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Anatomy of a Wedding Quilt Part II

My brother-in-law's photo of the pink granite coast near Trébeurden in France. That would be a pretty byway to explore, n'est-ce pas?

My brother-in-law William’s photo of the pink granite coast near Trébeurden in France. I think that would be a pretty byway to explore after the wedding–n’est-ce pas?

As promised in my Tuesday post, here’s a look at my wedding quilt project from the perspective of commissioning the input of a long-arm machine quilter. In this case, I’ve found Marla Monson, a super-talented long-armer based in Northern California.  She’s contributed her talents to a number of quilts produced by my blogging sister Laura and her creative partner, Diana McClun.

Quilt-J:  "Simplicity" detail view by Marla Monson

Detail view of “Simplicity” by Marla Monson.

So, without further fussing, here’s what I think about when I decide to hire a pro to machine quilt.


I’ve gotten a big head start on the wedding quilt, but then, I’ve heirloom aspirations for the quilting . . . that requires an even longer time margin. Marla tells me 10 to 12 weeks for custom work is ideal. Typically, the quilter will slide in the customs between the quicker jobs because these special quilts could easily live on the long-arm machine for as long as a week to be sewn. For “show” season, allocate more time!

Narrowing down the design--a layout of staggered stars.

Narrowing down the design–a layout of staggered stars.


Now style is a very interesting, multidimensional factor. I’ve got probably 5 to 10 machine quilters in my area I might commission, so how do I narrow my choice? Well, I mentally run through the abilities and aesthetics of each candidate.

Some just want to load up quilts and run pantographs or some computer-aided pattern. Many times that’s fine. We meet, select from her library of options, and await completion. Easy! Even in that universe there’s subtext to recognize: traditional v. modern, feathers v. floral v. geometry, etc. That’s actually how I make my selection. If I want someone who can do clean-lined modern, I know whom I want. If I want someone who is willing to change thread colors or do slight customization, then I select another one.  When I want easy, breezy flourishes and scrolls, I know exactly who to call.

Custom work is a whole other animal. Who can I work with to bring my mental picture to life? Can the quilter take my idea and make it better? What’s my past experience with this craftswoman? Marla says she’s cautious when she takes on a new client for a custom quilt. She wants more input at the front end, including the parameters of the commission and insight into the taste/style of the client. Ultimately, the endeavor is a creative partnership and so it’s very important to acknowledge what the quilter will add to the final look of the quilt. Her “voice” will shine through and make the quilt even better. It’s a collaboration after all!

Almost ready for Marla's special quilting!

Almost ready for Marla’s special quilting!


Convenient artistry comes at a price. Let’s be real here—costs vary across the country so it’s impossible to generalize. Clearly, an all-over design via computer or pantograph will be cheaper than a custom job. Lots of quilters have prices listed on their websites and the breakdown is usually some fraction of a dollar multiplied by the quilt’s total area. Quilter-supplied thread, backing, unusual prepping and/or repair, binding, and so forth incur additional charges.

Boy, I squeaked by here--12 square inches of backing fabric left over!

Boy, I squeaked by here–12 square inches of backing fabric left over!


This is where it’s helpful to have a couple of quilters on call. Not only do you have to factor in your own deadlines, your selected quilter might have a long queue of quilts awaiting completion. Then, there’s the closed client list to deal with—established quilters can pick and choose their customers. Mind you, this is not tantamount to getting a child on a preschool list, but it’s close. Sometimes, “last-minute Lulus” can persuade their special quilters to take on projects with light-speed turnarounds–bribes of chocolate or rare vintages help!

Here’s another point to consider—delivery & pickup. When the masterful Kathy Sandbach was with us and actively quilting, I would chat with her via telephone and then, blithely, mail her my quilt in full confidence that we were on the same page with the commission’s scope. These days, I have easier access to quilters so I typically meet up with them in their studios or at a local quilt shop to iron out the details. Marla and I met up in the sunny classroom of Wooden Gate Quilts so we could spread out the quilt and chat.

We covered a few of the questions that plague me as a consumer of quilting services.

Should I cut off the selvage before sewing the backing fabric together?

Yes! Do the snip and tear to remove the selvage. (I did and it worked!) Press the torn edges before sewing with a ½ inch seam. Press the seam open.

How much extra fabric do I need for the backing?

At least 5 inches on each side—don’t be stingy, but at the same time, don’t be too generous either. Five inches is a good guideline to follow even with variations among long-arm machines. Marla warns against asking the quilter to center a design on the quilt’s back. While it’s easy enough to center from side to side, it’s nearly impossible to do so from top to bottom. (Might as well avoid irritating the bejesus out of the quilter too.)

I like low contrast between the thread and the quilt top, which might mean changing thread color sometimes. Is that a problem?

Thread color changes might incur a higher cost. Make sure to point out the elements of the quilt’s design that want to emphasize—do you want the design to come forward or recede?

That’s it for now . . . I’m very excited to see what Marla decides to do! Of course, I’ll share photos when it’s done.

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