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Pantographs - How to Choose a paper roll Panto for Beginners

If you're new to longarm quilting--or if you are a beginner when it comes to stitching out paper roll pantograph designs--this article is for you!

There's never been a better time to be a longarm quilter. There are so many longarm quilting machines, products and fabulous pantograph quilting designs available to choose from. At the same time, you need to slow down and really think about this before spending a small fortune on paper roll pantos because it's very easy for beginners to be seduced by complex, complicated designs.

Do you want to reduce your frustration and disappointment while you learn?
We humbly offer the following suggestions for your consideration.

As a beginner, when you look at or consider choosing a pantograph design, start with the overall size of the design. The size should be indicated in the product's name or within the "more information description". Designs may as small as a couple inches or may be 16 inches or more. Now, you must consider your machine's throat space. If your machine has a 12 inch throat space, there is no way you can use a 16 inch design. In fact--depending on the size of your quilt--if your machine has a 12 inch throat space you "may" not be able to even do an 8" design because you will have to account for the quilt rolled on the bar within the throat space and the amount of space it will take up as you proceed to quilt-roll-quilt-roll-to the end of your quilt.

Next, really look at the panto design you are considering. If the design is very dense (lots of closely-spaced quilting lines that need to be very precise in order for the design to look good), or if it has lots of sharp points or spikes, and/or if it has lines that need to precisely backtrack over each other, it's going to be much more difficult to follow. We recommend beginners choose designs that will build their confidence instead of contributing to their frustration and disappointment.

Just like anything else, as your confidence and skills increase, you will be able to start using more complicated and intricate designs. There simply is no substitute for practice, practice, practice in the beginning when it comes to using paper roll pantos. Want an easy to follow design? Choose one that is larger--but still can be accommodated by your machine's throat space--and one that is more open, flowing (without a lot of directional changes) and simple.
Here are some design/complexity examples to consider:

Example: Simple / Very Easy Design
This panto design is 4.5" x 144".

If you have small amount of machine throat space or if you want a very simple all over, this is a great beginning design.

Notice how the design is very simple, repetitive, flowing and open. There is no "interlocking" from row to row.

Click here for a closer look at Jessica's Ripples by Jessica Schick

Jessica's Ripples Paper Roll Pantograph
Example: Easy All Over Design
This panto design is 9" x 144".

Notice how none of the lines touch. This design is basic, very open and flows easily. Also notice how the rows do not "interlock" but they do (in places) appear to come closer to each other than in the example above.

Non-interlocking designs are easier for beginners as risk of overlap quilting is reduced.

Click here for a closer look at BAM by Jessica Schick

BAM! paper roll quilting panto
Example: Easy All Over, Slight "Interlocking" Design
This panto design is 10" x 144".

This is a great overall design that gives you good, flowing, whimsical loops.

Notice how the rows on this design "interlock". More attention to placement is required as you advance your quilt in order to keep spacing good from row to row and prevent overlap stitching.

Click here for a closer look at Seamless by Sarah Ann Myers

 Seamless paper roll pantograph
Example: Moderate, More Detailed & Dense
This panto design is 14" x 144".

Look at the complexity and detail in this design. Notice areas where backtracking or close-to backtracking is required (fox's body and tail, body of the bunny, etc.). While this panto is not deeply interlocking, there are a few places where the row reaches slightly into the next row. There are also quite a few spikes and points.

Example: Difficult, Complex, Deeply Interlocking Design
This panto design is 16" x 144".

If you don't have a huge throat space, this design won't even work with your machine.

Notice there's lots of interlocking and backtracking in this very dense quilting design.

Click here for Curly Feathers by Jessica Schick
 Curly Feathers paper roll pantograph
Main Take-aways:

Simple, open designs can be beautiful too! Remember, when you remove unnecessary frustration from the equation and allow yourself to learn on easier designs, you will have more energy to focus on other aspects (thread tension, quilt staying flat and keeping wrinkles out) and you will enjoy the entire process so much more. Be patient with yourself. When you enjoy the process, you will practice more. When you practice more, you will get better. When your skills get better, you can increase the complexity of designs and stitch them out with much less frustration and much more joy. Who doesn't want less stress and more joy in their life?

The difficult and complex designs above are stunning when stitched out and they are great "goals" to set. BUT, instead of trying them before you've developed the skills required, we strongly recommend putting time in on easier designs that will help you both develop your skills and enjoy the process as you learn.

Compare panto quilting to learning how to swim. Some people learn to swim by being thrown in to the deep end of the pool, lake or middle of the ocean. Will some people will learn to swim this way? Yes, it's possible. Will it be pretty? NO! Will it be easy? NO! Will it be fun? For most people, no...this is not a fun way to learn how to swim. It is quite traumatizing! Is it even possible some people may start to drown, need to be rescued and never attempt to swim again by using this method? Yep.

Now, contrast "being thrown in to the deep end" to learning how to swim by receiving proper instruction and learning at your own pace. You build confidence. You receive support from peers and a qualified instructor who has your safety and best interest at heart. You have a GREAT chance for success and enjoying the process as you learn. Without being traumatized.

Starting with pantos that are appropriate to your own personal level and those that reinforce your abilities while practicing (daily when possible) will provide gradual skills improvements which will build your confidence.


When you enjoy the process, you will practice more. It goes without saying that when you practice more, you will get better. Take your time, be kind to yourself, make the required efforts, practice, practice, practice and build a good foundation for yourself. You are worth the time and effort it requires. So are your quilts!

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