Learn to Quilt Series: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m grateful for a week of words and not sewing! I have enjoyed this quilt-along immensely, though the hardest part is getting ahead and staying ahead of the tutorials! I have seen such beautiful quilts coming together, and seeing how much a new quilter enjoys sewing makes it all worth it. My favorite part of quilting is the community I’ve discovered in the process – one that reaches back generations and generations and as long as people still sew squares together, will reach far into the future.

So about those lovely quilt tops – what’s next?! I bet you’re feeling pretty accomplished right now – and you should! But upon closer inspection, your quilt top doesn’t resemble a usable blanket quite yet. More work to do…and a few ways you can go about it.

I like choices.

I’ll just be talking about long-arm services vs. machine quilting at home, because that’s what I have experience with. If you’re thinking about hand-quilting or tying the quilt, you can find a wealth of tutorials on the Internet, Knower of Things and Tutor of All. Hand-quilting is a beautiful way to finish your quilt – don’t be scared of it! Someday I’ll get around to hand-quilting a project, but today is not that day.

I have sent most of my quilts to a long-arm quilter – a long-arm is a giant quilting contraption with a frame that can quilt amazingly complex designs with the help of a computer. These folks are pros – and because piecing the top is my favorite part, I love the convenience of just finishing the top and mailing it off for the quilter to work her magic.

I always quilt baby quilts myself, though I recently started quilting a few large quilts at home as well. I enjoy being able to say I finished a project 100% myself, and sometimes all I want for a quilt is a simple design I can manage on my home machine. Other times I just plain want to save some cash or challenge myself. It feels like it takes forever, but I’m always pleased with myself in the end.

There are pros and cons to both – pick what’s best for you! If you choose to quilt at home, read all the way to the end for a basting tutorial!


Long-arm services

I’ll try to be as objective as possible, but some of the pros/cons are simply my opinions! Choose what’s best for you!


  • Convenience long-arm quilters can take anywhere from 1-8 weeks to finish a quilt, but in this time you can be working on your next project! Often times you can purchase your batting and even backing from the quilter, so the ease of simply sending in a top and being mailed back a nearly-finished quilt is just wonderful.
  • Ability – like I said, these folks are pros. They can’t be perfect, but after my failed attempt to use minky backing at home I’ve decided to leave certain things to the professionals for now. Be sure to check with each quilter, but many can quilt backings that may be difficult to manage for a new quilter at home.
  • Complexity – quilting software allows for really complex or custom quilting designs. Depending on your budget, you can end up with some really stunning designs! Even simple long-arm quilting is more complex than I will currently attempt at home.


  • Cost – this is the biggest downside to long-arm services…they are expensive, relative to quilting yourself. For an edge-to-edge design on a throw sized quilt, expect to pay upwards of $50-100 for quilting, plus batting and/or backing, and shipping costs if applicable. Very complex or custom services go up from there. For many, it’s just not in the budget, and that’s okay!
  • Availability – you may not have a long-arm quilter nearby, and will need to ship a quilt to have it quilted. I ship mine without a second thought, but for many, this is an uncomfortable process. If you do ship it, be sure you track and insure it!
  • Timing – all quilter’s have different turn-around times, so it’s best to ask to make sure they can finish your quilt in time if you have a deadline. I’ve waiting anywhere from 2 – 8 weeks for a quilt – just be sure to communicate with each other so everyone’s on the same page regarding the timeline!

In the end, sometimes it’s a matter of personal preference. For those who find they really hate to quilt and love to piece, long-arm quilters are a blessing. For others, they enjoy quilting just as much and would rather work on their own quilts.

Be sure to search for local quilters in your area, but if you are interested in a recommendation for mail-in quilters, contact me!

Some of my quilts I’ve had long-arm quilted:


Domestic quilting

When I first started piecing quilts, I worried so much about quilting. After finishing a top, I couldn’t bear the thought of “ruining” it by trying to quilt it myself. I’ve since learned that quilting is actually very forgiving, and just like piecing, you can rip stitches if you have to. I’ve ripped half a baby quilt because I didn’t like the quilting stitches…it wasn’t fun…but I didn’t ruin my quilt either. So don’t be afraid of quilting – it’s not as bad as it looks!


  • Savings – quilting at home won’t cost you a single extra penny in labor! Domestic quilting is a very cost effective way to finish a project.
  • Satisfaction – it’s very satisfying to complete a project start to finish on your own. Never feel guilty for send your quilt to a long-arm quilter, but you should also be very proud of yourself if you quilt at home. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back after you wrestle around a project you probably got sick of looking at somewhere along the way!
  • Timing – if you’re fast, you may be able to finish before a long-arm quilter can! I’m incredibly slow at quilting, but in reality it doesn’t have to take more than a weekend!
  • Control – you have full creative reign! We’ll just talk about simple quilting, but if you want to dive down the rabbit hole of free-motion quilting, the world is your oyster!


  • Time – for me, quilting at home is time consuming! Mostly due to my own procrastination though, I’ll readily admit.
  • Size – wrestling a throw size or larger quilt through a home machine can be a huge pain. It definitely can be done, and a pair of quilting gloves helps a lot, but for some it can be a real thorn.
  • Simplicity – for most people, quilting at home entails simpler designs. This can be a pro or a con, depending on your style.
  • Intimidation – I get it, quilting at home can be intimidating! But seriously, don’t worry about “ruining” your quilt – quilting is easier than it looks!

Some quilts I’ve done myself – you can see I prefer to quilt in variants of straight lines:


Basting – for those quilting at home

So you’ve decided to quilt at home! Yay! You’ve pieced your backing already and have your batting and top ready to go. Maybe you’ve even already googled “how to baste a quilt” and came across four hundred thousand different tutorials that are all basically the same, yet swear that their way is the easiest way.

Don’t worry, I’ve got one more.

But first, you have one more choice to make – will you pin-baste, or spray-baste?!

Ok – back up. Basting means taking your batting and sandwiching it between your back and top, then securing it in place so you can quilt it. The quilting stitches hold the layers together in the end, but if you didn’t secure the layers through basting the whole mess would bunch, tuck, and shift as you’re stitching.


I’ve actually never basted with pins…I bought them once. But after I discovered spray basting I never took them out of the plastic. Some people prefer pinning though, so I’ll give you a basic run-down and direct you back to the Knower of All Things (the Interwebs) for better instructions and pictures.

First, you’ll lay your backing on the floor, right side down. Use tape to keep the backing secured to the floor, smooth and taut (but not stretched!). Lay your batting on top, smoothing it out, and then your top over your batting.

Using safety pins, or better yet, invest in a couple of $5 packs of curved basting pins and pin every 4″ throughout your quilt top, keeping everything smooth and taut.

Yes. I said pin every 4″. This is why I don’t like to do it.

The rule of thumb is if you lay your hand flat on your quilt, you should be touching two pins. As you quilt, you’ll remove the pins as you go and everything will be happily secured in place. That’s really a really basic tutorial – but like I said, I’ve never voluntarily placed that many pins in a quilt top before.


I prefer to spray baste, though you’ll find just as many tutorials of people who HATE spray basting. Quilters are rather opinionated folks, and we all have our tried and true methods. If you keep quilting, you’ll develop your own flavor of favorites as well!

I’ll be quilting a different quilt that I’ve had sitting around basted since DECEMBER for this part of the quilt-along. (I told you it takes me forever!!) Since it’s already basted, I’ll refer you to an earlier tutorial I posted on how I spray baste using my wall. The tutorial is for a baby quilt, but I’ve basted three large quilts the exact same way…with a stool handy.

Wall basting tutorial

Lastly, I’ll re-post this list for those still gathering supplies for quilting at home! (Or those needing batting to send with your quilt top to a long-arm.)

Quilting supplies

Batting: Twin size should be fine for either layout – you’ll want at least 8″ longer and 8″ wider than your finished quilt. Double check measurements before ordering. I prefer lightweight cotton batting – my favorite is Quilter’s Dream Request, in white. Best part, you can find it on Amazon

Marking pen: I like the iron off pens by Frixion – you can find them on Amazon or Fat Quarter Shop. JoAnn’s, Walmart, and your local quilt shop will also have lots of different types of fabric-safe markers. You’ll need something to mark your quilting lines unless you’re free-forming it. (Which is totally ok too!)

Walking foot: A walking foot is hugely important for quilting. A regular sewing machine foot relies on the feed dogs on the machine to pull the fabric through. (Feed dogs: those little toothy bits that go up and down under your fabric.) When you have a thick quilt to manage, even when really well basted, it will shift and pucker beneath a normal quilting foot. A walking foot has extra feed dogs on the top that evenly feed all the layers nice and smoothly through your machine. Just like presser feet, they are machine specific. Ask the internet, your local quilt store, JoAnn’s, or even me if you have trouble finding the right one for your machine. They might run upwards of $30-40, but you’re still saving money compared to paying a long-arm quilter.

Quilting needles: Yep, there’s a needle for every job. You might get by with your regular piecing needles for quilting, but I found far too many skipped stitches and have to use larger needles. I have the best results with either a “jeans/denim” needle, size 100/16 (larger than 100 will punch an unnecessarily huge hole), or a “top-stitch” needle of similar size. Both are made for going through thick layers, and have large grooves to protect the thread from shredding. Available here and here, and I generally can find them at Walmart as well.

Basting spray or basting pins: I legitimately have no idea how many pins it takes for a throw size quilt. Buy a few packages? (Advice in the comments welcome!) One can of basting spray is enough for this project.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions – I know wrestling around huge amounts of fabric can get overwhelming and confusing. We really are getting close to done!

Happy sewing!


Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care

9 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Borders and backing (and block catch up!) – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Sewing blocks into a quilt top! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  3. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – RebaLeigh Handmade

  4. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Fabric! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 1 – Sewing machines and basic supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  7. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  8. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Machine quilting – RebaLeigh Handmade

  9. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Binding and finishing your quilt – RebaLeigh Handmade

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