts you will ever quilt!

You can review how to square your backing by visiting the page on Quilt Backing.

Remember, everything has a center and needs to align with a counter part! Also the backing must be square before attaching to the leader.

We are now ready to roll the backing that has been pin-based or machine based to your leaders and in turn attached to your payout roller (belly bar).

As you roll the backing you should hear a clicking sound which is the sprocket gaining momentum. If you do not hear and feel the sprocket gaining tension most likely the backing was not placed down under and up over the payout roller.

If all is well, we are ready to roll the backing onto the payout roller (at the quilting needle end or belly bar). By being absolutely sure that you squared the backing you will eliminate a lot of headaches later.

Here is the process for rolling accurately. Roll from the center and smooth lightly with finger tips moving from center of roller to ends of roller.

Be careful and use finger tips only; don’t squeeze hard. Do not tug too hard. Be as gentle as you can. Continue to roll and smooth, making sure the backing is rolling even without any twists and lumps! If you are doing everything right the edges of the backing going around the roller should be relatively even.

beginner quilting

Take your time when rolling the backing onto the payout roller as this is important to achieve a smooth backing. The object is to roll the backing from the center out to eliminate all wrinkles and distortion, smoothing after each revolution of the roller.

As we near the middle seam of the backing which is running parallel with the pole you will see the benefits of starting with a squared edge and the gentle smoothing and rolling process. The seam in the backing should be perfectly even along the pole. If not, you may have to unroll and reroll again!

If the backing were pieced with the seam running vertical there would be a “build up” in the middle of the roller which makes it harder to control puckers.

So far we have rolled the entire backing onto the payout roller (front roller or belly bar) and our quilting techniques are paying off. Things are going good. The seam is dead center on the roller and we have minimal puckers.

Take-up Roller or Second Roller

machine quilting frames

Now it is time to pin to the take-up roller. Note: this is where you would be pinning the top to the second roller if you were not using the quilting techniques for floating your quilt top.

In this picture the second roller has been removed. We don’t need it to float a quilt top. This is an important step in our quilting techniques for floating a quilt.

Make sure you feed the leader under the tension bar. So reach under the tension bar and grab the end of the leader and pull it up to position it in a pinning-on position.

To say it another way, the tension bar must be on top of the quilt. If you forget this step you will have to redo everything!

Pull out just enough slack on the loose end of your backing so you can pin to your take-up leader. Where is your leader? Right! Under the tension bar.

Start with the center mark on the backing and stretch it to reach the center mark on the leader. Where is that leader again? Right! Under the tension bar.

Match the center mark on the backing to the center mark on the take-up leader that is attached to the take-up roller.

Pin from center to right edge and then from center to left edge just as you did when attaching your backing to the front roller or belly bar leader.

These quilting techniques will become second nature once you have floated a quilt or two!

After you have both ends of the backing secured to two different leaders you are ready to turn the rollers until the backing is taut, but not too tight.

The backing should be rolling OFF the front payout roller (or belly bar) onto the back take-up roller.

Double Check your Quilting Techniques

quilt backing

WOW! you did it! If your backing does not look like this, and maybe a bit baggy at one end, unlatch both rollers, and roll the backing back onto the payout roller. Spray lightly with water and repeat the rolling process. You can do this a few times because it gives the backing fabric the opportunity to straighten itself out.

Now is another opportunity to make sure your backing went underneath the tension bar. If you don't see two rollers on top of your fabric, you are in trouble. You either get to unpin and start over or slide the tension bar out and re-insert on top of the fabric. Be careful not to scratch your walls. Ask me how I know...

batting techniques

We are ready to add the batting to our quilting frame! We can help you choose a good batting with this Batting Tips.

Once you choose your batting that is just right for your quilt we are ready to add it. After unrolling the batting you find it has too many wrinkles, throw it in the dryer with a wet hand towel for 5 to 10 minutes. Quilting techniques like this works great when trying to get the batting to lay flat.

Find the center of the batting and match to the center mark on the take-up leader. Smooth from center out towards each end and from back to front.

Sporadically pin the batting to the top edge of the backing to keep the batting from moving.

Line your top to the basting line you just stitched through the batting and backing. Pin about every 12 inches to keep the top in place.

Now sew another horizontal basting line through all three layers (backing, batting and top). Remove the pins as you sew. Stitching over the pins may break a needle. Run this horizontal stitching just shy of 1/4-inch inside the border to assure the binding will cover the stitching when you bind the edges.

quilting techniques

Next measure from the edge of the quilt top (not backing) to the end of the pole and write this figure down. Do this on both left and right sides.

More great quilting techniques include the use of a centering tape. The center of the tape is '0' therefore both edges should be the same figure each time you roll your top.

Example: If the top measures 50-inches wide the edge of top would be at 25 on the left and at 25 on the right edge of the centering tape. This is true every time you roll. Check these figures every time you advance the quilt and gently smooth the top to meet these figures.

I also run a basting stitch vertically down each side as I quilt each row to make sure the quilt borders remain taut with no bag.

This is a must if you have to flip your top 90 degrees to quilt the side borders as one pass. These basting stitches also make it easy to apply the binding without puckers. These quilting techniques work great for me, give them a try!

Machine Quilting Designs

Quilting Tips

Quilting a Quilt

Quilting Stitches

Return to Keepsake Quilting from Quilting Techniques

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