In our busy world today, many quilters prefer to piece quilts and send their tops out to a professional quilter. You will want to choose your long arm quilter with the same care that you chose the fabric and pattern for your top. A professional quilter will take the quilt top that you have so carefully designed and executed and quilt it for you. Before you submit your beautiful top to a long arm quilter you might want to consider the following items.
Style of Quilting
Each long arm quilter will have her personal quilting style. Some long arm quilters will put so much quilting in a quilt that the quilt is no longer a soft puffy textile but a hard flat mat. While this may be considered very beautiful to some, it does not fit the expectation of others. If you prefer a flat firm quilt you will want to look for a quilter who does this type of work.
If you prefer soft and puffy quilts you will want to look for a quilter who quilts with more open space. These quilts will still have enough quilting to hold the three layers together but will allow more of the batting to puff out resulting in a softer quilt. You need to be certain that the quilter you choose will do the type of quilting you prefer.
Be sure to specify the quilting style and type of batting you prefer. Some quilters prefer to use only 100% cotton or a cotton blend batting with a high percentage of cotton content. These battings will result in a flat quilt. 100% polyester battings -- even low loft battings will result in a fluffier quilt.
Free hand quilting
In free hand quilting the entire quilt surface is quilted without the use of any prepared patterns. Free hand quilters usually fill the space so closely that the quilt is usually very flat.
Pantograph and pattern quilting
Quilters who use pantographs quilt more openly. Pantograph patterns are printed on long rolls. The quilter uses a laser light pointer to follow the printed lines as the machine stitches on the quilt. Sometimes pantograph patterns are quilted "edge to edge" -- literally from one edge of the quilt to the opposite edge -- or they are "edge to edge" in the body of the quilt and the borders are treated separately.
Most quilters offer several levels of quilting density -- each one being a different price. There are various names for them. Some I am familiar with are "edge to edge" quilting, custom quilting, and heirloom quilting. Edge to edge quilting is usually less expensive because the quilter unrolls a paper pantograph pattern and follows it with a laser light pointer. This can be done quite quickly and easily so it is less expensive.
Custom quilting usually includes a different design in the blocks or body of the quilt and another design in the border. This way a customer could choose a block design or an overall pattern in the main body of the quilt and then a continuous design in the borders.
Heirloom quilting is very individual and is usually the most expensive. In heirloom quilting complicated designs such as feathers or other overalls would be used and they usually accentuate the piecing as far as possible. The border would be quilted separate with coordinating designs.
Pricing is very individual among long arm quilters. Long arm quilters charge by the square inch or charge by the square yard. Be sure to discuss pricing with your quilter so there aren't any surprises when you go to pick up the quilt.
Pricing by the inch
Multiply the length times the width of the quilt top. Then multiply by the number of cents per square inch. For example a 60" x 80" quilt top at 2 cents a square inch would be as follows: 60 x 80 = 4800 square inches x .02 = $96.
Pricing by the yard
Multiply the length times the width of the quilt. Then divide by 1296 (the number of square inches in a square yard). For example: 60 x 80 = 4800 divided by 1296 = 3.70 square yards x $26 = $96.
A flat charge for basic cotton thread is in addition to the total price. If specialty threads are used Many threads are available
Long arm quilters may have an extra charge for "turning the borders" and if they do, this would have to be factored in to the total price. Also any additional work the quilter needs to do such as cutting batting, ironing backing or repairing the top will be additional.
Other services are sometimes offered such as making and stitching on the binding. Hand finishing the binding might also be offered. Additional services offered might be adding a hanging sleeve.
Level of workmanship
Professional quilters have their personal style of quilting. While some quilt very beautifully with quality workmanship, there are some that are satisfied with a more casual approach. You will need to decide for yourself what level of workmanship you require before choosing a long arm quilter.
To see professionally quilted quilts, go to local quilt shows and look at workmanship and style of the professional quilters in your area. Ask for their brochures and price lists. Be sure to watch show and tell at guild meetings. You will soon see the style and workmanship of your local quilters before entrusting your top to them. It is also appropriate to ask a quilter to see samples of her work. A professional will not be offended by a customer wishing to see her work.
Problems that arise
I am going to give you two examples of miscommunication between quilter and customer -- One quilter had a large quantity of hi-loft batting on hand that she wished to use. The customer did not specify what type of batting she preferred so the quilter simply used from her supply of high loft. The customer was disappointed because she preferred a low loft cotton batting. The quilter didn't ask and the customer didn't specify.
Another long arm quilter places the stitching loops and lines so close together that the quilt is a firm flat mat when finished -- even when using polyester batting. Before quilting, the customer stated that she preferred less quilting with more space between stitching lines, the quilter still quilted it too closely following her own personal preference. Although the quilt was beautifully quilted, the customer was unhappy because she wanted more puffiness to show in her quilt.
You need to choose your professional quilter according to her style and your preferences, not just that she is conveniently located or lower priced.
Preparing Your Quilt Top For A Professional Quilter
Every professional quilter will have different expectations for your quilt top to be brought to them. Carefully read your quilter's brochure or instruction sheet. Talk with your quilter concerning your preferences of quilt designs and batting. If your quilter prefers a particular brand of batting and will supply it for an additional cost you won't need to take batting to her. If you wish the batting to be pre-shrunk it would be more economical to do it yourself before taking it to the quilter.
Ask your quilter how large to cut the batting and backing. Cut them to the size specified. Usually the backing and batting should be about 6" longer and wider than the quilt top. Be sure your backing is square. If you send your quilter an oversize batting or backing she will charge you for trimming.
Some battings may be pre-shrunk. If you wish to have your batting pre shrunk, you will need to do it yourself and to allow time to let it dry before your appointment with your quilter.
Press your quilt top well and hang it on a hanger. Press the backing and hang it on a hanger. Don't assume the backing will become smooth after putting it on the quilt frame. Wrinkled backing will still be wrinkled after quilting.
To press backing, moisten the backing fabric with a spray mister bottle or use a steam iron. If the backing is not pressed, your quilter will press it for you for an additional charge.
Do not baste or layer your quilt. Your quilter will want the top, batting, and backing separate for loading on her quilt frame.
These basic guidelines will help you choose a long arm professional quilter and give you some idea of her charges and preparation specifications. Be sure to consult with your individual quilter and use her instructions for preparing your quilt.