Long Arm Quilting: Embracing Change

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Creativity, Encouraging Words, Quilting | 9 comments

Giving my best shot at free-motion feathers in the black borders.

Giving my best shot at free-motion feathers in the black borders.

In a recent post about change I said it was inevitable. Embracing it can also be difficult. I am a sit-down, free-motion, push-the-quilt, domestic-sewing-machine-quilter and I have always been just that! People ask if my BERNINA has a larger arm and the answer is yes! However, that’s only recently been the case because my sewing machines prior to 2012 were just regular-sized machines. This often comes as a surprise – but it’s the truth. I’m comfortable pushing the quilt and have enjoyed a fair share of success as a domestic machine quilter – including Best Machine Quilt at IQA in Houston in 2000 and Best Machine Quilt at AQS in Paducah in 2006.

Currently sitting in my studio is a Gammill long arm quilting machine. It’s here on loan so of course I should use it. I will learn from trying it, gain experience using it, and understand the challenges others face when quilting on a long arm. Today I loaded a quilt onto the machine. It’s a funky string quilt that was made from leftover student blocks made in classes I taught from 1994 to 2005. It’s been waiting to be quilted for almost nine years (yes… me too! Stop laughing!) Quilting it on the Gammill seems to be the most logical thing to do. It’s not a show quilt. It needs to be quilted. And, I need the practice.

String blocks pieced on fabric foundations can be twisted and turned to make amazing designs.

String blocks pieced on fabric foundations can be twisted and turned to make amazing designs.

I know that my skill at long arm quilting will not match the level of expertise I have for quilting on my BERNINA. I know it will be fine and it will look pretty. More importantly it will finally be finished! But still, long arm quilting is outside of my comfort zone. My thoughts create internal conflict – such as, “If anyone knows I’m long arm quilting they will think all my quilts were done that way. Or, “If they see this poor quality quilting they will think this is the best I can do!” Truthfully, it’s not that bad. It’s just not what I’m used to.

So what’s the purpose of this post? First, it’s to let you know that I’m a domestic machine quilter who occasionally gives the long arm a spin viagra ligne avis. In addition it is to affirm that we all have insecurities in our creative endeavors. When we are learning, we already know our short comings. It’s human nature to deflect any judgment and avoid close scrutiny by pointing out the flaws to others. You see – I’m just like you!

I want to grow! Sometimes that means making a change. Without taking risks – without putting my creativity ‘out there’ – without spending time learning something new, I will not grow. I know that adding new techniques to the toolbox is often uncomfortable. I’m swallowing my pride and taking the risk in order that I might grow… er… change. Change is hard! Do you find trying new creative techniques difficult? What makes some things easy to try and others challenging to embrace?

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9 Comments

  1. I have always admired your domestic machine quilting. I keep trying but not near as successful as you. A long arm is out of my reach, financially and arm. LOL We all must accept some change, but….the long arm looks pretty daunting to me too.

  2. Sir, being out of one’s comfort zone is called a learning experience. LOL. having to laugh. I have seen you on a longarm at Houston. I wanted to cut out the Santa from the middle of the piece and frame it!!! I am sure that while you are ‘learning’ you will create a piece with much of the same style and grace as your regular machine pieces. I’m sure of it. You are amazing!!! hugs…

  3. Good for you Ricky! Those FM feathers in the black border look pretty darned good to me, and soon enough, once you’ve worked on it a while, I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable with the long arm. And I love the black & white giraffe spots border too.
    I think the things that are hard to embrace are sometimes just those things that maybe we’ve seen someone else do with apparent effortlessness & our brains think “I could NEVER do that so easily” so we don’t try. Back in the olden days of high school, I remember riding with a friend who drove a stick shift. I thought to myself how easy she made it look, I’d surely never be able to do that! Then my Dad bought a VW bug. He made me sit in it, in the back by the garage. No key in the ignition & for an hour I had to push in the clutch & let it out S*L*O*W*L*Y – for an HOUR!!! But it worked, made me forget that I was going to be good enough, and I learned to shift the car & not grind the gears. I figure if I could do that, you can get friendly with a long arm!

  4. Long Arm requires you to think with your FEET as well as with your mind and hands. I found that listening to music (4/4 Moderato) helped me coordinate the side-step that is necessary to move the machine along the quilt. You kind of get a little “Sway” thing going; feet and hands coordinate better.

    • Like the country song – “One step forward and two steps back” – lol

      • I have seen you draw you designs and if you can draw you can quilt on a long arm. Good luck and enjoy…..

  5. When I teach longarm classes I remind people that their signature does not reside in their hands, but rather in their brain, and quilting is much the same. If you are able to draw it, with a little practice and muscle memory training they can quilt it. You are only muscle memory away from the same quilting that you do on your domestic! It’s just drawing with an electric pencil! 🙂

  6. I have had my longarm for 3 years. I am still very much a beginner. I have quilted about 20 quilts on it, half of those were charity quilts. I know that you are already great at drawing Ricky. The one thing that has really helped me was buying a white board. That way I can practice what I want to do on the quilt. Then erase and do it over again. I agree with Shannon. It’s about the muscle memory.

    The hard part for me too is deciding what quilt design the quilt needs. I am always inspired by your designs.

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