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Importance of quilt side clamps

I have been a longarm quilter since 2005 when I bought my Gammill Classic second hand from someone who had bought it new in 1999 and had not used it as much as she thought she would.  It was the best thing in the world for me, since I owned a needlework/quilting shop and I was stacking tops that were made for class models, and I didn't have time to finish them. My husband and the former owner's husband (both engineers) carefully disassembled the machine which was in the basement of their home in Bucks County, PA and loaded it into and on top of our Toyota Highlander.  We drove very carefully to our home in the Manassas area of Virginia. (Just like bringing home a new baby) I couldn't wait to get it set up. Since it was not computerized at the time, I was up and running by the next day.  The former owner had shown me how to load the machine and she also included videos, books, pantographs, additional Gammill accessories, and thread.  I was ready to go! How hard could it be?  

I was a little slow at pinning, but I did it according to direction.  I rolled my back and put my batting on and then added my top- a cheap printed panel I could use for practice. It was far from professional, but I got it on and started quilting. I had the backing really tight on the rollers to make sure that the quilt would be taut, and to be really sure, I put the side clamps on snuggly. I couldn't wait to get to the finished product.  When I finished, I removed the piece from the frame and what to my wonder, it was awful! It cupped and warped so much I didn't want anyone to see it. I threw it away and spent the next few days watching Linda's Electric Quilt Videos and reading the manual and books to learn how to use the machine properly.  I tried again with a top and a pantograph.  It was better and I was on my way to learning my machine.

There were not many classes and seminars that I knew about, so I grew in my knowledge of my machine by talking to other longarm owners and watching demonstrations in the Gammill booth at shows. After a back injury and subsequent surgery, I found it hard to complete a row on a full sized top, so we explored the idea of upgrading to a Statler.  Gammill was offering a deal at the 2011 Houston Quilt Market and a month later my Gammill dealer was at my house, turning my Classic into a Statler.  I went down to Phenix, VA and spent a day with Lori Clayton learning how to use the Statler.  I guess I needed more time, because when I hit the quilt button, I apparently had something off the quilt edge and my machine started traveling to a place I wasn't expecting causing me to panic.  I found the cancel button promptly and erased everything and started over, being very careful to go step by step.  When things started off well the second time, I breathed a sigh of relief until the needle apparently came out and got stuck in the quilt and the machine stopped.(Galil error. Learned about that right off the bat.)   I struggled with it and finally called Lori.  She gave me the help I needed and let me hear her Gammill stitching away in the background. The lesson I learned was to always make sure the needle is in right and in tight. 

After I became more proficient at quilting, I became interested in refining and speeding up the process. By this time there were major seminars available, so I decided to take advantage of them and really learn how to get the most out of my Statler. I felt I had a good basic knowledge to build on.  February, 2016 I attended the Mid Atlantic Quilter's Retreat in Richmond, VA and it opened new windows for me.  In one of the seminars taught by Sharon Sweetland their was a discussion about side issues and how to keep the edges even. This wasn't the main focus of that class, but we had drifted off into the discussion because Sharon was showing us how she handled loading her quilts, floating tops and keeping them straight using magnetic strips.  Someone asked about the sides and she showed us her method which was to use strips of muslin 18" long and about 6" wide.  She had a pocket sewn in to put half of a wooden yardstick in.  She pinned the muslin to the quilt edge then attached the clamps to the other side. I went home and tried it.  It was effective, but too slow for me.  At this time I was getting busier with customer quilts and trying to get my own done.(All 50 of the accumulated tops.)  I started on a search for a faster way, leading me to Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I was looking for a wide hanger that clamped on that I could hook the clamp to.  I had to settle for four wooden pants hangers.  They did a much better job of keeping the edges straight, but were still too time consuming. I kept after my engineer husband to make something better and I kept telling him how I wanted it to work. It took awhile, but he finally came back with something that was close to what I wanted,  The prototypes were a little fragile and needed fixing frequently, but I liked them so much that I hated quilting with the pants hangers or the original clamps. We then got into a process that took well over a year to design, develop, patent and bring to the point of manufacturing our new clamp.  My husband spent hours using CAD design to draw the shells and his unique lever which is the heart of the design and makes it work so well. It had to be a quality product.  My husband was a quality engineer for IBM and later several other smaller companies after retiring from IBM.  We are very proud of the finished product - Jannette's Professional Quilt Clamp and of the fact that the product is USA made.

It is so fast and easy to use that when I roll the quilts and hook the  clamps on I feel as if I should have more to do,  I love the smoothness of the backs and how even the tension is even on stretchy fabrics like Minky.  This  clamp is actually a system using Velcro straps with an elastic end.  Once I attach the Velcro to the frame and get the proper side tension on the quilt, I do not adjust the Velcro again until I need to set the clamps for the next quilt. This insures that the quilt tension is evenly maintained over the length of the quilt.  I never have wavy, uneven edges where the quilt back was pulled too tight to one side or the other. Another plus is that the stitching on the back looks much better.  Backs that are loaded too tight change the way the machine stitches which has to do with needle deflection.  Changing stitch tension will not help if the back is too tight.

Solutions to the side clamp dilemma:

Jannette's Professional Quilt Clamps .
Pro's -
  • Wide (18")
  • Very fast.
  • Lightweight
  • All metal (excluding traction surface)
  • Minimal selvage
    • Although I still recommend a minimum of 4" on all sides for the backing fabric, I have gotten to within 1 1/2" from the needle by lifting the clamp up to ride on my ruler table.  
  • Costs more, but high quality made in the USA construction.              Click here to see specifications.
Jannette's Professional Quilt Clamps make great gifts.

Point contact clamps
   (Commonly provided by the longarm manufacturers with two per side.)
Pro -
  • Very cheap.
Con -
  • Stretches multiple points (4), which produces a scalloped edge on hanging quilt. Makes a pronounced scallop on Minky.

Potato chip bag clips
Pro -
  • Very cheap.
Con's -
  • Not uniform tension - spreads the distortion (over point contact), but gives a different pull in the center than near the rollers.
  • Two per side, and each has different strap tension. 
  • Time consuming - apply four clamps and pull four straps with four different tensions.

Pant cuff hangers  (A derivation on the chip clip which I used for a long time.)
  • Same pro's and con's as chip clip, but even more time consuming with cocking action.

Yardstick  (In a fabric sleeve, which is pinned onto backing fabric. Similar to a sailing batten, which is a light weight, stiff stick (like a paint stick) that keeps the edge of sailboat sail from flopping over.
Pro's -
  • Wide (18")
  • Provides uniform pull over its length which can be 18 inches.
Con's -
  • Very time consuming and hard on the fingers as you pin the many pins on each side to the backing fabric.
  • Discourages side basting to stabilize sandwich. (You won't get that really good job.)

Wide plastic clamps which crimp onto fabric.
Pro's -
  • Wide (18")
  • Relatively cheap.
Con's -
  • Hard on hands.
  • Not rigid.
  • Doesn't work on materials like Minky.

Magnetic sticks  
Pro -
  • Wide
Con's -
  • Two hand application.
  • Thick materials reduce attachment strength