Quilt top prep

Quilt backing prep

Quilt batting prep

Quilt top prep


To get the best quilting results, a quilt top needs to be ready for quilting. A little preparation goes a long way! What does that mean to your longarmer?

  • Pressing. Hopefully you are carefully pressing your quilt top all the way through the piecing process, but if you don’t do that be sure to at least give it a really good press from the back and the front of the quilt top before delivering it to your longarmer. Give the quilt back a good press too because you don’t want any wrinkles quilted into your quilt.

  • Seam allowances. Sometimes there isn’t a perfect solution to how seam allowances should be pressed. First keep in mind that if you are having your quilt ditch quilted try to avoid twisted seam allowances. It’s tough for your longarmer to do the best possible ditch quilting if the ditch hops from one side of the seam to the other. If you have a light background colour for your quilt top, you will want to pay attention to pressing the seam allowances toward the dark fabric. Where this isn’t possible, be sure any dark fabrics pressed toward the light fabrics aren’t extending past the light fabric in the seam allowance as they could make a distracting dark mark. Trim away a tiny bit of the dark seam allowance if necessary.

  • If the piecing goes all the way to the edge, staystitch the entire perimeter, 1/8” from the edge to keep all those seams from pulling apart at the edge.

  • Make sure all your piecing seams are all there and all secure. The more particular you are about the neatness and completeness of the piecing seams, the better the quilting will look. It’s really hard for a longarmer to try to close a gap where piecing is coming undone once the quilting has started.

  • Tidy up all the piecing threads that have crept through to the top. These can end up getting quilted down making them a pain in the neck to remove later. If your quilt top has a lot of light coloured fabric, pay particular attention to trimming away long piecing threads snaking across the back of the piecing. They can show through and be distracting and really can’t be removed during or after quilting.

  • Borders. It’s important to cut your borders to fit the actual dimensions of your quilt rather than following the pattern dimensions. The slightest variation in the seam allowance between your machine and the pattern maker’s can make the border cutting directions actually wrong for your quilt, particularly if there are a lot of seams. Don’t panic. This isn’t complicated. Measure the finished size of your quilt in 3 places across both the width and the length. Piecing being an imperfect process, quilt tops are usually slightly imperfect. They are usually a little like trapezoids, or parallelograms or other non-rectangular shapes. Borders can be a kind of girdle to rein in your quilt top to closer to the perfect theoretical rectangle it is supposed to be. For example, if the width across the north end is an inch wider than the width across the south end and the equator of your quilt, you can cut both top and bottom borders the same length and ease in that extra inch across width of the north end of your quilt. You have just pulled your quilt top closer to rectangular, made your borders fit better AND made your longarmer’s job easier. If you put borders on your quilt that are too long—which you will know by the fact that you had to ease in the excess length—you will have too much fabric on the outside edge of the border. This puts your longarmer in a tough position. A small amount of fullness can be accommodated by the quilting, but there are definitely limits. If there is too much fullness, your longarmer will have no choice but to quilt a tuck into the quilt top. This is not necessarily the very end of the world BUT neither is it ideal. For example, less dense quilting, if that’s what you want on your quilt, neither disguises nor holds down a tuck very well. The BEST situation is to make sure your borders fit your quilt and all this can be avoided.

  • Don’t baste the layers together, add spray adhesive or use adhesive batting. The layers are mounted separately and held in place on the frame to get quilted together.

In general, you don’t want to pay me for prep work you can do. Plus it's better if I can focus on the quilting. You don’t want me doing too much multi-tasking while I quilt—like closing piecing gaps, trimming threads or dealing with too-full borders.

Quilt backing prep

  • Backing fabric needs to be 4” larger on all sides than the quilt top. Before I started longarm quilting, I thought this must be unnecessary and seemed wasteful. But here’s why it’s needed: The backing is fastened to the frame on all four sides. The fastenings need space around them so the machine doesn’t bump into them when I am quilting near the edges. If I do bump into a fastening while quilting, the beautiful stitching gets a jog or a wobble and nobody is happy about that. Doing a great job of quilting your quilt is made so much more difficult and time consuming when the backing is too small; I may have to add the charge for a too-small backing if I have to spend an excessive amount of time getting the small backing successfully quilted to your quilt. In the worst-case scenario, we have to find extra fabric and splice it on. This wastes time, forces additional unloading and loading of the quilt, and is generally undesirable. So that’s why longarmers need so much darn backing fabric.

  • I use the same colour thread in top and bobbin. I am vigilant about checking tension, but using the same thread top and bottom is my preference because just changing direction can change the thread tension slightly as well. If you use contrasting threads in the top and bobbin you are asking for visible pokies no matter how careful you are about the tension. Slight pokies can happen within the limits of properly adjusted tension, so it’s not a tension problem. If you want to have different thread colours for different sections of quilting and you don’t want the colour changes to show on the back, using a colourful/busy backing will disguise the colour changes. For my own quilts, I tend to just embrace whatever is going on at the front showing on the back. I like to use solid or tone-on-tone backings that show off the quilting (in case the quilting doesn’t show enough from the front) and I think thread colour changes look interesting on the back too. To me, it is what it is and I don’t worry about it. If you are still not convinced think about the fact that if you were to hand quilt using white thread on the top, what colour would you use for the back of the quilt (trick question)?

  • If you piece your backing, use a ½” seam allowance and press the seam open. Be sure to trim off selvedges because they won’t always lie flat in a seam allowance.

  • Give the quilt back a good press because you don’t want any wrinkles quilted into your quilt.

  • Square the corners and straighten the edges of your backing fabric. Fold your backing to fit your cutting mat and trim the raw edges even and absolutely perpendicular to the folded edge. (Just like trimming the edge of a cut off the bolt for rotary cutting so the raw edge is perpendicular to the selvedge.) This is important because a backing that is not square can result in your finished quilt being pulled out of sqaure—a situation we all want to avoid. A pieced backing where the pieces don’t line up on the ends can’t be loaded straight on the machine creating headaches for the longarmer and compromising the final results.

  • For a very dark backing, you may want to use black batting. With a light batting you may have the odd light batting fibre poking through the batting at the needle hole. The amount of bearding will depend on both the tightness of the weave of the backing fabric and how the batting is constructed. A very dull needle could exacerbate the problem but I wouldn’t do that to you.

  • I have some bolts of top quality quilting cotton and a few pieces of top quality wide cotton backing that I sell to my clients at a retail discount. The choices are limited as I’m not an entire fabric store, but one of these may work for you.

Quilt batting prep

  • I quilt with Hobbs Premium 80/20 blend batting. The “20” in the name is a poly scrim that gives the batting a hint of extra loft that shows off the quilting nicely. I sell this to my clients at the current retail rate.

  • You may also supply your own batting.

  • Keep in mind that if this is a quilt you want to keep looking its best for a long time, you should use top quality batting from me or your favourite quilt shop.

  • If you are supplying the batting, I need to know what it is so I can look up how densely it needs to be quilted to keep it from getting lumpy through washings or, if it's not going to be washed, just through living its life.

  • Batting needs to be 4” larger on all sides than the quilt top. Remember that you can easily piece batting trimmings to make a new piece of batting for a wall, baby, or lap quilt. Those four inches don’t need to go to waste.

  • Pieced batting can be fine for the longarmer too as long as it’s pieced together to make a flat piece with no puckers, wrinkles, pulling, stretching, or holes. For cottons and blends, cut the edges so they are straight and parallel; butt the edges against each other and zig zag together with a wide, medium-long zig zag stitch. Feed through the machine evenly so neither side is getting pushed or pulled to avoid stretching or making wrinkles. A walking foot is nice to have for this but it not required.

  • Be aware that some unbleached or natural cotton battings can have dark seed pod specks or other inclusions that may show through a light coloured quilt top. Unbleached/natural cotton battings will dim the brightness of a white quilt top so a nice white batting is recommended under a white top.

  • Similarly, light batting behind a dark quilt top may show light batting fibres migrating through over time. This very much depends on both the batting and the fabric of the quilt top, but it's avoidable by using a black batting. Black is not as readily available and white and natural, but it's out there. And if you can't find black batting to use with a black quilt top, don't panic. It will not be the end of the world to use light batting. It's like so many things in life where we can't have our first, ideal choice and settle for (a close) second best. If it's a REALLY important quilt I can help you search for black batting. 

  • If you have a light coloured quilt top and a dark coloured backing you may want to use a layer of light coloured batting on top and a layer of a black batting next to the backing depending how particular you are, what looks good and what works well.