A professional longarm machine quilter for hire and some of the work I've done.
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?
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.
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.
You should remove the leaders and shift them away from whichever end you plan to park your machine.
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.
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.