When deciding to work with a longarm quilter, or quilt your own top on a standup frame system, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether to have your quilt custom quilted or finished with edge-to-edge quilting. How do you decide? And what exactly are the differences?
Edge-to-edge quilting, also known as overall quilting, ignores the pieced design of the quilt top. A random, usually repeating pattern is stitched on all portions of the quilt. Sometimes this is done from the back of the machine, tracing a paper pattern called a pantograph (panto for short), with a laser light or stylus. An overall design can also be worked from the front of the machine as a freehand design – in effect the quilter is ‘doodling’ on the quilt top, making up the design as she goes.
If you are a beginning longarm quilter, there are many things to learn – how to load the quilt on the frame and keep it square as you are quilting. How to choose threads and balance the tension between the top and bobbin threads. How to move the machine smoothly and evenly to get a consistent stitch length and lines that don’t wobble. If you are then trying to think about what design to stitch and how to not get boxed into a corner at the same time, sometimes it can get frustrating and overwhelming.
Using a pantograph pattern can support you like training wheels on a bicycle do. The wheels keep you from falling over while you are learning to pedal, steer, and keep your balance. A pantograph pattern gives you a map to follow, so you can focus your attention on keeping your movements smooth and even, instead of thinking of where to go next, and how to control the spacing so the design is even. Once you have quilted an entire quilt with a panto, I think you will find you have much more confidence in your ability to control your machine. Compare your first rows with the rows near the end – I bet your stitch length will be more even, and your long sweeping lines of stitching will have fewer wobbles.
Practicing a panto pattern also helps you learn to freehand. As you are following the pattern, notice how you need to slow down your movements on the long straighter sections (to keep the stitches from getting too large), and speed up as you are doing smaller, tighter motifs. When changing directions, you need to move in and out of points quickly or there will be a buildup of thread, resulting in a knot or the thread breaking. Pantos are a great way to learn the basics of, and while you are learning, you are finishing some of your quilt tops as well!
Although it’s been 12 years since I got my first longarm, I still remember the awe I felt at what this marvelous machine could accomplish, and my pride at finishing my first ‘real’ quilt top (I practiced on lots of muslin first), even though I just used a very simple panto on it!
In another post I’ll talk about Custom Quilting. If you don’t want to miss out, be sure and subscribe to my blog on the top right side of this page (or down below if you’re on a mobile device) to be notified when I publish it!
Part 2 of this article has been posted here