How to Recover from a Longarm Quilting ‘Mistake’

I have some great mentors in the quilting world. I also take on the opportunity to learn from as many other quilters and quilts that I see at shows, shops and wherever else they pop up.

One mentor told me that as soon as I decided I didn’t like the pattern I was quilting to STOP IMMEDIATELY, because otherwise I would have to do the entire quilt with that pattern, no matter how painful or tedious the experience.

Another mentor told me, if you make a mistake three times while quilting (meaning variation from the pattern you wished to quilt) then it was not a mistake, it was now part of the pattern.

Both of those bits of advice are quite sound, and I’ve learned my lessons, sometimes the hard way. But I am happy to tell you that if you think you want to do a certain stitch in an area and DO change your mind, all hope is not lost.

In this particular quilt, I was throwing random feathers into the background, to break up the background quilting and add interest, like in this block below (and around it).

random feathers

random feathers

I had decided to put some within this block. After quilting two feathers in there, I didn’t like the scale, nor that they didn’t look similar enough to belong where I put them. They either needed to be ‘same’y or totally intentionally random, and they were neither. I realized they needed to be removed and the space refilled with the background cover.

So began Operation Unsew:

starting to pull threads

starting to pull threads

This can be tricky, ESPECIALLY if the thread very closely matches the background fabric. If your tension is off, sometimes you can clip a thread (usually underneath the quilt) and remove a long string all at once. But when your tension is good, you have to move very carefully and slowly.

mostly done

mostly done

Bit by bit I clipped a thread and used my sharp, small, curved embroidery scissors to pick the thread out from the lock it had with the bobbin thread. When I can, I clip the bobbin thread and the top thread pulls out a bit easier for a short distance. Those start/stop points are the worst!

thread out, shadow remains

thread out, shadow remains

Finally having all the thread out, we have what remains above. Perhaps a mere shadow of what once was, I needed it to be a disappearing act from what it once was!

Tada!!!

clean slate!

clean slate!

The trick? I use a spray bottle with ONLY water in it, give it a light spray, wipe my clean hand gently over the fabric and then give it 5 minutes to dry out. I’ve done this more than once and not had problems with color bleed, but I cannot guarantee to you that it will not occur. So be VERY careful if you need to use this method on fabrics you worry will bleed.

In the end, I was able to requilt the area and I can’t even tell where the previous stitches were. 🙂

corrected block

corrected block

There was only the evidence below…

mess on the floor afterwards

mess on the floor afterwards

I would not recommend this as an option if your needle wasn’t sharp or if your backing is batik. You COULD use it, but often a dull needle will poke holes through the fabric on back and you may be able to hide the evidence of the crime above, but the tale will be told below! With batiks, the weave of the fabric is so tight, this often happens even with a sharp needle. Check your backing carefully to see if this IS an option, if you find yourself in a position such as mine.

I hope this has helped out any of my quilty friends with ‘mistakes’ that occur. Happy quilting – may your errors be small!

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2 thoughts on “How to Recover from a Longarm Quilting ‘Mistake’

  1. And it only takes 2 minutes to create an hour’s worth of unstitching! I have a “finished” quilt. While I was binding it, I realized there was one smallish section for which the back tension was bad. Of course it was bad on top, too, but it shows most on the back. I’m still trying to decide whether I should pick it all out (only from that section!), reload the quilt, and requilt it.

    • That is THE TRUTH!!!!! A horrible, horrible truth. It took me more than an hour to pull out those stitches. I’ve had tension issues as well, but I’ll try anything before unquilting anything! I most often deal with knots of top thread on the backside. I locate them, use the non cutting side of my scissors (or a pick with no cutting edge) to pull the excess thread up and then pull at the stitches around where the excess thread comes up to dissipate the excess into the surrounding stitches, which makes it disappear. You can do the same with small areas of bad tension, but if it’s a large area, unfortunately you may have to just do it over. The good news is if you DO have to requilt it, you don’t have to do much pinning because the majority of the quilt is already together! 🙂

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