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Getting Control of My Machine

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Hi everyone,

I'm very new at Long Arm Quilting. I have a APQS Millenium. I'm not doing it as a business - just for myself at this point. Here's my problem: I have a very difficult time controling the machine. Does it just take practice - or am I doing something wrong? I wanted to quilt a border and had a very simple curved design that was on a paper roll that sticks to the border. I find that as soon as I try to follow the lines, I have a VERY difficult time staying ON the lines. My quilting gets out of control almost immediately. I feel like the machine takes off so fast (I use the stitch regulator) and I just can't follow the pattern to any degree of accuracy. I ended up ripping it all out and just doing a straight line in the border. I do better with straight lines & overall meandering. Do I need to adjust the machine in some way? Do I just need more practice? I want the stitches to look smooth, but to be honest - I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. Thanks for your advise.


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We all felt that way in the beginning. First of all, slow down. With the stitch regulator you can go as slow as you like. As you get better you will discover that faster is easier but you don't need to start out that way. And remember that pantographs and quilt designs are guidelines. You don't need to follow the lines precisely.

Before you do an actual quilt I recommend you put a practice piece on the machine, with batting and a back. Then practice like crazy. Do free form from the front, do panagraphs from the back and practice everything you can think of. When you practice loops you will probably see that your circles will look more like squares. That's not unusual when you first start. Now relax your shoulders and move your body when you quilt, not just your forearms. Think of it as dancing with your machine. Put on some good music and move the machine gently. Footwork is important too but it all comes in time.

Let us know how you are doing. We all started out as beginners. Oh, and don't forget to smile while you are quilting. It's suppose to be fun.:D

Happy Quilting,

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Hi Mary-

I too am new at this and some of the best advice I have received so far is to practice doodling on paper - a lot.

Warm-up is just as important a step in this physical acitivity as iin any other.

Doodling on paper (or drywipe board), then doodling iin air with a silent machine have been great warm-up activities for me and are helping train muscle groups to respond with practiced ease. The muscle groups I use for longarming have always been allowed to snooze through my previous quilting activities.

The next point is - How are you at drawing straight lines on paper? Most of us do a lot better with swirls and curves than with rulerless straight lines. So, I suggest you use tools and gadgets for straight lines and free your spirit for the enjoyment of gliding around like an ice skater. When you load up the practice piece as Jean suggests, try some penmenship exercises. If you are concerned about wasting supplies, take the opportunity to stitch a giant soft postcard to your aunt in Utah.

Take wing,

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First of all, your wheels may need to be adjusted. Maybe they are too tight. But barring that, the main problem is that it is the tendency of the machine to move in straight lines sideways or front to back, because that is the way it is made. So you get squared circles and curves. Also, it is more difficult to get smooth lines, especially when you are going slowly, with the stitch regulator on. Try following the line with the SR off and you may find it a little easier to follow the line. Not to say that you need always work with the SR off, but that it just takes practice, because it doesn't move quite the same with it on and it can seem like the SR gives the machine a mind of its own, especially when you are trying to follow a line and especially when you are trying to get used to the machine! I love my SR but there are certain things I can't use it for, like when I'm doing a tiny background fill, but otherwise I use it constantly. These machines aren't easy and it takes practice and lots of it. Don't look at some of the exceptional work that some experts do and think your work can or will look the same, because it won't, and neither did theirs when they were starting out. If you keep your practice pieces, you will be able to see how you are improving. Don't get discouraged, because everyone has been where you are, and if you keep working at it, it will all come together for you!

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I had the opportunity recently to use a machine that the APQS guys set up, and I realized that it moved more smoothly than mine at home. I got help from the experts! Don't be afraid to adjust your wheels a bit. I don't feel confident enough to help you out with this, but Connie can help you out, for sure. A little adjustment made a big difference in my machine.

Still learning, too,


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Greetings from Colorado Mary, Your question is a great one. Control is the goal for any LA quilter, from those who are compeled by the detailed accuracy of whole cloth to those of us who thrive on the fun and uncertainty of real-time free motion design. Here are 3 suggestions.

Sit down,

Slow down, and

Brace yourself!

To apply these ideas I would add the following: Control of the machine starts with control of your own center of gravity, so lower your center by sitting, limiting most movement to your upper body, then GO slower than your were by at least 1/3, and last but not least, possition your handles and your sitting height so that you can LIGHTLY rest your forearm on the front rollers.

To the above suggestions you can add:

1. Further control can be gained by the purchase of the extended base and using it from the start of any quilting. Using this will accentuate how tight you have your quilt, requiring you to allow a bit of loose drape so that your not draging fabric to tightly over the base or for that matter, pulling your front rollers toward the back, which you will notice especially in the middle where it will drag when quilting close to the front rollers.

2. For real accuracy, purchase the Micro drive knobs that give you directional control with in inches of the hopping foot and needle.

3. Listening to rythmic music such as light jazz or waltzes can be a surprising help when trying to keep your speed consistant!

4.Rather than just using single colored fabric to practic, try quilting the design of small [ 24"x36-42"] individual picture pannels with landscapes and animals. Experiment with threads, colors, types of large and small stippeling, outlining versus accentuating inner details. Soon you will be seeing and thinking of the overall look of your quilting and the texture it produces rather than individual stitches. Another big plus of pannels is that you will have a usable product to use or give when you are finished!

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Hi Mary,

I'm going to take your post one point at a time and see if I can help you out. I've been teaching beginners for over 5 years so have a lot of experience. I was a beginner myself back in '97, and well remember the feeling of isolation, no training, no videos, no classes, NO APQS forum or internet lists that I knew of. Waaaay back in the "good ol' days" we were all blazing the path by ourselves. How times have changed in 7 years!!!

You said:

*I'm very new at Long Arm Quilting. I have a APQS Millenium.*

First of all, you made a VERY wise choice of machines. I truly believe there isn't another machine that can touch this one, or ANY APQS machine for that matter. I'm biased I know, but that's my belief and I'm stickin' to it!

You said:

*I'm not doing it as a business - just for myself at this point.*

You never know when your hobby may turn itself into a business while you're not looking! That tends to happen when people see that you do good work. So it's very important that you learn good techniques right from the start.

You said:

*Here's my problem: I have a very difficult time controling the machine. Does it just take practice - or am I doing something wrong?*

Yes, it takes practice, and lots of it. You could also be trying TOO hard, gripping the handles too tight and trying to be too perfect. Most likely, the table wheels need to be adjusted. Get out your manual, and follow the instructions to adjust them. There are specific instructions, and it's very easy to do. Just make sure you re-tighten the nut underneath once you've made the adjustments.

You said:

*I wanted to quilt a border and had a very simple curved design that was on a paper roll that sticks to the border. I find that as soon as I try to follow the lines, I have a VERY difficult time staying ON the lines.*

Is this the first thing you're trying to do? I think you need to just play with the machine and get the feel of the movements for awhile first. Those stick on paper borders really are meant for use with domestic machines, at least in my opinion. I find it much easier to follow a pattern from the back of the machine where the table is stable and flat.

If you can grasp the concept that "the laser dot IS the needle", you'll have a much easier time of getting a smooth line. Don't worry about what the needle is doing. It's stitching exactly what the laser dot is following. You can pantograph almost anything from the back of the machine. Find a nice leaf in the back yard? Plop in down on the table and guide your laser around it. The possibilities are endless. I find that often longarm quilters make things much more difficult than they need to be because they refuse to work from the back of the machine. You can avoid a lot of marking on the quilt if you can just get over that mental block of not being able to see exactly what the needle is doing.

You said:

*My quilting gets out of control almost immediately. I feel like the machine takes off so fast (I use the stitch regulator) and I just can't follow the pattern to any degree of accuracy.*

If the machine is taking off fast, then you do NOT have the stitch regulator engaged. The yellow light will be blinking and the chirp will be chirping. If this isn't happening, then you may have engaged the stitch regulator but accidentally turned it off again by touching the blue "On" button on the right handle before using the command button.

Hold in the black "command" button and THEN push the blue button to go. This is AFTER you've held in the command button and pushed the green button on the left handle to put the machine into regulated mode.

If you've done this correctly, the machine will not take a stitch until YOU move the machine. If you move it slowly, it will get the same stitches to the inch as if you move it quickly.

You said:

*I ended up ripping it all out and just doing a straight line in the border. I do better with straight lines & overall meandering. Do I need to adjust the machine in some way?*

Check your wheels and make SURE the table is level. Also make sure the table is the right height for YOU. This will make a big difference in the amount of control you have too.

You said:

*Do I just need more practice?*

We ALL need more practice. I try to get on the machine every day and just MOVE it! I don't always succeed, but find if I can just PLAY for awhile, amazing new shapes start to happen. My freehand work has improved dramatically since I gave myself permission to play, with NO expectations. Just MOVE the machine.

You said:

*I want the stitches to look smooth, but to be honest - I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. Thanks for your advise.*

If you're in stitch regulated mode, it's the machine's job to make the stitches look smooth. All you have to concentrate on is relaXing your GRIP on the handles, and progress from simple steps to the more difficult ones.

Have you taken your free class yet? That's the best place to start. Get some good, comprehensive training under your belt. Find a teacher that will not only show you WHAT to do, but HOW to do it. Posture, hand position, thought processes etc. are all important. Breaking down the pattern from point to point will give you more accuracy too. Some of the deciptively "simple" looking patterns are THE most difficult to do.

Finally, give yourself a break. If you've spent a good amount of time on practice and the machine is still not responding to your control, find out why. Don't keep blaming yourself.

Someone else suggested sitting. I only recommend this if you're going to do fairly intense custom work. If you're doing free flowing patterns or larger freehand work, sitting will slow you down and frustrate you, at least in my opinion. You have to be able to MOVE down the length of the table unless you're focused on one small area.

Find a teacher whose style is similar to the type of quilting you want to be able to do. THAT's who you want to learn from. If you want cut-away trapunto or wholecloth, you want to learn from Karen McTavish or Sherry Rogers-Harrison. If you want to master templates, Sherry's your gal. If you want a good foundation for pattern quilting and freehand work, I think I do a good job of that. There are others that specialize in feathers. I do "longarm feathers", but am just trying my hand at the "traditional" style of feathers. There's always something to challenge you, no matter how long you've been doing this. That's what keeps our interest, year after year after year. It just never gets boring!

Keep one thing in mind. I don't think there is ANY teacher out there that does it all! Life isn't long enough. Find your niche, what you love to do, what you want to become known for, and then find someone who will teach you to quilt like that.

I specialize in teaching beginner's techniques that will help them make their machine payments with the least amount of time involvement; pattern quilting, custom and freehand work.

GOOD pattern quilting is essential in my opinion. That is your Bread & Butter money. It feeds the bank account; BUT lovely custom work will feed your soul. I think we all need a balance of both.

I know there are many who have a different opinion, but I've seen too many beginners get bogged down trying to provide any service their customer asked for. You can NOT be great at everything without practicing for years! Get good at ONE thing and offer that. Let your customers know what training you're taking and when you'll be ready to offer your next learned skill. This instills confidence in your customers and takes the pressure off of you.

Sorry this was so long. I hope this has helped a bit. Feel free to contact me privately if you need more help.

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I agree about the wheels, I had to loosen mine from the factory setting and it wasn't hard, it tells you how right in the manual. All my circles were square-ish and the machine used to go where IT wanted!

That being said, I did many many pantos with the machine OFF. It really helps. Remeber if this was easy (and cheap!) everyone would have 'em, lol!

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Hi Mary,

Thanks for asking your question....I'm feeling the same way and all the advise you were given is helping more of us newbies than you know.

Darlene, thanks for the time and effort you put into your answer to Mary. Everytime I start feeling like I'm getting nowhere, someone like you brings me back to the confidence level of "I can do this", from when I first decided to purchase my Millie.

I have more opportunity to be on this chat forum, than I have practicing on my machine (boring day job), so keep those suggestions, tips and tricks coming. Thanks to all you wonderful quilters, ....Joanne :)

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Thank you all for the wonderful advise! I will try everything that you mentioned, including PRACTICE! I really think the wheels on my machine are too tight. I think that's what's causing the jerky movements. I have had the introductory class in Des Moines, but I didn't know enough about my machine when I took the class. It would be better if I would take it now!

Thank you again to everyone. I really appreciate the time you all took to answer.

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  • 1 year later...

Took the class at the showroom yesterday and the advanced or what they call intermediate today. Wow my brain can not take it all in. Learned a lot and can't wait to get home and practice. But as here in Carroll for the maintain class. Dawn is a knowlegable teacher and it was great the class was small. Worth the 550 mile trip.

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I fired up my Millennium for the first time today.....just got it assembled yesterday. I have been practicing on a sandwich and I figured out that my wheels need adjusting to loosen them up a bit. I adjusted them when I put it together but I think I got them a tad too tight...........I'm not getting smooth circles. I am not new to machine quilting (had a HobbyQuilter) so I know what I am supposed to be feeling.

Darlene - thank you for your post.......I think the point I most took to heart was when you said find the teacher whose style you like the most and learn it first (ok - not a direct quote :) ). I find myself overwhelmed by all the information available.....I want to do it all!!!!! I do love your style....your books were the first reference tools I purchased 3 years ago. Now that I have a better machine (yay), I will go back through all my reference books and try to learn what my own personal style is (or is going to be).

Now, back to my quilting!

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Hey Mary, don't despair. All of the above is really good advice. I was doing the same thing in November, square this and square that. Then I took three days of instruction with Myrna and and after her tips and practice with panto she said "you can make money with that panto". Yea! For me, her classes were really valuable. I've made great strides ever since.

I did find that my rollers were a little too loose, too easy to move. I had Bill adjust them to where they weren't riding on the top of the wheel but more in the center. It is harder to move, but my actions are more deliberate.

Concentrating with two hands shifting the responsibility for push and pull from hand to hand is what finally worked for me. I think it's a muscle, brain thing.

Also the dry erase board helped so much because then I knew where to drive the machine. I continue to use it for practicing new shapes. I know a very busy custom quilter who sketches her ideas on a dry erase board before beginning a new quilt.

Following the laser - don't look right at the dot, but ahead of the dot. Remember when you drive a car you don't look at the hood but off down the road. It's really strange how the hands will follow the eye!

Then make some noise to relax you and put you up the hill varooooooom, then down the hill, then around the corner. Myrna says to TAKE CHARGE!!!!!!!



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