4 things to consider before buying a longarm quilting machine

August 23, 2016


APQS Freddie - Hero Image of Quilting Machine

Quilting as a hobby is thriving. Perhaps it’s because quilters have such huge fabric stashes! As we continue to churn out quilt tops, one fact becomes clear—we need to get them quilted!

Quilters are re-discovering the joy of stitching their quilts from start to finish, taking control over the entire creative process. Unfortunately, pushing a queen-size quilt through a small sewing machine throat can be tedious. If you like to machine quilt your projects, but are tired of fighting the space limitations of your domestic sewing machine, it may be time to consider adding a longarm quilting machine to your studio.

Innovations in longarm quilting machines, such as stitch regulators and simple table design, have made machine quilting easy, even for beginners. Technological advances have made these machines affordable for home use. If you are ready to investigate the possibility of a longarm machine, use these tips to help you with your search.

1. Should I get a stitch regulator?

If you have tried free-motion quilting on your sewing machine without a stitch regulator, you know how hard it can be to coordinate your hand movement and machine speed to create consistent stitches. Stitches can vary in length, and your tension is harder to balance.

APQS stitch-regulated quilting machines reduce your learning curve considerably by giving you the ability to move at a comfortable pace without worrying about your stitch length. Look for quilting machines that give you a range of stitch lengths so that you can simulate primitive stitches or create tiny heirloom stitches with equal precision.

A stitch regulator should give you consistent stitches the minute you begin moving the machine, with get crisp, sharp points when you change quilting direction. Test-drive any machine you are considering and carefully examine the stitches. During your test drive, stitch with and without the stitch regulator engaged. You should feel comfortable with the machine in both stitching modes, as well as with the quality of the stitches.

2. What size machine head is best for me?

The sewing head size that you choose will affect the “quiltable space” you have. For example, mid-arm quilting machines with throat spaces of 18″ or less may limit your quilting space. Take the table’s design into account to determine the actual space you’ll have to sew. Machines with 20″–26″ of throat space allow room for larger blocks, wider borders, and medallion quilts.

3. Which table do I need?

Since I quilt for other people, I purchased my longarm with a 12-foot table so that I could quilt king-size quilts. However, if you don’t anticipate making quilts that large, a 10-foot table will easily handle queen-sized projects.

The table’s design is even more important to your decision. It determines how much quilting space you are able to maintain as you progress through your project. Your quilt sandwich accumulates on a single bar commonly called a pick-up roller situated inside the sewing head throat.

On three-bar table designs, your quilt gets larger and larger on this pick-up roller, and begins to fill the usable space. You may find that your design choices are limited to small-scale pantographs or split motifs where you only quilt half of a block before advancing your quilt.

Four-bar systems position the pick-up roller in the deepest part of the machine’s throat to maximize quiltable space and keep it consistent. The fourth bar (often called a leveler bar) keeps your quilt flat and level inside the throat.

4. Other considerations?

As you shop for a longarm quilting machine, take time to research each machine and evaluate its quality, including the manufacturer’s customer service and warranty. Consider your space limitations, but keep the size of your projects in mind as you narrow your choices.

Today’s innovations have made quality longarm machines affordable, even for quilters who only want to quilt for themselves. But be careful—if you do buy a longarm quilting machine and your friends discover your secret, you may find yourself unexpectedly in business before you know it!