Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Freestyle Quilting Frame

After taking delivery of my UK-made Freestyle quilting frame at the end of June, I have finally got around to putting it together. The following is an initial review - obviously I haven't begun to use it in any significant way yet, but I have assembled it, completed one practice cot quilt size top, and started meandering on a 'real' cot quilt.

These are the pieces as delivered. The frame is strongly constructed from quality materials. In fact the metal runners are so strong that in the accompanying instruction video you can see the frame in use and only supported at either end by trestles. The wooden pieces are of high quality wood, all well finished and completely smooth, and a large amount of pre-assembly has been done prior to delivery.

Now that the frame is together, I can say that it is not complex and I should not have any trouble putting it together a second time in the future. However, I had extreme difficulty putting it together the first time, largely because of inadequate instructions. Assembly instructions are supplied in two forms: a work-in-progress video (your choice of cd or dvd) which has chapter captions but no sound, and shows the frame being assembled and then loaded with a quilt top; and a one-sheet printed set of assembly instructions with small photographs. I had three main problems: firstly, the frame as supplied to me is obviously a later evolution and is not the same as the prototype pictured on either the printed instructions or in the video. Secondly, there appears to be no way to pause or stop the video on cd, forcing me to let it run full length repeatedly as I tried to figure out the finer details of assembly. I don't know what format it is in, but there are no controls provided for pausing or navigation, no key on the keyboard would pause it or make controls pop up, and Windows Media Player would not recognise the video format. Thirdly, the assembly instructions suffer greatly from 'must get it all onto one page' syndrome - the photographs are tiny and cropped so severely as to be almost useless. There is no sheet identifying the various components, which makes some of the references on the assembly sheet cryptic. Consequently the assembly, which on the video takes about 10 minutes, actually took me about five hours to get right. (At least, I think I've got it right)

It is a lot of little things, all of which could be solved with some close-up photographs. For example, when adding on the pivoting end pieces, it was not clear on which side of the wood the large washer should be placed. I put it on the inside - and it became clear later that this put the end piece slightly out of parallel with the base frame (because the spiral arm does have the large washer on the outside). So when I tried to adjust the height, my end piece was binding on the spiral arm's large washer, and actually chipped a bit of the wood off the bottom of the end piece. Another example would be that the rods have a specific right way up, which is to have the black handle down and the white plastic nub upwards in the support grooves. But you can't tell this from any of the instructions - it was my dh who pointed out that one end of the rods was lower than the other end. I'm still not sure where the side tensioning clips should be fastened on the frame - in the tiny photo in the instructions it looks like they may be hooked over a piece of wood which I don't have on my frame. I have hooked them instead over the white plastic rod, but that puts them off centre which seems strange. There are two more single sheets of instructions: one on loading the quilt onto the frame, which strangely is in a different order from how it is done on the video; and one showing how to adjust the height of the frame for your machine bed. I puzzled over the last one for some time and I am still not sure that I have it right, but the machine seems to be quilting alright.

When loading my machine onto the carriage (a Janome 6500) it became clear that I had another problem. The platform is not big enough to take my machine square on - the motor hits up against the handle and one foot is half off the platform. If I put the machine right over to one side, I can get it on at a slight angle but then the spool rest is preventing the machine from coming fully to the front of its platform (thus reducing the possible throat area on the machine since the platform steering handle support is in front of the actual machine throat).

The biggest problem has been the most unexpected - there is no allowance made, or mention of, where to put your foot pedal. When I tried out the frame at the Malvern quilt show, they were using the frame on two trestles, so of course the foot pedal cord could fall down behind the frame and the pedal come to the front. This obviously doesn't work on a table, unless you were on a very narrow table or have a very long foot cord. I have had to resort to improvising by tying my pedal onto the handle, which quickly tired out my left hand. Thinking of some of the other home frames I have seen at shows, some of which have a wooden trigger on the handle to push down on the pedal, I have now come up with this wooden stick arrangement to put leverage on the pedal, but it is still pretty unsatisfactory and prone to slipping off. I might try to suspend the cord on the stick to see if the pedal will reach down to the floor at the front. I have also had trouble a couple of times with the power cord at the back of the machine flipping up on the back runner and obstructing the machine carriage.

So what is it like to actually use? I found the action to be slightly heavy at first but I am getting used to it now. The system allows free movement of the machine in all directions, as it should. The handles are quite comfortable - or they would be if I didn't have the problem with the foot pedal level to squeeze. On my machine, I feel like I do not have good visibility of the needle unless I stand well back from the frame, because of the bulk of the machine head, so I find I am adopting a strange posture of standing well back and hunching my neck down to be able to see the needle, which grows uncomfortable over time. I guess if I had the frame on adjustable trestles like in the video, I could raise it to a more comfortable height.

I am having a bit of trouble because my table is not entirely level, and if I let go of the machine it wants to roll to the back and to the left. I am trying to prop the frame up with magazines and things but haven't got it right so far. That is just a problem with my table, and not the fault of the frame.

I ordered the six-foot rollers, and for some reason the leaders (the fabric 'tails' on the rollers) are different widths - the one on the back roller is 64 and 3/8th and the other two are near to 66 inches. So I guess 64 and 3/8th will be my maximum working width. It doesn't say this in the instructions, but it seems clear that the quilt back needs to be longer and wider than the top. Longer so that the top can be pinned onto the back below where the back pins onto the leader (so that you don't have two rows of pins on top of each other) and wider because otherwise the machine bed bumps into the side tensioning clip and disrupts the quilting. I have had several accidents with the needle hitting the back roller which is another reason for there to be a good gap between where the backing pins onto the leader and where the top starts. Once you have hit the back roller a few times, the needle clamp gets loosened and then the needle waggles and breaks (ask me how I know...).

Now that I have got going and am starting to learn all the quirks as above, the meandering is going well. I can see that it would save a lot of time, if you know what you are doing, compared to conventionally safety-pinning the quilt and free-motioning the normal way. I am pleased with the quality of the machine, and with the fact that I will be able to disassemble and store it easily (unlike some of the other dedicated home frame systems). I just need to do lots and lots more practice.

1 comment:

swooze said...

Wow. This is why I shy away from the home systems, all the fiddling and fussing. I will just observe for awhile and see how you make out. Congrats on getting it setup and going!

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