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Jannette's Method for Loading Her Longarm Quilting Machine

There are many YouTube videos and descriptions for loading quilts.  I am not going to say that my way is the only way, but it is a method that I find easy and quick and I get great results.  Loading the quilt well is fundamental to getting good results.

  1. Attach the backing fabric to the roller leaders. My current method for attaching the backing to the leaders is to unzip the leaders from the machine and take them to my serger which has a chainstitch and use the serger to attach the fabric to the leaders.(I like this method because it is quick and even and because when the quilting is finished, I just clip the end of the chain enough to start it unraveling, pull and in an instant, the quilt is free of the leader.) I start at the center mark on my leader and laying the fabric on top of the leader, I pin from the center to the outside of the leader about every 3-4" on one side only. I start at the last pin and chainstitch the backing to the leader all the way across just laying the fabric on top of the leader as I stitch. I don't have to pin the other half because I really only needed a starting point. Repeat with the other leader. Then I zip the leaders back on and roll.   If you do not have a serger or overlocker you will have to pin. I don't remove the leaders if I pin, but I still start from the center going to the outer edge to keep things even. We made sure when we attached the leaders to the machine to line up the center marks on all the leaders.
  2. Next I roll the backing fabric onto the pickup leader until all the backing is rolled. It will be loose on the pickup leader.
  3. Applying very light tension to the pickup roller, I carefully roll the backing to the backing roller, keeping the fabric smooth and making sure it layers evenly. Also I keep an eye on the leaders to make sure that they stay straight and smooth.
  4. When I am satisfied with the backing position, I apply the clamps.
  5. Lay batting on the backing fabric and drape over the belly bar so that it will position centered on the backing fabric and smooth it,.
  6. I then baste the top of the batting using the basting stitch and channel lock.   This gives me a straight line to line up my top. 
  7. Lay quilt top on the batting and drape over the belly bar so that it will position centered on the batting and backing fabric. I then pin and baste the top of the quilt top along the basting line on the batting. If your machine is not a Statler this process will have to be done with the basting stitch.  But if you have a Statler you can use Draw Pattern using the Geo Line. Change the stitch size and speed in properties and save.  (I like 6 for speed and 5.5 for stitch.)  Starting in the center of the top, draw to the outside on one side, close drawing and then repeat to the other side.  Then quilt. This leaves both hands free to manipulate the fabric. (A trick learned from Joan Knight.)
  8.  Then stabilize the sandwich at the belly bar with magnets or clips. Be careful not to over pull the top thus distorting it.
  9. At this point, I like to put a line of basting horizontally along a quilt seam. If I need to, I adjust the fabric to keep the line straight.  If the top is done right, there should not be large adjustments.  I use channel lock to keep it straight.
  10. Next I baste the sides.  I go from the belly bar to the top because this seems to keep the quilt straighter and doesn't give side distortion. I try to baste less than 1/4" in so that the binding will hide the basting.  If you have Statler, or another computerized machine that will allow this, using Draw Pattern and vertical channel lock will make it easy.  Go to the top and click Draw Pattern (Geo Line) to line up where the line will be drawn; then go to the belly bar and hit select going from the belly bar to the top. Repeat on the other side. Remove the clamps
  11. Roll the quilt,  Use the magnets or belly bar clips to keep the top straight,  Reattach the clamps and do the next section, basting the horizontal line and then the sides. Repeat this process until you reach the last section.
  12. When I reach the last section, I like to run my horizonal basting along the top of the outside border. Then I pin the bottom with the pins going sideways, just in case I need to release a little fullness.  Most of the time I could baste along the bottom using the same method as the top and it would be fine; but I do not want to have a pucker at the top of the border.  
  13. Now it is time to roll back to the top.  I keep a light tension on the backing roller while I roll back to the top.  Just enough tension to keep everything smooth and even.  Do not over crank it.
  14. Replace the side clamps and you are ready to quilt.
  15. Tip:  If the top seems to have some ballooning that can't be controlled with hand surfing or soup cans or other hacks, I do some vertical stabilization to even out the ballooning before starting to quilt.  
  16. Quilt each section, roll and repeat until quilting is complete. (I remove my horizontal basting as I come to it.)
  17. Baste the bottom edge.  Quilt the last section and you are done.
  18. Remove the quilt from the machine and observe the flattest, straightest quilt you have ever done. No need for blocking.  Call the customer and do a happy dance.