Over the years I've quilted a lot of customer quilts. Toppers (customers) would bring tops with issues and
expect ask me to wave my magic quilting fairy needle to return it back to them contest ready perfectly square. If you could have seen some of the issues you would know how very difficult it was to get those quilt tops quilted.
Never the less, I did my best to accommodate their wishes by learning how to work around the issues to return a top anyone could be proud of. One of the issues I often dealt with was where the measurements at the top and bottom edges would be off as much as 4 inches sometimes. I'm going to show you how I take a wonky quilt with friendly borders and quilt it square.
First I measure the quilt top in three places. Across the top edge, through the middle, and across the bottom edge. Add the figures together then divide by three to get the "average" width. For demonstration purposes I'll use 45 as the average number.
Let me explain that I do what is called a full float of the tops when quilting. How happy I was that day, many years ago, when I found out about floating tops! I prefer this method because it gives me much, much better control to get a really square quilt. There are quilters that do a partial float which is attaching only the bottom edge of the top to the leader. There are other quilters who don't do either type of float, preferring to attach both top and bottom edge to the leaders. If they could only see the difference a full float gives they would start doing it too.
First, I attach the backing to the machine leaders making sure it's centered. I lay the batting on the backing getting it centered as well. I put the channel lock on and sew a straight line across. This holds the batting in place as well as give me a straight line to follow when attaching the top.
Next, find the center of the sewn line. This would be at the center of the backing. This mark is where the center of the quilt top will be placed. I make a mark on the batting with a wash out marker. (Ignore the extra quilt you see in the photos. I often quilt more than one at a time without removing from the machine. Just look at the lower half of the photos.)
I measure out from the center mark going to the right. At 22 1/2 inches I make another mark. That's the first half of the 45.
I measure out from the center mark going to the left and make a mark at 22 1/2 inches. That's the other half of the 45.
Next I put the center of the top at the center mark on the batting making sure the edge of the top is right at the sewn line. The sewn line will help me keep the top edge straight.
Put the right side of the top at the right mark. Sometimes I put a pin to hold it there, sometimes not. If there is a lot of fullness to be worked in I use pins. The more friendliness, the more pins needed. This top has very little fullness to work in so I'm not pinning.
Move to the left and put the other side of the top there.
You can see the top has just a bit of wave to it. I would either pin to ease in the fullness or simply work it in as I stitch this edge down.
As I advance the quilt I want to be sure the quilt top stays the same all the way through the quilting and end up with the same 45 inch measurement at the bottom edge. The way I do this is by measuring from the end of the belly bar. I have velcro attached to the very end of the bar. My measuring tape has a bit of velcro on the back. I attach the tape measure then......
go to the edge of the top. This one is at the 19 inch mark on the tape measure. It's not actually 19 inches from the end of the bar. I put the velcro on the wrong end of the tape measure. I didn't want to change it so I left it that way. It still works.
I write this number on a bit of tape on the bar so I don't forget it.
I have the same velcro set up on the other end of the belly bar. This time my measurement is at 9 inches from the end of the bar. Yup, it is a backward measurement too.
I write this number on another bit of tape. The reason for the difference in the two side measurements on this quilt is because I actually off centered it. I want to keep as much of the extra backing in one piece as I can so it can be used later. I shifted everything to the right allowing more of the backing to be in one piece. It doesn't change the way this technique is done.
Now I'm ready to tack stitch (or pin) the top edge along the straight sewn line. Notice the extra fullness along the side? Each time I advance the top, I will work this fullness in and tack or pin it down.
As I quilt and advance the top, I am able to lift and shift the top as necessary to keep the edges at the correct side measurements..... because of the full float. Keeping the side measurements the same will show where the extra border fullness is and allow me to work it in as I quilt. Another thing to remember is that as the top is quilted it will draw up while the rest of the top doesn't. The side measurements help me keep the top at the correct width no matter how much the quilted part draws up. This prevents hour glass shifting.
Why do I sew a straight line to follow? For a couple of reasons. Just looking at the machine you might think it's perfectly square but it's not. On my machine the bars are farther apart at one end of the table than the other end. I realized this when I kept observing tops shifting sideways during the quilting process. On my machine the bars are farther apart by 1 1/4 inch at one end than the other end.
Also leader fabric pulls and stretches. With use and stretching the leader can be off by an inch or more from one side to the other or in the middle. Looking at the machine the bars appear to be perfectly level but they aren't. The long expanse of the bar is impossible to hold level, it's going to sag a bit in the center from the sheer length. Sewing the straight line assures me, right from the start, I have the top on the machine as straight and even as I can get it.
My previous machine, a shortarm, didn't have channel locks. What I did back then was to use a piece of cardboard, with a binder clip holding it onto the tracks, behind the forward and back motion wheels. This prevented the forward and back motion wheels from moving allowing me to sew a straight side to side line. Hmm.... I think I've explained everything.