Is there a secret to keep a quilt straight on the longarm frame when rolling?
In order to keep a quilt straight when advancing during the quilting process, there are several things you can do to ensure your backing, as well as the entire quilt sandwich, is rolling square and straight, and staying that way as you quilt it:
1. Be sure the backing is square.
Bring two opposite edges of the backing together (selvedges if they are still intact), and lay them on the belly bar of your machine, with the fold hanging down.
Slide the top layer of fabric left or right until the fold area is hanging straight with no ‘wobbles’.
Now check the left and right edges – are they straight and even? If not, trim them so they are (you may have to fold once or twice more to fit on your cutting table).
Repeat with the other two opposite edges (the ones you just trimmed). You should now have a perfect square. This is one of the most important ways to keep a quilt straight on the frame.
To load, fold the backing in half and place a pin at the fold mark both top and bottom. You should have center marks on your leaders (are you sure they both match up?). Starting at the center, and working your way out to each edge, pin the bottom of the backing to the backing roller (at the front of the machine). Lay the bulk of the backing over the take-up roller. I like to have all the excess drape down the backside of the frame. This puts a little ‘drag’ on the fabric as you roll.
Now start rolling up the backing, checking each side as you go that it’s rolling on straight. When you get near the top edge of the backing, pin the center of it to the center of the take-up leader, then pin your way out left and right.
If you have wavy spots or the backing seems to pull in certain areas, just roll the backing onto the take-up roller, then back onto the backing roller – it’s amazing how this will straighten out the backing (you may have to do it several times).
2. Be sure all of your rollers are parallel.
If they are not, you will most likely find your backing sags in one area, or your quilt seems to ‘creep’ in one direction as you are working your way down it. Be suspicious of this problem if you never seem to be able to keep a quilt straight as you work on it.
3. Make sure your leaders are even and haven’t stretched.
4. Measure the quilt top in several places before loading.
Find the ‘common denominator’ and use this as a guide every time you advance the quilt. Since quilt sandwiches tend to ‘shrink’ as you work on them, I will use a slightly smaller number as a guide. For instance, if my quilt top measures 80” wide, I will pin the bottom edge at about 79”, and use that measurement as I work my way down. Then I don’t have to try and stretch my top to the 80” measurement when I get to the bottom.
5. Smooth out the quilt sandwich that is on the take-up roller.
After advancing the quilt, especially when using loftier batting, go around to the take-up roller and smooth the quilt sandwich out towards the edges (back to that 79″ measurement we talked about earlier). The quilt sandwich has a tendency to shrink in towards the center as you work your way down the length of the quilt (see my comments above in #4).