I like big backings, and I cannot lie.
I’ve been asked this several times, and some quilters seem to feel that I am insane. They can quilt their quilt with a backing just an inch or two larger on their home machine, why can’t I do that? Today I am going to show you why.
It isn’t because I’m greedy – I don’t want to steal your leftover backing scraps. I’m really not trying to make life more difficult for you. I’m not trying to sell you wide back fabrics, although I do love them.
My longarm machine is very different from a domestic machine. Sure, the motor works the same way, and the stitch forms the same way, but other than that, it is a completely different experience.
Backings have to be loaded onto my frame. My frame is is 12 feet long, 4 feet wide, and about 4 feet tall. (For reference, I am five feet tall, and that is at the top of my head.) I don’t have to crawl around on my floor pinning a quilt, but I do have to reach around my frame, then walk back and forth around it as I smooth the fabric onto it. If the seams are puckered at all, this takes more time, and makes it harder to prevent pleats on the back of the quilt. This is why I encourage the use of wide backing. It is just so much easier for both of us.
Once the backing is on and smooth, I can layer on batting and the top. I use “channel locks” on my machine, which keep some of the wheels from moving and lock the machine into either a horizontal or vertical travel path. That helps me get the quilt as straight and square as possible.
You can see I have a lot of excess backing on this one. That is great. I use these clamps to keep the backing taut to prevent puckers on the back.
Once we are all loaded up, the fun part happens. This is the throat plate on my machine. I have a ruler table mounted on it, which allows me to do fancy stuff, like stitching in the ditch and various lines and curves. Can you see how far the ruler table sticks out from the needle? It is almost five inches.
Now, If I am zooming along near the edge and I don’t have enough fabric there, my table will hit the clamps, and the head will bounce. That will make a bounce in the stitching line. A bounce in the stitching is ugly, and I have to pick it out, because I’m a professional, dammit. One minute of stitching can take at least 10 to pick out. Really, do you want me swearing over your quilt for 10 minutes?
Now, if I am given a backing that is too small, I can sew muslin onto it to make it work for me, but I will charge for that service. $10 per seam. It feels expensive, and it is. That is how I avoid doing things I don’t want to do.
So, now you know why longarmers want such huge backings. You will get your excess fabric back, never fear. You can save your strips and make a fun strippy quilt, or maybe a Jelly Roll Race.
Are there any other longarmer demands that seem odd to you? I will be happy to explain them if I can.