DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Look at the front of a quilt and you see colorful pieces of fabric arranged to make a pleasing work of art.

Step closer and you may see another type of art: stitches in the shape of stars, swirls or other patterns.

Increasingly, the stitching – or “quilting” – that attaches the front of a piece to the back with batting in between is getting increasing attention. Whereas quilters once stitched their own quilts by hand or by using a regular sewing machine, many now pay to have that work done by a specialist using a computerized, long-arm quilting machine that does things beyond what’s possible with either of the other two methods.

The Quad-City Times reports that long-arming is faster and, with a computer, can create literally thousands of different designs, pre-programmed or custom.

Among the Quad-Cities’ “long armers” is Dawn Thompson, of rural Davenport, who bought her 14-foot machine three years ago.

You can see her work and that of other area quilters on Friday-Saturday, Sept. 16-17, when the Mississippi Valley Quilters Guild presents its first show in four years at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, 2815 W. Locust St., Davenport.

The show will include 400 quilts, vendors, second-hand treasures, demonstrations, appraisals, a raffle quilt, gift basket raffles and charity auctions. Featured quilters are Beulah Spaulding and Gloria Kloos.

Normally the guild presents a show every other year, but the 2020 event was canceled because of COVID-19. Quilters like Thompson are ready for the show with pent-up enthusiasm. “Once it gets in your skin, it’s like you can’t get rid of it,” Thompson said of her hobby. She is entering eight items.

Not every quilter becomes a “long armer” for several reasons, beginning with the cost of the machines, which can range from about $2,000 on up to $40,000. The machines also take up a lot of space. Thompson’s is so large that delivery people had to thread it through an egress window to get it into her home’s lower level. And, this type of quilting is a specialty that not everyone who makes a quilt wants to take the time to master.

For Thompson, though, it’s a joy, and a visitor can sense that as she explains how her machine works. Her words flow faster and with more detail. She demonstrates how all layers of a quilt are placed on rollers so that they can be sewn at the same time and how once everything is set up, including the computerized pattern, she can literally walk away and the machine will keep quilting, moving the needle but not the fabric.

Thompson’s machine holds about 1,300 patterns, and with a press of a button, she can make them larger or smaller to fit the space. “It’s amazing what you can do with these programs,” she said. “It’s fun to experiment with it all.”

Long-armers typically charge customers 1.5 to 5 cents per square inch, depending on complexity. It’s important that their work be of high quality because when a quilt is judged in competition, the “quilting” – as opposed to the “piecing” on the front — is one of the criteria.

In addition to long-arming, Thompson pieces quilts for herself, friends and family, and she also is among more than a dozen guild members who make Quilts of Valor to be awarded to service members and veterans. In addition, she makes quilts given to charity, and she is among quilters who contributed work to the show’s raffle quilt.

Long-arming, though, has really caught her fancy.

“It’s still a hobby for me,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d enjoy this as much if I had to do it.”

The name for her business? Endless Joy.