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Do I need to buy a machine quilting frame for my Elna 740?

by Sheila Shoring
(Richmond, B.C. Canada)

Sheila writes...

I have an Elna 740 sewing machine. I started quilting 18 months ago and so far have made 9 quilts (all from kits) and one sampler quilt of 20 different squares when I took a 2 month weekly class.

No one told me it was addictive!!

I have quilted in the ditch as all the quilts I have made were based on squares, and fit up to queen size. I am bored with straight quilting and thought it would be great to use a frame and imagination. I can't find a frame retailer in Richmond (Vancouver, B.C. area) Canada, and I don't know if it is really worth buying one on the net without back up and at least a demo!

I have tried free form quilting but I don't seem to have enough room to easily move the quilt around. I did see a Gracie Quilt frame when on holiday and the retailer said I could only quilt in 5 inch squares down and sideways from the bar along the top of the quilt. No advantage there!


Julie replies...

For my readers who are unsure of what a quilting frame is, here's a short video from the Grace Company on their product...

Hi Sheila!

Yes, if you like quilting at can be VERY ADDITIVE. And I'll let you in on a little secret...

...a little closer...

...if you find yourself really enjoying the machine quilting part of it...well, um...thread is going to become pretty additive, too. :D

Now, to your question...

Do you really NEED a quilting frame?

If I'm not mistaken the Elna 740 has 11" x 5" under the arm to work with.

If you're free motion quilting (no frame) that's actually a very generous area to work in. For quilting with a walking foot, rolling the quilt into a tube shape for those long straight lines does work pretty well...most of the time.

But my favorite method is to 'smush, push and fold' the quilt under the needle. It just feels easier to move. When a quilt is rolled, all of sudden you've got what amounts to a rigid log that you need to move. There only so many ways you can steer it.

When the quilt is pooled or puddled around the needle, the only thing you're moving is that little bit of the sandwich between your hands. The trick is to stop to reposition your hands (I'm impatient which makes stopping hard to do) and then start quilting again.

Personal declaration: I do not quilt on a frame, but rather on my Viking D1—a domestic, home sewing machine. I'm making these comments based on what I know about frames and sewing machines.

I'm also pretty conservative (now) about how I spend my quilting money. After quilting for over 20 years, I've accoutrements stockpiled, sitting, gathering dust and taking up space. It happens.

When a quilt is on a frame, the quilt sandwich is on rollers that fit in that opening of 11"x5" under the arm.

A rolled quilt takes up space. More or less depending on the batting that you've used.

In the video above, there's not a whole lot of quilt on the roller so it doesn't look like it takes up much room. Also, if you listen to the video, that frame is meant for a machine with up to an 18" arm. I'm betting the demo machine is 18". Yours, if I've got it right, is 11". That's a big difference.

When the Grace rep told you that there only be about 5" of working space, with what I know and have seen, I think that was pretty accurate.

Take it for a test drive

My advice to you is if you choose to pursue quilting on a frame, then test it in person with your machine or one with the same size work space. Don't just buy one on from the Internet based on a video. It has to work FOR YOU. The only way you'll know is to try it for yourself.

Framemakers frequently rent booths at quilt shows to showcase their wares. You will have a much better understanding of how it works and if you like how it works.

I've heard of and known too many quilters that get a frame and then it turns out it's nothing more than a kissing cousin to the treadmill—they both make great clothes hangers.

Nothing trumps Practice!

Even on a frame, you still need to practice to learn how to control your machine for free motion work. If you're already bored with ditch quilting...EXCELLENT!!!! Rejoice!!! That means you're ready for free motion.

I know that it seems like a lot to move under the needle.

Really. Seriously. The only part of the quilt you want to move on purpose is the part between your hands. Everything else NEEDS to stay put.

What I recommend, and it's the same thing I recommend to all my beginning free motion quilting students, is:
  1. Start small. Tablerunners, wallhangings, baby quilts, and placemats. These projects help you develop the mental muscles—the 'where/what go/do next'. They build confidence. You spend your time learning to quilt and not wrestling the quilt. These are great skill-building projects.

    The added benefit is if these are items you can use daily, you have to get over yourself.

    We, quilters, are quite insistent about pointing out EVERYTHING we do that isn't 'perfect enough'. What a waste of good quilting time.

    Having a placemat on the table that gets spilled on, or a baby quilt that is pooed or barfed on, is one of the best ways to get used to looking at your own work and not freaking out! It sounds silly, I know, but it is a huge stumbling block for many quilters.

  2. Practice. Practice. And practice again...but no so long that you never work on 'real' projects. (That's another thing that #1 above is good for...practicing for real.) If you wait until a really important project and only then quilt on something are going to be so-o-o-o-o-o tense. It won't be any fun at all.

  3. Challenge yourself. On a new project, use the skills you've already developed and then throw in a new pattern, or try ditch quilting with your darning foot.

    Push yourself to grow in your quilting skills. Otherwise you'll end up ditch quilting everything...and as you've already learned...that is BOOOOORRRRRING!!!

In conclusion...

I guess what I'm saying after all this is I would hold off on a frame until you've spent some time practicing free motion quilting on your machine. You've got a good one to work on. Quilters use their home sewing machines for quilting all the time.

A frame is a big chunk of change and, maybe more importantly, a big chunk of floor space. Until you've got some free motion quilting under your belt, you don't have all the information to make the best decision FOR YOU.

With or without the frame, you'll need to practice to learn the skill and make it your own. What you learn (without a frame) will help you be a better quilter with one. The practice of learning how to get into and out of designs won't be wasted. I promise.

If you choose to pursue the frame idea further, take them for a serious test drive. Spend some time messing around with it. That doesn't cost a thing.

I hope I haven't sounded too preachy. If I have, I apologize. That wasn't my intent.

Readers, it's your turn to jump in!

As always, your experiences and opinions are welcomed. Have you bought a frame and then loved it?

Hated it?

Or does it just sit there gathering dust?

Please share with us using the 'Comments' link below.

Thank you.

Sheila—Great Question!


Julie Baird

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