Amanda Leins of Mandalei Quilts is a professional longarm quilter and author of the new Wanderlust Quilts: 10 Modern Projects Inspired by Classic Art & Architecture. Amanda is a pattern designer and a popular Craftsy Instructor too! As an industry leader in 2015 we recently asked Amanda to fill us in on her reflections, and her predictions for 2016.

If you’ve ever had questions about the longarm quilting process or if you’ve been intimidated by the big world of professional quilting, we hope you enjoy learning from Amanda. Her expert information might just help you take the leap into the world of professional longarm quilting in the new year!

Be sure to take a closer look at some of the beautiful projects in Wanderlust Quilts in Amanda’s reflections/predictions interview.

Welcome! My name is Amanda Leins of Mandalei Quilts. I am a professional longarmer, pattern designer and author, and Craftsy instructor. If you’re new to the concept of longarming, there are some things to consider that may not be familiar to you. I’ve gathered the essential information you need here so you can choose to work with a longarmer if you want to send your tops out for quilting.

How Longarms Work
Longarms require that the backing, batting and top be loaded separately onto rollers. The longarmer pins the backing to the appropriate rollers, then places the batting over the top of that. The pieced top is then placed over the backing and batting, and the quilting can begin. This ensures that the resulting quilts are free of pleats and puckers (more on that in a bit), and can be quilted more quickly and efficiently. It is a skill that takes significant investments of time and money to acquire, and it is good to keep in mind that longarmers are committed both to their art and their business.

How to Find a Longarmer
There are several ways to find longarmers. Ask around at your local quilt shops for names and recommendations, check out hashtags on Instagram (#longarmquilting and #customquilting) or do a web search for longarm quilting. Quite a few longarmers also have business pages on Facebook, and you can even find them by going through local, regional and national quilt shows.

Different Kinds of Services
Just like all quilting, there are different types and styles of longarming, and different longarmers will offer different options. These are very general categories, and they are a bit fluid.

Pantographs + Digitized Pantographs
These are designs that are quilted across the top of the quilt in strips that interlock. The longarmer has a paper pattern that they follow, so each row is a repetition of the row before it (these can also be digital, and stitched out by a computer attached to the machine). Of all the quilting types, these are among the least expensive because they cross over the entire surface of the top, independent of the block design. (Left image: “Turbulence” pantograph, designed by Lisa Calle.)

All-overs or Edge-to-Edge
Like pantographs, this type of quilting is a design that covers the entire surface of the quilt, independent of block design. The difference is that it is hand-guided by the longarmer, and can be more unique than a pantograph.

Allover or edge-to-edge quilting design in the center, offset by custom quilting on the top and bottom.
Pattern is “Saltwater” by Tula Pink, pieced by Jane Armstrong and quilted by me in 2013.

Custom Quilting
This kind of quilting can cover a large variety of techniques, and can range widely in price. In general, it means that the longarmer is going to approach your quilt top and develop a design that will be suited for your pieced top, taking into account the blocks and overall design of the piece. The techniques used can include things like ruler work designs, stitching in the ditch around important blocks or appliqué, and micro quilting.

Some of the many templates and rulers I use when custom quilting.

Longarmers Can Do More Than Quilt Bed Quilts
Some longarmers offer basting services, loading your pieced top, backing and batting, and then basting with large stitches across the surface. If you have a hard time basting on the floor, or want the security of a stitched basting, then definitely ask your local longarmer if this is a service they offer. They can also quilt smaller pieces such as table runners, placemats and wall hangings, but do ask about minimum fees; longarmers often have minimums in place.

Quilting Detail

Different quilters have different ways to break down the charges, often by the square inch or by the hour. If you have ideas for what you would like for the quilting and the budget you are working with, bring it up with your longarmer at the beginning so you are both on the same page. If you are bringing a baby quilt or other small quilt, ask about minimum fees you might expect.

Batting Samples

Many longarmers offer batting and other services as well, so ask about what you can provide yourself, and how you can limit additional fees. For example, to load a quilt backing correctly, and to ensure your top is quilted as well as possible, it is crucial for your backing to be absolutely square. By not providing a square backing or a backing of the correct size, you run the risk of incurring additional fees if the longarmer has to fix that for you. Batting is also a critical choice for the best outcome, and longarmers have specific requirements there. Also, cheap battings or battings not constructed for use with machine quilting can cause damage to the longarm machines.

Turnaround Times
The amount of time it takes to finish a quilt varies depending on size, density of quilting and design. For this reason, many longarmers have a queue weeks and months in advance. Expecting to have a quilt quilted for that birthday gift you need in three days is unrealistic, so plan ahead by asking your longarmer what the queue looks like and how they manage it. In the longarming world, our “Winter Holiday Rush Season” begins in September or October!

Amanda’s Studio

The Quilting Relationship Goes Both Ways
In order for longarmers to do their best work, do the best work you are capable of at that moment. This doesn’t mean you have to be a show quilter! It just means that you show you understand the process as a piecer, that you know what it is a longarmer can and cannot do for you, and that you are giving them the best top you can.

Trim all loose threads from the back of your quilt top, especially if you’re using white or other light color for the background. Those threads show up clearly otherwise!

Be sure to provide the backing and batting according to what your longarmer requests. In order for a quilt backing to be loaded and quilted without wobbles, it is incredibly important to have anywhere from 4″ to 6″ extra on all sides. That means if your quilt is 60″ x 70″, your backing and batting will need to be at least 68″ x 78″. Not providing enough of these two things can really have an impact on how well your quilt turns out, and may result in additional fees since the longarmer must find a solution and make the fix, which takes away from their other paying work.

Make sure that backing is truly squared up! There are lots of tutorials about this across the web.

Do be up front if your quilt has areas that may require special care: wavy borders, bubbly blocks, specialty fabrics… We need to know in advance so we can do our best work. While a good longarmer can manage a number of issues and problem areas, not everything can be fixed in the quilting. We do our best for you, and stay in contact as necessary.

Longarmers are Invested
It can make you feel anxious to surrender your top to someone else to work on. Remember though that longarmers are just as invested as you are in making your top look amazing. They have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours practicing, not to mention making a huge financial investment in their machines and work space, and ongoing professional development through classes. We eat, sleep, breathe and dream about quilting designs! We are as committed to making your top beautiful as you are, because it is our passion, our art and it is our business. Don’t be afraid to talk shop with your longarmer before you commit!

I believe that quilting is a journey, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned quilting tops of all sizes, shapes and types. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or to visit me at Mandalei Quilts. May your quilting journey be awesome!