Longarm Lesson – Backing Too Short

Stuck with a quilt back that is too short? This is how I solved the quilt backing too small but already mostly quilted on my longarm problem.

One late afternoon, the machine was humming along and everything was going really well. I’d already finished two charity quilts. Everything was perfect, I had enough backing provided in the quilt packages and I was racing through the third charity quilt I’d promised to do. Suddenly, disaster struck!

Oh NO!

Always measure your backing or you will be sorry.
Moral of this photo: Measure your backing even if a customer has always given you enough. Always measure!

Oh NO! NO! NO! NO! The quilt backing provided was too short! I literally slapped myself up side the head. How many times had I admonished new longarmers to measure everything provided before you even put a quilt on your machine?! How many times!?!


I called my friend Carol and put on my thinking cap. After sitting and pondering together for a bit and after a refreshing glass of _______. (iced tea?) I had an epiphany. I could solve this without taking the quilt off the machine, without having to go through the agony of getting it straight again, without having to take the several hours it seemed this disaster would need.

The solution turned out to be hilarious and my friend Carol took a video. The simple solution was to take off just the bottom of the quilt and leave the top attached.

I had a tea cart that set a small sewing machine on and just sewed a strip onto the bottom of the backing. It was a quick and easy matter to just re-attach the bottom and quilt on. Watch how I did it.

On Long Arm Quilting with Monofilament

For Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Bottom Line (or any thread in the bobbin) in the bobbin. I use the TOWA tension gauge to set my bobbin case to a value of 180. I loosen my top tension knob about 2.5 turns.

This week on my facebook longarm quilt group, a member asked about using monofilament. I mentioned monofilament in a blog post https://wordpress.com/post/freeformquilts.com/626 a while back. Now that I have experimented more with monofilament I need to save my observations here.

I want a monofilament that sews like regular thread but “disappears” into the background fabric so that the quilting and fabric are emphasized instead of the thread lines. After many combinations and brands of monofilament, I finally came up with a repeatable easy solution that works every single time for me. I use Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Superior Threads So Fine in my bobbin.

Thread Chemistry affects stitching

I tested several clear monofilament threads. Mono filament thread is a single continuous strand of fiber of polyester. Polyester seems to be stronger than other monofilament thread types.

Nylon monofilament threads stretched more and I didn’t like using them, even when I had all the tension loosened way up, they still stretched. I didn’t like how it formed stitches and I liked even less how much they could pull fabric up and warp it.

Quality of thread manufacturing also affects the stitch out. A single strand that is made to exacting thickness will give a consistent result. In a multi fiber thread, slight variations of thread thickness are compensated by the multiple fibers. In a mono filament, a thinner section of thread can cause breakage and malformed stitches.

Once I got my machine setup to form beautiful stitches Superior’s Monopoly did not break. Monopoly also comes in both a clear and a smoke color.  Monopoly is matte finishe and so you don’t see a “sparkle” when looking at the quilt from an angle. The smoke is also clear but smokey looking which is great on darker fabrics as light reflectance is minimal and this thread really disappears on dark backgrounds. Due to its matte finish and strength and consistent stitching, I greatly prefer Superior Threads Monopoly.

What is monofilament?

Keep in mind any mono (one strand) filament thread is going to be weaker than a two strand or three strand thread, to compensate that one strand is going to be a little thicker than the single strand of a multi-strand thread. It’s worth mentioning because you might observer that the thread is a little thinner than what you would normal consider for a specific needle size. In face Superior is only .1 mm thick! Needle choice will have a BIG impact on stitching with monofilament. Try first what the manufacturer of that thread suggests. It really does matter.

Needle Size

Superior recommends a #14 needle. I generally use a #14 needle but may go up to a #18 needle in certain cases. If it seems the needle flexing is causing the monopoly to break, go up to a bigger needle size. This is more of an issue when freemotion quilting with monopoly. A thicker/bigger needle is stronger and going to flex less.

Threading path changes

If I am having the monopoly break, I check my threading path. I thread through the only one hole in the top guide post instead of the normal winding around through both holes on the top guide.

Tension really matters

The key to beautiful stitches with Monopoly is your thread tension balance between the top and the bottom. You will need to loosen your top tension. On my Innova two to three full turns to loosen the top tension knob are required. Exactly how much depends on the thread I choose for the bobbin.

Bobbin Thread Affects Stitching with Monofilament

I have found that using monofilament in the top and bobbin really doesn’t work. Monofilament, because it is only one strand of fiber, is very slippery. The monofilament will not “grab” onto another monofilament thread and so the stitch doesn’t form and hold. Sometimes the stitches even skip completely. To get a good stitch formation, I have found that using a multi filament thread in the bobbin is a must. The multi-filament thread will grab the monofilament and form a better stitch.

I choose my bobbin thread based up on the effect I want to see on the back of the quilt. If I want the bobbin thread to have a disappearing effect, I will choose a bobbin thread such as #60 bottom line by Superior and very closely match the color to the quilt backing. Bonus to this combo is that Bottom Line is very thin and a LOT of yardage fits on a bobbin. Less bobbin changes is a very good thing in my mind. I often use #50 weight of many types such as cotton or trilobal polyester. I rarely go to a thicker thread, but have successfully used #40 weight polyester thread too.

Bobbin Case and Tension

The key to the bobbin thread no matter the thickness, is to have consistent tension.I keep repeating this because it is just that important.  I have a TOWA bobbin gauge and that has made all the difference in my long arm quilting. GET ONE!

Summary of What I Do to Set Up for Monopoly

For Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Bottom Line (or any thread in the bobbin) in the bobbin. I use the TOWA tension gauge to set my bobbin case to a value of 180.  I loosen my top tension knob about 2.5 turns. Then I test on the edge of the quilt sandwich set and adjust only my top tension knob either looser or tighter to get a perfect stitch. I also test after each bobbin change or whenever I feel the stitch isn’t right.

Problem Solving Tips

  • Pokies on the top = loosen top tension and/or check bobbin tension with gauge
  • Pokies on the bottom = tighten top tension and/or check bobbin tension with gauge
  • Shredding thread.. quilt fabric and batting tension might be too tight. Bop it and see how it bounces. I have a habit of making this too taut.
  • Refer to my troubleshooting notes.


I lost my hair, stubbed my toe and decided to write a letter to Santa… and Neal of Innova Longarm.

Oh Santa! Did you know shouting curse words is very difficult while pouring anesthetizing agents down your throat? I actually choked. Yes, Santa, I CHOKED! Please give me an undo.

Dear Santa,

Since my younger cousins are feverishly writing to you, I thought that possibly you wouldn’t mind if I wrote you a short letter too. I know it’s been years since I sat on your lap. Well there was that one time at that party last year… and you suspiciously looked like that guy I sleep with every night.

Please Santa the one thing I really wish I could have for Christmas this year is …


The reason I really need UNDO is to save my hair. And my marriage. Probably in that order. My husband really likes my hair. I like it too.

Last night was I working on this crazy wonderful project that I have maybe 150 hours into already. Being the geek that I am, I decided to use the masking feature to mask out my appliques from a stellar cloud pattern background. I plan doing some awesome freehand work in the spaces. So I set about 1250 push pins around this shape. It’s curved, thus it requires more pins. I saved my project, thinking it would save my pins too. Then I joined the pushpins to create a shape for masking. It’s a really cool Innova thing. I messed up and lost my push pins and had to do it all over. No problem. It only took me and hour the first time. The push pins weren’t saved by the software. So I did it again… ALL of it… All … over … again. ALL OF IT! Have you ever been so frustrated you pulled on your own hair? ARGHHH!!!

Oh Santa! An UNDO would be a really really awesome thing for Innova Autopilot and Navigator to have. It also would mean I would stop stomping through the house flinging open the bar cupboard and pouring gallons of anesthetizing agent into my stomach while gurgling unintelligible curse words. Did you know shouting curse words is very difficult while pouring anesthetizing agents down your throat? I actually choked. Yes, Santa, I CHOKED! Or maybe it was the hopping up and down while doing all the above. Anyway… if I had an undo after I accidentally clear 1250 push pins while I was joining them to make a pattern on my Innova Autopilot… then I wouldn’t tear all my hair out. And a bewildered husband wouldn’t come up on a gurgling choking wife with frazzled hair and a bleeding scalp in a heap on the floor whispering repeatedly, “if only I had an undo… if only.. undo….”

Please Neal, Please Mike, I’m sure Santa wouldn’t mind if you delivered this early so he wouldn’t have to go to all the work with his elves.

The girl who stubbed her toe when she fell in a heap while gurgling, “if only I had an undo”.

Almost a one month romance w my Innova

It’s been about a month since the Innova long arm came to live with me. It’s been a romance of the worst sort. Wonderful from day one yet full of learning. Some of it frustrating. I’m sure a long armer with experience would know the things I have put upon myself by just jumping in and seeing what happens. I’ll have to take some pics of some awfulness that I self created.

The short list also known as the “slap myself in the head DUH!” List

Don’t move the sew head w the needle down.

It’s easiest to set tension if you have the same kind of thread in the top and in the bobbin.

Thin bobbin thread and thick top thread is very hard for a beginner to set the tension for.

Cheapi fabric is cheapi fabric. You get what you pay for.

It takes LOTS longer to quilt blocks than an all over edge to edge.

I hate ripping out stitches!

Husband likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner!

You can’t practice destroying quilts if you are out of town.

The Learning List a.k.a. Stuff I Figured out but could probably have learned by reading a manual or paying better attention in class

When quilting crosshatching with the autopilot don’t do the whole outlined hollow diamond shape, do half of it at a time. If you do it all at once you will get a royal mess and dense run stitching that isn’t very pretty. It ends up stiff thick and butt ugly!

Change your needle when things look crappy. For example, if the tension is right, and everything is right but for some reason it just all looks lackluster as if the stitches have wilted. CHANGE the needle.

Did I say BASTE?

The crosshatching tool in ABM Autopilot is really neat. But it doesn’t do a good job on areas that are shaped kinda like a C. It makes insane amounts of run stitching around the edges. I ended up with 1/4 inch wide dense stitching around a shape. The shape was three side of a four sided diamond that was hollow in the middle.

I’ll add more as I think of things.

Wow! Minky is a Breeze with the Right Tools.

This is the back view of the first full quilt I did on the Innova Longarm.
My first minky backed quilt on the Innova longarm. I used Minky which is a challenge, but it went smoothly. I was amazed.

OMG! My first experience doing a Minky backed lap quilt was awful. I didn’t mind the fuzz or the fact that I had to pin the heck out of to prevent stretching and distorting. I was frustrated with the weight of it, how my machine reacted to it, with all the thread breaks (and I was using strong stuff, full polyester trilobal dragon strength thread). It was NOT fun. And I have this firm belief that quilting should be fun above all else.

This past weekend, it was a totally different experience. I love minky now. Actually I love my Innova longarm even more now! I used the same thread as last time, same minky brand just a different color, same batik fabric and same batting. But this time I used the Innova. Talk about night and day. Only thread problem was when my bobbin ran out. There are no “pills” of thread on the sharp point in the design, the stitching just simply rocks!

I also love love love the serrated edged Teflon coated scissors I got from Havel’s. They are my goto scissors for all big things not rotary cutter possible. And they make minky cut like butter.

Photo of the best scissors I have ever used on minky fabric
Havel’s Pink Handled Teflon Coated Serrated Edge Scissors

My Innova Longarm has arrived!

Last week my long awaited longarm finally arrived. After a year of searching and trying out different brands at quilt shows, after months of lurking on such places as the quilt forum, yahoo groups dedicated to the different brands, after calling support phone numbers posing as a customer with a problem to see how I would be treated, I finally decided on an Innova. I also found that there are three other Innovas in my area, so I wouldn’t be alone. Laurie Shook of Kingsbury, TX (commercial longarmer for hire) referred me to the Texas distributor for Innova, Joanne Gemill. I spent a half day with Joanne at Jo’s Quilt Studio in Richmond, Texas, and was convinced my choice was correct. So, I ordered it.

20130730-133632.jpgI have been nothing but pleased! I quilted up some el cheapo discount store fabric, just to play, test, and goof up. I tried different thread brands, I played w tension. (Thank goodness I have had tension issues on my other machines, so it wasn’t too hard to get it back to where it needed
to be.) I learned the hard way to disconnect the bands that are attached to the computerized motors so I can freehand. If you don’t disconnect them, you can do fabulous horizontal and vertical lines… But curves… Lets say you would have to be Hercules. Once I disconnected the bands, free motion quilting was a dream.

I also learned that they really meant it when they say baste your quilt sandwich. I have to admit, I have done so many smaller art things and its been over a year since I basted anything. I have been saving up my bigger tops until I got the BIG longarm. I put the quilt back on, I laid out and smoothed the batting, I floated the quilt top (small quilt, so didn’t think it needed putting on the roller. ) and I decided to to a digitized pantograph. So it would look nice after binding, I decided to quilt some off the edge. WELL, if you don’t baste… Bad things happen! The all great and powerful Innova Sewing machine head and longarm motors are so strong, that if you are lucky, the only thing that will happen is the machine foot catches the edge of the quilt top and rips your quilt off the leaders. If you are unlucky, and you attached to the leaders in a really strong way, the you rip the quilt top. I was lucky. And I was lucky I decided to use the Red Snappers, for attaching to the leaders. They hold well, but were forgiving enough to let go before my top ripped.

Here is a link to the lady who invented the red snappers, Renae Haddadin, showing how they work.

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