Quilting Machines- How do they work?

May 26, 2015

APQS, longarm quilting, longarm machine, George, Lenni, Millennium, Millie, Freedom, Freddie, Lucey

Have you heard about quilting machines but are unsure what all the fuss is about or how they even work? Most everyone knows the basic function found in a domestic sewing machine. There is a needle and a motor that drives the needle up and down using a foot pedal. Thread moves with the needle to sew fabric together as the user sits in front of the machine guiding the fabric.

Of course, that is a very simplistic version of how a domestic sewing machine functions. They can also have hundreds of decorative stitches, extraordinary embroidery abilities, and sometimes you’ll feel like you need a PhD to figure out how to use it! They can be very complicated. Those simple straight stitch machines our grandmothers used back in the day have changed dramatically.

A quilting machine is a bit of a throwback to the simple straight stitch machines of yesteryear – just much, much bigger. A quilting machine offers one stitch and one stitch only – the straight stitch. It doesn’t have a needle that moves left or right of center and there are no feed dogs. The beauty of a simple quilting machine is its size, its powerful motor and the unique way the quilter moves the machine over the fabric.

Quilting machines are BIG – but that is exactly why we love them. Our quilting machines offer an opening, or throat, that is either 20 inches long, for George and Lenni, or 26 inches long, for Millie, Freddie or Lucey.

That giant opening allows quilters to easily manipulate even massive king sized quilts through the machine with ease. It is exceedingly difficult to shove the bulk of a quilt through the opening of a regular sewing machine. It can take a tremendous toll on the body and reduce the joy of quilting projects. Using a quilting machine with a large throat not only takes the pressure off your body but it also opens up your creative choices.

Stand-up quilting machines are mounted on wheels to a track located on a long table that is 10, 12 or 14 foot long and around 5 ½ foot wide. The quilt’s layers are attached to different poles on the table which position the quilt sandwich in the throat of the machine so it can zoom around the table allowing for unimpeded access to stitch the layers of the quilt together- all without needing to call the chiropractor when you are done!

Think of a stand up quilting machine as a giant doodling device on wheels. However, instead of using a pencil or pen, we are using thread. Instead of using paper, we are using fabric. The machine has handles that allow the sewer to move the machine over the quilt’s layers with the wheels and “doodle” any design under the sun. You can even add a computer and allow it to drive the machine robotically while you enjoy a cup of tea and dream about your next quilt top!

The quilting machine offers a “stitch regulator,” which is a device that monitors the movement of the machine and electronically regulates how fast or slow the motor drives the needle up/down to ensure that all of your stitches are the same size. In this way, the machine focuses on the mechanics of making good, even stitches. You focus solely on the designs and motifs you want to express through the movement of the machine over the fabric. Simply put, a quilting machine is a creative partner that gives you the freedom to express yourself through fabric and thread with incredible ease.

While a quilting machine is nothing more than a massive straight stitch machine on wheels, don’t think for a moment that your creative possibilities are limited in any way. Imagine “painting” with threads simply by changing colors and moving the machine to shade or draw designs. Imagine quilting through leather, appliqueing with wool or silk to make unique fiber art. Imagine sewing through wash-away stabilizer mounted to the poles with a variety of fibers which leaves behind ethereal garments, scarves and other delicate artistic creations.

Yes, a quilting machine will help you make amazing quilts but a quilting machine can also be an artistic tool that you can use for any number of projects.

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Angela Huffman is an APQS dealer and the owner of Quilted Joy Studio in Louisville, Kentucky