How to Choose Pantographs

Hello, longarmers and all quilters!
Today I'm linking up to
Long Arm Learning #3.

Today I'm going to share a little about how I learned to pick
out pantographs that I could actually do as a beginner.
Like so much of what I've learned of sewing in general,
it was all by trial and error.  But, I think that this can
be one of the most effective ways of learning.
And it keeps me humble!  Ha!

First off, this was a very hard the hardest post to write.
I've done a lot of writing--and a lot of deleting.
I'd love to help with every single little issue that
I've encountered but I also don't want to overwhelm
anyone with too much information, especially when
so much of it is, as I said, best learned with doing.
I hope I've found the happy medium but if something
is confusing or you'd like more info,
please just ask and I'll see if I can offer any help.

If you missed my intro last week (see it here), I
love, love, love pantographs.  For so many years I was
confined to a regular machine doing free-motion, when all
I dreamed about were the beautiful and uniform designs that
I would see on the quilts hanging up in shops and online.
I have not felt creative enough yet to do the more artistic
FMQ.  I did a lot of meandering:  swirls, loops, stippling,
leaves (lots and lots of leafy vines!), hearts etc.
And pumpkins.

Pumpkins are one thing I can do freehand.  Go figure!
If you know me and my love of all things fall and pumpkin
(I was pumpkin waaay before pumpkin was cool!)
this all makes perfect sense. 

 There are just some things that I can be so excited
 about that I will push and push till I get it.
Pantographs are one of those things.

Pantographs are perfect and I wanted that perfection on
my quilts.  Eventually I became a longarm owner and
spent hours going over every pantograph available.
I ordered up some beautiful, flowing designs and
I was going to be perfect!
Instead, I was....kind of disappointed.
All of my passion and excitement was not enough to make
me instantly good at them.  Not even after some warming up.
Those suckers are a lot harder than they looked, darn them!
All those years of teasing me!

But as with any learning, it just takes practice.
And patience.

I didn't choose a very easy design for my first but in my
love for fall things, I was stubborn and wanted this one:

Really this wasn't too bad of a beginner's choice
as I'll get to in a minute but there's a lot of detail.
But, having a lot of detail can help hide mistakes
so I had that going for me.

I remember getting frustrated with those shells at the bottom
of the acorns.  I don't think I got a single one right--and I still
find them a bit of a struggle.  And I think you'll find exactly that:
there are just some shapes that you will struggle with
This quilt was just for me so, with no pressure,
I loaded it up and off I went.

In looking back, I have to be kind to myself and note that I
was also learning to use my longarm.  I bought it
slightly-used and had received no instruction at all.  

Scarier than a horror film!

I had some things to learn about needles and threads,
and tension was a four-letter word for probably the first
two years of owning my machine!  

But I stumbled through it and today it is still a favorite.
It will always be "my first longarm quilt"!

Everytime the grandkids come over, it is spread over our
living room floor for them to play on.  I also use it to work
on garden-y things, like prepping herbs for drying,
 while I'm watching tv with the hubs. 

So, here's the first pantograph tip:
If you are a new LA owner, learn as much as you can
about your machine first!
It is so hard to get into that rhythm when that thread
breaks every 2 seconds.  I know you're excited and
this isn't what you wanted to hear--you want to go!
But getting ahead of yourself can delay things later.
Relax and just get to know each other.

For those of us that know our machine well,
 head over to a pantograph site and--okay,
you've already done that, right?
I use Urban Elementz and Quilts Complete but I'm
sure there are others.  By the way, right before
and during the holidays, they usually have sales
like 20% off (free shipping at $50).  That's 
a little off-topic but we'll call it tip #2!

my pantographs listed.  I just found this an easy
reference for me to see what I have if I'm not at
home, or to let, ie, my sister know what I have for
when she comes to visit me my longarm.  In the
three years I've had my machine, I've tried to grow
a solid stash that covers all the basic quilt themes.
Right now I feel like I have everything I need along
with a few fun ones--like the tea/coffee theme.
For the record, I have 26.  I've only used 2/3 of them.
My point is, you really don't need a lot!

If you start with just a few general ones--leaves,
flowers, feathers, swirls--you'll have all you really need.
These are usually the easiest and the most forgiving.
Plus, working to master these will tell you what you
struggle with for when you begin to choose more
complicated designs.

"Apple Orchard" Urban Elementz

I'm not sure the order but this was another design
I did in those first few months.

Leaves really are so easy and fun to quilt up!
They come in all shapes and sizes so if yours
end up that way, you're just mimicking nature!

By the way, this "Apple Orchard" has a really neat
happy-ending that goes with it:  read it here.

I was super happy with this one, though these kind of 
"ribbon swirls" can still challenge me in any pantograph.
This is something I learned about my quilting right away.

I'm going to throw out a few other tips I have learned
for choosing easy designs for beginners--but whenever
you feel up for challenge, don't be afraid to branch out.
Remember, no matter what you try, you'll only get
better at it.  It's all about that muscle-memory, as 
 has often coached and encouraged me.

For your first pantographs: 
Look for random, forgiving designs.
By "forgiving," I mean that you can deviate a little
(or call it "making it your own"!) and it won't
hurt a thing.  Flowers and leaves grow all over, right?

"Linda's Daisy" Urban Elementz

This is one of the easiest pantos that I have.  Even if the
circular-center of the flower or the ribbon/vine curls have you
struggling, there is so much going on here, and if you've chosen
a fairly busy quilt design (and backing fabric!) for your first
quilt or twono one is gonna see that your circles aren't perfect.

"Autumn Oaks" Clothwerx/Willow Leaf Studio

The fall leaves and acorns that I showed earlier is another
fairly forgiving pattern, though it does have some equidistant
lines that caused me some issue: the shells that "hug"
the acorns and the stems.  But there's nothing 
symmetrical here and, though you would have
to go slowly and patiently, I think it's a good
design for, say, a 3rd or 4th quilt?
Remember, random is your friend.

Anything with equidistant lines or mirror-ing designs
 is going to require you to be so SPOT-ON to make it
 look good. It is going to take any deviation and put it right
out there on exhibit.  In neon.

This above one looks like a simple design but I would rather
use a ruler or some other method than try to follow this
to a "T" on a pantograph. 

"Star Dance" Urban Elementz

However, straight lines in short bursts, as in this panto,
are certainly doable once you have a little "panto time" logged.
The stars are even a little bit wonky (forgiving!) and
embedded among lots of random.  Score!

Now right there with straight v. curvy lines, try to
go for designs that "wave" across your quilt.

"Monstera" Urban Elementz

This wave will also camouflage any deviations.

Not only do these hearts have equidistant lines but any
quilting "off the path" will be easily seen.
Also, using this on a quilt design that already has straight lines
(ie, blocks & sashing) will only help advertise any, ahem,
"free-flowing expression" in your quilting.
(That means flaws but you call it what you want.)
As a beginner, I would avoid this for now.

And one last thought when looking for your first
pantographs:  Look for a design that you can follow
easily with your eye.
The above Star Dance and Monstera are both
examples of ones you can follow easily.

"Bossa Nova"

Loops and curls, oh my!  This one is fun and fast but if I
get distracted (thread break, sneeze, phone ring, etc.)
I can lose where I'm at in those curls.
Now, on this, it kind of doesn't matter because it's doubtful
anyone will see it but there are more complicated designs that
can have you suddenly going backwards if you
so much as blink at the wrong time.   If you can't
follow it easily with your eyes, and with a little
distraction, you'll likely struggle with it as a panto.
This is when I feel like a cat chasing the laser light, btw.
While you could choose to avoid these as a beginner,
don't feel like you have to.  These are really about learning
where you can safely stop without losing your place.
And you can make yourself little notes when you set
up your pantograph.
But that, my quilty friends, is coming up next time.
Also under that category is:  Training Your Family.

Hopefully this has clarified rather than confused
some of you new-to-pantographs quilters out there.
Again, I'd love to help--if I can!--with any questions
or even if just want a second opinion on a panto(s)
you're thinking about trying.

Happy quilting!


Joyful Quilter said…
I think you talked all around it but only said the dreaded word once - PRACTICE! I do not like that word. ;o) I never could do pantographs, unfortunately there are very few designs that will work with my 9" arm Juki.

Love the pumpkins.
Debbie said…
Good post! Lots of info for those who do pantographs. Again, it is a matter of learning the machine first and then lots of practice. Some shapes will come natural to you others won't.
Rebecca Grace said…
This post is so timely for me, Cheree! First, I was surprised to discover that I own nearly twice as many pantograph patterns as you do... But this is because, when I was getting my long arm, in between paying the deposit and picking up the machine, I had this brilliant idea to ask in an online IntelliQuilter forum whether anyone wanted to sell any paper pantographs that they no longer needed. This worked great as far as instantly getting a collection of 42 different designs at a fraction of what it would cost to buy them new, BUT:

1. Since I didn't pick the individual patterns myself, I have many designs that just don't appeal to me
2. About a third of the pantographs are really old, narrow width so the rows don't nest, and/or before they came out with the "ghost row" above and below the lines you are following, to help with positioning for subsequent rows. I can't find a tutorial video that shows how you align rows evenly with those "vintage" early pantographs, and they are not very exciting designs anyway...

Considering that there are only maybe 6-8 designs in my pantograph collection that I really like, I probably did not get the great deal that I thought I was getting by "inheriting" a computerized quilter's cast-off paper panto stash! Yet I'd felt like I didn't "deserve" to spend any money on new pantograph designs until I could find success with the ones I already owned. Reading your post this morning, I feel like it's the other way around -- in order to develop the ability to quilt some of the more complex designs I already own, I might need to invest in some additional easier pantographs and work my way up to the harder ones!

I also really appreciated that you showed how several of these pantographs look on paper as well as stitched into a quilt. I know I have a couple of leaf pantographs similar to yours stashed away in my cupboard that I wasn't wild about, but I like the way those designs look on your quilt a LOT more than I like the design just looking at it on paper. That makes me more willing to try my own leaf designs before writing them off.

The one pantograph I tried that came out halfway decent on a quilt was Popcorn Large, with similar shapes to your Linda's Daisy design but without the leaves and curls. So I've got a charity quilt 90% loaded on my frame right now and I went through my panto stash yesterday... And I considered the ones that were "beginner friendly" but wasn't excited about some, others didn't fit the quilt because of their theme/motif, or because the scale of the quilting design wasn't right for the 4" tumblers in the quilt top. I ended up choosing Wild At Heart from Clothwerx, which I've never tried before. It does have several rounds of evenly spaced echo lines around the hearts, which I'm reading as a "no-no" or at least as a "Proceed with caution and don't get your hopes up" in your recommendations. But the few beginner friendly designs I have are so lame, like giant meandering or scribble loops. I could do those freehand from the front of the machine, so why bother setting up a panto at all?

So, Wild At Heart it will be, come Hell or High Water. Wish me luck! After I finish this little outreach top (it's for the pediatric ward of our local hospital, so only 40" x 54") I think I need to sort through my pantograph collection, ditch some of the Ancient Unruly Beasts, make a visual reference for myself of what all I have (like your tab on your blog page), and then do some pantograph SHOPPING to give myself more options of designs that are attainable AND that suit my own tastes.

Thanks for linking up with Long Arm Learning!

Hi Cheree, I don't own a long arm but I've always been intrigued by pantographs. I love looking at the patterns and trying out ways to make parts of them wwith free motion quilting. I'm sure that using pantographs, like everything else, takes a lot of practice. I especially liked what you said about having problems quilting different shapes. It's like our hand just never thought of doing that kind of motion. I've had a bit of luck trying to associate the pattern with something else or find other ways to draw a design so that eventually I get it. Thanks for a very informative post. Take care.
dq said…
I am typically not a Pantagraph fan because I prefer custom quilting. That said, I don't quilt by profession and only do my own quilts these days. While I don't have a way to Pantagraph on my quilting system, I can still be inspired by them. Elements can be free handed. As I browese the internet, I gave come to love the overall look Pantagraph make!
Kate said…
That's a lot of information packed in one post. I don't do my own quilting yet, but I day I hope to have enough space to set up a longarm when I retire.