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Leaders Wavy and Crooked


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Isn't the canvas used for the leaders suppose to be NONstretchy? When I changed from 10' to 14' bars, the canvas did not appear to be attached straight. After using it several times, it gets more and more uneven.

A few quilts ago I pinned the front leader to the back leader and tightened the rollers. I could really tell then how much the leaders were OFF. I marked a black line on both leaders where the "straight" appeared to be. That worked for a few quilts, but now it is all crooked again. :(:(:(

What can I do? Do I need new leaders? Is there a stronger canvas that won't pull out of shape? I don't see how a quilt could ever be pinned on straight if the canvasses aren't straight. And what is the point of straightening it if it is just going to keep getting crooked again???

BTW. The canvas on the 10' table was perfectly straight and I never had a problem with it.


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Hi Joy,

The canvas will stretch..there is no getting around that. If we found tougher stuff, I think they might classify it as cardboard. :) You can pull on it and get it straight and I think you can spritz it with water and that will help put it back in shape.

Dawn Cav. If you read this maybe you can help me out. I'm pretty sure I have heard you tell customers some tricks in this area. :)


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I have a 12 foot table and I've noticed that my leaders seem real crooked lately too. I was thinking about buying new ones at Paducah, but not sure how hard it would be to install them and get them positioned correctly to be straight. It would sure help me get backings on if my leaders were more true.

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Hi Joy,

Mark is right, there's no real way around the canvases having some "stretch". It stretches because the canvas "straight of grain" is parallel to the roller so that you can use the selvedge edge to pin the quilt to. That means that the "cross grain" of the canvas wraps around the rollers, resulting in some stretch.

The reason you didn't notice the stretch as much on a 10-foot table is that you were typically using most of the canvas every time you loaded a quilt (assuming you did full to queen-size projects most of the time). If you only exclusively did wall hangings on a 10-foot table, you'd notice stretch on it as well.

With a 14-foot table, you are now finding that you are rarely using the entire length of the canvas for even a king-size quilt. Therefore, the "middle" of each canvas will stretch since the quilt puts pressure on that section when you tighten the rollers.

Unfortunately, Joy, you'll have to straighten the canvases each time you load a quilt. You've discovered one way to do it -- by pinning the canvases together and tightening the rollers. Sometimes quilters with zippers attached to the rollers will "zip" the canvases to each other and tighten up the rollers. Still others will eventually use their longarm and stitch a new straight edge to pin to, by first marking the canvas and then folding the canvas over on the mark and sewing the fold with the longarm.

I will tell you that my canvases are now 14 years old, and I still pin to the same selvedge edge I had when I started. My canvases are still straight, but not of their own accord. My solution is to simply unroll about 12 inches of canvas on each roller before I load a quilt and tug on the sections of canvas that seldom get a quilt attached to them. I roll the canvas back up and "sight" along the roller, making sure the edge is straight along the roller before I pin on the quilt. It's a simple step that has worked for me for years, and it assures that quilts load properly each time.

Now, people who know me can attest to the fact that I'm basically lazy, so I always opt for the simplest solution. Here are a few other ideas you might consider if it really bugs you to tug on those canvases each time:

1. First, make sure that your center marks on each roller still line up with each other. Adjust them if they've shifted since you first began (some slight shifting is normal when the machine is first used, especially with a 14-foot table. Eventually the canvases "settle in" and no longer shift to the left and right). Use a water soluble marker to re-mark your centers in case you make a mistake; a dab of water and you can re-mark without getting confused.

Then, write the number "0" above the center mark on each canvas. Using a ruler, continue marking each canvas in one-inch increments along the edge. Write the corresponding numbers on the canvas above each mark. Your leaders will look something like ".....7--6--5--4--3--2--1--0--1--2--3--4--5--6--7...". Keep going until you meet the left and right edges of the canvas.

This tip we share in the APQS beginner class and in the manual helps in lots of ways. Once the canvases are all marked, then you can actually load a quilt anywhere along the canvas you want, simply by treating a different reference number along the canvas as if it were "zero". For example, you could off-set a quilt and pin it on the right side of the machine (thereby "stretching" an area of canvas that sees little use) by treating the number "30" as if it were "zero" on all three rollers.

In addition, these hash marks help ease in quilts with wavy borders, and help ensure that quilts that aren't wavy stay that way (I can check to make sure I'm not inadvertantly stretching the border as I load it--if the quilt was square, I should come out to the same numbers on both the left and right sides as I attach the quilt.)

Also, if the edge of the quilt is pieced or the border has piecing in it, I can make sure that I keep it straight. For example, if the patchwork along the edge should finish to 2 inches, I can make sure that every seam on the edge hits a mark on the canvas at 2-inch increments. This is especially helpful when the piecer has neglected to backstitch at the patches' edges and the quilt wants to pull apart.

2. Consider buying new canvas and then turning it so that the lengthwise grain is perpendicular to the roller instead of parallel to it. That would eliminate any stretch. You'd need to attach it to the rollers squarely, and create your own folded and sewn straight edge to pin to, since the selvedge would be wrapping around the roller.

Much heavier canvas is available, if you'd really prefer something stiffer. However, it might be more difficult to pin the quilt to if it is very tough. Here's a website to check out that might get you started: www.chicagocanvas.com

3. Remove the canvases and mist them with water, then press with a hot iron. The canvases will shrink considerably and tighten up, reducing stretch. You'll probably have to recreate a straight pinning edge, as the fabric might not shrink consistently next to the selvedge. Reattach the canvas to your roller.

4. Don't worry if the left/right edges of canvas line up. Beverly at the APQS factory serges those raw edges so that the canvas won't fray; if you've ever tried to serge a hugh piece of fabric and keep it perfectly straight, you know how tough her job is! You might find those left and right ends not aligning perfectly on top of each other, and that's okay. Allow the canvas to fall where it naturally wants to, and just keep tugging along the selvedge ends of the canvas that never see any action to keep them aligned.

Hopefully one of these solutions will help, Joy.

Happy Quilting!

Dawn Cavanaugh

National Director of Education


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THANK YOU, Dawn! How wonderful to take time to 'splain all that to me. Makes PERFECT sense.

I did watch your video when I got my Millie, so I knew to pull the canvas to straighten it each time. Seems like that isn't enough anymore, however. I think I will order new canvasses and start over.

Do the canvasses come with good instructions on HOW ON EARTH to attach the first end to the roller STRAIGHT?

Hugs, Joy

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Hi Joy,

I have no idea if instructions come with them, but I'm guessing not.

If you are starting from scratch, you might want to try the "misting" thing before attaching them to pre-shrink them.

Then I'd proceed as if you are attaching a quilt back. Make sure that the two selvedge edges are parallel to each other and straight/square. You'll discover that the current canvases are attached with a light adhesive and tape. You might want to check with the factory to see if they have suggestions about the adhesive. However, knowing that I'm the lazy one, I'd probably be satisfied just taping the canvas to the roller, since I've never unrolled it that far in 14 years to load a quilt;).

I'd think that you could snap a chalk line along the roller to give you a straight line for reference; but again the factory may have a better way.

You might want to mark the centers "temporarily" with the water soluble marker for a while until the new canvases settle in.

Good luck--let us know how things work out!


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I like your idea of misting the canvas with water and ironing.....

I zip mine together to see if they are saggy....they are in the middle a bit and I'm not sure if it's because they are stretched or if I sewed the zippers on a bit wonky.

If I zip them together and mist them with water and blow dry them, do you think they will shrink up or will I just be making things worse?

I also like the idea of marking the canvas.........I often find that the bottom border is more stretched than the top border even though I measure when I pin them to the zippers.

Thank you for the great explanation you gave to Joy.......!

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Everytime there will not be a quilt on the machine for even a day or two, I zip together the leaders, mist them up, and then attach my clamps to the canvas. If a quilt backing seems to be a bit wonky I roll the backing back and forth and that helps even the leaders. I did not mark my canvasses like Dawn does, but some times if I have a small quilt, I will use the center as a mark for the edge, provoded I know the quilt is square.

My canvasses are bit stretchy after 2 years on a 12 ft table, but not bad...

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Hello everyone....

Just some quick info on the canvas for you....

We attach it at the factory using Liquid Nails - you won't need to go to that extreme when replacing the canvas - you can use Duct Tape or a strong adhesive tape of that sort - like Dawn said, you almost never have to un-roll it to the point that it will pull anyway! There is a seam line down the length of the roller that you will be able to use to line up your repleacement canvas, if you decide to go that route. You will probably need to scrape off the old adhesive with a putty knife and use paint thinner or a sander to remove the remainder of the glue - the canvas pulls away from the old adhesive fairly easily...

Please feel free to call me at the factory if you have any other questions!!

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I'm lazy too when it comes to doing more work than needs to be done, but I'm probably not as good at figuring out the quick fix either. When my leaders seemed a bit wonky I pinned them together, put on the channel locks and sewed a new straight line. I cut off the crooked extra part, folded it under and sewed the zippers on. Straight as straight can be. The "center" wanders at times, and I wasn't too quick on that solution either as I used permanent pens in different colors a couple of times! I have to be careful to match up the right center lines...ha, ha, ha on me. But anyway, since the zippers went on it's stayed pretty good and now I have enough confidence with things, that if they ever seemed too far gone I could easily replace them and start all over again.

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Hi all,

Sounds like lots of great ideas for handling the quilting canvas issue!

Marty, I'll try to remember to substitute "efficient" for lazy--sounds much better than a "four letter word:D".

Sue, you can certainly replace the canvases with heavy canvas if you prefer it. I'm a big believer in doing what feels right to you, not what is right "by the book." You might want to check Gammill's website; I'm sure they sell replacement canvases as well, and you could order a set for your table length.

This next hint might have been covered on the forum before, but just in case I missed it...

For those of you who are using zippers, you can still create a "tool" so that you can ease in wonky quilts, or make sure you aren't accidentally stretching out borders when you attach the zippers.

Create a "mini leader" for each of your zipper halves that you normally attach to the quilt and backing. You can use canvas or duck fabric, or pillow ticking (which is nice, because it has straight lines woven in to the fabric to make it easy to sew straight). Cut the mini leader fabric so that the straight of grain would run parallel to your zipper half (which means you'll need 4-5 yards, depending on how long your table is).

You can make the mini leader as wide as you want, but 6-8 inches is usually sufficient. You can double the fabric if you prefer that "stiffer" feel when attaching the quilt. Now, sew a mini leader to each of your free zipper halves. Transfer the center mark from your zipper half to the mini leader, and proceed to mark the mini leader as we discussed before, with numbers in both directions. Use these marks to ease in your wonky borders or make sure a square quilt stays square.

You'll still be able to "zip" your quilt on and off, but will be attaching the quilt parts to the mini leader instead of to the raw zipper tape itself. This is often a lot easier than trying to pin or machine baste the zipper tape right to the quilt and/or backing.

Have a great day, all!


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Here's what I did when my front canvas got too "stretchy":

I went to fabric store and bought a couple yards of wide heavy canvas that is striped. On both sides of the canvas, I stitched a gros grain ribbon to the edge to help keep it straight. (GOt the idea from an article Renae Haddidin wrote, probably in Unlimited Possibilities.) I used the stripe in the canvas to line it up when I taped it to the roller and also for sewing on my zippers.

Works beautifully. I may do this with the other canvas at some point too.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Joy and all,

It took a little while to wrangle up a photo of the extra "zipper leader" idea since I don't have zippers myself.

The attached photo illustrates how the zipper system could be adapted to allow you to still have "canvas" to attach your quilt parts to, instead of having to pin or sew your quilt top or backing directly to the zipper tape.

My suggestion was to add another strip of canvas to each free half of the zipper that you normally attach to the quilt or backing. Then, transfer your center mark from the zipper to the canvas. Next, add numbers in one-inch increments out from the "zero" mark. Use these marks to do several things:

[*]Make sure a quilt that started out square stays that way (the quilt's edges should come out to the same numbers to the left and right of zero)

[*]Adjust a larger border by easing it in as you attach it to the leader edge (use common sense with how much fabric can be logically eased in; try a slightly busier quilting design and perhaps a loftier batting as well)

[*]Align piecing seams with the reference marks if the seams reach the edge of the quilt to prevent over stretching

[*]Make it easier to attach a quilt by machine basting or pinning.

There is one "oops" to note on the photographs--

--in the first photo you'll see the numbers written so that they face the zipper. I think you'd prefer to mark them so that they face AWAY from the zipper, as the numbers are written in RED on the second photo.

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I understand. Thanks for the pictures.

I wanted to tell you (thought I did, but don't see it here) that I got my leaders straight again by pulling on the parts that had not been attached to a quilt yet. It worked, and my latest quilt is perfectly straight.

Thank you,


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