Here are some suggestions for preparing your quilt for a longarm quilter. Each quilter is different, so make sure you talk with them to find out their preferences. For the machine I work on, this is what works best for me:
Measurements - Make sure to include the measurements for the top, bottom, and batting (if you are including it). If the quilt is directional, make sure to mark which is the top; same for the backing fabric.
Quilt Backings – The back should be bigger than the quilt top by at least 6″ longer in both height and width. Bigger is always better; too small is a problem. The bigger the quilt, the more critical this becomes. Use high-quality cotton or flannel backing. If using flannel, make sure to wash it first because it may shrink at a different rate than the rest of the cotton fabrics on the front. It’s best not to use bed sheets for backings. Sheets have a high thread count which forces a quilting needle to break the sheet’s threads as it pierces through. This can leave holes in the backing and diminishes the stability of the sheet. Quilting fabric has a looser weave which allows a needle to easily slide between the threads and keeps the backing fabric intact. If you are using a batik backing, it is important to wash your fabric. Batiks are very stiff and usually have a high thread count, so in order to achieve good stitching tension, the fabric should be washed.
Washing your fabric – You do not have to wash your quilt top, but if you usually pre-wash your fabrics before you piece your top, that is not a problem. I recommend washing certain fabrics first, such as batiks, flannels and any red fabrics.
Batting - You can provide your own batting, or I carry and sell Warm & Natural, Hobbs 80/20 or Hobbs Heirloom 100% Cotton. Recently I’ve also been testing Dream Cotton, so stay tuned on that. The batting needs to be at least 6″ longer on the top and bottom, and at least 6 longer on each side as compared to the top; basically the same size as the backing. For more information about different types of batting, check out this batting guide: Batting Guide
Thread - What color do you want? Normally I use the same color on the top as the bottom because unless thread tension is perfect (and it isn’t a perfect world), little dots of color might appear on one side or the other depending on the tension. I use 100% cotton thread. When using variegated thread, a solid color is usually chosen for the bottom. Variegated thread is more than twice as expensive as solid colors, but I use the colors that work best with the quilt and do not charge extra for this product.
Pricing - Cost depends on the size of the quilt and how “heavy” the stitching pattern is on the quilt. Overall (or edge to edge) patterns are typically less expensive than custom borders, interior blocks and stitch in the ditch designs. Tell your quilter if you have an upper limit of what you’d like to spend, and she or he can recommend a pattern that will suite your budget. Remember, your quilter takes great care to make sure your quilt looks great (design, thread color, pattern) and this is a very labor-intensive process which is not cheap to do!
Other recommendations - Cut off selvages because they will shrink differently than the rest of the fabric when washed. This could cause puckers on the quilt. Trim threads on the quilt top, especially when there are a lot of light-colored fabrics and dark-colored threads; otherwise they may appear through the light-colored fabric. Press your quilt top and backing well! The better the pressing job, the better chance for good quilting.
Questions the longarm quilter may ask you -
1. How will the quilt be used?
2. What is your budget?
3. Do you have particular preferences or dislikes in color or design of the quilting?
Time Frame – Most quilters have a queue and they schedule their work accordingly. If you need a quilt done more quickly than their current workload might allow, expect to pay a “rush charge.” The quilter will have to work extra hours to in order to get your quilt done more quickly.