I have done 99% of all my quilting on my home domestic sewing machine. Although I have always dreamed about having my own long arm machine, my current circumstances (money and space) limit me from having one. I am fine with that because I can already do so many things on my current machine.
Generally, people always seem so impressed that I can quilt such huge quilts on my tiny machine. It does take some maneuvering, but it is totally possible.
Here are some tricks and methods that I use.
1. Have a big table or a big space to have the quilt lay on to the left of your machine. The bigger the space the better. When the quilt hangs off the table, it pulls on where you are sewing and it makes it more difficult to move the quilt around and wrestle into place. I have a long desk that provides some space. If I need more space, I move to my kitchen table and have my machine sit as far to the right as possible. Any quilt that is forward of the machine rests in my lap so it doesn't go very far, or pull too hard. I also have an extension table on my machine.
2. Make the roll. I pick a portion, square, or line I am going to work on, then I roll up everything to the right of that very tight so it can fit in the throat of my machine. For really big quilts there are clips you can buy that help hold these rolls in place. I have also safety pinned it all together.
Depending on how tight you make the roll, the batting, and how big the quilt is, you can put a lot of quilt in the throat of your machine. The quilt I am working on here is about 80 inches square. I did not roll it very tight and there is still a lot of room to move around. I am using Warm and Natural batting.
3. Make sure the other 3 sides of your section are free to move. I use a technique that is similar to Paula Reid's Fluff and Stuff Method. I fluff, or make sure the areas around the area I am working on, are free to move.
4. Make sure all around the area you are quilting on are smoothed down. If it is all lumpy, you will end up with bunching in the front or back. Part of this too, is making sure the quilt is basted together securely. I pin baste my quilt together every 4-5 inches. When I am ready to work on a section, I make sure everything is smooth, then take out those safety pins right before I sew.
5. Hand placement. As shown in the pictures, I place both my hands on the surface to help direct the fabric where is needs to go. I am free motion quilting in this picture so I need to be prepared to go all directions. Sometimes, if the quilt is too heavy or I am having a hard time moving it, I will grab a handful of the quilt about a foot away to help move things around. Be careful when doing this, because this could mess with the stitches if you are not careful.
6. Quilting gloves are also helpful for providing grip and reducing arm fatigue. I am not wearing any in these pictures but I have a pair of Machinger's gloves that work really well. I have also heard the $1 gardening gloves with the grips on them work really well too.
7. Take breaks. This can be a work out to move large quilts around. Work until you are tired. Then take a break, and come back to it later. Even if I have a lot of time on my hands, it might still take me a week or two to quilt a large quilt because I only work on it for a couple hours each day.
8. When I am not working on my quilt, I leave the needle in the quilt if I need to save my spot. I also pile the quilt up onto the table so I keep the roll in it, and it won't pull against the machine and land on the floor.
I hope these tips help you! Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.
Have fun quilting!