Getting Started with Pantographs

Today’s post is all about pantographs, which are a great way to stitch out an edge-to-edge design on a quilt. They are are also a great way to build confidence in your quilting ability.

What is a Pantograph? Pantographs are simply patterns, usually 10 to 12 feet long, with a  pattern that repeats across the paper. The design along the length of the pantograph corresponds to what will be quilted along the width of your quilt. You’ll use a laser light to trace the pantograph design which guides the machine as it stitches the design.

Pantographs are often designed so one row nests into the next row making it harder to distinguish where one pass across the quilt ends and the next one begins. The dark lines above are what you quilt; the light lines show how the next row nests with the current row.

Pantographs come in various sizes. The deeper the design (top to bottom), the fewer passes across the quilt you’ll need to do. You simply choose a size according to the throat size of your machine. (Note: Pantographs are used with stand-up longarm and mid-arm quilting machines, but not with sit-down machines such as the HQ Sweet Sixteen.)

  • If you have an HQ Sixteen machine, your machine has a throat space of 16 inches and a quilting space of 13 inches. Use pantographs no larger than 11 inches deep (top to bottom).
  • If you have an HQ18 Avanté, your machine has a throat space of 18 inches and a quilting space of 15 inches. Use pantographs no larger than 13 inches.
  • If you have an HQ24 Fusion, your machine has a throat space of 24 inches and a quilting space of 20 inches. Use pantographs up to 18 inches deep.

Here are some links to pantographs:

Audition the Pantograph on Your Quilt Top

To get a good idea as to how the pantograph motif will look on your quilt, use Quilter’s Preview Paper, a page protector, or thin clear vinyl (available at Joann’s). Simply trace the pantograph design on the clear film and overlay it on your quilt.

Prepare the Pantograph

Once you’ve decided which pantograph you’ll be using, prepare the pantograph by drawing a horizontal line across the lowest point on the pattern. Then draw a vertical line at the position you want to start the quilting on the right side of the design (which will correspond to the left side of the quilt). By placing these two lines on the paper pattern you create a right angle at the right corner.

Remember: this right angle is for positioning the pattern to the top left corner of the quilt.

Prepare the Quilt

Use a channel lock on the carriage wheels so you can stitch a straight horizontal “plumb” line across the top of the batting and backing. Then align your quilt top with this plumb line.

Baste down the quilt top with a wiggle stitch within a ¼ inch of top edge of fabric. This holds the fabric in place and prevents “fold over” when stitching the pantograph design.

Baste with a wiggle stitch down both sides of the quilt as far as you can go. You’ll repeat this step as you advance the quilt.

Prepare the Laser Light

Screw the laser post on the machine with the washer against the machine. Then place the laser light on the post.

The laser light has an adjustable lens; focus the beam on your pantograph pattern so it is easily seen.

Placing the Pantograph

Move the machine to the top left corner of the quilt and lower the needle into the fabric. We recommend that you position the needle ½” to 1″ outside the fabric on the top and left sides.

Place the pantograph pattern on the table with the right end close to the carriage. Place a weight such as a ruler to keep the pantograph from rolling.

Position the laser light to the right angle that you drew on the pantograph. This represents the top left corner of the quilt. Use painters tape to secure pantograph to table.

Tip: We recommend Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape, Advanced Delicate Surface from the hardware store.

Remember: where the needle is is where the laser is. And, where the laser is, is where the needle is. They must both be synchronized to have the pattern stitch correctly. So make sure the needle is where you want to begin stitching, put it into the quilt, and adjust the laser light to the position on the pantograph where you want the design to begin.

Before you begin stitching, mark the stop and start points on the pantograph. Then use your finger to trace the design. This familiarizes you with the path of the design and you can more easily decide where you might need to pause.

Other tips:

  • Position the laser at a 45 degree angle and the light about two inches to the left of the carriage. Before quilting, trace some of the pattern with the laser beam to get a feel for how it will be tracing the design with the laser light.
  • Check the highest points at the top of the pattern,  and the lowest points, at the bottom of the pattern. This makes sure that you don’t hit the poles or the track and that the pattern fits between the poles.
  • While stitching, pause at the points.
  • You want to maintain an even movement as you quilt. Go at a comfortable speed, but don’t go overly slow either. Don’t have a “death grip”on the handlebars. Relax! Breathe! Blink! Enjoy!
  • Accuracy comes with practice. Remember that no one will see the pantograph you used when they are looking at the quilt.
  • Look ahead of the design as you quilt.
  • If you have to stop, it is best to stop at a point.
  • Pay attention occasionally to the thread as it is feeding off the cone to make sure it is stitching.
  • Lightly lock your arms against your body. Stand with your feet hip width apart. This gives your body stability.
  • If your laser gets bumped, and you lose your positioning, move the machine needle to the start point of the row and position laser to start point on pattern. You are now ready to continue quilting.

Notice this quilt has been stitched off all four edges. We meant to do this. That makes all of the sides cropped.

How to Plan the Spacing Between One Pass and the Next?

After completing the first pass, place the needle on an identifiable point on the pattern’s stitching line. With the needle down in the fabric, gently roll the quilt until the laser is positioned at the same point on the dotted line at the bottom of the pantograph. Then move the laser light back to the stitching start point. Do a quick visual check of the high and low points on the pantograph to make sure everything nests well with the row you just quilted. You’re ready to quilt again.

If you leave too much space between passes, rather than leave the open space, go back in and mimic, or echo along the lines so you don’t leave negative space.

Here’s a great video about pantographs from Cheryl Barnes.

Have some fun with pantographs today!

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