Thursday, April 16, 2020

Spirit Song On the Frame, ALMOST Ready to Quilt... Of Partial Floats, Frame Design and Texas Hold 'Em Brackets

Spirit Song Quilt On the Frame, Top Fully Floated
Good morning, Happy Thursday, Happy Easter, and Happy Passover!  The Spring holidays have been different for sure this year, haven't they?  I got this far with loading my Spirit Song quilt on Easter Sunday before sitting down to dinner with my family, but then I had to switch gears and figure out how to sew a face mask for my son to wear to work at the grocery store for his 6 AM shift on Easter Monday.  I've been working on making more masks for the rest of my family for the last few days, while Spirit Song looked at me mournfully from across the room, whimpering "PLEASE come and quilt me!!!"

59 x 75 Quilt Top Loaded Sideways, Ready to Go

[Holy moly -- I did not realize how badly my DIY PVC light bar was bowing in the center until just now, looking at the photo!  There was a slight bowing from the weight of the light fixtures when my husband Bernie first installed it a couple years ago, but it has gotten significantly worse!  Bernie has promised to replace the PVC pole with steel and possibly upgrade the light fixtures themselves, so stay tuned for a "DIY Light Bar Version 2.0" post one of these days...  It works for now, and changing it is a project for another day when there is no quilt on the frame!]

Loading a Quilt on My APQS Machine, Fully Floated Quilt Top Method with Texas Hold Em Bracket & Quilt Top Roller Removed

Since there are long spans of time between loading quilts on my frame (while I'm busy doing piecing, applique, sewing face masks, learning choir music, puppy training, parenting, or trying in vain to get "caught up" with laundry...), I find myself wanting a quick refresher each time I'm FINALLY ready to get a quilt on the frame again.  It's not a difficult process by any means; I'm just not yet at the point where I can do this with my brain on "autopilot."  Seriously -- it is much faster (and easier on my back, knees, neck, and fingers!) to load a quilt on a longarm frame than it is to crawl around on the floor or bend over a table, basting the quilt layers together with safety pins spaced 4" apart for quilting on a sit-down machine!  My loathing for pin basting was a primary motivator for moving up to the longarm machine.

The video tutorials from APQS and others on YouTube that walk you through loading a quilt are great in the very beginning, but now that I just need a quick review of one or two things the videos seem to take forever to get to the part I want to see again.  So this post is my own personal photo reminder of "how did I do that last time?"  And I'm giving myself this link to the APQS Blog post where they review the basics of loading a fully floated quilt top here.  Wish I'd found that right away on Sunday, before rewatching an hour and a half of videos to get the information that I could have gotten in 2 minutes from rereading the blog post!  As always, I encourage any readers who are more experienced longarm quilters to share their own best practices and suggestions in the comments.  I have learned SO MUCH from all of you.

APQS Texas Hold 'Em Bracket In Place of Quilt Top Bar
As you can see in the photo above, I've completely removed the quilt top roller bar from my frame and replaced it with the APQS Texas Hold 'Em Bracket (that little partial pole that enables my hand brake to function properly without the quilt top roller bar on the frame).  I took the quilt top roller bar off because:

  1. I had not been using it, since I am (so far) getting good results fully floating my quilt tops (rather than pinning the bottom of the quilt top and rolling it up on the quilt top bar).
  2. The position of the quilt top roller bar on the APQS frame gets in my way, especially if I'm quilting with rulers.  Since that bar sits up above the surface of the quilt, it lifts my left wrist at an uncomfortable and ergonomically icky angle when I'm holding rulers in my left hand, whereas WITHOUT that bar I can hold my ruler with my wrist in a straight, neutral position.
See How the Quilt Top Roller Lifts My Elbows and Shoulders?
The photo above is from 2017, right after I got my longarm machine, and I have solid yellow fabric loaded for practice (partial float, so it IS pinned to and rolled up on that quilt top roller).  If I had been using quilting rulers, my right hand would still be on the right handle of the machine, but my left hand would be reaching over the quilt top bar to hold the ruler flat against the surface of the quilt.

Quilt Top Roller On the Frame, Not Doing Anything But Still in My Way
Then, in the photo above of my Tula Pink Disco Kitties quilt, you can see how the design of the APQS frame puts the quilt top roller in your way regardless of whether you're using it or not.  Compare that to the design of the Bernina longarm frame, pictured below.  At the front of the machine, you still have the backing roller bar right at the level of the quilting surface.  But instead of the quilt top roller bar sitting above that, Bernina put the quilt top roller bar BELOW the backing bar -- a much better design for custom quilting from the front of the machine.  Note that, if I was quilting mostly edge-to-edge paper pantographs from the back of the machine, or mostly computerized quilting, the position of the APQS quilt top roller bar would be just fine and possibly easier to reach for a partially floated top, or for smoothing batting each time the quilt is advanced.  I've never actually quilted a whole quilt on any other frame but my APQS Millennium frame, and these are the kinds of preferences that you can't really discover when you're test driving a quilting machine at a dealership or show booth.  
Quilt Top Roller On Bernina's Q24 is Positioned BELOW Backing Roller

So now of course, I'm curious -- are there any disadvantages to this frame style that I'm not aware of?  Bernina Q24 owners, how difficult is it to load a quilt on your frame?  Does that bottom quilt top roller pivot so you can get to the batting between the layers when advancing your quilt?  Any drawbacks?  Those of you who have owned different brands of longarm machines over the years, and those who currently own Bernina, Innova, A-1, HandiQuilter etc., I'd love to hear how those manufacturer's frame designs make certain aspects of the quilting process easier or more challenging for you.  Let me know in the comments!
Meanwhile, back to my Millie.  I bought a set of zippers for my leaders right away when I bought my longarm a couple years ago, but haven't gotten around to installing them yet.  Hence my old school pinning continues -- I've kind of gotten the hang of it and, with my slow-as-molasses creative process, I am not loading quilts so frequently that the zippers would save me that much time right now.  

Lining Up Top Edge of Quilt Top With Stitched Horizontal Reference Line
Again, reminders to self here: The top edge of my batting was ragged and uneven when I laid it out and smoothed it over the loaded backing fabric, ensuring that I had it centered and there was sufficient batting length hanging down at the front of the frame to accommodate my entire quilt.  Then, engaging the horizontal channel lock (a feature I couldn't live without!), I quilted a perfectly straight horizontal line across the top through the batting and backing fabric.  I left the blue variegated King Tut thread I'd been playing with on the machine for that,  because I've made the mistake in the past of stitching this visual reference line with monofilament thread and it is not so easy to line up the top edge of my quilt top to an INVISIBLE reference line!  After stitching that perfectly straight reference line, I carefully trimmed away excess batting approximately 1/2" above the stitched line to eliminate uneven bulk when the quilt rolls up and to reveal where my pins are positioned (I'm slightly less likely to stab myself with pins that I can see).

Quilt Top Not Attached to Any Canvas, Not Rolled Up -- Just Smoothed and Basted to Batting+Backing
I've marked the center of my backing fabric with a dark pencil mark on the selvage (it gets trimmed away anyway) and there's a corresponding white chalk mark (barely visible in the photo but I could see it well enough in real life) indicating the center of my quilt top.  I match those centers and then smooth the quilt top onto the batting, working my way out from the center and keeping the edge of the quilt top aligned with the blue stitched reference line:

Straight Top Edge, Centers Aligned
This batting was a few inches longer than my backing fabric, but I waited until after loading it to trim it on the frame to eliminate the possibility of an "I-cut-it-twice-and-it's-still-too-short" situation.  I've loaded my 59" x 75" quilt top sideways (so I can see and quilt more of it at once and have fewer stops/starts for advancing the quilt), so that excess batting length was excess WIDTH on the frame, extending beyond the edges of my backing fabric.  Once I had the quilt top in place, centered and straight, I carefully trimmed the batting excess on the sides so that it's just inside the backing fabric where my side clamps will attach.  I still have plenty of excess batting and backing at the sides of the quilt where I can throw down a scrap of fabric to do practice stitching and tension tweaking throughout the quilting process.

59 x 75 Spirit Song Quilt Top Fully Floated, Ready to Quilt
At this point, I stopped to change my needle from the 4.5 size that I like for King Tut 40 weight cotton thread to the 3.5 size that I like for ultra-fine Monopoly invisible monofilament thread.  I rethreaded the machine with Monopoly, did some test stitches off to the side in the extra batting/backing area, and adjusted my top tension as well as my bobbin case tension (TOWA gauge reading of about 150 for my Bottom Line bobbin thread is where I finally was happy with my stitches, top and bottom, with monofilament in the needle -- this is a smidge lower than the 170-200 range that Superior recommends for Bottom Line).  

Excess Batting and Backing is Great For Testing Stitch Quality
And then, happy with my stitches, I through a scrap of fabric that was pieced from strips down and did a quick refresher practice of stitching in the ditch.  

When Tension is Just Right, Monofilament Looks Like Perfectly Color-Matched Thread
I love how monofilament hides the boo-boos, when my stitching line accidentally veers across a seam line and it would be oh-so-painfully obvious if I'd used any other thread.  See below -- the camera is zoomed way in on this shot; that's why the quilting cotton fabrics look like burlap:

Monofilament Looks Like Blue Thread on Blue, But the Mistake Disappears Like Pink Thread on Pink
Happy with those stitches on the top, I lay a couple sheets of paper on top of the quilt (to block light shining down through the needle holes) and crawl under the quilt frame with a flashlight to see what the stitches look like on the backing side of the quilt.  

Magnified Backing View Showing Starting Tension (Top Left) and ending tenion (Bottom)
I can feel the REALLY bad tension by running a fingernail along the stitching line to see if my nail catches along little loops or nubs of top thread that is being pulled too far to the backing side, but I want to actually see the stitching on both sides with my eyeballs to fine-tune the tension before I start stitching on my actual quilt.

So today, I'm ready to actually baste down the top and side edges of my quilt and start quilting in the ditch (SID=Stitch In the Ditch).  I'll use my vertical and horizontal channel locks to ensure that the quilt top edges, as well as vertical and horizontal seam lines within the quilt, are perfectly straight (or as straight as possible if they weren't pieced perfectly straight to begin with) before I stitch them down, but (aside from the blue border seams), the only seams I'll be SID are diagonals shown in green below:  

Green Lines Indicate Where I'm Planning to SID

One More Important Note to Self: Even though I've removed the quilt top roller bar from my frame, which makes it look like I have a much bigger working area to quilt in, the machine still can't come any closer to my tummy when the machine throat hits the takeup roller at the back of the frame.  

This Is As Far Forward as Millie Can Go Before Her Throat Hits the Takeup Roller at the Back of the Frame
I remember from my last quilt that, without the quilt top roller on the frame as a visual reference, I repeatedly misjudged how far I could quilt towards myself before the machine throat hit the back roller, resulting in a smooth curved line of stitching that suddenly turned in into a straight line veering off to the right or left.  

There's a Six Inch "Dead Zone" From the Backing Roller to the Furthest Point the Machine Can Stitch
All the way across the frame, there's a 6" "Dead Zone" between the inside edge of the backing roller and the furthest point that my 26" Millennium machine can reach to stitch.  Ergonomically, that means that the area where I CAN move the machine for quilting is 6" farther away from my body than it needs be, due to the design of the APQS frame.  This makes me want to measure the "dead zone" on other model frames, especially the Bernina frame, to see whether my quilting area would be closer to my body with those machines for more comfortable quilting that puts less stress (from reaching) on my shoulders, neck, and upper body.  But I'm not planning on buying a different longarm machine any time soon, especially with the whole world's economy suddenly sucked into the black hole of COVID-19!  

So, for the time being, until I get better at eyeballing how far towards myself I can stitch before I need to stop and advance the quilt, I'm planning to address this challenge in a couple of ways: I can either run a horizontal line of basting stitches right at that "invisible wall," or I'll slide the machine across the quilt without stitching and put little chalk marks, pins, or something else that I can see to remind me of where my machine's needle can and cannot reach. 

Once again, this blog post has dragged on and on -- and I didn't even show you any of my cute little face masks!  I'll save those for another day, because I'm dying to start quilting Spirit Song.  

My one and only To Do for Tuesday goal this week is to complete the monofilament SID quilting on Spirit Song. 

Anything else that happens is pure gravy!

And now, for those of you who have been patient enough to stick with me throughout this long and boring blog post, you get rewarded with PUPPY PICTURES!  Here's a picture of Samwise the Brave at 5 1/2 months, wearing his cute little Julius K-9 Powerharness with custom Velcro patches that say "ASK TO PET ME" on one side and "SAMWISE" on the other:  

Sam in His Julius K-9 Power Harness with Custom Patches
I bought Sam's harness from our wonderful local pet supply store, but you can also get one directly from the manufacturer's U.S. distributor on Amazon here.  You can also order the custom patches from the manufacturer through Amazon here.  It is so hard to get a picture of this squirmy little guy that isn't blurry!  

Samwise the Kissy-Face Rottweiler Puppy
He weighs 67 pounds now and he has an awesome personality -- super friendly, loves animals and people of all sizes, all colors, and all ages, yet when there's a really bad storm like we had on Easter Sunday this courageous little Rottweiler puppy stands his ground and BARKS BACK at sky when the thunder booms -- he's fearless!  It's so funny, and much better than trying to calm a dog who has thunderstorm anxiety (Been there, done that with the golden retriever we had when we were first married).

Side View.  Why Aren't We Going Anywhere, Mommy?  Enough With the Pictures!!
I love this harness for Sam.  It's designed for working dogs (police, search and rescue, service dogs etc.) so it's durable, comfortable, and doesn't restrict his movement.  There's a handle that can be buttoned down if he was running off leash, to prevent the handle from catching on branches in the woods, but otherwise the handle is a much better way to get control of him when he needs to be held back from our 9-year-old dog who isn't always feeling as frisky and playful as Sam is.  And that big ring just below the handle clips onto a seatbelt adapter tether for the car.  Now I can take Sam with me in the back seat of my convertible, knowing that if he sees an interesting family of geese when I'm stopped at an intersection, or if I have to slam on the breaks or, God forbid, get into an accident, my dog will not go flying out of the car or strangled by a tether or leash attached to his collar.

I like this harness so much that I ordered one from Amazon for Great Aunt Lulu as well:

Lulu's Harness, Coming Soon from Amazon for My Favorite Rottie Princess!
How cute is that?  She'll have patches that say her name on one side and "ASK TO PET ME" on the other side, just like Sam's harness.  Lulu is a huge people-lover whose favorite thing on Earth is meeting strangers who want to pet her -- but she's a 98 pound, full-grown Rottweiler, so people can't tell she's friendly just by looking at her.  Bernie mentioned to me that, when he takes the puppy to Lowe's or to the Auto Zone store, everyone comes over to pet him, but when he takes Lulu, people seem to assume that she's not friendly and keep away.  They say that clothes tell a lot about a person, and I think that's true for dogs as well. I'll be interested to see whether Lulu gets more attention from strangers when she's wearing her pink "Flower Child" harness!  

Our 9-Year-Old Rottie, Princess Lulu: "I'm Not Bad; I'm Just Drawn That Way"
I'm linking up today's post with:

·       To-Do Tuesday at Home Sewn By Us
·       Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication
·       Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter

·       Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

while a three roller hand quilting frame is different than a long arm set up I have to agree with you 100% that it is much easier to get the 3 layer s loaded on these than to crawl around the floor or bending over a table working with pins or thread!!!

Susan said...

Smart move to remove the quilt bar. Glad that's working better for you.

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Rebecca! I loved reading every word of this post. I don't have a long arm and probably never will, but I find the whole process fascinating. I wish someone with a Bernina would answer some of your questions. As for your dead zone area, closest to your tummy when quilting - it seems like you could stretch something across each time. Like a ribbon that just floats above the quilt, is easy to remove and get out of the way, but is also a bright color to remind you of the danger. I can't wait to read more about this. Good luck with this week's list and thanks for linking up. ~smile~ Roseanne

The Joyful Quilter said...

LOVE that tip about MonoPoly (and LuLu's AWESOME new harness!!)

Sandra Walker said...

So glad I clicked through to this post too, after rate masks, Rebecca. Oh, sniff, Lulu reminds me of our dear departed Mama Bear, Naala. We lost her almost 2 1/2 years ago, cancer of the spleen, at nearly 11... we, too now have another Rottie, Rufus (the goofus) who is so not Rottie, thinks he's a Black Lab pup or a Border Collie he's so energetic... and skinny... He's now got the eating part of Rottie-dom down pat, since he lost a pair of balls a month or so ago, and is very slowly gaining a bit. Samwise is gorgeous. So is your quilt. And yes, the 'dead zone' with floating tops, something I've done for many years and never wanted to confess ha, gets me every time!

Dione Gardner-Stephen said...

Love the puppy pics, good looking boy in a rad-looking harness. I hope to see Spirit Song finished soon, it is glorious.

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

Love the cute puppy! I've taken the same series of photos with the intention of using them to remind me how to load the longarm when I use it at the quilt store where I work. Thanks for reminding me to do that, and sharing this on Wednesday Wait Loss.

Andree G. Faubert said...

Hi Rebecca, great idea to write yourself a reminder post! It was interesting to hear about your longarm. I know nothing about them but it's good to know what to look for in them. I hope you got to quilt as much as you wanted! Thanks for linking up with Free Motion Mavericks.Take care.

chrisknits said...

Love to learn all about long arms, so that one day dream can be a reality with the right equipment. And puppy pictures make any post even better!

Annette Schneider said...

Hi Rebecca,
I purchased a Q 24 on a 12 ft frame a couple of years ago. It has the hydraulic lift. The thread tension is always spot on, using the gauge to adjust each bobbin's tension as I go along. After loading the back, I float the batting and top. I use long magnets, found at Harbor Freight, to create tension on the front bar. I think you could also use those long clips that fit horizontally over the front bar. As I advance the quilt, I square up at each edge by using a long ruler laid perpendicular to the back tension bar. My Bernina dealer here in Omaha alerted me to this lovely lady, Denise, who works at Nutall's Bernina in Salt Lake City. She has some great videos on loading a quilt. The way she does it is so easy and uncomplicated. Here's a link to one of her You Tube videos

Love your blog. You're a talented seamstress and quilter!