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

  1. #1
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    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
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    Practice, practice, practice. You will be fine. There is a learning curve, but you will get there.

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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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.
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/Upnorthcrafter

  7. #7
    Super Member AshleyR's Avatar
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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.
    Crashnquilt


    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!

  11. #11
    Super Member valleyquiltermo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joset View Post
    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.
    DITTO, this is same as I done and they make great throw around kids quilts.
    Sew just keep up the pratice.
    http://www.skillpages.com/DonnaValleyquiltermo
    Sweet Dreams come from under Cozy Quilts made with love.
    Life is short, take time to enjoy it. Play with your kids and g-kids,
    and do what you can for others.

  12. #12
    Super Member nygal's Avatar
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    I'm doing the same thing with the set up I recently bought. I did a panel practice quilt and now I am using a solid blue with white thread so I can see the stitches. I have been quilting my real name which is full of curves and they ae looking good!
    When it seems like the world is falling to pieces remember that the pieces are falling into place. We are nearing closer to the End Times.

  13. #13
    Senior Member QuiltNama's Avatar
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    It takes practice and more practice. I did lots of loops and swirls til it felt a little more comfortable. Took pieces of small print fabrics and put borders on them, loaded them on my machine (HQ) with back and batting and wrote nursery rhymes. The small print hid the mistakes but really helped build my confidence, then started with other little things like stars, hearts, etc. After they were quilted, I bound them and used them for donations. Everyone is being used and loved. Now I do everthing from small to very large quilts and don't do a lot of fancy stuff, just fun stuff and love being able to finish my quilts. It will take a little bit of time to learn but after a bit, you will be so glad you stuck with it.

  14. #14
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    Don't give up, you'll get the hang of it. Is there a LQS that you can rent time on a long arm? Try you tube, I'm sure there are videos on there, everything else is. Just don't give up.

  15. #15
    Senior Member kristakz's Avatar
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    Keep practising. As others have said, put on a throw-away sandwich, and practice on that. I have only had my machine for a week and a half, so I'm definitely still a newbie. I did a practice sandwich (1 yard of fabric, full width) each of the first 2 days, and I made some comparison points. For example, I wrote my name at the start of day 1 (and it's not a nice smooth curvy name) and then again at the end of day 2. I still don't think it is great - but I can look at the 2 attempts and see worlds of improvement from the first to the second. That gives me confidence to keep going.

    Another comparison point - I took one of my practice sets and divided it into squares with a marker. Then I quilted a different sampler pattern in each square (try 365 days of free motion quilting http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.c...ilt-along.html, if you are looking for inspriation). I plan to repeat the exact same sampler in a few weeks, so that I can see my progress. I find that if you look at each day in isolation, they are never perfect. But if you can see your improvement day to day, week to week, that provides confidence and the incentive to keep going.

  16. #16
    Super Member Gramie bj's Avatar
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    I agree with all the above. Practice!! It is the bust way to learn! I also use a dry erace board for practice. I have a small lap size for just doodling a design but have a large one I set flat on my dinning room table. I stand as if I were at my Lizzie and draw using full arm motion. it really helps me set up a pattern to be used later. once your muscles learn the movement and pattern it is so much easyer. Don't give up! The time will come when it clicks and your brain and muscles start working together! Thats when the fun really begins!

  17. #17
    Super Member jlm5419's Avatar
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    It gets easier. Just give yourself time for plenty of practice. I recommend using garage sale sheets sandwiched with inexpensive batting for practice. You could try drawing designs onto the sheets to stitch over. I'm a relative newbie myself when it comes to longarm skills, but I do find it gets easier with each quilt.
    jlm5419-an Okie back in Oklahoma!
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  18. #18
    Super Member alleyoop1's Avatar
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    Practice makes perfect! Try drawing a design on your fabric and then go over it and over it without thread. Then thread your machine and try it with thread - in a contrasting color so you can really see the stitches. I like to practice "drawing" things like stars, hearts, waves, flowers, etc. On my first quilt on my frame I drew all sorts of things in the quilting and even wrote my son's name. Maybe one day he'll actually find his name in it!

    The last quilt I did - a baby quilt last month - I printed out a design and laid it in front of my needle and using my arms to guide the machine, I kept my eyes on the pattern so I could try to follow it. It came out pretty good.

    Good luck and just don't give up!

  19. #19
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    Don't give up. When my neice bought her LA she said the same thing. She felt so guilty spending the money. she was ready to send it back. everyone incouraged her, and she hung in there, 2 years later she is quilting for ladies all over the U.S. and has even quilted for Meg Hawkey, the designer of Crabapple Hill Designs. I just entered a quilt she quilted for me in a Quilt show and won Best in Catagory, I got 100 points out of a possible 100. Most of what she does is free hand. Keep practising and don't be so hard on yourself. Some of us ladies on here will be sending you our quilts before you know it!!

  20. #20
    Super Member moonwork42029's Avatar
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    In the same boat as you are...I haven't had mine long and no time to "play". Gosh do I think it looks awful!

    Someday soon though, I will do a charity one

    Let's hang in there and show it we ain't scared.
    Lisa L.
    Howdies from Possum Trot (yes it does exist)
    My most recent swap - Boomerang 16



  21. #21
    Super Member sewbeadit's Avatar
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    Oh my gosh, I could tell you stories about my first attempts. Then I learned that it takes practice and not to expect perfection at the beginning. I am on quilt 5 and each one has been better and I learn something every one I do, or lots of things.lol Instead of "mistakes" I call them learning experiences and keep right on going. Don't give up, you will love it.
    Sewbeadit
    W. Washington

  22. #22
    Power Poster ckcowl's Avatar
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    go purchase a bolt of muslin- a bunch of batts on sale & put together practice quilts---it takes time and lots of practice. some people practice for years before they are confident enough to quilt a real quilt- others take to it faster & after a couple dozen may load up a real quilt- they still practice for quite a while before chancing quilting for their friends. the practice quilts can be bound & donated here & there- or cut into smaller ones- edges zigzagged & donated to the local animal shelter- i have a few my granddaughters love- they claimed them and using fabric markers & paints- further decorated them- they use them for picnics, forts- what ever- play-
    practice, practice, practice---with time you will forget how (hard) it was in the beginning. i am always telling people to go to shops that let you try out machines, or rent time on their long-arms and get a (feel) for it before commiting to spending that kind of money- i know so many people who decide fairly soon they really do not enjoy the process at all- their shoulders, back, knees, legs ache- they don't want to do this- it really sucks when they've gone ahead & spent thousands of $$ to find this out-
    hiding away in my stash where i'm warm, safe and happy

  23. #23
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    My quilting buddy and I bought a used Handiquilter 16 with a frame. Yes it is very different from quilting with a home machine. Why don't you try doing pantographs. There are free ones on the web or you can make one yourself. Take an easy stencil and apply it to paper, then copy it 4-5 times on additional sheets. Tape the sheets together and place on the table of the frame. (Hopefully you have a pointer or a laser light to follow the lines) Before you put thread in the machine, trace the design several times. Now try it with thread. The only way you'll get better is with practice. Good luck...please don't give up..you're just having growing pains.

  24. #24
    Super Member maryb119's Avatar
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    Keep on practicing. My mom has a long arm and I have been learning to use it. It takes longer than you think to learn. Stick with it, you will get there.

  25. #25
    Senior Member QuiltingCrazie's Avatar
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    I use a Friends, try a panograph. My friend and i Talk about this all THe Time were Crafty Not artsy.
    *Rachel*

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