Quilting My Tops

For anyone looking for Keryn’s pantos or Mereth’s pantos, they’re available at Golden Threads.

These questions were asked in a comment to I’ll answer where it’s easier for everyone to see . . since my guess is others would like to know also.

How long does it take to load, what is the process?

I count on it taking about an hour to load an average sized quilt.  Here’s how load:

  1. Measure the top and mark the centers on all four sides.
  2. Measure the backing and mark the centers on all four sides, making sure the backing is big enough.
  3. Load the backing.
  4. Load the top.
  5. Sandwich in the batting.

I’ll do another post with pictures of the loading process.

Some use zippers, some use pins to attach the backing and top to the leaders.  If using zippers, half the zippers are attached to the leaders.   For each quilt, the top and bottom of the backing are basted to the other half of a zipper and ‘zipped’ onto the leaders.  The beauty of this technique is that the quilt can be loaded and unloaded and re-loaded as needed.  Those who use this technique love it.  I don’t love it and don’t use it.  I pin my backing/top to the leaders.  My reasons are:

  1. I don’t see that it’s any faster to baste the zippers to the top than it is to pin the top to the leaders.
  2. In over 10 years of quilting, I’ve never had the need to stop one quilt before it’s done in order to start another one.  I know me and if I had that option, I’d probably have dozens of half finished quilts!

How long does it take to quilt the top?

That depends.  If I’m doing a panto like I did on Big Star, which is about 72″ x 90″, and if I don’t stop to read email or check The Loopy Ewe for updates,  once the quilt is loaded, it takes about 2 hours to quilt it.

The Baptist Fans that I did on Winning Hand, which is about, which is about 61″ x 82″, also took about 2 hours.

A quilt like this one or this one take days and days!  Any time stitch in the ditch is used, and I use it on all custom work, or marking stencils, the quilting time is greatly increased.

How long does it take to remove the quilt?

5 minutes or less.

What is your favorite part?

I actually like it all.  Loading I suppose is my least favorite part but I don’t hate the loading process.  I find that I put it off so when I was quilting for others, as soon as I finished one top, I’d go ahead and load the next one, even if it was midnight!  I knew that having a top already loaded and ready to go would mean I was way more anxious to get started quilting than if I had to load it first.

How do you choose the quilting design?

That was the hardest part for me when getting started.  I would look at webshots and get ideas.  I looked at hundreds of quilt pictures every day!  I would look at the ones I loved and figure out what it was that I loved — often feathers!  I would look at the ones where I said “I wouldn’t have chosen that design!” and see what it was about them that didn’t seem pleasing to me. Because I love feathers, I was always looking for a spot where I could put feathers.  Since most of the quilts I do now are donation quilts, or quilts for us to use, I mostly do pantos.  Heavy custom quilting sometimes causes a quilt to be less snuggly so I don’t put that much effort into quilts that are being donated or quilts I know we’ll use and wash often.

If quilting for a customer, their suggestions always are the priority.  Rarely did I have anyone who had a definite quilting idea.  Mostly it was left up to me.  I’d ask the customer how the quilt was going to be used — kid’s quilt, on the back of a sofa, hanging across a quilt rack  . . that all made a difference in the quilting plan, as did how much they were wanting to spend on the quilting.

Mostly, the quilt top design dictates the best quilting method.  Loose Change, for example, is a donation quilt but a panto didn’t do justice to the piecing and all that black fabric so I went with feathers and an “x” through the coins.

Choosing the quilting design definitely gets easier the more you do it.

You make it look so easy!

It is so easy!  I’m not saying it doesn’t take effort and there was no learning curve . . it takes a while for most of us to feel comfortable and confident with a longarm and it sometimes is hard work.  Standing at the machine, especially doing tedious custom work, for sometimes 6 or 8 hours, hardly taking a break . . that’s work!  But it’s a work I love and I’ve never considered anything about longarm quilting to be hard . . except that it’s hard on my body sometimes.

One thing I believe and I wish everyone believed is . . anything you can do . . I can do better! 🙂  Maybe not better but I can do anything I want to do.  I’m not an artist but if painting pretty pictures is something I really wanted to do, I could take art lessons til I could paint a picture that pleases me.  I have no desire to paint a picture!  But there’s nothing creative you can’t do if you really want to do it!  I know . . some of you are thinking of things already but the bottom line is . . if you want to put forth the effort, you can do anything!  And to those who may be thinking I can’t get a longarm because I don’t have the money . . read how I got my first quilting machine.  We paid $500 for it.  Vince did a lot of work on it, I used it for a couple of years quilting tops for others and in just those two years I saved enough to buy a used APQS Ultimate I machine (which they no longer make).  I used that for several years and after Vince did some “work” on it and it was going to have to be sent back to APQS for repairs, I had saved up enough for a new APQS Freedom.  So far, none of these machines had a stitch regulator and the Millennium was my goal. I can’t remember if it was 2004 or 2005 when my quilt, Fall Splendor, won Best of Category at the AQS Expo in Nashville (also done without a stitch regulator) and that gave me enough money to get the Millennium that I’m still using today.  I didn’t start off with a fancy, stitch regulated machine.  If I’d waited until I could afford that machine, I’d probably still be waiting.  I started with what I could afford.  I made sure there was enough of a quilting need for me to have a home based business.  I made sure I enjoyed machine quilting and specifically quilting for others. I saved as much as I could while using each machine until I had enough money to get the machine I wanted.

There has never been a time since getting that first old machine that I haven’t been thrilled to be able to do machine quilting and hope I am never without a longarm.


  1. 1


    nice to hear you pin! I just couldn’t see the reason to mess with zippers and frankly, since I rip so much sometimes during the quilting process anyway, I don’t want to have to do it once I’m done so I just pun away also. :p

  2. 2


    I am glad you posted about having had machines without stitch regulator. A Longarm has been a dream of mine, but my quilt buddy has one and has more room than I do. Have you heard of the “Side Saddle”? Hers is coming today and her DH will put it on the machine. She has a APQS also. It will computerize her machine and we can hardly wait to load and quilt our many UFO’s. I have rented a machine with a Stitch regulator and haven’t used her machine much because I was afraid of it and her DH didn’t want anyone to use it. It is a big investment. Panto give me a crick in the neck and I forget to breathe as I move… I tried “feathers” because of your BLOG. Gotta get some done one the entry for our 1st quilt show this year. Have a great DAY!

  3. 3


    I would love to see some pictures of how you load your quilts! Last fall I found a Huskqvarna MegaQuilter and frame on Craig’s List for a very good price and bought it to start quilting some quilts. I went to a local shop (they had the SAME EXACT machine) and used their machine once to “learn” how to load the quilt and to get a feel for the machine.

    Since then, I had to replace the leaders because the originals were totally frayed, and I’m having a hard time getting the leaders straight and to get the guts to actually put some fabric on there. 🙁

    Any suggestions on how to make sure the leaders are straight and what to do if they aren’t?

    Eventually I’d like to actually get a quilt on there, so pictures to see how someone else does it would be wonderful!

    • 3.1

      Vicki S says

      My leaders fit in a groove the poles. They came with velcro strips I could attach to the poles and the leaders, then stick the velcro together. You migh try that.

  4. 4

    Kathy BC says

    I am so glad you posted this. I have been meaning to ask you forever how you measure the quilts. I have always had my husband help me measure the quilts (batting & backing). For some reason the way I do it, it’s hard to do it by myself (the batting sticks together, or if it’s flannel it sticks, and it’s just easier with another set of hands). I was thinking to myself, everyone else does it by themselves…. How do they do it???

    Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

  5. 5

    Darlene B says

    Thanks so much for continuing to encourage us, Judy! I appreciate you telling us to just get out there and TRY! I tend to doubt myself and procrastinate because I lack confidence. But I’m working on quilting a wall hanging on my domestic machine – and I’m loving the end result! I love reading all your stories about life, chickens, Vince, Chad, etc. Keep ’em coming!

  6. 6


    I have to say, I’m one who LOVES zippers on her leaders. It takes me less time to baste the back/top to the zippers than it took to pin AND I don’t seem to poke myself with the *^&%$ pins like I did when I pinned the quilts on the leaders 🙂

  7. 7

    Penny says

    Judy, this was so interesting. I know little to nothing about quilting on a longarm and you gave a good description. Now, what is a panto? It sounds like it’s a pattern to follow. How does it work; where do you put it. Is it something on a computer? Thanks.

  8. 8


    What a great post! I too love my longarm (actually midarm) and also the thing I like to do least is load a quilt. I also pin…tried basting once, but didn’t think it saved any time. I am still on the steep upward rise of the learning curve, but I try new things all the time and I am having a blast!

  9. 9


    I received my green envelope today…..Your new book is great and love the quilts. Can’t wait to try the chicken recipe. You’re great girl Judy L.

  10. 10

    Kris S says

    Thanks, Judy, for answering my many questions about the long arm quilting process. Your descriptions were so helpful and now, I feel like I know a little more about how you get done all the many things that you do. I really look forward to seeing photos of how you load the quilt and how a panto works.

    Thanks again. I really enjoy reading your blog.