Up Close Quilting with Matt Sparrow

September 14, 2012

Matt SparrowThe APQS Up Close Quilting Series features APQS Quilt Artists who are also successful APQS dealers. These talented quilters have established a successful quilting business and dealership.

This Up Close Quilting article features Matt Sparrow, an APQS dealer who started Sparrow Studioz in Edmonton, Alberta, where Matt and his wife rent, sell and service APQS longarm’s to local Canadian quilters and more than 300 certified renters. The duo is opening a second location in Calgary, Alberta this fall. Matt’s website ManQuilter has more than 200 members of men who quilt and features free longarm quilting videos.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Matt. How did your quilting journey begin? Did you discover it on your own, or were there certain people who had an impact on your decision to start quilting?

A: I still remember the first time my wife asked me what I thought about the very first quilt she ever made. She was laying out fabric hearts that were cut in half and paired up with each other before being appliquéd onto 6” blocks. While she was in the washroom, I gave into my urge of rearranging the hearts into a more pleasing order to me. To my utter surprise she loved what I had done. A quilting couple was born!

Q: What did the first quilt you made look like? Do you remember the colors and patterns?

Matt Sparrow quiltA: The first quilt I ever made all by myself was a king size log cabin. My mother-in-law, who introduced us both to quilting, stole my wife away for a weekend getaway quilting retreat. Instead of feeling like I was stuck at home with the first six of our now 10 children, I used the opportunity to show them that I was as committed to this craft as they were. So I packed up ALL the kiddos and headed straight for the local quilt shop where I bought enough fabric to make my very first quilt, a giant king sized log cabin. Over the next three days, I completely neglected the children as I pieced up a storm. I am very proud to say that by the time my wife Bradie returned on Monday afternoon, I had my quilt completely pieced and quilted (poorly I might add). I still have the quilt and proudly show it to all by beginner longarm students to demonstrate how not to finish a quilt.

Q: Did you begin your quilting journey as a longarm quilter? If not, how did you make the transition?

A: That king sized log cabin was the first and only quilt I ever quilted on a domestic machine. I knew an hour into the frustrating machine quilting marathon that there must be a better way to quilt. I searched all the local shops and bought the very first longarm I laid my eyes on. I thought the most important thing was local service, not knowing at the time that I would have been better off with a machine that did not require frequent servicing. Looking back now, the line-up of machines in their service department should have been my first clue.

I became extremely frustrated when the first machine I bought started to wear out after the warranty expired. I told myself then that my next machine would have to be easy to maintain and have a solid warranty backing it up. This was the criterion I looked to fulfill when I started looking for a new machine.

Matt Sparrow quiltQ: When did you purchase your first APQS longarm quilting machine? Do you remember why you chose it?

A: I bought my first longarm in April of 2008. Within 18 months, I had outgrown my machine. I went searching for the best stitch regulator on the market and after test driving machines of nearly a dozen different brands, I ended up with an APQS Millennium.

Q: How long were you a quilter before you became an APQS dealer?

I bought my APQS Millennium in September 2009 and became a dealer in October. I had already been quilting proficiently for over 18 months with a huge following online. The transition felt very natural. I was very happy to receive the Rookie Sales Rep of the year from APQS after only three months of selling machines.

Q: You call yourself the “ManQuilter.” How did you come up with the name?

A: One night my son and I were watching ManTracker on TV when he said to me ‘Hey Dad, you could be the ManQuilter. A quick Google search turned up no results so I quickly snatched up the website and branded myself as the ManQuilter. I own a group online where more than 200 men share their love of quilting.

Q: Purchasing a longarm quilting machine is a big step. What advice do you have for quilters who are thinking about it?

A: Get your hands on as many machines as humanly possible. No matter how confident I am that APQS offers the best warranty, the strongest tables, the smoothest ride, the best stitch quality, the least vibration, the best customer service and a community of beautiful, helpful owners, you may find one of the other brands just ”fits” you better.

I recommend you choose a few simple designs with curves, straight lines and points and try those exact same designs on as many brands of machines as possible. Take a picture, or ask to keep a sample, and take them home to look at. Lay them all side by side and compare the stitch quality. This is how I chose my machine and I recommend it to anyone in the market to buy a longarm.

Also, APQS provides a comparison chart of all our models which I recommend to compare with other brands. Prioritize the features you feel are most important to you and start checking off which brands fit your needs best. We all have different needs as quilters and not one machine is perfect for everyone. I honor that and am happy to help you find your perfect match even if it is not APQS. I teach owners of all brands to become confident with their machines so they can start finishing those quilts they put all that time and love into piecing.

Q: What are the most common questions you receive from people who are in the market for a longarm?

The most common questions I hear are:

  • Are your machines easy to use, and more importantly are they easy to maneuver?
  • How easy are your machines to set up?
  • Do they require any maintenance or servicing and how accessible are those services?
  • If something goes wrong will I be able to talk to a real person?

Q: What is the most important thing people should keep in mind as new quilters?

A: Do not overwhelm yourself with all the products, books, DVDs, rulers and templates you see out there. This is one of the biggest problems I see with new quilters. I feel strongly that new quilters should become proficient with freehand quilting before moving on to using various tools. Once you have that basic confidence, every tool you add to your arsenal will be money well spent. All my classes both at Sparrow Studioz and ManQuilter are focused on beginners. I love to see quilters take their quilting to the next level by making the transition to longarm quilting.