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Quilting Experience: Hiring a Long-arm Quilter

By Christina Holland

I have a confession. I don't like to quilt.

I like to piece just fine. I love to design my own quilts (usually with Electric Quilt), and I love watching the quilt top slowly come together.

Once that happens, I'm sort of mentally done with it. For instance, I have a quilt top sitting on my dining room table right now. The top has been done for a week, but I can't seem to motivate myself to put a backing on it and finish it. And that's for a quilt I'm just tying. For
a quilted top? It'd never happen. For starters, a full size quilt is just too large and heavy to move around on the machine, once the top, batting, and backing are all together. I don't feel like I have any control, and well, control is very important to me. So I don't do it.

So what to do when you really want a nicely quilted finish? There are worse ideas than paying someone else (someone who has the proper equipment) to do it for you.

My first experience with having a quilt quilted for me was a year ago. My mother, the Presbyterian minister, had commissioned a quilt from me with a cross theme. We spent several hours designing it together; the overall layout was itself a cross, with the Presbyterian Church seal as the centerpiece and ten other smaller crosses surrounding it. We shopped for the fabric together, too, which was an experience. I love my mother very much, so let me just be diplomatic and say that our tastes in colors and design are different. There were some combinations that I was never too sure about. It came together pretty nicely I think, but it was, well, colorful, with dark blues and deep purples, greens, and golds.

Not a small challenge for quilting. First of all, what color thread do you use? Plus, there were all sorts of different blocks - no two the same. So what kind of quilting pattern would work the best?

I had many questions.

So, I opened up my computer and googled "St. Petersburg, Florida" (where I lived at the time) and "quilting", and after some digging I found Deborah Winton (debsbeds@tampabay.rr.com). This delightful (and helpful) lady has a long-arm sewing machine set up in the back of her north St. Petersburg home, watched over by a gray cat and an extremely friendly dog.

The poor lady. I came with my mother in tow, and she had to explain everything to us, and go over every detail. We ended up with a stipple pattern all over, in four or five different thread colors (plus another color for the back) to match the various background fabrics. It was a queen sized quilt, and for all of that, plus binding, I paid just under $200. For that money, I got an expert to do the part of the project I really had no interest in doing myself. My mother got to be involved in another part of the process, and she ended up with a beautiful quilt that she shows off to everyone, at every opportunity.

Then, a year ago, some very dear friends of mine got married. Somewhere along the line (a tradition that must be stopped, if I am to reclaim any quilting time for myself), I became the one that makes a quilt for everybody's weddings. I never really mind, though, because it's always a new challenge and a lot of fun to figure out the perfect quilt design for each couple, to pick out the fabrics, and to put it together as a literal labor of love.
This last one took me a year. They've known what was coming, and the volume of their anxious clamoring has increased in recent months. The top finally was all together a couple of months ago, just in time for me to uproot my life and move to Texas. Before I left town, I took it to Deb. My husband was still going to be in town for a while, and would be visiting me after a couple of weeks, along with his parents, who were paying for the quilting. So I arranged that he could pick it up when it was ready, and transport it across five states to me.

I got it a few weeks ago now. It is simply gorgeous. I think it was a fairly nice quilt to begin with; I did take a lot of time with it. Now, though, it is truly finished.

She had to take a lot of trouble, too. The quilt top is a pattern of deep blues and yellows, and the back is a light blue and white print. We went with a stipple pattern again for the quilting, with threads to match the fabrics. That meant that there was, for half the quilt, a very dark blue thread on top and a light buttercup yellow on the bottom. That was a challenge, she tells me, to get the tension balanced just right so that the dark blue didn't leak through onto the bottom, and the yellow didn't leak onto the blue part of the quilt top. Better her than I. The end product is wonderful.

Of course, the epilogue to the story is that the wonderful blue and yellow wedding quilt is now in a cardboard box, somewhere in a plane, truck or warehouse. It's on its way home, which in this case is Ohio. It should arrive safe and sound the day after tomorrow.

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