What to look for when buying a used quilting machine

March 17, 2015

With the surge in machine quilting, many home sewing machine manufacturers have attempted to build their own version of a longarm machine with very mixed results. Savvy consumers in the market for a quilting machine know that sewing machines and quilting machines are certainly not built alike. Those differences become even more apparent if you’re looking to invest in a used quilting machine.

If you’d like to add a longarm to your studio, don’t waste your time or money on machines that were never designed to withstand the rigors of long-term, heavy-duty use. You’ll even find huge differences in quality among companies purportedly building “industrial” quilting machines. If a company’s only been in business a few years, or if they just started producing a “longarm” machine, be extra diligent in evaluating the quality, performance and durability.

Quilting machines must have the power to sew at constant and varied speeds for hours on end, while maintaining the precise timing necessary to provide a beautiful stitch as the machine moves rapidly across a quilt. A quality machine will do this not just in the first month or the first year. A quality machine built to industrial standards should keep performing for decades − stitch after stitch, quilt after quilt. That is the kind of company you want to work with if you’re in the market to buy a used quilting machine!

Start by looking at a company’s “new machine” warranty. If the company believes in their quilting machine and its quality, that will show in the length of their warranty. A company that offers a lifetime warranty on new machines expects those machines to last and last, and they are willing to stand behind each and every one they build. That means you can look at a used machine from that same company with confidence about its performance − even if it’s not brand new.

Check out the company’s warranty on used machines as well. Are you forced to buy it “as is” or will the company stand behind their used products with a warranty? Next consider the company’s reputation for service and support. Will you receive the same level of support whether you buy the used machine from the company or another person, or will you be left to fend for yourself if you have problems or questions?

Find out more about the company’s reputation in general. Have they been in business a long time? Are they respected in the industry? What do current machine owners have to say about the company? Ask current owners about their experiences with their own machines. Would they buy their model again? How do they feel about the quality of their machine, the company’s support, education and service? What made them buy from that company in the first place? Quilters are pretty honest and will not hesitate to tell you what they love about their machines, as well as what they’d love to change.

Be wary of models that are readily available in the “used market” or are exceptionally low-priced. That’s a telltale sign that the machine’s quality is substandard, or that the machine didn’t meet the quilter’s needs or expectations. The adage “you get what you pay for” definitely applies to longarm quilting machines. Quality longarm machines tend to hold their value for a long time, and quality doesn’t come at bargain-basement prices.

Here are some things to evaluate if you want to make a sound investment in a longarm quilting machine that will last for you:

  1. How sturdy is the frame? Do the rollers have a joint where they can sag over time or bend under the weight of a large quilt, or are they all one piece?
  2. Is the machine clean, oiled and well-maintained? Are there signs of rust or excessive wear? Is it complicated to maintain, which could mean the previous owner took shortcuts in its maintenance?
  3. How does the machine sound when it’s running? Does the motor labor as it stitches or does it sound smooth?
  4. How does the machine move on the table? Does it glide easily or does it fishtail, wobble or bind on the table?
  5. How do the stitches look? If the used machine has a stitch regulator, are the stitches consistent along the entire quilting line, or do they vary in length − especially in and out of points or direction changes?
  6. Is the machine easy to thread, adjust the tension, and simple to operate? Are the stitches pretty?
  7. Will the machine’s table and throat size accommodate the largest quilts you make, and will it fit larger quilting designs or pantograph patterns, or will you quickly outgrow it?
  8. If you’re thinking of quilting for others besides yourself, can the machine’s mechanical and electrical components handle the additional stress and wear beyond part-time quilting?
  9. If you do have a problem with the machine, does the company offer direct support and help for second-hand owners, or are you on your own?

As with any major investment, it pays to do your homework. Visit the company’s website, social media sites and user or owner forums to learn all you can about the machine you’re considering. Getting a quilting machine is not an impulse buy. Let the company know you’re interested in their used models so that they can alert you if one becomes available that would suit your needs. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether your budget is built for a new machine or a used machine. Choose a company you can trust and you’ll make the right choice for you!