How to turn a quilt

July 2, 2014

I turn nearly every quilt on my longarm frame instead of quilting down the sides as I go. I like that I can see the entire border at one time and can make sure everything fits just right, with minimal starts and stops along the way. Turning a quilt is really very simple and fast to do IF you know the secret ingredient – bendable pins that recover their shape after winding around the rollers. With the right pins in the right place, you can turn a king-size quilt in about 15 minutes!

My favorite pins are flower head pins by Clover, Item #2505 (55mm x 50mm). You can find these in packages of 20 at your local quilt shop, or they are available online. Look for pins with yellow, green, white and pink heads or a mixture of two shades of pink. Avoid the Clover Ultra Fine pins with blue heads (they are too flexible) and those in 100-packs (they’re a little too thick.) Other flower head pins will bend around the rollers, but they stay bent once they’re removed.

The key to successful turning is to put pins in the quilt’s sides as you go so that they keep the quilt edges aligned with the backing fabric, preventing shifting. These stay in the quilt as you roll, and are placed ¼-inch in from the edge, parallel to the quilt edge. That means that they will be perpendicular to the rollers! Yes, they will wrap around the roller and (unless your rollers are extremely small) they won’t stay bent. This does not work well with stiff corsage pins or T-pins, but it does work in conjunction with zippers and plastic loading devices; use the pins to reattach the quilt after turning it by bypassing your loading device and pinning directly to the canvas.

One important thing to remember … always turn your quilt clockwise.

This means you’ll need to plan which way your pin tips should point as you add them to your quilt’s sides. Insert them so that once you turn the quilt, the pins are positioned for you to simply pull one pin out, then stick it back in while catching the canvas at the same time.

Stand at the needle side of your frame and imagine where your quilt’s sides will end up when you turn it. If you turn the quilt clockwise, the right border will end up along your quilt top roller/belly bar. Since right- handed quilters would attach their fabric with the pin tips pointing to the left on this side of the table, they will need to insert pins into the right border with the pin tips pointing toward the needle side of the table. Once the quilt is turned those pins will be oriented correctly for a right-handed quilter to remove and reinsert. (Left-handed quilters’ pins will point toward the pantograph side of the table on the right border.)

Similarly, when you turn the quilt clockwise, the left side will end up along your pick up roller. Put the pins into that side so that they will be correctly situated for you to remove and reinsert them into the pick up roller canvas, depending on your dominant hand. Just think about where you stand when you attach your quilt parts, and put the pins into the quilt sides so they will be oriented correctly when you turn the quilt.

When you are ready to turn the quilt, use a scissors and trim the excess batting and backing on the sides to within about one inch of the quilt top (this leaves plenty for binding and also makes reattachment easier.) Align the center of the quilt’s left side with your pick up roller center mark. Align the quilt top’s raw edge with the canvas edge, feeling their alignment through the layers with your fingertips. The excess inch of batting and backing will hang past the canvas edge. Remove the center pin from the quilt and reinsert it, catching the canvas underneath.

Working out from the center, gently pull the quilt sandwich layers smooth (don’t let the backing get wrinkled), and then remove and reinsert the next pin. Continue to one end, then go back to the center and work in the other direction. Attach the other end of the quilt to your backing roller in the same manner. Be sure to pass the quilt under your leveler bar and your quilt top roller.

Since you’ll have quilting stitches in the center of the quilt, it will want to draw your layers in to the center. Use your side clamps to re-stretch the center portions, keeping your unquilted border and backing smooth. It’s okay to put a little extra pressure on the quilt at this point if needed to keep your backing smooth since the center is already quilted. That’s it!

For a video tutorial on this, check out my three-part series on Turning a Quilt.