More Lessons Learned – Buying a Longarm from a .com

Those who’ve been following my blog for awhile know I bought a longarm quilt machine,  Grace frame, and the Quilt Butler robotics system from #SewingMachinesPlus.com last November.  My friends, what a ride this has been.  Today, JUST TODAY, April 9, 2017, I’ve got it running properly and I’m happy with the robotic quilting results.

I’m a firm believer now that in order to make something work right, you have to almost be as much of an expert as the seller or possibly even more of one.  That’s kind of hard if you are new to the game.  I’ve never owned a longarm on a frame before.  Typical of my personality, I jumped in head first without knowing if there’s water in the pool.  Well, maybe that’s not a good analogy, but I certainly should have worked on a longarm by renting time on a machine somewhere before purchasing one which would have helped me know what’s right in order to know when it’s wrong.  Of course, that wouldn’t have helped with Problem #1.

Problem #1 – The sales associate at #SewingMachinesPlus sold me the wrong frame that works with my robotics.  Today, their website is very specific about the frame type that can work with the Quilt Butler but last November, it wasn’t.  I wanted the Grace GQ vs. the Phoenix that was recommended on the page of their website that sells my King Quilter (made by Tin Lizzie) because the GQ came with free overhead lights and the Phoenix frame didn’t.  The sales associate should have let me know that the Butler doesn’t work with the GQ (yet).  My husband had to do some fabrication to the frame to make it work and QuiltEZ was impressed and asked me if they could use my images of his fix as a prototype.  I must say, the folks at #QuiltEZ who make the Butler have been fabulous this entire time.  The guy who owns the company actually called me personally and spent nearly an hour on the phone troubleshooting my issues.  Turns out:  1) I had the wrong frame style; and 2) the Y-axis belt was on inside out.  Apparently that’s kind of a thing.  The Y-axis belt makes the machine go front-to-back. And during this troubleshooting, I pointed out how their tech manuals were wrong.  It was a win for both of us.  Also I must add, SewingMachinesPlus.com made everything right by sending me an entirely new machine and tablet.  And they sent a free box of 84 spools of Madiera Rayon embroidery thread as compensation for my troubles.  Steve from their technical customer service has been exceptional.

Problem #2.  Putting the frame together correctly is key.  And when it is a DIY job, there’s always room for user error.  I’ve been dealing with this…

20170409_165458

It’s difficult to see but there are long, dragging, skipped, horizontal stitches which accompany a gazillion thread breaks.  You cannot begin to imagine my frustration.  On the bright side, I’m a master at resetting the start spot if the thread breaks.  🙂  These long, dragging stitches always seem to happen on the horizontal plane (X-axis) on the frame’s left side.  Odd.  I searched and searched on the internet and all that was out there were posts and articles about tension issues.  It’s definitely not a tension issue.  So last week while I was in my favorite quilt shop, a lady who is an experienced longarmer was there and I asked her about it.  After I described the problem, she said, “it’s probably the frame and/or carriage” (carriage = the platform the machine sits on that travels on the frame).   Huh…  Really…   She said to look for lint balls around the wheels and to make sure the frame is level.  That’s legit because I am guilty of shoving the frame around lately while getting the quilt studio set up.  She said the horizontal issue is something between the carriage on the frame and the stitch regulator in the Quilt Butler.  The robotics unit knows what it’s supposed to do, but it can’t get the carriage to go along with the plan.  OK, so then what is going on?  And how do I fix it?

Well, first make sure the frame is level.  It wasn’t.  You cannot do this with a small level like on your phone or one the size of your finger.  You need one that will stretch across both sides of the frame front-to-back and you have to level it left, right, and middle.  I had to lower the right front foot and the rear center foot.  Once that was done, it still didn’t work right (more thread breaks).  Wait, maybe if the frame was put together properly it might help.  This sounds like a ‘no duh’ concept, but I didn’t put it together so I blindly accepted the premise when I got home that day from work that hubs had put it together correctly.  (He was so proud!) Hey, stuff happens right?  I mean, he’s good with construction and mechanics so why would I question it?  Well, it turns out, the left and right front brackets that allow the height of the belly bar to change were on the wrong sides.  Now, I only discovered this today so I’m totally taking the hit for this myself too.  How long have I been staring at the L on the right front bracket (since November) and not noticing the one behind and below it was an R?  Again, ‘duh’.  Not to hurt hubs’ feelings, I took it apart myself and swapped them.  Now they look like this.  I started stitching again, and more thread breaks.  (See?  I’m REAL good at those.)

20170409_165414

Problem #3.  Make sure all the wheels on the lower carriage are rolling on the tracks and connecting with the frame.  Again, a ‘no duh’ concept.  But hey, I’m new.  Apparently, if all the wheels aren’t touching the frame, the carriage doesn’t do what the stitch regulator tells it to do.   As my mom would say, “No sh*t Sherlock.”  When we built the frame initially, all the wheels touched the tracks and it was all good.  But when we put the weight of the machine on the frame, there were times that that poor carriage was only on 5 wheels vs. the required 8…with two of them spinning freely on the left side of the frame.  Eureka!  One must loosen all 4 wheel screws on the lower carriage to get them to balance properly on the tracks, WHILE the weight of the machine is on the carriage.  I did this one-quarter turn at a time on all four wheel set screws.  That right back wheel below was spinning freely before the adjustment, as was the left front wheel on the other side and the left rear inside wheel as well.  NO FREAKING WONDER!!   And I did all these adjustments with a quilt on the frame.  Genius.  I’m not entirely sure this single issue would have resolved my problems because if the frame was torqued or not level, the wheels won’t level out.  Leveling order is frame, carriage, wheels.

20170409_165443

Once I got these issues fixed…Zen.  This beauty is so good I’m even using a different lighter color in the bobbin thread in the border and the stitches are perfectly balanced so you can’t see it.  The bobbin thread in the blue border is the same as what’s in the lighter-colored 1st border below. I started this blue border after all the adjustments were made and I didn’t have a single issue.  It worked perfectly.  I’m absolutely tickled!

20170409_164321

Last Lesson: Read ALL the Instructions, not just the ones you think you should.  Again, a ‘no duh’ moment but since hubs put the frame together, why would I read the instructions for the frame?  In a previous post, I lamented that there’s not a thing out there to tell me how to load the leaders or which way the rails should rotate.  In my defense, I did look at the instructions on how to load the little ratchet wheels on the ends of the frame rails, but it didn’t specify one way or the other.  So then today, while going through the instructions to reverse the previously mentioned backwards brackets, lo and behold, what do I come across?  In the back of the booklet, there are instructions on how to load a quilt onto the frame and they tell me which way the rails should turn!  YAY!  It should be noted that this frame does not use the ‘biblical scroll’ method like a Handi-Quilter frame does.  Not all frames are the same so that is a lesson learned as well. And now that the brackets are on correctly, the frame rolls and advances the way it should.

20170410_052904

I’m a junkie of this YouTuber, Jennifer Alexander, who publishes detailed vids on how to work the Butler.  And this lovely lady from #SederQuilts shows how to fix oopsies that happen on a longarm.  I be using these techniques on this quilt to fix the long stitch issue I had throughout the body of the quilt…on the left side.

So in summary, I think I have all the kinks worked out and now I know enough about the mechanics of this thing to troubleshoot any future issues.  It’s been frustrating, it’s been painful, and at times it’s been the War of the Roses here at home.   But by buying online, I saved over $14,000 which is a TON of cash y’all.  My final cost was $13,365 compared to my friend who bought an APQS and a Quilt Path last year that she got from a dealer for over $27,000.  Believe me, buying from a dealer isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.  There are plenty of horror stories out there about crappy customer service, training, delivery, installation, etc., etc., etc.  Looking back, my experience was totally worth it.  Would I do it again?  You bet.  But I wish I’d of read this post in my blog first.  To anyone who is considering it, I say go for it.  Any troubles are worth the money saved.

NOTE:  The quilt on the frame is for hubs’ birthday so I can’t show the whole thing until it’s finished.  Sorry!

Easy Sunglasses Case – Free Pattern for Pre-cut Leftovers

I love finding projects to use those leftover pieces from pre-cuts and I always have a couple of leftover pieces of 10″ squares that are perfect for this project.  This can be done in less than 30 minutes (15 once you’re good at it) and it’s a great last-minute personalized gift.  I love this project because I get to keep a little bit of a quilt I made and it reminds me of happiness every time I reach for my sunglasses.  I recall the shop hop where I found the fabric or feel a kindred spirit to the person who received the quilt.  This project is a win-win all the way around.

I wear big sunglasses (wrinkle prevention you know) and not all of them come with cases.  We are on the water a lot and I prefer to wear Costa sunglasses but the case they come with is hard-sided which is like digging around a brick in my purse.   The hard-sided case took up entirely too much room so I needed a soft sided case.  My sunglasses needed a quilt!

This is from Nature Walk by Michael Miller.  I used two 10″ squares and a 10″ piece of batting.  Lay them together with the outer fabric face down, batting in the middle and the inner fabric or case lining face up.

20170318_165308

20170318_170911

The pattern piece is the LargeSunglassesCase.  However, if you need a custom fit, you need to measure the widest part of the sunglasses, while closed, from one side to the other to get a measurement.  Mine were 3.5″ (x 2 front and back circumference) for a total of 7″ width and I wanted a little extra on the end so I added 1/2″ for a length of 7.5″.   I made the corner of the pattern using a roll of duct tape as a template.  Very high-tech around here folks.  If you are making your own pattern, do not add any ease in the circumference.  You do not want the case to be so loose that the glasses will fall out.  The case should fit snugly around the glasses.

Once the pattern is cut, I folded it in half to see where the rounded end met the side.  That’s 2 1/4″ down from the top so I marked the spot on the pattern on both sides with a little line using a Frixion pen.  Mark this little dash on both sides of the lining and the outer fabric where the curve ends.  It’s where you will begin and end stitching.  Note:  If you don’t have time for the whole curve thing, just sew up the bottom and side of the case and be done with it.  Easy-peasy.  But I like the fancy look of the curve on the outer fabric.

20170318_171953

I cut all three pieces at once.  Of course, once cut, they shift around and don’t line up perfectly but I turned mine to the right side and maneuvered the fabrics so everything lined up just right.  Then I pinned to hold it all in place.  This is not an exact science and I don’t get all bent out of shape about the edges meeting because they will be trimmed after sewing anyway.

20170318_171054

This is a great time to try out those pretty decorative stitching patterns on your machine that you never use.  If you don’t have any, a zig zag works nicely.  I want caution you however, if you choose a decorative stitch, go a little slower than normal.  I went too fast on my first attempt, jammed my machine, and threw out the timing.  This bad sewing mama learned a $75-trip-to-the-repairman mistake.  Before sewing the real deal, I tested my stitch choice on the left over scraps.  Another boost to this project is that when you’re finished, you still have a nice sized piece to add to your scrap bin.

20170318_172242

This next part, sewing the curve, is a little counter-intuitive and a bit tricky.  Starting with the lining side up, flip the sandwich completely around (top at the bottom) and beginning at the dashed mark on your left, sew what is actually the top of the case.  I kept the fabric lined up with the left edge of the presser foot.  Sew down to the “top” edge, turn the fabric and continue to stitch around the curve and then stop as close as you can on the other dashed mark.  If you are sewing a decorative stitch, try to stop at the end of the stitching sequence before it begins another.  When you reach the end, do not backstitch but do cut the threads.

20170318_172320

20170318_172807

When you reach the dash on the other side, remove the case from the machine, fold it as it would look when finished, and begin sewing on the front at the stopping point where you left off.  You may need to rearrange the pins to get them out of the stitching line.  Now keep the fabric in line with the right edge of the presser foot.  The idea is not to see a visible stop/start point in the stitching.

20170318_172903

Sew down the front side and make a definite 90 degree turn to sew across the bottom of the case to end at the fold.  Do a tie off stitch and remove it from the machine.

20170318_173353

It looks a little rough now, but clip the loose threads and take a pair of pinking shears to the edges.  I begin on the long side and then continue around the curve, opening up the top edge as I go until I get down to where the back/front meet so I get one smooth cut.  Then I cut off the bottom edge.

20170318_173616

It fits perfect!  My sunglasses are peeking out but when I tuck them fully in, they are completely covered and protected.

20170318_174019

20170318_174037

It was about time to replace the other one.  You can see where my fancy stitch jammed up my machine and I had to stop stitching along the bottom.  But that didn’t stop me!  I’ve been using it anyway.  After I posted this, I went ahead and finished off the end and gave it a press.  Good as new!  I got that mint colored fabric at a shop hop through Rockport, Texas.  See?  Great quilting memories!

20170318_174211

Whole Cloth Practice Quilts

Talk about DAUNTING!  This whole longarm-quilting-on-a-frame-thing is something else!  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve loaded the leaders, thought they were backwards, taken them off, turned them around, and then reloaded…only to realize I had them right the first time.  There is not a video out there at all telling you how to put the darn things on.   I get which one to put where, but do they roll this way or that?

So after weeks of fooling around with backwards rolling, I attempted a computerized pattern with my new Quilt Butler from QuiltEZ.  The success of longarming (or not, as I have discovered) is directly related to how the quilt is rolled on the frame.  My first attempts suffered skipped stitches, having the needle snag and drag in the fabric, and I’m now 100% efficient at fixing thread breaks.  Sometimes it works great.  Other times, it’s a disaster.  I’ve discovered that my issues always happen on the left side of the frame.  Odd.  Here’s a video of one of my successes.

I decided there’s no way on earth I’m going to put one of my beautiful quilt tops on that I spent weeks putting together and Lord knows how much I spent on the fabric.  I’m not there yet.  So I decided to attempt some whole cloth quilts to practice on.  I went to Hobby Lobby the other day and picked up some 1.5 yard fabric cuts and some batting.

20170312_065112

I didn’t get a photo of the backing once I had it attached to the frame and before I added the batting and cloth top, but it was the best installation of a backing yet.  I’ve learned to be on the lookout for droopy sides.  Once the quilt is quilted, the back of the quilt can tell me a lot.  It tells me I have work to do on spacing and nesting between pattern repeats but that I’m getting the hang of it.

20170311_161903

I was happy enough with the final product that I went ahead and decided to bind it.  I have no idea what this will be used for.  Maybe I’ll add some slots in it for a car seat cover.  The top is so busy you can’t see the quilting but that wasn’t the point on this one.

20170312_065029

20170312_065140

This is definitely a challenge but I’m having a great time learning this new facet of the quilting craft!

 

Blouse Pattern Hack

I recently ordered a knit border-print top from a catalog.  Total cost including shipping was about $50.  It fits great and I’d like some more tops just like it for work.  When it arrived, I noticed it’s only two pieces of fabric joined at the shoulders and sides.  TWO…that’s it…for $40 plus shipping.  My cheapness crept in.

20170225_155207

I bounced over to MoodFabrics.com and did some searching and came up with a pretty navy and lime green knit patterned fabric on sale for $5.95 a yard.  Now we’re talking.

I turned the original blouse inside out, folded it in half, and then rough-traced around the top making sure to add notes of where extra fabric allowance would be needed for a hem.  The paper is a roll of special velum I got from Sure Fit Designs but any old paper will do.  I’ve been known to raid the printer now and again armed with a roll of scotch tape.

20170225_160314

Then I cleaned up the rough sketch using a French curve ruler for the curvy parts and labeled the pieces so I can use them again.

20170225_161728

20170225_160330

The top went together in an afternoon.  I did an overlock stitch on the shoulders and sides. I unnecessarily did the neck and sleeves too on this piece.  What was I thinking?

20170225_165930

And then my darling Janome Coverstitch Pro did her thing on the neckline, sleeves and lower hems.  That machine does the nice double row of stitching on the top and covers the raw edge on the back all at the same time just like ready-to-wear.  The success here is pressing up the hems first and using Steam-a-Seam to glue them in place.  That trick prevents ripples and stretches where they are not wanted and encourages the hem to lay perfectly flat as it goes through the machine.

20170305_054433

20170305_054422

I got lazy and just coverstitched over my label as I added it in.  Bad girl.

20170305_055925

In all, I love this top!  It fits just like the other one and was so simple to make.  You should give a try to a pattern hack sometime.  If you’re new to it, I do not advise anything with set in sleeves, woven fabric, darts, or heaven forbid Princess seams.  Keep it simple.

20170305_051911

 

Getting to Know Blue – January BOM

In my last blog post I told y’all that I had signed up for a Block of the Month (BOM) with Lone Star Quilt Works in Bryan, Texas.  The pattern is Getting to Know Hue by Nancy Rink and my first month for January was Getting to Know Blue. 

20170124_051232

The blocks for the first month are the four corner blocks.  This pattern is fun, it’s challenging, and it satisfies my short attention span for doing lots of different things in a block.  It’s not for the faint of heart or a beginner quilter – well not for me when I was a beginner quilter.  I simply couldn’t have done this 5 years ago.

20170202_172509

My Seams Sew Easy 1/4″ grid from Lori Holt is great for accurate chain piecing.  Fat Quarter Shop does a 24 Hour Flash Sale every day and last year they had a Lori Holt week and I snagged a couple of these for pennies on the dollar.  Seriously, when I went to their site to get this link just now they had a 220 yd spool of Aurifill 50wt in Lemon for .07 cents.  SEVEN CENTS!  Crazy.  They are just up the road from me in Austin so my shipping is usually less than $5.  I didn’t get any today because regular price is $4 so…

20170128_190628

 

My friend LeeAnn and I did a road trip earlier this month for the Taste of Texas Shop Hop.  We hit four different quilt shops in Halletsville, Victoria, Port LaVaca, and El Campo.  There was a fifth shop we should have gone to but it was in Richmond over by Houston and everyone said the traffic was awful because of construction and it was Superbowl weekend (in Houston) so LeeAnn and I decided we really didn’t want to go to that shop that bad.  While we were at the Quilter’s Patch in Victoria (GREAT SHOP!) they had a Getting to Know Hue BOM poster on the wall and I remarked to the sales lady that I was doing that BOM.  Then she said, “There was a lady just in here who has it all finished.  I think she’s out in the parking lot.”  (An over-achiever in my book – those folks who buy the entire kit-and-caboodle up front and then spend the next few weeks ignoring the world around them hold up at the sewing machine).  The lady’s friend was still in the store and she says, “Do you want me to go get her to show it to you?”  Um..YES!!!   So out she goes and drags this poor woman back in with a huge quilt top bundle under her arm.  OMG.  I had no idea how big this thing really is!  And it’s absolutely gorgeous in person.  The photos don’t do it justice.  I told her I was making it too and she gave me some great tips that she learned from experience.  I just love quilt shops and quilters for this very reason.

wp-1487901247872.jpg

That shop had a 50’s themed room in the back and Elvis was there so LeeAnn and I had to get our picture made with him…of course.  She and I were besties in junior high.

20170203_155348

My first 4 blocks are complete! 

20170223_191629

20170223_191719.jpg

My goal with this quilt is to be done with one month’s blocks before the next month’s blocks arrive.  I’ve done BOMs before and I usually only make it until March before I fall behind and ultimately give up.  I have my share of BOM UFOs around here. (unfinished objects)

Have you done a BOM?  Did you finish it?  Please link up pics!  I’d love to see!

#BOM Getting to Know Hue Quilt

My husband and I love to watch a local Sunday morning 30-minute TV show called Texas Country Reporter.  The show usually features very cool Texans (or transplanted Texans) doing very cool things.  Keith and I sometimes use that program as a guide for our road trips.  Several months ago, they featured a quilter named Terry who used to be a critical care nurse, and she gave up her professional life to open Lone Star Quiltworks in Bryan, Texas.  Of course I was glued to the episode and then had to run over to her website and check her out.

While I was surfing around their site, I came across the most gorgeous quilt kit!  It’s a Block of the Month (BOM) called Getting to Know Hue by Nancy Rink.  Oh my goodness!  This beauty is stunning!  I signed up right away and my first package came in the mail yesterday.  I’m so excited to get going on this!  Just look at that center star!  I’ve never tackled anything like this.  Such a challenge!  It comes in several colorways but being the traditionalist I am, I chose the original version.

getting_to_know_hue_light

This month I received the book, the outer background fabric, and Getting to Know Blue.  There’s enough blue to make the four blue corner blocks.  I like that she allows extra border fabric for each block so the block is too big on purpose.  Then you can exactly cut it down to the perfect size to fit.

20170124_051232

Each month I’ll be posting about my progress and the fabric I get for the following month.  I need to get busy!

Are you in any BOMs this year?  Please share!

 

 

 

Room is Finished & a Backwards Quilt Butler Fix

Finally!  My old sewing room is empty and everything has been migrated into the new quilting studio!  It has taken weeks…months.  Here is my new lair.  

20170122_113608

20170122_113639

I even did my first attempt at quilting with a pantograph.  Let me tell you, that’s MUCH harder (for me) than it looks.  And I can tell you that it is true what they say, “Practice, practice, practice.”  I used my new long arm for the very first time, and did a pantograph for my very first time, and it turned out…well…really bad.  But that’s OK!  At least I know that the machine works, the laser works, and I don’t know how to align a pantograph. 

20170122_130206

 The quilt that’s on the frame now is actually one I made years ago and I’d originally sandwiched by pinning, and then did some freehand and ruler work on my mid-arm sit-down only to reaffirm what I already knew – that I can’t freehand.  Since this quilt was a UFO, I just took the pins out and rolled all three layers onto this new frame to get in some practice.  But what fun!  Even though I’ve made some newbie mistakes (like forgetting to lower the presser foot resulting in horrendous loops on the backside) and my sewing looks like a 4-year-old did it, I’m so excited to have something for me to work on and get better at.   

UPDATE!  After I began this blog post, my MULTI-TALENTED AND FABULOUS husband fabricated new brackets for the frame and got the robotics to work!  This is the Grace GQ frame, one of their newer models that QuiltEZ, who makes the Butler robotics, haven’t worked the kinks out of yet.  Finally, QuiltEZ fessed-up that their installation videos on YouTube show to install the encoder on the wrong side of the upper carriage resulting in the machine moving backwards when it’s supposed to go forwards.  In the photo below, everything is as how the instructions say to install it.   See that black box?  That’s the Quilt Butler robotics unit on the front of the machine – you can tell it’s the front because the sewing needle is above the box.  Note the black belt that runs on that little wheel on top of the box and it only turns one way.  That’s what moves the machine front-to-back.  And in this case, front-to-bassackwards.  There’s a light gray belt directly behind the box that runs from one end of the frame to the other for side-to-side movement.  Note in the 2nd photo how there is not a place to mount the gray belt on the back side of the frame.  You can see how the gray belt is attached with brackets in front of the machine, but there isn’t an extension to install the bracket off the back of the frame.  Here’s where my husband earned his keep yesterday.  (just kidding!)

 

20170119_172630

20170118_154653 I’ve been at my wit’s end because the front-to-back path line on the tablet went the wrong direction.  When I pulled the machine toward me, it went to the back of the quilt and vice versa.  Then they told me that the Butler really needed to be mounted under the machine vs. on the end of it.  That is NOT what the instructions said and that is NOT what I wanted.  Because if we put the robotics unit under the machine, I wouldn’t be able to do pantographs because I couldn’t install the table shelves that the paper will lay on.  So it was one or the other but of course, I wanted BOTH.  So my husband made brackets that extend the left-to-right belt off the back of the frame vs. underneath it, we moved the little encoder wheel on the top carriage from the right side to the left side and flipped the lower carriage around so the box hangs off the back.  I’m sure this is confusing and I’m sorry.  But the end result is that it WORKS!  I pleaded with him to round the corners on those brackets because I was sure to run into them and cause myself an injury.  He’s such a sweetie!  

20170122_151734

20170122_151803

Here’s a video of the robotics in action.

I made his favorite dinner tonight of course!   And I think QuiltEZ owes us some money somehow for figuring out their mess.  Patent pending?  Now, no more excuses.  I have to learn how to use the Quilt Butler and pronto!  My freehand is sooo bad that I really need that help!