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Pieced backings in longarm quilting

by Chris Ballard
(Oakland, TN)

Chris writes...

I have been quilting on my longarm for others for around 6 years.

I have a customer that really loves to piece her backings. Not just the one seams, lots of seams. She likes to use up her leftover fabrics like this and I think it looks amazing.

But I have always warned her against my concerns of the back not performing at its best if puckers occur. She has assumed the risks many times, because I have done around 20 of these type and have not had any problems.

This last one I did for her is pretty large and some puckering did occur. Now that a problem has occurred, she seems to think I did something wrong.

I would have ripped out the stitches and fixed it but by the time it was obvious, it was too late in the process.

She has not seen it yet, but we talked about it because I was mortified and I knew she would feel I made the error. I guess I really did, by doing it in the first place. I took every precaution I knew but it happened. What should I do, stop doing the pieced backs? Who can guarantee this will not happen?

I have already told her I will not charge her for the work. I would like to keep her business, I really don't want to limit her creativity. How do I make it fair and reasonable to both of us? I really cringe at the thought that anyone else will see it! I know they will blame the quilter! I see from some of the other questions on your site that it happens! It is not always the fault of the quilter.

I need help educating myself and my customers.

Any advice would be appreciated!


Julie replies...

Hi Chris,

I am so sorry for your situation because I do believe that you gave it your all. Your willingness to try to compensate the quilter is most admirable!

Because I am not a long arm quilter and have only used the services of a long armer twice (and that was/is for the two raffle quilts I've been involved with), I have to limit my suggestions to purely a business point of view. I hope that it is helpful.

Document the situation...

The first thing I would do is to take pictures, lots of pictures and lots of detailed shots for your records...both to record the current state of the quilt and also to use to learn from. Print them to make sure you've got good quality images and then file them away. That way, if you choose to continue to accept pieced backs, you can show your customer one of the possible pitfalls to using them so that they can make an informed choice. And then be prepared to state what you will do if it happens on their quilt.

I would imagine that some pieced backs are better than others, and that the amount of piecing makes a difference.

The quilter should be made aware of this.

For me, quilting my quilts on my home sewing machine has made me a better quilter. I tell my students that, too. I now always fix 'twisted sister' seam allowances, I look for ways to reduce the bulk, I stay stitch edges. I piece a lot of my backs, too, and then pin baste the living daylights out of those areas because, I've learned from experience, they are prone to shifting.

If your customer regularly has her quilts quilted for her, she's never had the opportunity to learn these lessons through experience. As the long arm quilting professional, I think that part of your job is to educate your customers. In the long run it's better for them and for you.

From what you've written, it seems to me, that she's discounted your warnings because you've ALWAYS come through for her...20 quilts with pieced backs and no problems is quite a record!

Confronting the issue directly, as you have done, is the right thing to do. The honorable thing to do. The business-like thing to do. It's just going to be one of those situations that you're going to have to just muscle through...and you will. I'm confident of that.

A written contract...

Do you have one for your quilting jobs?

I don't know if it is common in long arm quilting in your area (in my limited experience nothing has been in writing) but in a situation such as this, it would memorialize your concerns and force the quilter to really consider the 'worst case' which is that tucks are quilted into the back.

I'd include all the things that are going into the quilt...the thread, quilting density, type of quilting, type of batting, marked or unmarked and what you're using to mark (including possible problems)...everything! If you do a lot of work for one person, I'm sure that it can start to feel or actually become a friendship. But you're still collecting money for a job. Putting things in writing is there to help and protect both of you.

The extra mile...

Only you know what types of quilts and quilting you are comfortable doing. And by taking the job, you have, in essence, told the quilter that you can do it.

As the customer, if I got a quilt back that the long armer had refunded my money for because the job was not done as expected, I'm now looking at having to rip out all of the quilting. I might have gotten my money back, but now I've got a really big job to do, an unexpected job. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth. You'll need to be prepared for that reaction from your customer.

One of the members in my bee had had two quilts (quilted by two different individuals) where she ended up ripping out the quilting. She wasn't happy either time.

One quilt she instructed the quilter (who has won some big awards) to 'do what the quilter thought best'. The long armer used an oriental themed pantograph. The stitching nice and even. The quilter did a professional job. (And my friend didn't disagree with the quality of the work.) But my friend didn't think the quilting pattern the quilter choose was appropriate for the quilt and ended up ripping out all of the stitching. To the best of my knowledge, she never used that quilter was sad.

The same gal took a different quilt to another local quilter with the same 'do what you think is best' instruction. When the quilting came back the tension wasn't good and the quilting just didn't fit the quilt. She ended up ripping out all the stitches and quilted it herself on her home sewing machine. She never went back to that quilter, either.

The bottom line in both those situations it that all the ripping really left a bad taste in her mouth.

If you want to keep this customer, you may need to be prepared to offer to do the ripping for her. That way she gets back a quilt in the same condition as it was delivered to you. It totally sucks, I know that because it's a huge amount of un-fun work to do. But those hours may be a small price to pay to maintain your reputation. A lot really depends on your customer and your relationship. But I would be prepared to go that extra mile. Keep accurate records. This work may qualify as a business loss...only your accountant can tell you for sure.

My heart goes out to you. This is the crummy side of business to have to deal with.

Don't despair. There can be a silver lining.

In my business experience, some of my best customer relationships have been forged through my willingness to directly confront a problem and deal with it.

Readers, both long arm professionals and quilters alike, what would you do? What would you recommend? Please join the conversation using the 'comments' link found just below. Thank you!


Julie Baird

P.S. Chris, I recognized your name when I saw your question. I had just this week published one of your most helpful comments to another long arm quilter about skipped or long stitches...I really appreciate that you took the time to respond. I absolutely do believe that your heart is in the right place. Thank you!

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Pieced backs in longarm quilting
by: Chris Ballard

The comments I have received from my questions are so appreciated. I did make the call to frog out all the stitches and do the repair myself. I have also left it up to my customer is she pays me or not. I agree, that I took the job and I took the risk. It IS my place to fix it and my job to not accept the challenge if I do not feel there will be the right outcome. I always try to look at how I would expect to be treated and that leads me to the right thing. I am taking this in stride as a learning experience. We all can learn, no matter how long we quilt. We both felt that I could do it without trouble because I had so many times before. I will never make this mistake in the future.

Remember, if you use a longarm quilter, adhere to her guidelines, they are not to make her job easier, it really is to satisfy her customer and to get the best end result.

I have heard a lot from my customers about other quilters and it really is a 50/50 situation. I can not tell you how many of my customers do not want to be educated not matter how many times you tell them. Then, when there is an issue, it is the bad quilters fault. Make sure to be fair with your longarm quilter. I have yet to hear of a longarm quilter that does not want to do their best, if they are serious about their reputation.

Thanks so much for your input, it means a lot to me to hear from you!

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