Checklist for choosing a longarm quilting machine

April 21, 2015

longarm quilting machine, APQS, lifetime warranty, stitch regulator, throat space, customer service

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 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.

If you’re considering buying a longarm machine, use this checklist to choose the right machine for you.

Keep it Simple, Sweetie!

You don’t want to dig out a complex manual every time you’re ready to stitch your next quilt. Look for simple, one-touch fingertip controls, an easy thread path and tensioner, easy maintenance and smart table design to make loading and quilting your quilts. Be a quilter, not a mechanic.

Warranty, Warranty, Warranty.

Quilting isn’t going away any time soon—besides, you’ve still got all that fabric to use up in your stash! That’s why the warranty on a quilting machine should be super important to you. You want that machine to last for a lifetime of quilts and quilt-making. You don’t want keep throwing money into a quilting machine—you just want to quilt! A lifetime warranty fills the bill.

Stitch Regulation makes you a rock star quilter.

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. A quality stitch regulator should give you consistent stitches the minute you begin moving the machine, with crisp, sharp points whenever you change quilting direction—no long stitches while the regulator “catches up” with you.

Test-drive any machine you are considering and carefully examine the stitches for consistency. 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.

How big is big enough?

The sewing head size that you choose will affect the “quiltable space” you have. For example, small mid-arm quilting machines with throat spaces of 18″ or less can limit the size of a block or quilting design that you can do. 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.

Choose at least a 12-foot long table to do king-size quilts. Ten-foot tables will do queen size quilts. Quilts are heavy when they’re rolled on to a quilting frame. Look for solid, single-piece rollers that will not sag like rollers with joints in the middle or your quilt will not stay square. Make sure the quilt won’t eat up valuable quilting space in the throat as it collects on the quilt pick up roller. Tables with four bars position the pick-up roller in the deepest part of the machine’s throat to maximize quiltable space and keep it consistent from beginning to end. The fourth bar (often called a leveler bar) keeps your quilt flat and level inside the throat.

What else is important?

Customer Service. Period. Next question?

Seriously, you’re investing in something that should last you a lifetime. So should the support. Check out the company’s Facebook page and website. What are others saying about the company’s service and support? Join their user forum and ask questions of current owners. Are they happy with the service they receive? Would they buy that machine again?

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!