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What is Longarm Machine Quilting?

Domestic vs. Longarm Machines

Domestic Sewing Machine – This is the sewing machine that you would use at home for regular sewing (& maybe embroidery). The head** is stationary, and you move the fabric when sewing or quilting.

Quilt being quilted on a longarm machine
Elephant quilt being quilted. Parts of a longarm quilting machine

Longarm Machine – An industrial type sewing machine where the ‘head’ moves instead of being stationary. The machine head** is moved from one side to the other while stitching (head moves, fabric stationary).

How does a Longarm Quilting Machine work?

A longarm machine consists of a sewing machine head, fabric rollers, a worktable and a heavy-duty frame (usually metal, but can be wood). The fabric sandwich is loaded in three steps (backing, batting then the top).

Roller Bars: Two bars hold the top and bottom edge of the quilt backing. An optional third bar holds the bottom edge of a quilt top

Longarm quilting
         Longarm quilting

The sewing HEAD** is generally an industrial type sewing machine. Doesn’t do any fancy stitches, doesn’t do reverse. It just SEWS. And it sews FAST! After the quilt sandwich is loaded, the quilter will ‘quilt’ the three layers together just like any other quilt. The difference is that it is done much more quickly than doing it on a domestic machine where you are moving the entire quilt sandwich.

    • Pantograph quilting – Start from one side of the quilt, and quilt (sew) a fixed pattern from one side to the other. The amount of quilting that gets done is based on the throat size* of the machine. Pantograph Patterns
    • Custom quilting – Specific quilting based on the piecing.  Such as quilting in or around blocks and borders.

Parts of the Machine

*Throat Size – The throat on a short-arm or domestic machine is usually 9 inches or less. Longarm machines will have anywhere from 16″ to 30″ of throat space.

**HeadThe complete sewing machine without the frame or table is called the Head. The Head of the machine has two main parts:

      • Arm– The upper part of the head which may be curved or straight that contains the mechanism for driving the needle and handling the upper thread is called Arm.
      • Bed– The flat part of the head under which the lower thread mechanism, shuttle and feed dog are mounted. It forms the base of the machine.

Depending on the quilter and their setup, quilting operation may be done manually, or run by a computer, which can quilt designs automatically and with more precision.  At Shadywood Quilts/T-Shirt Quilts of Texas, we use an Intelliquilter computer to guide the head of our Gammill longarm.

What is the difference between quilting and sewing?

Quilting is the process of sewing the three layers of the quilt sandwich together.  The process of piecing the top and backing of the quilt is sewing.

What is the purpose of quilting?

The purpose of quilting is to both secure the three layers of the quilt sandwich so that it does not shift over time and to provides a decorative element to the finished project. Traditionally, quilting stitches are made with a neutral colored thread or in colors to match the fabric.

What are quilting stitches?

longarm machine quilting
longarm machine quilting pantograph.

Quilting is another form of sewing, where three layers of the quilt sandwich are stitched together. The batting (middle layer) determines how dense the quilting should be. Todays batting is usually a blend of cotton and polyester (80% cotton/20% polyester) which adds strength to the batting and isn’t necessary to quilt as densely as if using 100% cotton.

Can quilting be done on a domestic sewing machine?

Yes, free motion quilting can be done on a regular sewing machine. What is important to note is that you will need the ability to lower or disengage your feed dogs*. On most machines this is a lever or switch found of the side or back of your machine.

*Feed dog: It is a small device of a domestic machine where the teeth that carry the material backward as it is being stitched. It moves upward as the machine is operated, the material advances as each stitch is made.

What kind of thread do you use for machine quilting?

Signature OMNI Thread
High Quality Signature Brand OMNI Thread for machine quilting.

For most quilting on a domestic sewing machine, a 40-weight cotton thread is an excellent choice. Because the 40 weight cotton thread is heavier than the finer 50 weight cotton thread, quilting stitches will show up more easily on the quilt. 

Shadywood Quilts/T-Shirt Quilts of Texas has been in business since 2001.  Let us help you finish your heirloom quilt!

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