Ask Jo: How I Got Started Longarming -Part 1

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days. Today’s question is about longarming.

Sarah asked: “Loved your post!! How did you get started long arm quilting

Hmm. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. Years ago…likely in 1990 my husband and I were living in Chester, Iowa. He was working for Tom Nagel…Tom’s wife was Marcia. Some of you might know Marcia as the owner of Pine Needles Quilt and Sew in Rochester, MN.

While our husbands were working, Marcia and I would often slip away and go to quilt and crafting shops. At that time I was making clothes for my girls, Kelli and Kayla, and was cross-stitching.

Then one day I went home to visit my parents. My mom could tell the kids were a little overwhelming for me. I was only 24. I had three kids. Kelli was 3, Kayla was 2, and Buck was a newborn. I was overwhelmed.

Mom sent me to town and gave me her list of errands. She told me to stay in town longer if I wanted. I did the errands and when I was in the grocery store I saw this magazine…

I bought it because I had planned on making these…

Remember geese decor was so popular then…while others were making geese, I wanted cows. My husband worked on a dairy farm so it was an obvious choice for the times. I was decorating with cows and planned on making these.

Well fast forward a month or so… VERY unexpectedly at 61 years old, my mom died.

I was devastated. I never imagined losing my mom. I always expected my husband’s parents or my Dad would be the first to die. My mom seemed to be in great health.

In my grief, I kept going back to the day my Mom took my kids and gave me a break. I couldn’t get over how intuitive she was. She knew me so well. I can’t tell you how much I needed that day…and how thankful I was that she gave it to me. Back then, I had no idea as a young mom about what I needed.

I paged through that magazine many times. I finally decided I was going to make the quilt that was in the book…this one…

I really didn’t have much money. We were a young family. My husband was working for a farmer and I was staying home to take care of the kids.

I had a couple of pieces of bandana-type prints. I scrounged up some money and bought a couple of other prints that were similar. I bought them at Shopko in Rochester, MN (it’s long since closed).

All I needed was some white fabric. I happened to be at my Dad’s and was helping clean out a couple of mom’s things. I found an old white sheet and asked Dad if I could have it. He gave it to me and that became my quilt background.

I started making my first quilt…it was therapy for me. People jokingly say, “Quilting is my therapy”. Completely NOT joking…making this quilt was my therapy. I put so many memories of my mom into this. I caught myself crying time and time again as I made it. My mom was truly my best friend. I had a relationship with her like my girls have with me. She was the only one that “got me”. To this day I still cry over losing her. It’s a little easier nowadays because now she would have been 94 and likely would have been dead from something else. For years, I felt robbed. For years I heard people say things like, “Ya, I gotta go to my mom’s have help her” like it was some big burden. Man, I’d have done anything to have had to go to my mom’s and help her.

But…back to my quilt. I eventually got it done…well, I got the quilt top done. Here it is…

Lots of people can’t believe that this was my first quilt top. Please note. I was young and naive. I didn’t know curves were supposed to be intimidating. I came to it from a clothesmaker’s mind. I had sewn lots of my own clothes by that time in my life and the curves of the quilt block were really nothing different that sewing the sleeves of clothes.

I love the top…I love that a “hard” quilt was my first ever quilt top. Originally I thought I would hand-quilt it. HA!! Nope. I was young and thought that would be so easy. I thought I’d love doing it. I’ve tried to love hand-quilting a couple of times. I just don’t.

Sadly, I’ve never finished it. I asked Carla, my friend from Longarm Quilting Inspirations that is a professional longarmer, once if she would quilt it for me. After hearing the story, she told me she thought I better finish it myself. If I really want her to, she will but she thought I should do it…I totally understand why she said that, and…I just might do it one day.

The top is horribly stained. That sheet I used as a background just wasn’t the best choice. It was what I had and what I could afford at the time.


Well, it didn’t take me long to know that quilting is something I would really like. I loved the “therapy” part of quilting. I loved being taken away and having something else to think about. The process grabbed me and the finished product made me stay.

About then I saw this magazine hit the newsstand…and I bought it.

Marcia and I started doing more crafting and now started doing a bit of quilting. We hit up a few fabric stores…oh my word. The quilting bug was really catching. But I’m going to leave you right here and finish the story of how I got started longarming in tonight’s post… Stay tuned!!

9 thoughts on “Ask Jo: How I Got Started Longarming -Part 1”

  1. Susan from Michigan

    Love the story. I think maybe you should finish the quilt if it helps you have good memories of your mom. It is very difficult to handquilt through a sheet anyway, so a machine is much better!

  2. In March of 2021 I was diagnosed with cancer a 2nd time. There was a lot of testing before my treatment plan was finalized. This came April 30th, the day before my dad died. I had surgery 3 weeks later, and so many times quilting let me focus on something else for a few minutes during that time.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  3. Quilting is therapeutic! I’m a few years older than you Jo. My dad died when I was ten and I was looking through an old quilt pattern catalog ( 1920’s) of my paternal grandmother’s when I saw an embroidered basket with appliqued flowers quilt square pattern. I cut up and old white sheet into squares and made a basket pattern and embroidered it on the blocks. It took 6 years to make the top and then another 10 years to quilt it. I gave the quilt to my mother. Making that quilt helped me through the loss of my dad, junior high, high school, college, the early years of marriage, and the birth of my children. My mom gave me the quilt shortly before she died. It has so many memories.

  4. My first quilt was made with my mom. She lived in Asia and I took fabric and the idea of a pattern I wanted to make with me when I visited over Thanksgiving. It was very similar to yours. I didn’t know the curves were supposed to be hard either (although sleeves and zippers still annoy me). My next quilt was yellows and blues. Then I saw a beginner quilter magazine that said to wait for curves and yellows until you were more confident. Too late! I am my mom’s 24/7 “nurse” now and we both enjoy reminiscing about the quilts we’ve made. My sewing area is a great break for me while she rests.

  5. I love this story! Both my grandmothers sewed but my mom hated sewing and “old” quilts – she only mended. I only saw my grandmothers several times a year so I am self-taught. I finally found a cousin-in-law 3 years ago that shares my love and we talk and talk. Reading these comments and your blog make my heart soar! I have my mom’s old Elna – no one wanted it when she passed. An older cousin handed me “this ‘ol machine of grandma’s” 3 years ago at a family reunion when she learned of my quilting. It is a 1930’s Singer clone that had been sitting in her basement for decades. I did a little cleaning and fed her some oil and she purrs. I have it set up across from my mom’s old Elna and I talk to both of these dear souls as I create quilts on their machines to gift or give away from the three of us. Therapy? Absolutely!

  6. Such a good story and yes, so many people do’t realize how much a mother is missed until she is gone. No matter what age I think a mother is so missed – especially by a daughter. I really like the quilt!

  7. I also had 3 children by the time I was 24. It was different having all of them in diapers, no dryers at that time, I hung them in the basement during the winter. I embroidered blocks for a baby quilt and then hand quilted it. I mainly sewed clothes so I wouldn’t haven’t blinked at your first quilt either. You can soak that top in blue Dawn dish soap and I expect the stains will come out but I’d put some fabric catchers in it first. I do a great deal of restoring old quilts I’ve bought and there are many products to use besides Dawn. Whites that are stained work great with Walmart dry dishwasher detergent. Read Rhonda Dort on Facebook about her methods of cleaning linens.

  8. I love hearing your early quilt stories, along with your current projects. Like you, I love scrappy quilting and thrifting!
    For the stains on your first quilt top, if the stains won’t come out, maybe tea-dyeing would be an option? You’d lose the bright white, but it might have a neat vintage look, and some tea-dyeing is said to be permanent, even through washing.
    Thank you for sharing windows into your life in your blog!

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