All posts by Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Tech Tuesday – Longarm Quilting

Introducing Songbird Quilter

The Eastern Shore has a great new service for quilters.  Wendy Pehrsson has opened Songbird Quilter in Lawrencetown. Songbird offers longarm instruction and rental services to help people finish their quilts without the expense of purchasing a longarm.   After a short orientation session, quilters can rent Wendy’s machine by the hour  to complete projects at a very reasonable rates.

Coincidentally Wendy’s approach is business model that I have been exploring myself.  There are quite a few people in the area that offer quilting services but I have always liked the idea of completing all the phases of a project myself.  Also, I love the quilting part except for fighting with a large project on a domestic machine.  I know I am not alone in those sentiments. In my research, I came across many stores offering rental services and thought it would be a wonderful idea to have that locally.  And another instructional option really appeals to the teacher in me.   Unfortunately, we do not have a suitable space in our home.

 What is longarm?

A longarm quilt machine is a large piece of equipment.   Table lengths vary but typically start at 10’.  Factoring in room to work around it easily, it requires a minimum of space of about 13’ x 8’ and for a rental business, a longer working surface would be recommended.  Good natural lighting is a definite advantage.

A longarm is used to stitch together the quilt top, batting and backing.    It differs from a domestic home machine in that you move the sewing head along rollers on a table to do the stitching.  The quilt remains stationary.   Since I first saw someone using one, it has seemed a more pleasant way to work than fighting with a quilt on my home machine.  From the first time I tried it, I was hooked.  It struck me like the difference between moving a pencil and moving the paper.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy walking foot quilting or Free Motion Quilting (FMQ) on my home machine but for large projects, it can be a daunting task and, therefore, a contributing factor to the collection of Unfinished Objects (UFOs).


Learning and playing

Even given the lack of space in our current home, I have been dreaming about a longarm.  So I ran into a quilting friend who told me about Songbird, I didn`t waste any time getting in touch with Wendy by email.  We arranged a time to meet a few days later and I headed to Lawrencetown.   Wendy has her APQS Millie in a beautiful bright room with a view of the many birds in her yard.

Wendy and Millie.
Wendy loading my quilt on the machine.
Ready for me to start quilting

Wendy  set me up to try a couple of pantographs (patterns) to follow, which helped get a feel for the machine then I was able to move directly to quilting a baby quilt that I brought for practice – all in under two hours.  I even had a chance to play with free motion.

With long arms, there are different options for creating patterns. Most can use computerized designs that go edge to edge with a pattern.  You can also use free hand designs or Pantographs, continuous line drawings that provide a pattern.   I don’t think that I would like computerized designs.  I like the idea of free hand but pantographs are a great option when you are getting started or trying new complex patterns.  Also, it seems that getting comfortable with those would be a way to ease into using longarm.   After I finished my quilt with pantograph pattern (a sort of wonky spiral that fit well with my Seuss pattern, I felt more confident to try freehand.  Here is a short video from Sparrow Quilt Co.  that demonstrates how to stitch with a pantographs using an APQS Millie longarm.

One of the best parts of finishing with a longarm was not having to baste the quilt.  This might seem like a small thing, but anyone who has ever done it knows what a tedious and time-consuming task that can be.  The time flew by and I had a blast!  I am definitely going to take out some of the other projects in my stash and get them quilted.  It is so much faster than doing them on my machine.  And much more relaxing since I don’t have to fight all the fabric.  Plus, I have some designs that I have been wanting to try that would work much more easily with the open space and control of the longarm machine.

Behind the curtain

While Wendy was getting things set up, we were chatting about her new venture and my interests.  I asked her if she would mind me taking a few pictures for a Tech Tuesday blog post and she said she didn’t mind at all.  As a bonus (for me, probably not for Wendy), the machine decided it felt the need for a new fuse.  Wendy had to open up the back of the machine and contact customer support for this new issue.

Millie’s inner workings up close.

That gave me the unusual opportunity to have a look at the workings – including the fuse that had to be replaced.  I always like seeing the inner operation so the delay turned out to have a silver lining.

Wendy online with APQS support
Wendy on the phone with APQS support
The damaged fuse

Wendy told me that she does do quilting for others but is most passionate about helping quilters learn to do it themselves, and providing them the place to do it.  If you want to do your own quilting with out the expense or space requirement of buying a longarm – or if you are thinking of buying one and want to try it out – email Wendy and book a time to visit Songbird Quilter.  She takes care of all the maintenance and provides new needles and thread for every project.  ‘Millie’ has a stitch regulator that ensures even stitches at any speed, making it easier to control for new users.   Millie is surprising light and easy to maneuver – and much quieter than some other longarm machines I have seen.   Check it out.  You might be amazed at how fun and easy it is.

Big thanks to Wendy.  I had a great time and will be going back to play again soon.   Of course, I am still holding out hope that I  will win the lottery and be able to  buy my own Millie.  In the meantime, I am really glad to see this service on the Eastern Shore.

Do you have experience with longarm quilting?  Do you own or rent?  Do you have any advice for beginners?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

WIP – Improv Quilting

Improvisation and Quilting

I don’t know if it is a new trend or just something that I have recently become aware of in magazines and online articles but I have been seeing more discussions describing ‘improv quilting’ as a style.  It seems to me that that it is more accurately described as a process than a style.  To me, it makes more sense to think of it as a way to create, try new approaches – and mix things up a little.

Continue reading WIP – Improv Quilting

Sustainable Art

I have been thinking a lot about sustainability and responsibility in making art.   Since this is Earth Day weekend, it is a perfect time to reflect and write about these issues.  Being responsible in material purchase and use is important to both me and Stephen so we frequently discuss ways that we can better reduce, reuse, recycle, or repurpose.  That applies in our processes as well as our products.

Continue reading Sustainable Art

Tech Talk: Traditional Technology

This weekend when we were puttering in the shop, Stephen and I chatted about some ongoing projects.  It is a rare occasion that we are both in the woodshop at the same time because of the size and layout,  combined with the fact that about 1/3 of our area is currently being used for storage and work-in-progress.   In addition, when we are both in there creating, usually there are power tools that preclude much conversation.  Continue reading Tech Talk: Traditional Technology

Tech Talk: Machine Embroidery

The topic of today’s technology in art creation post is machine embroidery. Some people have pretty strong opinions about the look of machine embroidery and I didn’t use to be much of a fan myself.  However, when I decided to invest in a new machine and started researching options, I became more interested and I purchased a quilting / embroidery machine.  The embroidery offered opportunity to create patterns, customize gifts, and add simple designs for quilting on finished projects. Continue reading Tech Talk: Machine Embroidery

WIP: Studio (re)Organization     

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

Organizing a creative work space can be a challenge.  Keeping it organized even more so. Even when everything has its place, there are often times when not everything is in its place. At any given time there might be projects in different stages of completion, tools that were recently used Continue reading WIP: Studio (re)Organization     

Take a Hike

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

The phrase take a hike has taken on an idiomatic sense of dismissal “Beat it. I’m tired of talking to you. Go away. Take a hike.”

I am using it in the more traditional sense of taking a walk, getting out and exploring.  Sometimes it is just necessary to get away from what you are doing to shake off the stiffness and clear the cobwebs. Taking a hike is good for both physical and mental fitness. Continue reading Take a Hike

Tech Tuesday: Basic Photo Editing

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

Increasingly my quilting preference is realistic art quilts from photos.  Photography has been a hobby since I bought my first SLR camera in high school. We don’t need to discuss how many years ago that was. I have progressed from that first camera, a well-loved and well used K-100 Pentax work horse, through a series of digital cameras Continue reading Tech Tuesday: Basic Photo Editing

WIP: Fabric Dyeing

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

With the snow fast disappearing, I decided that I’d better get in another session of snow dyeing before I lost the chance for the season. I had intended to get into the city to pick up some more supplies but didn’t get the chance so I had to work with what I had around because the weather forecast was calling for more rain. I decided to experiment with what I had around the house. Continue reading WIP: Fabric Dyeing

Creating Creative Inspiration

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

I have been trying to write my weekend post for a few days but nothing has been working.  I have started a few articles.  Some of wondered off on unrelated, and sadly uninspired tangents.  A few have been added to my ‘need to develop’ file.  Others might work for a collection of random ideas in a summary piece.  A number of the promising starts just were not working for me – at least not yet.  It seems that the only thing to do is let the ramblings take me where they want to go today and use this lack of creative stimulation as my starting point. Continue reading Creating Creative Inspiration