I swore an oath never to add a computer to my longarm, and then in April, I broke that promise and upgraded my Fusion to one with a ProStitcher. I dubbed him Darcy 2.0, in honor of the original Mr. Darcy who was my good quilting buddy. He’s living it up with his new owner in upper Wisconsin.
Since April, D2 has been attempting to intimidate me with his new-fangled hardware and souped up chassis. And since April, I’ve been letting him get away with it. He established a dominant position in my household, and my excuse was that I didn’t know how to turn on his computer. I mean, in theory, you just press a button, right? But once you hit the button, then what?
My dealer has been trying to get me into a training class, but I had to cancel when I had a 5-day migraine going and couldn’t make it, and our schedules haven’t lined up since. So for nearly 3 months, D2’s computer has been blankly staring at me, taunting me, and making me feel really nervous. And especially now that he’s in the upper living space, I get to see him every day like that.
(In much the same way, my Bernina 780 is having a similar effect, and I have yet to pull the embroidery unit out of the box.)
But as I’ve whittled down my customer quilt backlog, I started getting to the ones that needed edge to edge designs, and I thought it would be mighty silly to continue buying paper pantographs when I just spent thousands of dollars on a new machine with a computer that eats pantos for breakfast.
So I finally reached out and asked some Facebook peeps how to turn on the computer, and got that info plus an offer from a local quilter, Ellen G., to come over and show me how to quilt with the ProStitcher. I immediately took her up on it, and she popped over to the studio to show me some moves. And get this: we were gonna do it on a real-life quilt.
We got everything going pretty well, but I have to tell you, those first moments were pretty scary. After we laid out the design, Ellen said, “Press Run!” and it honestly took me a minute to work up the nerve. Me? Scared of computers? I do this stuff all day at work; I’m pretty comfortable with technology, so telling a computer to do my bidding shouldn’t seem like such a big deal. But I am used to being in the driver’s seat, having direct contact with what the machine was stitching, and this felt a little strange.
Here’s the thing: with the computer stitching, it’s not like you just press start and then go to Starbucks for a latte. You don’t necessarily have to watch every stitch, but you do need to be very vigilant about what is going on. The time it takes you to run to the kitchen to get a snack is enough time for the machine to run out of bobbin thread and get clear across the quilt before you can get back to stop it. All the things you’ve learned about tension, keeping the quilt square on the frame, working in extra fullness – all of that comes into play, but then you have all these new things to consider too that are unique to computerized quilting.
I also didn’t realize how sloooooooooow computerized quilting actually is. It’s much slower than I can do freehand with the stitch regulator off, and it’s even slower than the rate at which I can quilt a panto. That kind of surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have. The computer can only go as fast as the stitch regulator, and I’m someone who regularly outruns the stitch regulator. I accept that this creates imperfections in my quilting, which I am totally okay with, but if you want the computer to stitch the design perfectly, each and every time, you have to allow it time to pause in points, to navigate curves, and think about placing each stitch.
That being said, I’m not at all disappointed at the slower rate of stitching, because the whole advantage to me of getting the computer in the first place was to be freed up to do other things. Think of it like a dishwasher. I have a wash cycle that takes a full 3 hours to do, no matter how many dishes are in there; I could probably wash the dishes in about 20 minutes doing it myself. But having the dishwasher gives me options; I can save myself six or so individual hand washes; it will wash the dishes at an absolutely scalding hot temperature that I could never tolerate myself; it uses much less water than I would filling up the dish pan 7 times & rinsing them off; and during that 3 hours, I can go do something else. These gadgets of ours aren’t necessarily about taking less time to do, but to free us from having to be the ones to do it.
(I should also say slow is relative; it can seem interminably slow if you stand there watching it, but when you’re sprinting up two flights of stairs to stop it in an emergency, you wonder how on earth it got so far so fast before you could.)
After that quilt was done, I used the same pattern (in a larger scale) to do another quilt that’s been in my to-do pile for years. I’ll tell you more about the quilt in a different post (it was my last commission when I stopped doing them in 2010 – ouch). I stuck it on the frame and got it quilted in a few hours.
Getting this quilted was such a huge relief!
After this one got finished, I loaded up another quilt and quilted it using a completely different design. That one did NOT go very smoothly at all, and I’ll talk about that more in a different post. Needless to say, with those three quilts done, I’m down to just two custom quilts & one magazine project in my backlog before I get to my own personal/studio quilts, and that’s a place I haven’t been since I bought my first machine.
It’s absolutely thrilling and exciting, and I’m so glad that I changed my mind about getting a computer for my long arm. I’ve only got 4 computerized quilts under my belt, but in the past 9 days, I’ve quilted 8 quilts, and that’s just an amazing level of productivity. Turning on D2’s computer was the best thing Ellen did for me. 🙂 (Well, technically, she made me press the button myself, but that’s what friends are for, right?)