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Thread: Discouraged Long Arm Newbie... It's Harder Than I Thought!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2011

    Discouraged Long Arm Newbie... It's Harder Than I Thought!

    Hello all.. I've recently purchased my first long arm machine and frame. I have been quilting and sewing for just about 10 years now and I'll say that it has humbled me along the way. I started quilting mostly baby quilts on a tiny 32 inch round kitchen table using a sewing machine I bought on sale at WalMart for about $80. I've moved up to better machines, bigger tables and now have a big quilting room and just when I felt comfortable quilting on my home machine my frame arrived and whalla.. I feel like that beginner quilter again...

    I've wanted a longarm and frame for a while but couldn't really afford it. Then I found a combo deal and purchased a Hinterberg Stretch frame with the Viking Voyager 17 inch long arm machine for just under $4,000. The machine feels a bit clunky to me as I estimate it is at least 10 years old (refurbished) but it works. It came with a SLR and I've put together one twin sized quilt with it so far. I've got a queen sized and another twin sized quilt top waiting in the wings to be quilted.

    But here's the thing... I feel like someone has taken my training wheels off my bike and I'm 4 years old again. The first project I simply did a meandering stitch to get used to the controls. If feels so different operating the machine from the handle rather than having a foot pedal.. the instruction booklet is right, these machines are like nothing I've used before. So tonight, in between quilt tops I attached some fat quarter sized practice "sandwiches" to the frame and thought I'd try to do some free hand patterns, practice tracing a line and see if I can do a simple feather. OH BOY.. I stink at this!! It is so difficult and I am embarrassed at how terrible I am at moving this machine around.. I couldn't create a pleasing design to save myself.

    I know that a lot of the fantastic intricate quilting that we see is done with a computer aided machine, but did any of you who do this free hand have this hard of a time getting used to creating presentable free hand quilting designs?

    I'm discouraged and hope I didn't just buy a $4000.00 meander machine : \ I could use some encouragement right about now..

  2. #2
    Power Poster dunster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Lake Elsinore, CA
    Practice, practice, practice. You will be fine. There is a learning curve, but you will get there.

  3. #3
    Super Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    New Rockford, ND
    Keep on practicing when i first started using mine. i put together some old sheets
    with batting and i practice every day for a while. it took me two times before i felt
    i could do a quilt. i made a quilt out of them and binded them and they are nice
    and warm my husband likes them in the winter. dont give up.

  4. #4
    Super Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    You are right--it is alot harder than it looks, but as everyone else has said, it just takes practice, practice, practice. Stick with it, you'll soon love it and have no regrets. I was like you--I thought since I had a stitch regulator there would be no learning curve. How wrong I was! The stitch regulator just shortens the learning curve, as it turns out. You'll know you're on your way when your circles no longer look like squares with rounded corners, lol! Try to enjoy it!

  5. #5
    Senior Member gypsyquilter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    North Texas
    dont give up, just keep practicing, hold your handles loosely, (not with a death grip), breathe, relax and have fun with it. you will get better, it just takes time.

  6. #6
    Super Member wolph33's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    I think we all felt that way at first.lots of practice is a must.I used ugly fabric and when you quilt it-throw another layer on top and do it again.It takes many hrs to get comfortable and many dog beds for the shelter,lol.It is an art form whether we stipple,panto or feather-give yourself time to get in your groove.Relax and play on the ugly stuff for a while.

  7. #7
    Super Member AshleyR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    East Tennessee
    Blog Entries
    I know exactly how you feel! I have a "basting machine" taking up half of my bedroom!! Right now, I don't have the time to invest in learning how to do it, because, thanks to my cats, who seem to think they own everything... I have to take a quilt off after each session! However, my machine is not as nice as yours! I'm not 100% sold on quilting on a frame yet. I don't *enjoy* it the way I enjoy quilting on the table. However, I do see the draw of it, so I'm determined to use it correctly, even if it's not as much fun!! I'm sure once we get the hang of it, we'll love them!
    You can have any design you want. As long as it's loops!

  8. #8
    Power Poster PaperPrincess's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Blog Entries
    As mentioned, get some old sheets or muslin and just go for it. You can do a practice piece, then put another piece of fabric on top and quilt it again. After I got the feel of how the machine moved, I got some large print fabric and practiced following the motifs. Cheater fabric would work well.
    After I felt comfortable, I started quilting charity quilts for a local quilt group for more practice.
    They always tell you to practice your quilting designs by drawing them first. I got a white board and put it on top of my frame, then practiced my design using my whole arm holding the pen, sort of mimic-ing the motion of using the machine. this helped too. Hang in there, and remember you are your own worst critic!!!!
    "I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to."
    Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

  9. #9
    Super Member leatheflea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    martinsville Indiana
    I felt the exact same way. I've only had my machine for over a year. Alot happens in a year if you practice. A dry erase board helps. I practiced my feathers daily for an hour or longer on the board. The older frames and some of the cheaper frames aremade with all the bells and whistle. One of the bells would be the track system. They simply don't steer as well. Feels like you have no control. Sharon Schambers has some videos on youtube that could help. She teaches you how to use rice bags to give you more control. Even shows you how to make them. As we all know Sharon wins the big Quilt shows, so I think she might have some idea of whats right and wrong. The set up for my machine said to have my quilt about a quarter inch from the bed of the machine. Sharon says to have it laying on the bed. It adds stability and control. Another tip I learned was to start with small patterns, like little feathers instead of big ones. The longer the line your stitching the harder it is to control the smoothness of it. Longarm rulers and ruler foot also give you a little more accuracy. The GadgetGirls sell a ruler for everything, they are pricey but well worth the money. Quiltersrule is another site for rulers at a more reasonable price. I know a couple of gals that take online quilting classes at LongarmUniversity, they say the classes have really help them with learning to make great designs with simple longarm rulers. The biggest tip I've learned over the last year is Buying an expensive machine doesn't make you an artist. Even a $30,000 machine takes practice. When you see that fabric for $1 a yard buy it, load it, quilt it, give it to charity, and repeat. Watch all the free videos you can on youtube and other sites to see how others tackle a quilt. You can also mark your designs on the quilt using a water soluble marker, follow the lines. Good luck and don't give up. We've all been in your shoes. I'm not an award winning quilter but someday....I'll give Sharon a run for her money....LOL....a girl can dream!

  10. #10
    Senior Member crashnquilt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Lebanon, Missouri
    Yes, when you first get your machine, everything is pretty much bad. It does take lots of practice. Remember, now you are moving the machine, not the fabric.

    What helped me the most was "writing" the alphabet in cursive. I drew a line on the quilt and just started "writing" with my machine. Just remember , just like driving a car, slow down on the curves.

    Wouldn't you like to live with my mind just for a moment? I wish you would, I think I need to get OUT OF IT!

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