I’ve heard about women who buy long arm machines and then don’t use them. You might think that sounds crazy, because long arms are expensive — who would buy one and not use it? Perhaps it’s because long arms have an intimidating learning curve. You have to learn how to load them, thread them, balance tension, etc. — all the technical bits. But you also have to learn the art of long arming: how to move the machine smoothly, how to produce interesting designs, where to “go next” as you progress across the quilt, and so on. I can imagine that some women are afraid to use their long arms because they know their quilts will look like they were done by beginners, and so ironically, they never progress beyond the beginner stage.
It’s understandable. I know that, in past, I have stalled over doing things that felt hard or intimidating. But I didn’t want to do that with my long arm, so I decided that I would jump in with both feet and load something in the frame. I had this length of fabric, sort of a printed panel, with dogs all over it. I decided it would be my first “quilt” through the machine, and that I would use it to practice tracing shapes and getting a feel for the machine. If I made any big mistakes, no issue — it wasn’t something I’d spent any time piecing. At worst, it might be a quilt for my dogs!
I just worked back and forth, tracing shapes and having some fun.
You can see the quilting better on the back (which is a pale yellow flannel). Nothing special! But the tension was good, I figured out how to work through all the spaces, and I’m adding a cheerful red binding — I think it will make a nice, simple baby quilt.
Encouraged, I dug through my collection of charity quilt tops for my next long arm project. I made this rainbow quilt last spring, and it has been sitting ever since, waiting to be finished. I thought the bands of colour presented a good opportunity to experiment with different fills. Some were easier to execute than others — I had a lot of trouble with the flowering vine I tried to make in the orange square. And in general, my stitching patterns weren’t as smooth and steady as I would like.
But that’s where I have to turn off my inner critic, and stop expecting perfection. The fact is, when I step back and look at it, all my little mistakes don’t show. And I’m certain that the child who ends up with this quilt (it’s being donated to the hospital as a comfort quilt) will enjoy the quilt for what it is, and not obsess over the stitching.
I had fun doing these first two quilts, and I made two useful things that look okay. I call that a win!
My goal over the next year is to keep quilting regularly, and to keep trying new things. So my plan is to be on my long arm 2-3 days a week, and to sew (mostly working through my UFOs) for 2-3 days a week. I have a bunch of books I’ve pulled off my shelf, and I will mark patterns and ideas I want to try.
By this time next year, I hope to have greatly improved my long arming skills, as well as finishing up many UFOs, using up fabrics in my stash, and making good use of books that are currently just sitting on my shelf. Go, me!