how i load my quilts

last tuesday i gave a LA presentation to the Spirited Quilters Quilt Guild in Duluth...i had a blast...i was nervous at first, but the friendliness of the group soon put me at ease...i would totally love to do it again.
i was asked how i loaded my quilts into my machine, and i explained it, but i promised to post a photo tute. it took a couple of days cause i had to wait til i finished the one on the frame and load the here goes... honestly, loading a quilt is the most fundamental process of LAing.

(i shouldn't have to say this, but:) this is how my frame is loaded. different LA company frames will load differently. (my machine is an APQS Millenium- the best machine on the market...but i am a bit bias in the opinion :) )

1. i have a four bar frame, plus my homemade batting bar. i have labeled each to what it 'holds' the leveler bar doesn't 'hold' anything. it keeps the quilt sandwich horizontally straight before the quilted sandwich turns and goes up to the takeup roller. three of my bars have canvas leaders. a leader is what i attach the various layer edges of the quilt sandwich to.

2. i start at the bottom and work my way up. i spread out the backing fabric over the frame with the wrong side looking at the ceiling. also, if it's possible, i load the backing with the pieced seam running parallel to the roller. this means that some quilts will be loaded (and quilted) sideways. if you are using a directional quilting design (panto), you'll need to keep that in mind....also, directional fabrics will play a role in how a quilt is loaded, so double check that as well.

3. i fold the bottom edge of the backing in half to find center and match that to the center mark on my leader. loading a quilt is like pouring the foundation to a house: if you are off on the foundation, your walls will not me straight. i pin the backing to the leader starting in the center and working my way to the edges. i am careful to not stretch the backing fabric. i pin through the canvas to the backing fabric. that puts my Tpins against the canvas, not the fabric. it allows the canvas to lay smoother againset the roller bar, plus it makes unloading easier.
4. i roll the backing fabric up on the roller, gently smoothing out any  wrinkles. on my APQS Millie (Nemo) i turn the roller towards me (from the side: clockwise) the fabric should come off the top of the roller bar.

5. pin the top edge of the backing fabric onto the take up roller's leader. notice i rolled the backing "tight' you don't want to be able to bounce a quarter off it...i was told you should be able to push down on it one inch and it should spring back up. if one of the pinned edges was not straight/square, one side (or both) would be bowed. this is a good time to find this out because you can just unpin the backing fabric and re-pin pulling out any fullness. ideally, your backing show look like mine- nice and flat! when it comes to loading the pieced quilt top, having the backing already loaded will give us a shelf to sit the top on and it prevents puling from it's own weight draped over the rollers (see pic for step #7) also, i load my quilts in what is referred to as a partial float. a partial float means i do not pin the top edge of the batting or quilt into the take-up roller. they 'float'.  bear with me, it'll soon make sense...
6. this pic shows that i turn the left edge pin backwards. (i'm right handed) i learned this lesson the hard way. when you go to 'smooth' the layers, if the sharp point is sticking out it will bite....and it usually draws blood...and it hurts to cut your palm open on the tip of a Tpin. now i know that not all LAers use Tpins to load their quilts, but this is my blog and my tute 8>)

7. open the quilt top and lay across the frame with the right side looking at the ceiling. fold the bottom edge in half to find center, match to the center mark on the leader, and pin from the middle out towards the edge. notice how loading the backing first gives us a surface to lay the quilt top on so it's not being pulled by it's own weight and creating puckers (puckers are bad). if your loading the quilt sideways- you will be pinning in either the left or right side of the top.

8. carefully roll up the pieced quilt top. the quilt should be come off the bottom of the roller (from the side- counterclock wise). smooth out any wrinkles and work in any fullness. stop the quilt just below the pinned backing fabric edge.

9. this is where i load the batting onto my homemade batting bar. if it's a small quilt and i'm quilting an E2E on it that i know i'll have finished quickly, i don't load the batting.  i'll just let it hang or lay in the floor.

10. carefully load the batting. i roll the batting edge up and carefully tuck it between the quilt top and backing rollers. then i flip the quilt top outta the way and gently smooth the batting out on the backing fabric. when the batting is where it needs to be, i flip the pieced top back over and smooth it out. if your batting has a scrim then you'll want the scrim side to lay against the backing. if your batting doesn't have a scrim, but is needlepunched (read the packaging) closely observe the surface of the batting to see if you can determine which direction the batting was needle punched. you want the side that the needle went into the batting first to lay against the wrong side of the pieced top. this will prevent the batting from 'bearding' through the backing fabric. (bearding means that little wads of the batting travel through the fabric with the movement of the needle, then stay stuck out when the needle retracts with the formation of the stitch. it can ruin the overall look of a quilt in a hurry)
11. then i place my clamps on the sides of the backing in the section between the rollers. the rollers give me lengthwise tension, the clamps give me crosswise tension. there are two per side and are attached to my frame with elastic.  this is why LAers ask for 4"-6" extra backing on the sides; it keeps the bed of our machine from hitting the side clamps.

12. i go to the end of the frame and look longways down the quilt. any curves or dog legs in the border seams will show and i can correct them now. i do not square up a quilt using a ruler- i 'eyeball' them using this method.

13. using "crafter's pins" purchased at JoAnn's (they are very thick and stiff) i pin the edge of the pieced quilt down, going through all three layers; top, batting, and backing fabric.
i stitch around the edge of the quilt top carefully stitching over the pins. yes, i have broken needles by hitting a pin....but it's only happened three times in 6 years/ 1000+ quilts.

when loading a quilt, haste will make waste (of time) take your time. trust me, there's not a trophy for loading a quilt the fastest. taking your time will make quilting the quilt fun and easy. you will develop an eye for seeing problem areas while loading, and it will get faster the more you do it. honestly, i could load a quilt without having to think about it in about 6 months, but i was quilting one or two quilts a day...i had a little cheat sheet taped to the frame that told me what order to pin's like anything- the more you do it, the better/quicker you'll get.  you can not place a dollar amount on experience time...

as always- if you have any questions, email me. my add is in the right sidebar.

happy stitching!


  1. I do mine exactly the same way, except i stitch, using the channel lock, a straight line across the top of the backing and batting. I use this as a reference line for keeping the top edge of the quilt straight when I partially float the top.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this. I just got my machine mid-December, so it's nice having this to reference.

  3. thanks for taking the time to show how you load your quilts. I do mine a little different but I may try your way next time just to see how it works. It's nice to see different ways of doing things.

  4. I do the same. Glad to heat the presentation went well. I had no doubt it would be great!!


  5. I really enjoyed reading this. I had no idea how much was involved before you even begin stitching! Karmen

  6. Fabulous!!!!!!!!! I will be sending this link for some friends.

  7. Thanks so much for the great info and pictures. I appreciate all the extra notes, like how the batting "needling" makes a difference, too. Now I'm off to load my first actual top onto a frame!

  8. Well, I know this is several years later but I, too, enjoyed your tutorial! I bought a new Millie last fall then had a car accident! I had only done 2 small quilts and a queen. It's been 7 months And I couldn't find my on/off button at first. Did manage to quilt a small quilt today! But, I referred to your tutorial first! Thanks so much!


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