Before you ship your quilt….

December 20, 2010

Let me say straight out that Longarmers cannot perform miracles.  I recently got a quilt from a quilter that had never shipped a quilt to a longarmer before, and we ran into a bunch of different problems.  Here’s some lessons learned that may help you out:


1.  The quilt backing needs to be 4″ greater than the quilt in all dimensions (that is, 8″ longer and wider than the quilt top).  This is for two reasons:  because we stabilize the backing side-to-side with clamps, the clamps cause some distortion to the backing.  Having 4″ on each side dissipates the distortion, so you don’t notice it by the time the quilt top matches up with the backing.  Also, it allows for space for the clamp itself! Then, having 4″ on top and bottom allow us to pin or attach the backing to the frame.  We need this extra space because we can’t quilt on top of the frame leaders.  Also, because the quilt rolls up onto rollers on either side of the frame, the backing has to be slightly bigger than the quilt top to account for this.  (Think of rolling up a phone book and how the pages spread out).

2.  Don’t piece your backing any more than necessary.  Backing is under tension, and extra seams do not help.  Also, remember that longarmers cannot exactly match backing seams to front seams — we do not pin the quilt together like you do when you quilt a quilt on a domestic machine.  We do our best, but ultimately cannot control the backing exactly with the top (see the phone book point above).

4. Try to pick a backing that matches the thread you want to quilt the top with.  No matter how much we mess with the tension, we cannot always get a black top thread and a white backing thread to perfectly knot in the center of the batting.  Tension shifts as the machine goes through curves and different directions, and it is impossible to avoid some “pokies” with really dramatic thread differences.  Having similar backing fabric and top thread choices alleviates this issue.  Or, if you want, you can quilt with the same color thread, as long as you are willing to have contrasting thread on the back.  Your choice.

5.  Make a good attempt to clear out extra hanging threads from your quilt, especially if you have dramatic color changes.  We do our best at picking up stray threads, but the worst thing that can possibly happen is a dark color thread falls off your quilt top into a light block, and it is not noticed until the quilting is done.  You can help reduce this risk by making your quilt as clean as possible, and removing any stray threads that you can.  If you press your quilt ahead of time, you can ensure that all your seams are going in the right direction, and you’ll catch all those threads at the same time.

I hope this helps explain some of the strange requests your longarm quilter makes!


ABM International Innova AutoPilot Hands-On Report

July 27, 2009

I finally have the computerized Innova fully up and working!

Innova AutoPilot

Innova AutoPilot

Here’s an acronym for the day: BLUF (Bottom-Line Up Front).  I will challenge any other computerized system to have the same stitch quality as the ABM Innova AutoPilot.  It is fantastic!  The detail of the stitching, and dead-on accuracy, is beyond what I have seen before.  That alone should make you buy this system.

Key useful pieces of information: The robotic system consists of two x-axis belts (very tight tension for high accuracy), a y-axis belt. a modification to the carriage that does not take up any more width than your original carriage, a set of motors on either side of the frame, and two computers:  One is the HP touchsmart computer that you see hanging from the frame, and another is a dedicated “grey box” running the robot itself.  The advantage of having two computers is that if Vista decides to do something “interesting”, the dedicated robot computer just keeps on running.  This is the right way to run a computerized robotic quilting system.  The touchsmart computer can either be run by wireless mouse or by actually touching the screen — this seemed a little cheesy to me at first, but is actually a good interaction method when you’re running the robotic program and need to make minor changes.

The software itself has some nice features — you can flip a pattern on the x-axis or y-axis, connect multiple patterns together with groups or without, scale, rotate, set sequences, crop, resave patterns that you have manipulated, etc.  All the core features that you would want to have on a robotic system.  For example, if you are doing a 6″ tall edge-to-edge, you can set up one run, copy a second run below it, reverse the stitching order, and sew multiple passes back and forth in one programmed sequence, rather than having to re-program in each pass.

The sewing itself is outstanding — the AutoPilot has an active feedback mechanism that the robotic computer knows where the head is at all times and therefore will not skew the pattern due to drag on the machine.  This means that your 68″ long pattern will stitch out to exacltly 68″ long, not 67″, not 69″.  Because I can see the head location on the computer screen, I know exactly where my pattern will stitchout as the robot executes the pattern.  There are other systems out there for the Innova, but I think that this feature is what justifies the higher price-tag for the AutoPilot system.

The AutoPilot software is being developed in-house by ABM International — that means that if you have a feature request, it goes right to the programmers for evaluation and implementation.  Some major improvements have been made since I first saw this system in February, and they are not stopping development.  Try to get that from Statler!

Summary: I am exceedingly pleased with the AutoPilot and highly recommend it to any Innova owners who are looking at robotic systems — it’s well worth the money!

AutoPilot on its way, Innova Support, and Tin Lizzie 18LS + MQR up for sale!

May 27, 2009

Hello all — I placed the order for the Innova AutoPilot at MQS, so I should have a detailed report in a couple weeks when Matt or Michael comes to install it!  They’ve made improvements since my last look at the robotics in February, so it will be definitely interesting to see.

So, in case you are looking for a starter robotic quilting system, I have my Tin Lizzie 18LS + the Machine Quilting Robot (Munnich Designs) up for sale.  It is a great system to start out with, with an 18″ throat, 10′ or 13′ foot table length (I have both sets of poles), and a very high-quality quilting robot.  Recall that the reason I upgraded to the Innova was to be able to robotically quilt large blocks at once (sorry for taking so long on your quilt, Barbara!).  If your blocks are not larger than 12″ in general, the Tin Lizzie 18LS is a good buy when you can get it used — I am selling the whole system for $10,000 or best offer.  Anyone interested? Reply to this post or send me an email through my site at Quilting by Jeanne.

For all you Innova fans out there (or Innova wanna-be fans) — I have to mention the fantastic customer support we get.  We have access to 24/7 customer support — I almost always get Michael, who is the father of the CEO of ABM International, and an amazingly patient man.  He just walked me through all of the details on timing the machine and the subtleties of the Innova thread tension, which are slightly different from older machines.  What does this mean to you?  It means that if you don’t have a local Innova dealer, no worries: outstanding support is a phone call away, and available when a local dealer would be closed!  What a fantastic thing!  I am exceedingly happy with ABM International and their customer service.

Here we go to MQS!

May 10, 2009

Excellent — MQS is this week! I am signed up for 9 different classes this week (hey, why go if not to take classes!). In addition, I’m really looking forward to checking out the robotic systems for the ABM Innova by ABM International and Munnich Designs. Had I mentioned that the Innova is here? It is a fantastic machine and I am particularly proud of myself for having gotten it! 🙂

ABM Innova 26"

The increased throat depth really gives you a much bigger canvas to work on, and the stitch regulator is fantastic. It’s taken a while to get used to the larger throat depth, but it is doable — connecting it to the robotic system is the next step. If you’re thinking of a machine, and only plan on doing freehand / panto work, with no super-large blocks, be aware that the 18″ is a little easier to handle. There’s roles for both machines — don’t just purchase the larger throat size without driving one! That’s a good rule any time you’re looking at purchasing a longarm — make sure and use the one you’re going to purchase. Every machine has individual traits, and you may fit better with one or the other.

Hope to see some of you at MQS!

Upgrading to Innova — Tin Lizzie 18LS for sale

March 16, 2009

Woohoo!  The money from the “real” job finally came in, and I am upgrading my longarm system to the Innova 26″!  Unfortunately, not quite enough money came in to also get the Auto Pilot system, so I am transferring over my PCquilter to the Innova for now.  (I’m also upgrading the PCQuilter to the MQR system by Munnich Designs, so I’ll have a report on that once I get it all set up).

Anyway, that means that my Tin Lizzie 18LS system is up for sale!  I am asking $6500 for the entire system including 10′ and 13′ poles, zippered leaders (extra zippers!) a couple of rulers, the microhandles, and an extra bobbin case.  Is anyone out there interested?  I can help deliver if you are anywhere in the Cheyenne, WY – Castle Rock, CO range around Denver.  Let me know by responding to this blog or emailing me at


Are you a threadaholic?

February 7, 2009

“Hi, my name’s Jeanne, and I’m a Threadaholic.”  (“Hi, Jeanne…..”)

I used to drool over fabric.  Different feels, colors, patterns, everything.  Thread was just something to put pieces together.  Ah, how the times have changed.

Now, I drool over thread.  Quilting thread.  Different weights, different colors, solid, variegated, polyester, cotton, silk — you name it, I like to (a) buy it, and (b) see how it interacts on a quilt.

Why do I care?  you ask.  Excellent question.  Two reasons:  First, I want to brag about my new thread storage device — check it out:

I just got this at the Rocky Mountain Sew Expo — this is Made by Rom Woodworking.  This is fantastic — you can see all of your thread at a glance, and it looks good, too.  This is the half-barrel size — there is another unit twice as tall!

Second point:  I am totally convinced that the thread you use on a quilt is crucial.  Choosing the wrong thread will totally ruin a quilt, and the right thread can just melt in (if that’s what you want!) and add a fantastic texture.  For example, take this beautiful quilt based on a Thimbleberries pattern:

Thimbleberries Quilt

Because the quilt is a “sampler quilt” it was important to pick a thread that would be pleasing throughout all of the blocks and the borders.  We went through a lot of different threads, and eventually picked “Bulrushes” by Superior thread.  Check oThimbleberries Quilt Closeuput the closeup and see how nicely it merges with the quilt:

The point is that the thread you choose is just as important as every other variable.  Be wary of the quilter that only has a few thread colors to choose from.  I custom-order the thread for every quilt using the entire catalog of Superior quilting threads.  Oftentimes we need all few-hundred thread samples to figure out the right thread!  Don’t forget the backing thread — that’s important too.  I like to choose a thread that is complementary to the backing fabric — with the right tension settings, you can minimize “pokies”, or the top thread showing through to the back.

Summary:  Don’t forget the thread!  See your friendly neighborhood quilter (i.e.  threadaholic) for the right choices for your quilt!

ABM International Innova AutoPilot Report

February 1, 2009

Well, I just got back from Houston, TX, where I spent a day at ABM International working with the Innova and their AutoPilot robotic quilting system.  Here are my impressions and thoughts (my apologies for no pictures; the ones I took turned out all fuzzy).

The innova machine itself looks to be the next generation in quilting machine design.  For example: the only place that you oil is in the bobbin mechanism — everything in the sewing head itself is sealed and requires no oil!  No more adding 3-15 drops in multiple places every few hours.  It is also very tolerant of different threads.  My Tin Lizzie 18LS simply cannot handle Superior “Lava” thread — I think it is too smooth, and develops loops on the backside of the quilt.  We went through most of Superior’s standard quilting threads: King Tut, Rainbows, Lava, Poly Quilter, and a few others — the machine handled everything.  The one time the thread broke was when it was improperly wound on the cone; not the machine’s fault.  The stitch speed regulator is fantastic — it will go up to 3000 (stitches per minute? rpm?) before you overwhelm the stitch regulator.  Compared to the Tin Lizzie, where you have to go relatively slow to stay within the stitch regulator’s capacity, I could not go too fast for the Innova.  It will sew quickly and well.  The ecording system is pretty dramatic when you see it; I’m not sure of the uses for it yet in my business, but will definitely be an add-on at some point.  Machine-wise, this is a great value for your money; better than Tin Lizzie, Homesteader, Voyager, Handiquilter, or the OEM’ed Pfaff and Babylock systems that just came on the market.
Frame:  The frame is all-steel, and has a couple of unique qualities: First, the pick-up roller is elevated above the quilt (there is another roller directly beneath it — see the picts on their webpage for a better description) — effectively, this means that the quilt bed itself is always perfectly parallel, and you do not have to keep on raising and lowering the pick-up roller to allow for the increasing roll of the quilt.  You could add up a large time-savings just with that.  A couple of features that I found more interesting than I expected: the electric quilt advance is actually very useful for loading and advancing your quilt with excellent tension.  It moves slowly enough that you can smooth the backing on as it loads, and use a touch of advance to control the backing tension as you move the quilt around.  It’s actually very nice — much more useful than just being easier to advance the quilt.  They are also offering electric channel locks controlled by a remote, which will save a lot of time when doing crosshatching or basting.

Okay, now to the AutoPilot robotic program.  The program is running on an HP touch-smart all-in-one computer; you could probably also run it on a non-touch screen computer.  The advantage to the all-in-one system is saving all the messy cords running around.  The actual robotic motor system sits under the frame out of the way.  The carriage runs on two x-direction belts and one y-direction belt, all of which can be disconnected in about a minute total.  Freehanding on the system works very nicely; I did not notice the drag when the machine was off the belts.  You could do some basic straight-line stitching while the machine is connected to the robot, but I doubt you could freehand since the belts are so tight.  The program is encoder-based; you set the quilt area by marking the upper-left and lower-right corners, and off you go.  The autopilot can import .dxf files or their proprietary .pat file.  The stitch quality is _very_ good; the robotic system controls the speed of the head based on the complexity of the pattern.  This can save significant time when stitching open, flowing designs, yet doesn’t lose quality when the pattern hits and intricate point.  The software has all of the basic features that you would want.  There are a number of things still in the works — one very important point to make is that their hardware and software engineering support and development are all in-house; the company is very excited about the new system and is eager to add-in new features to the software.  I think that the software will rapidly over-take Statler’s capabilities, since they are continually upgrading the software and talking to the actual quilters.

Summary:  this is a system you should look at if you are wanting a top-of-the-line quilting system with robotic capability.  There are unique features that you cannot find on other systems, and an active development group to continue to improve the software base.  ABM will be at a number of shows this year; I recommend you check them out!