Anita's quilts and quilting

A professional longarm machine quilter for hire and some of the work I've done.

Move the leaders

I’m going to explain a change you really should make to your machine leaders. If you are only quilting for yourself these changes may not seem necessary; but, in the off chance you would ever want to enter a contest or if you ever want to quilt for customers, it’s the small changes you make to your machine that will give you an advantage.

I believe the instructions that come with the smaller machines tell you to center the leader fabric on the bars?  I’m not sure because I’ve never helped set one up.  Here’s the problem with centering the leaders on the bars.  See how the leader is in front of the machine? That’s really the wrong way to do the leaders.  Ok, what’s wrong with that you ask?

Most leaders are placed this way

Take another look and imagine your backing attached to the leader.  Imagine you are trying to roll it up straight onto the bar but a big part of it can’t roll straight because the machine is in the way.

Machine is in the way of the leaders

Your leaders should be “off center” which would allow this area to be for parking your machine when not in use.   See how it’s to the left of the machine now?  The machine will no longer be bothersome when attaching the backing to your leaders.  This is the way I believe the leaders should be attached to the bars.

Leaders moved off center

You should remove the leaders and shift them away from whichever end you plan to park your machine.

Leaders shifted left

See how the leaders go almost to the end of the bars on the left?  You still have the same amount of quilting area.  You’ve simply shifted it to one side.

To be sure you are getting the leaders even you can pin them together before taping to the bars.  Do the top bar (belly bar) and the throat bar first.  Remove the pinning when finished.  Next pin the lower bar leader to the throat bar leader. Then attach the leader to the lower bar.  Or simply do what you did before except off centered.

Pin the center mark of the leaders together

This person used double sided tape to hold her leader fabric to the bars until she was sure they were straight and even.  Then she went back and put duct tape over the fabric edges to hold the fabric to the bars.

On my own machine I used industrial strength glued velcro.  The scratchy part is attached to the bars.  The softer part is attached to the leader fabric.  The velcro glue is so strong it would take a lot to remove it.  The reason I used velcro is so I can remove my leader fabric every once in awhile to wash it.  I prefer to keep everything as clean as possible when working on customer quilts. Oil from my hands or dust from quilting makes the leader fabric look very dirty sometimes.  Daily use of the machine also means, over time, the center area of the leaders start to bow.  With velcro I can re-adjust these easily.

Many people use whatever scrap fabric they have laying around to make their leaders.  This is fine for the smaller machines.  With my big industrial machine, I knew I would be using it for many long hours every single day.  Regular fabric simply wouldn’t work on my machine because of the heavy use.  I needed something more heavy duty and completely washable.  You ever washed canvas fabric?  It’s a terrible mess after washing.  It shrinks and comes out with more wrinkles than a dried up riverbed.  I do hate to iron!  Pressing quilt pieces is totally different.  Ironing 36 feet of canvas every few months would be way too much work.

I bought upholstery stabilizer fabric for my leaders.  Very expensive but so worth it when you quilt as many hours as I used to do.  No matter how many times I wash it there are no wrinkles or any shrinking.  It does not pull out of shape with use either.  I’ve had the same leaders for many years and they look almost as clean as the day I made them.  My initial investment was well worth the amount I paid.  It’s really too bad the place I bought the fabric went out of business.  I would love to buy more of that fabric for some other projects I had in mind.  I’m still searching for a good alternative.

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4 comments on “Move the leaders

  1. Na Na
    September 26, 2011

    Your welcome Margaret. My guess is that either your bar is bowed or the leader fabric you used is not woven evenly. That’s a manufacturing flaw I see more and more these days. The fabric may look perfectly straight on the bolt but a close inspection reveals it’s often off grain.

    To check the bars, take a string and tape it to one end then hold the other end of the string at the other end of the bar. It should be flat against the bar if the bar is straight. Try this in two or three places on each of the bars. If the string is not flat on the bar you’ll be able to see how much it’s bowed. You can correct this by taking the bar outside, put it on two bricks or two pieces of wood. One at each end. Then push on the center of the bar. With a little manipulation you should be able to get the bar back straight. Check it with the string as you do this.

    To be sure your cutting the fabric really straight, use the old “pull a thread” technique. You’d be surprised at how many fabrics are “pressed into submission” by big machines and chemicals so it appears to be quality fabric when it’s really not. It’s a new way of “short sizing” us in this economy.

  2. Margaret
    September 25, 2011

    I’m so happy you have taken time to help those of us with smaller machines. When I put the backing fabric pinned to the take up bar it is always tighter in the center and droops down toward the edges. I’m guessing I didn’t get the leaders taped on the bar correctly. If I’m going to move them to off center I need to find out where I went wrong the first time to make it droop. Thanks for your help!! Your blogs are always so helpful!!

  3. kathi
    September 22, 2011

    Anita, this is GREAT info. I do have my leaders “to the side” but the different fabric to USE for them.. I LIKE that. Now. I hope you find a new source as i NEED to get some as well. I have a few more projects to get done, but come January i NEED to do a VERY THOROUGH CLEAN UP and RE DO of my machine. This post was most helpful. THANKS!!!

    • Na Na
      September 26, 2011

      Your welcome Kathi. Yup, I’ve got plans for a really good clean up and machine maintenance come January too.

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