Pantographs, Good or Bad for the Newbie?

My adventure in longarm quilting took off in 2004, and at that time I longed to be able to stitch out a pantograph.  Alas, I did NOT seem to have any talent for producing a  pantograph.  I was totally “Pantograph Challenged” which was a blessing, unbeknownst to me, in disguise.  But during that time period it was sadly, quite clear pantographs  and Lisa weren’t going to be friends.


My inability to stitch a panto forced me to initiate my work from the front of my machine.  It became apparent if  I wanted any of my designs to come alive on fabric I would need to start the process off this way.  I took baby steps, to begin it was just a meander.  Next I incorporated stars, loops, and hearts to this meander.  As my baby steps grew, the strides in designs grew.  Over time I was no longer taking steps; I was running!  My confidence finally paved the road to implementing feathers, feathers flew into custom, custom brought about stitch in the ditch…and so on, and so on, and so on.unknown-27

Being “Pantograph Challenged” was fate.    I truly believe that piece of my quilting journey drove me to become the quilter I am today.  If creating pantos had been smooth sailing from the get go I often wonder where I might be now.


So this raises a question to many quilters:  Are Pantos a Good Place to Start?

They aren’t  necessarily a bad place to begin.  I encourage my students to become more familiar and comfortable standing in front of the machine, rather than behind the machine.  Starting in the front of the machine will help in a couple of ways:

  • Gaining insight and understanding regarding “proper balance”.  Was the quilt evenly quilted or did it become smaller and tighter on one side?
  • Hearing the sound of the machine when things go awry.  With some machines the sound changes, (i.e tension) In addition, being positioned in front of the machine will provide the ability to  SEE the stitches. Obviously having a visual will allow immediate access to viewing issues.

After about a year, I became proficiently decent at pantos.  I vividly recall completing an entire row of quilting, only to spend an unpleasant amount of time ripping out the that row due to tension issues. Yes, I had heard the machine, it sounded a little different.  Yes, I chose to ignore it.   And yes, I ultimately paid the price for my lazy choices. What took 15 minutes to establish, took 3 hours to eliminate.  That most definitely was not  a good quilting day.

Are you new to your machine?  If so I would ask you to consider working from the front of your machine for a couple of months prior to diving head first into attempting any pantos from behind.  Then let me know how the transition went.


15 thoughts on “Pantographs, Good or Bad for the Newbie?

  1. Great article Lisa! I too am born to quilt in the front of the machine, but I did take the time to get proficient in pantographs for 2 reasons; first most of my customers can’t afford the price point of custom work so pantographs very customer friendly when it comes to price. Secondly I wanted to get over my fear of manual mode vs. regulated and I found the courage to use the manual mode on my machine when doing pantos. Of course it saves a little time and I found the fluid motion of manual made the pantographs look much better…just my pennies worth ;-).

  2. I would disagree with your statement about not being able to produce pantographs Lisa. My friend and I love your “Raindrops” pantograph and are seriously considering having it laminated. We are going to wear it out and she keeps borrowing mine. It is now out of print and we can’t find another copy anywhere… 🙂

  3. When I first started quilting, I started at the front of my machine, like you did. I did one panto on a customer’s charity quilt and found that pantos weren’t for me. I didn’t have any problems with the stitching…but how the heck do you start the panto at the back and hold on to the threads in the front??!! I have never tried another panto…I like to see what is going on when I’m quilting. My longarm does have an attachment I could buy so I could do pantos from the front, but I would much rather just dance with my machine to my own inner music.

  4. Lisa, I started out with meandering until my 3rd quilt which was a QOV. I dove into custom at that point and after a few months of custom went to pantos. I still don’t like doing pantos and have not done any for the past 3 yrs. They are a learning experience and some people love them since they are safe…I’d rather have the challenge of custom!

  5. Just got my machine in Dec. Tried one pantograph and can already tell we aren’t going to be friends. I did my “own thing” next and felt much better and I even think the design is more balanced. I had issues lining up the next row and having it come out looking cohesive. I, too, didn’t like walking around after locking my stitches and bringing my thread up.

  6. I feel when “the norm” isn’t your style, the world becomes a better place as you seek out your own style and that inspires others to do the same or gives them another option to think about or incorporate into their own style.

  7. I purchased a longarm a few months ago and didn’t like doing pantos. I had tried it with a mid arm and when I looked at it, I was wondering how much wine I’d had to drink…the answer none, but it looked like I’d had a couple bottles. It might take a little longer to learn how to quilt from the front side, but I’m liking it much better.

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