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Long Arm Quilting: Ellen #23 & Fixing Wavy Borders

Posted at December 3rd, 2011
Posted by Ebony
Categories: Client Projects, Long Arm Quilting

Ellen’s quilt was seriously challenging in two ways: one, the thing is the biggest thing I have ever quilted, at 108″ x 100″; and two, her borders were extremely wavy.  This was my first (and last) experience with wavy borders – trust me.

Before I load a quilt on the frame, I always measure it to understand whether it’s a square or a rectangle, so I can determine which way to load it on the frame.  On the inventory tag, the quilt says it’s 108″ x 100″, so I loaded it with the longest edge on the frame.  However, when looking at the measurements on my long arm tape, it was somewhere in the 100″ range.  That made me scratch my head and think I loaded it sideways, so I took it off and measured it again.  When I took the new measurements, I realized that in some places the quilt was 108″, and in others it was around 100″.  It was the same issue in the other direction; in some places the quilt was 100″, and others around 94″.  You know what that means?  A quilt that isn’t square, and has 3-4″ of extra border fabric – on each border.

I really debated about quilting this one, but I decided that it would be a good lesson for everybody in fixing wavy borders on the long arm.  However, I refuse to improve my skills or techniques in this area; the next quilt I get with wavy borders will go back to the owner to fix.  On a big quilt, fixing wavy borders during long arming can add HOURS to the job, and if you’re quilting for others, you have to decide if that is worth it to you.

For me, I think the better approach (in the long run) is to send the quilt back, and teach my client how to properly measure & attach borders.  By just fixing it myself (in an awkward manner, as you will see), the only thing the client learns from it is that a long armer can fix their mistakes.  While that is true to a certain extent, there are limits.  If I send the quilt back, and also teach them HOW to do it correctly, I am helping them to improve their skills, which makes them a better quilter.

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Before I go on, I want to re-iterate the purpose of my postings: always to educate, and not berate.  The point is not to assault Ellen on her border attachment skills, but to illustrate to everyone what happens when borders are not attached correctly.  It can be very difficult to attach borders on a large quilt, especially if you don’t have a big enough surface to support the quilt while you take the measurements.  Not knowing whether your quilt is square before attaching the borders can lead to inaccurate measurements, and also measuring your quilt for borders in the wrong place can lead to borders that are ultimately too long for the quilt.

If you’re used to quilting your own quilts on a home machine, you may not even realize that your borders are problematic.  That’s because you baste the entire quilt down, and smooth as you go.   You are usually pinning from the center out, and I doubt that you’re measuring your quilt as you’re pinning to make sure it’s not stretching out of shape.  Everyone is taught to quilt from the center out to the edge, so by the time you get to the outside edge, if your border is wavy, you will just let the border be whatever size it wants to be, and address it when you attach the binding.  Heck, you may not even bother doing that, and just bind its wavy little self the way it is.

However, on a long arm, we don’t have that luxury.  We quilt from top to bottom.  If your quilt isn’t square & your borders aren’t the right length, it shows up immediately.  Sometimes, if there’s only a little bit of a difference (like 1″ or less), it’s not a big deal, and we’ll just ease it in and keep going.  However, the best thing that you can do for yourself, and for the person quilting your quilt, is to learn how to properly measure & attach your borders so that the long armer isn’t forced to make that decision.

I have prepared a little instruction sheet on how to prepare your quilt for long arming, which includes information on measuring and attaching borders. Since Ellen is not local, I can only send her a copy of the booklet, and hope she finds it helpful.

When a quilt has issues like this, it has to be floated, since you can’t load it onto the roller bar to support it.  I don’t like floating quilts this big because their own weight can also stretch them out, but in this case, it was the lesser of two evils.

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For the top border, in order to baste it to the machine, I decided to just pin the heck out of it:
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However, for the side borders, I needed to actually make tucks in the fabric to take up the excess:
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Each of these little tucks then has to get basted down so that Darcy’s foot doesn’t get caught in the folded fabric:
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This is not a super-elegant way to fix borders, but when there’s too much fabric, that fabric has to go somewhere.  If I didn’t make these little tucks, Darcy would just push the fabric ahead of himself and then eventually run it over & make a pleat.

With the outer border tamed, I had to decide on the quilting.  I decided to do a large stipple in the outer border, and some swirls in the inner border.  For the quilting, I chose Superior So Fine #451 Blizzard, and in the bobbin I actually used Superior So Fine #401 Snow on a pre-wound bobbin.  You might be asking why I would use two different color whites on the quilt… the reason is because the quilt top has very large patches of bright white fabric on the top, so I wanted to use a very bright white thread to blend. The back of the quilt is a solid black, so no matter what white is used, it’s going to be really obvious.  Plus, I had pre-wound bobbins of #401, and Superior only makes pre-wounds in three colors of So Fine – #401, #402 (Pearl) and #411 (Black).
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Why didn’t I use black thread in the bobbin?  Mostly because although Darcy’s tension is good enough to mask two different whites, I don’t have the patience to dial-in perfect tension on a white/black thread combination, and I wasn’t going to come to the end of the project needing to sit for hours with a black Pigma pen coloring in little white dots on the back of the quilt (Yes, people.  That’s how some quilters mask tension issues.  With markers. Me?  I just use strange thread combos & let the chips fall where they may.)

You might also wonder why I would choose to use white thread on a black & white quilt.  Well, this quilt used a lot of black & white prints, but the biggest thing for me was paying attention to those large expanses of white on the quilt.  The black & white prints would have looked OK with either black or white thread, because for the most part, it blends in – but in the white areas?  A black thread would be seriously overwhelming and essentially change the quilt.  The goal of quilting stitches is always to enhance, and not compete.

And sure… I could also have changed threads, using black in the black areas and white in the others, but with a quilt this large, and with the border issues, I didn’t want to have a quilt that I needed to baste down and then have to come back and quilt again.  I don’t mind changing thread colors on smaller projects, but there’s already too much to deal with on this quilt to add another layer of complexity.

On the interior of the quilt, it has these star-like shapes, so I chose to do a radiating pattern that I like to call Seaweed.  I’ve done this on another quilt before, and I thought it would look really interesting on this quilt.
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In the white areas of the quilt, I decided to do a stipple, but a smaller one than what is in the border:
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Eventually, as the quilt advanced, I had to continue taking tucks in the outer border, depending on how much fabric was  there:
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In this case, you’re looking at about 1-1/2″ of fabric in this tuck.  Sometimes the tucks don’t limit themselves to just the outer border, and have to be extended into the quilt top itself.  Whenever I had to take tucks like that, I tried to do it near a seam so that the tuck could be disguised somewhat:
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The reason for needing to extend tucks that far depends on how big the tuck is.  There’s more fabric on the outside than on the inside, so what starts as a 1/2″ tuck on the outside may be nothing by the time you get across to the inside of the border.  However, with a tuck that is larger, it takes more distance to get the tuck eased out.  In this tuck, it extended quite a long way into the quilt.

Coming toward the end of the quilt, you can see the waviness in the bottom border:
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This border actually had a different amount of waviness than the top border did.  In this photo I wanted to illustrate just how much extra fabric is in that border, so I pushed it all to the center:
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That’s how much fabric I have to distribute over the length of the quilt.  Unlike the top border, I needed to take tucks in the bottom border because of the amount of extra fabric.

With all the tucks that are basted in, Ellen will still have some work ahead of her.  She will need to hand stitch each of the tucks down, and then remove the basting stitches.

In the end, maybe all the trouble was worth it, because the effect of the quilting on the back is pretty awesome:
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I would like to get a better photo of it, but I don’t have the wall space, and the weather is now totally crappy so outside photos are also out.  Maybe I’ll try laying it across my bed… anyway, hopefully that was a good lesson for everyone… I know I learned a lot!

12 Responses to “Long Arm Quilting: Ellen #23 & Fixing Wavy Borders”

  • Kandi Wilner

    I really like your writing style, great info , thanks for posting : D.

  • Eileen

    I love the back–better than the front!
    I used to just sew it on without measuring, and of course, I sometimes ended up with each side being a different length. I have changed my ways.
    Thanks for the tips!
    Merry Christmas!

  • carol

    wow you are amazing the back side is awesome and thanks for sharing your tips .I have onei hve not finished cause of this kindof problems maybe i will drag itbackout also it is with otherproblems too like first attempt and trying on veloure
    Thanks again Carol Dawson

  • Hi Ebony,
    I just wanted to let you know how much I am learning reading your blog. I am a new longarmer. I printed out your preparing a quilt for quilting tutorial. Thank you so much!

  • Thanks for the tips – I went and read what you had to say about adding borders. I’m happy to say that I have been adding mine nearly the correct way! :)

  • Ebony — What a great tutorial. I have done a few quilts with wavy borders, but never to that extent. I do appreciate you showing how you handled such fullness … I think you did a great job and agree that the best thing to do is teach the proper way to add borders and have the customer redo. I love that seaweed pattern … it just adds so much to the quilt. I hope you can get a shot of the whole quilt done as I would love to see the finished product from the front. Thanks again!

  • Bev Jones

    I just started longarm quilting a couple of months ago & I SOOOO appreciate your blog! I am learning so much and you have helped make me a better quilter. You ROCK, Ebony. Keep the tips, tricks & techniques coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Janet

    You did a fabulous job on this Ebony. I don’t think I would have been willing to tackle it. I especially LOVE your “seaweed” quilting. It is just awesome and a perfect choice. Thank you for the post.

  • Janice Dinse

    You did an excellent job!!

  • I love the back of this, it is amazing.

  • Ebony, this is a pretty quilt. But the quilting makes it fabulous! Those tucks? You do what you gotta do, right? Part of upping the quilting ante is learning how to do things better. Excellent link on adding borders!

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