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Loading a backer without squaring it first--long


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Another thread had questions about methods for squaring a backer before loading. Here is a technique for loading those wide backs or pieced backers that are large and perhaps not square--without messing with them.

1- If it is a wide back, load with the selvedge attached to the leaders. If it is a pieced backer, lay it out on the floor and look for the edge with the straightest line. If the pieced backer is directional--either in the fabric or configuration of the pieced blocks, figure which way it needs to be loaded. If it isn't straight, you may need to trim a bit, but if you have it laid out and can do it, simply mark the straight edge with an water-erase marker or even a permanent marker. This edge will load to the front roller and eventually be trimmed off. If the pieced backer is not directional, find the straightest edge and that will load to the front roller. Mark a bit if there are whoopsies that need to be evened out. ("Whoopsies"? A technical term for swoops or poke-outs of fabric that stray from straight.) Just mark those whoopsies straight.

2- You now have a line--either marked or woven--that will load to the front roller. Splay all that fabric wrong side up across the rollers with the loading edge at the front. *You do not need to center the fabric.* Did you get that? Don't center--it isn't necessary with this technique. And you don't need to place the fabric under the leveler roller--just throw it over the rollers and let it hang down the back of the frame. Unfurl a foot of the backer leader fabric from that front roller. Reach INSIDE the two rollers, grab the backer leader fabric and bring it up to lay the edge all along the top of that roller. You now have the side of the leader facing you, that you will pin the backer to. Bring the backer fabric towards you so the edge of both backer and fabric are facing you and lined up. Start in the middle and pin to the edge--if there is a selvedge, lay the selvedge so it hangs beyond the leader edge and pin onto the regular weave of the fabric--usually a quarter-inch to a half-inch in from the inside of the selvedge. Pin from the center to the other edge.

3- Gather all the backer fabric on one arm and pull it towards you. Bring the bundle UNDER the frontrollers in a big circle and push it all under the leveler roller and over the back leader roller. This is just an easier way to get the backer in position rather than stuffing it all between the two front rollers and accomplishes the same thing. Sounds funny, but try it.

4- Here's the loading secret. Go to the back and pull and straighten all the backer with the excess pooling on the floor. Pull the fabric taut until it is completely flat with the front backer (which will have about 10 inches or so of the leader extending out towards the back) and the pinned fabric is tight. Adjust and pull so it is all smooth and flat. Now it's all smooth and flat, the excess backer is pooled onto the floor-- try to get that hanging as evenly as possible. Go to the front and release the brake while holding the roller stationary. Assuming you have power advance, step on the RIGHT pedal and the backer fabric will be advancing towards you over the roller. The canvas will give the fabric a grip and stay fairly straight as it advances. Load the advancing fabric by slowly rotating the front roller at the same speed. Try to keep the fabric in the stitching field flat. Watch the top of the back roller for bumps and lumps. As these appear, set the brake and even out the bumps by reaching from the front and pulling each edge carefully to smooth the fabric flat. I usually go to the back to do this so I can flap out the backer and help it feed evenly. Back to the front and advance again. The reason this works is you have started with a straight edge which will make the fabric load straight if you are careful.

4- IF the backer is not square, it will immediately start to show. You will notice that one side is scrolling (loading) wider and one side is scrolling inward. This is OK and you will end up knowing if you have enough USABLE straight fabric to safely load the quilt. Advance, tug, pat, smooth, advance, tug, advance, smooth.

5-Stop advancing when the backer is just above the tabletop and you can see that the back edge of the fabric is (hopefully) parallel to the table top. Take the excess fabric that is over the backer roller and lift it up and use one pin to pin it to the fabric in the stitching field. Unfurl the backer leader about 10 inches, reach inside and bring the edge up to lay along the top of the roller. Unpin the fabric and bring it up to lay on the leader. Pin to the leader somewhere in the middle and smooth the fabric along the leader. Now look at the sag in the fabric. If there are bias wavy lines, unpin the middle and adjust the fabric right or left until the waves are gone and the fabric looks even. This is exactly the technique you use when you square up yardage. You grab selvedges and hang the yardage down, looking for distortion and waves. Then you adjust the selvedges until the fabric hangs true. You then know that the fabric was not cut on the real grain and you have long triangles of fabric that you remove when you square up. Same thing only on a huge scale!

Have I lost you yet!:P

6- Pin the backer--center/out/center/out. The backer is pinned and you have pushed the leader over the bar and the backer now is a big hammock. Go to the front and remove the sag by rolling onto the BACK roller. Then advance to the front roller. If you have sag on one side, roll back and forth to even it out.

7- Now the backer is loaded and even. Takes less time to do than it takes to try to describe it! Look at the two front rollers. The not-square backer has scrolled onto the roller. One side is scrolling out and one is scrolling in. Take a quilt clamp or use your blue water erase pen and place a mark on the canvas of the top roller where the backer is NARROWEST.

The scrolling-out side is easy--mark where the first loading pin is. The scrolling-in side needs investigation--press along the line of pins you used to load and find the first one. Mark there. The distance between the marks is the USABLE width of the backer. You then must decide if that usable width is enough for the quilt top. If it is, use the marks to load the top, centering between the marks, not the edges.

8-If there is not enough usable width, call your customer and explain. She can pitch a fit at the LQS and get a squared-up replacement, tear-to-square and add more backer, or replace it completely. Believe me, she will be more vigilant with the next backer.

Pleasepleaseplease don't try to fudge one of these to try to skip the drama of replacing a backer. The quilt will be a nightmare with constant adjustments and will never hang straight--even on a bed.

I hope this wasn't too confusing. Print it out and try it with a big piece of fabric and it should be OK. The loading technique of reaching in and pinning to the backer results in an edge with all the pin points inside a fold made by the backer and the leader. I have always loaded this way and never have hole in my clothes. Place the pins at the ends both facing in, and you also won't tear a hole in your forearm as you quilt!

Comments please on whether this is confusing. I will edit or expand on it if there are questions.

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I would also love to see a DVD of you teaching this technique and some of your other tips that help us. I for one, would certainly purchase your DVD, and I am guessing many others on this forum would also buy it. Please give some serious thought to doing this, although I understand that it will probably take a lot of time to prepare and implement.

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Linda, this is wonderful and kind of how I already do it, but not exactly and now I know what I was doing wrong. I want a DVD and also one for my new customer and any others I happen to acquire. You rock!!!!

By the way if you go to Hawaii to show Barbara, I think you might need an assistant and I am available:P

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  • 11 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Just saw this- and so timely too. I just loaded a quilt and backing. The backing is so big and squareing it up was too much to try. I pretty much did as you said, but not quite. No stitching yet, so will go and check to see if I have it right. THANK YOU LINDA! YOU ROCK!

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