Loading a 3 Roller Hand Quilting Frame

Quilt Top on 3 Roller Hand Quilting Frame, quilts, TUTORIALS

tn_FreeVintageImagesofChristmasClipArt33_jpgI was asked by several to do a blog post on how I get a large quilt on my quilting frame.  As I was ready to put one on I thought I would blog about it.  This is a long post!

First off my hand quilting frame is not a Grace Frame or whatever brands are out there in quilt land so mine might work differently than those you might have seen.  My frame was hand crafted out of oak by an old gentleman near the Branson Missouri area about 12 to 15 years ago.  He had his own shop and some of us where lucky enough to purchase one before he passed away some years back.  The frame was his design so it is different from the Grace, Hinterburg – others?

This is how I load mine – as I say others might do it differently – I follow the instructions that he gave me.

Press your quilt and fold it in half lengthwise – press on the half way mark and mark it with a wash out pen if you want to.

On my bars there are half way marks so I know where the centers of the leaders are.  The black mark is on all three rollers for the center.  On my quilt top I have it iron pressed and a blue mark for my center.


First I put my quilt top on the back bar pinning it to the cloth.  Then I roll it up, straightening it out as I go to make sure it is even and straight.


I continue to roll it and walk back and forth along the back of the quilt (by the wall) smoothing it out as I go and continue until it is all on the back roller.


It helps to drape the quilt over the rods and have it hanging as straight as you can to the floor – it helps with the flow of rolling.


The rollers are a “cog” type of roller system, with the latches down in the slots it locks in place.  With the “lock” up you can move the rollers.


When I get the top all rolled up on the back I pull some of it back out and pin it to the very front roller.  Then I roll it back and forth several times to make sure it is all straight and even.  Sometimes you only need to do this once, sometimes it takes several times to get it all straight.


This time I only had to roll back and forth once to get it all straight.  Now I roll it all back to the back roller and unpin from the front.


As you can see in this photo the quilt top is now on the back rod and out of my way so I can work on the batting and the back.  This morning was quilt group – we have a large room to work in so I brought my backing and batting with me. I placed my batting on the floor getting all of the wrinkles out and then placed my backing fabric on top of it.  This way I was able to make sure it was all straight and even.  I then folded it and brought it home.  You can load both pieces at once if you know what you are doing – otherwise you might need to load one at a time.  I pin both layers to the middle roller and now repeat the quilt top instructions.  Roll both layers on to the middle roller – walking back and forth in back of the frame I ease the wrinkles out and make sure it is loading smoothly as I roll.  I leave it draped over the front roller and have it as straight as I can so when I roll it = it will flow smoothly.


Once the backing and batting are all rolled to the middle roller you are ready to pull that section to the front roller and pin in place.  The “leaders” as I believe they are called have stripe fabric and were glued onto the rollers straight so it is best to use a stripe as your marker to pin the fabric to.


Here my batting and backing are rolled and pinned in place.  Now I do exactly as I do with the top – I roll it back and forth a couple times – loading all that is on the middle roll to the front and then back again just to make sure the wrinkles are out and that it is flowing right.  End with it all on the middle roller and lock in place.


Unlock the back roller that the quilt top is on and gently pull it to the front over the middle roller holding the backing and the batting (that is why you lock the middle roller to hold all in place).  I have this end of the quilt top marked also for the center and I start pinning it to the front roller.


Now on the sides of the quilt frame are pieces of fabric that you pin to the side of the quilt and tighten – this pulls the quilt tight on the frame with no wrinkles on the back or top.


The whole quilt on the frame – I haven’t decided what pattern I will be quilting on this large border as of yet.  I thought I had a stencil that fit it but then found out I never bought the corner section that goes with it!  I bought it when traveling once and doubt I can find it now so I will come up with something new.


This is the thread I will be using – I have 3 spools of it that I got on sale someplace – two will most likely be enough.  It is King Tut #917.  I won’t be starting on this quilt for a little bit – I need to figure out the border first.  I keep it tight while I draw the lines or design on and then I loosen it a little bit for the quilting –the needle glides though easier if it isn’t too tight.


I hope this helps those that are thinking of getting a 3 roller frame or those that aren’t sure how to use the one you have.  I do this by myself but it works easier and faster to have help.  I have been doing it for so many years now that one this size takes me about 75 minutes to load the quilt by myself.

EDITED: I should have mentioned that when I first got this frame it took me about 3 hours to get a queen size quilt on the frame – it gets much, much easier as you do it over and over again 🙂

(I am compensated for any purchases made through my links.)

29 comments… add one
  • Thank you! I always wondered how this worked for hand quilters. 🙂 Your top is beautiful! Have a happy weekend!

  • Yvette Dec 16, 2011

    That’s great! It would be a nice setup if I had the room. You could just stop and sew a little when you walk by.
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  • Deb Dec 16, 2011

    Thanks Karen that was most interesting and informative. I have just started )about a year) hand quilting at church with a group of ladies and I am thinking that something in the future I might want to get a frame to use at home.
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  • QuilttemplatesM Dec 16, 2011

    I was very interested to read about your quilt roller system. My wife Beverly has made many quilts during the 36 years we have been married, and they have almost all been hand sewn. I didn’t know you could get a roller system like yours, so all Bev’s quilts queen size, twin,baby or what ever have been done on quilting stands and boards. I have helped her roll up her quilts as she sews them many, many times. I have also helped her pin them on, tops, batting and backs. It can be tedious work, especially I think for us men. Thank you for an interesting and informative read.

  • What a great post! This is the closest I’ve been to a quilting frame and it’s fascinating to see how it works – thank you!
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  • Tonni Dec 17, 2011

    Thanks for the demonstration… I’ve been considering getting a frame, but the choices are so many that deciding on which one is daunting 🙂 I enjoyed your demonstration!
    Tonni recently posted…Swoon TwoMy Profile

  • CJ Dec 18, 2011

    Almost exactly like a longarm frame! That was fun to read Karen!
    CJ recently posted…It’s mostly installed!My Profile

  • Charlotte Dec 18, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this Karen; I’ll have to try loading mine this way. Usually by the time I get to the end, the top is getting loose. The instructions I have tell me to pin to the first roller to begin with.

  • Shawna Wilde Dec 28, 2011

    I wish I could find the instructions on how to assemble my quilting frame. I took it down about ten years ago and now I have no idea how to reassemble the many, many pieces.

  • Patra temple Oct 1, 2014

    Just love your quilt frame. Have been looking for a nice one similar to yours. Thanks for showing how you put your quilt into the frame. Very good info.

  • Janette Nov 3, 2014

    Thank you for the instructions. I inherited a 3 roller quilt frame and quilt top from my 93 year old Mother and now know how she set it up. She left 16 completed quilts and I have the unfinished one, I now will be able to complete her work! Very good explanations you have provided!

  • Marie Nov 19, 2014

    Thank You I have my grandmother’s frame and was unsure of how to load it. She passed away in Dec and I am ready to use it.

  • Vicky Pullen Jan 30, 2015

    Would it be possible to put a picture of the frame without a quilt on it. I would like to see it from all angles. I really would appreciate it. My husband would like to make me one like it for the ones you buy are so expensive and the ones you can afford are really cheaply made and this looks so incredible. Please help me out it would be greatly appreciated. Vicky Pullen

  • carol Feb 6, 2015

    I am ready to load a quilt onto a frame for the first time. Your blog has been very helpful.
    I am starting with a wall hanging, wish me luck.

  • Kathy Jul 21, 2015

    I am so happy to have found your blog! I have misplaced the instructions for loading a quilt on my 3 roller Hinterberg frame. Your frame is somewhat similar and your instructions were quite clear. Thank you, I think I’m reading to start loading!

  • Kathy prater Apr 12, 2016

    My aunt died and I purchased the quilt frame just about like yours from my uncle. They had taken it down and I had to figure out how to put it together and have been trying to put a quilt together on it for about a year, your instructions have been a big help. Thanks so much

  • Kim Purcell Sep 22, 2016

    I bought a 3 roller quilt frame several years ago. It was on sale. When I got it home …no instructions on how to load quilt! Thanks so much for the help

    • Karen Sep 23, 2016

      glad my instructions have helped I have had a few others say they have bought an old frame too with no instructions and had no idea how to start.

  • Ellie Jan 16, 2017

    I would love some close-up photos of the end from both sides, the holder for the side of quilt, and the top part that appears to have a cup for items in use. I have to guess it runs back & forth on the horizontal board. Thanks

    • Karen Jan 16, 2017

      I’m not exactly sure what all you mean you want photos of – but if you are a regular reader of my blog you will read that the quilting frame has been taken apart as of late last week as we are redoing the sewing room – if you look at some of my more recent post you might be able to see photos of the quilting frame in the areas that you want. It will not be put back together again for several months at least. Thanks for dropping by

  • Tina Mar 27, 2017

    I have a three pole beautiful quilting frame handmade from instructions from the Easy Build Quilting Frame Kit, Hinterberg Design. I would like to know what is its worth.

    Thank you,

  • Darla Jul 13, 2017

    My mom owned exactly this quilting frame, and what a lovely frame it is. Since I’m the only one of her daughters who is crazy enough to quilt by hand, it came to me when she passed. Unfortunately, in her last years her things were all in storage, and the poles and top board were lost somewhere along the way. Can you tell me how big the poles are so I can replace them? I understand that the gentleman who made these frames has also passed. Thank you for your help! I have a well-lit spot picked out in our new house where I would love to spend many hours making beautiful things on this frame.

    • Karen Jul 13, 2017

      my frame is all taken apart right now while we redo the sewing room so I have to put mine back together too! The long metal poles were lost? Yes Mr. Turney passed away some years ago now – I have one other reader who had the same quilting frame but hers was lost in a house fire. I will measure the poles this evening and write it all down and send you the info this evening – it is too hot to go to the workshop and get them out to measure! send you an email later — we took it apart really easily so I think it should go back together pretty easily too

  • Deb Aug 17, 2017

    Thank you for this tutorial. I just bought a “gently used” old style Grace Z44 with wooden rollers and no idea how to attach the quilt until I came here to your site.

    I am trying to understand, “Unlock the back roller that the quilt top is on and gently pull it to the front over the middle roller holding the backing and the batting (that is why you lock the middle roller to hold all in place). I have this end of the quilt top marked also for the center and I start pinning it to the front roller.”

    At this point, have you staggered the pinning of all 3 layers, or are they all even on the front roller? I thought the batting and backing have to be larger than the top. I can see the batting on the sides is larger.

    Thank you for this information. I’m excited to finally quilt my king size,105×105, Irish Chain. As daunting as all that white space is, I still would love to get started. I think working with stencils would be best but I have to trace the designs I want to use. They are partial designs that I’ve enlarged on the printer so that means I will have to trace before loading the top. Unless you know of another way. I’m concerned about the pre-marking disappearing, the way lightly penciled marks can, which is why stencils are probably more useful.

    Thanks again, your quilt is gorgeous 🙂

    • Karen Aug 18, 2017

      I’m sorry I am not quite sure what you are asking – the quilt top is locked in place on the back roller to keep it out of the way while I get the batting and backing in place on their rollers – when both the batting and backing are in place and secure you pull the quilt top over top of them and pin it in place so you are ready to quilt – is that what you wanted to know?
      I don’t usually pay any attention to if the pins are staggered or even – I just pin them, sometimes as I get everything pinned to the front leader I take some pins out of the way and use one pin to go through all three layers.
      the batting and backing are larger than the top – as you get more experience with knowing what you need you might not always be precise making the batting and backing being exactly the same size – you could of course so it is neat but I don’t always have them exactly the same but I “know” where they are on the sides.
      When it comes to marking with stencils we all do it differently and use different markers. I normally use a Mark B Gone blue wash out pen for light colors and a white chalk mechanical pencil for dark fabrics. I mark as I go usually – I do this by pulling the quilt taunt in the frame – draw on the design and then loosen the frame back up to do my quilting. I rarely ever draw my design on first but that is the way I do it. I usually mark in some way before I put the quilt on the frame where the half way point in on the sides and the quarter way – some times that is with a small dot with a marker that will be in the binding area so it will not be noticeable. Hope this answers your questions

  • Deb Aug 17, 2017

    Another question, my rollers which are squared don’t have sleeves on them. Can you suggest how I can make them, aka leaders?

    • Karen Aug 18, 2017

      the rollers have no fabric on them? Are your rollers wood or metal? well I guess that doesn’t make a difference. I will be making new leaders for my quilting frame when I put it back together soon when my sewing redo is done. I got some heavy fabric from Hobby Lobby that looks the same as the original (just different color) I will hem both sides then attach to the metal rods with rubber cement and use duck tape to tape it down as an extra to hold it in place

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