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Thread: What are the requirements in purchasing a Long Arm Quilting machine

  1. #1
    Junior Member frecklestweety's Avatar
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    What are the requirements in purchasing a Long Arm Quilting machine

    I have a Bernia 440 quilter's edition sewing machine and still have not mastered quilting on it. Is it easier with a long arm quilting machine since you don't have to move fabric???. I realize the cost difference in a long arm but not sure what to look for in a long arm. Which company has the best reputation........ I usually send out my large quilts and try to do the small ones on the Bernia but get frustrated in handling all the material.
    Would appreciate some feedback.

  2. #2
    Super Member leatheflea's Avatar
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    Id suggest that you find several different dealers and test drive them. Quilt shows usually have a few longarm dealers set up and ready for you to test. Its easier on the body using a longarm. But not easier to draw. Buying a longarm will not make you a quilt artist I found that out real quick. Of course if you got money to burn you can get one that will even do the quilting for you!

  3. #3
    Power Poster Prism99's Avatar
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    It is a lot easier for me to quilt with my midarm than it was pushing a quilt through my domestic machine. If you have not mastered free motion quilting on a domestic machine, you will have a learning curve with a longarm. However, if you get one with a stitch regulator, that learning curve will be quite short.

    What I did is buy a used Voyager 17 with Hinterberg stretch frame from a fellow quilt guild member who advertised her setup for sale. She wanted to upgrade to a setup with more bells and whistles, common among longarmers so there are often good used setups for sale. Mine does not have a stitch regulator (I will want to add one when I decide to do ruler work) and cost $3,000 total; however, someone on the board found a similar setup near Chicago (with a stitch regulator) for $2,400. A good used setup can be a relatively inexpensive way to get started with longarming. My 17" Voyager is technically a midarm rather than a longarm, but fine for my usage. If and when I have $15,000 or so to invest in a more technologically advanced system, I would be looking at an Innova with lightning stitch (regulator).

    There are several online sites that advertise used longarms for sale. Here are two:
    http://www.houseofhanson.com/formerlyowned.html
    http://www.longarmuniversity.com/machines_for_sale.htm
    You can also look through your local Craigslist.

    You really want to be able to try out a setup before purchasing. At minimum you need a machine and compatible frame. Machines range widely in price, features, and arm length -- everything from a Juki with a 9" bed to 28"+ longarms. Frames likewise vary widely. A stitch regulator is very helpful for many people, but not strictly necessary.

    Edit: If at all possible, attend large quilt shows where you can try out a variety of machines. This will help give you an idea of what is on the market new, what features are available, and costs (which can become astronomical!). I did this but did not want to spend $10,000+ on a setup. From researching on the internet I knew that a Voyager/Hinty would be sufficient for my startup needs, so when one came up at the guild I knew right away that I wanted it.
    Last edited by Prism99; 05-29-2013 at 12:33 PM.

  4. #4
    Super Member petthefabric's Avatar
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    I think first is to identify what you want in that LA. Then the size/place to locate a table. 14 ft will take a king size spread (120x120). 12 ft has a quilting space of 110" so one side of the quilt must be <110", the leader is longer but space is needed at each end for the machine trolley. Since you mentioned large quilts, I'm guessing you'd want this capability. The minimum space in length is length of table + 2 feet to squeeze by and work the take up wheels. Most are 4' wide + 2' space on each side for the operator. This means you need a space of 14-16' x 8' and more is better.

    Next is your $budget. The industrial models/makes will be the strongest and have the most capabilities. They cost $10,000+ new. Some have stitch regulators, FMQ and pantograph. I have in industrial machine so I'm not familiar with the domestic models.

    This is what's important to me. When looking at a machine, look for capability to hold the quilt consistently tight enough the whole width and length of the quilt, size of quilting area (if you're tall you can reach farther), tech support, stitch consistancy, what helps are available for advancing the quilt and getting it all lined up (this function can take a lot of time so the less number of times it needs to be advanced the better-this is a function of the length of the quilting area and if using pantos-how wide they are), size of the bobbin (the larger capacity is very important when quilting a wide quilt or a complicated pattern), maintainence necessary and where it's available (the closest available to me is 4 hr drive, however they have excellent phone tech support so in 15 yrs it's been in only 2 times), what happens to the machine if it's run only 1 quilt/month (this is like a car-it works best with consistant use), type needle and other supplies needed.

    I love having mine even though it's used 1-6 x/mo. It's out in the garage and adjust my quilting to the weather. In Calif foothills, there are quilting days all year long.

    Hope this helps. Happy hunting

  5. #5
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    I can quilt a twin quilt comfortably on my Bernina 440. A queen is a bit of a stretch but I quilt it in quarters so I only have one quadrant in the machine at a time. (I just finished a 94 X 94) I use Hobbs 80/20 fusible batt and it helps me to not get wrinkles on the quilt back and it reduces bulk. My Machingers gloves really help me move the quilt well and I support the rest of the quilt on extra tables.
    A long arm will be easier of course, if you can afford it.

  6. #6
    Power Poster Prism99's Avatar
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    I have 10" rollers on my frame (120") and have been able to do quilts a little over 100" wide with no problem. It is possible to do king-sized quilts on a frame like mine -- just not all at one time. I have zippered leaders and, to do a king-sized quilt, I would simply work on the center 100" of the quilt first, then re-load to finish the right hand side of the quilt and re-load once more to do the left hand side of the quilt. Not ideal, but would work for me the few times that I would want to work on quilts larger than the 10-foot width of my frame.

  7. #7
    Power Poster Jingle's Avatar
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    I have a 9" throat Juki and have been able to quilt any quilt I have made. I have no room for a Long Arm. I do like reading about them and dreaming.
    Another Phyllis
    This life is the only one you get - enjoy it before you lose it.

  8. #8
    Power Poster ckcowl's Avatar
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    first step is to locate and try out long arms to see if you like the process= and which machines YOU like- there are a number of very good reputable long arm companies- and a vast range of prices- but it is an investment- not to be made (blind)...like purchasing a car- we all like certain things- and need to 'test-drive' and find the right one for us- same with the investment of a long arm- when you are considering spending over $10,000 you should be sure you choose the one you like best- offers the things you need most- quilt shows often have long-arm vender booths set up so you can try their machine out- some quilt shops are also dealers- they will let you try out the machines- some shops will allow you to take a certification class to learn the machine- then rent time on it to quilt your own quilts...if you are truly interested it's time to start looking/test driving- check with friends, long armers- try out as many as you can find- do lots of research & test drive as many as you can find---then decide which machine you really like---that fits in your budget and available space- remember it takes a pretty large dedicated space...when spending that kind of money you want to be happy....also look at the websites of the machine companies- read the comments, check the accessories the prices, the customer service, recommendations and complaints.
    hiding away in my stash where i'm warm, safe and happy

  9. #9
    Senior Member Rose S.'s Avatar
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    I have a Juki 98Q and have quilted up to a 92" square quilt...you can see some of my quilts in my photo album here. I did not have room for a longarm, and not enough money for one even if I did. I took the plunge and bought the Juki without ever trying then out...just read on a forum. I could not believe the difference that added space made. I had quilted quilts on my regular Pfaff and my Viking, and would always swear off ever trying it again. And that was even with the bigger baby quilts I make. Now, I actually look forward to the quilting.

    But if I had room for a long arm, or mid arm, I would read all I could and test drive all I could, and make my decision from there. I think there is a longarm yahoo group...you might learn a lot there.

  10. #10
    Power Poster PaperPrincess's Avatar
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    I would plan a trip to the next large quilt show in your area. Even if you need to spend the night, the expense is worth it! Many of the long arm manufacturers will be there. take your time and test drive them all. Be sure and ask about warranties and classes.
    "I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to."
    Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

  11. #11
    Super Member Dina's Avatar
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    Do more than test drive, if you can. If you load the quilt, thread the machine, and quilt, you will have an idea if a long arm is for you. Just test driving on one section of a quilt doesn't give you the "whole story."

    Dina

  12. #12
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    When I decided I wanted a long arm, I did an internet search for "Long Arm Quilting Machines Rentals" and found 2 places close to me that offered rentals of their long arms. I had to take an "Intro to LA" class, which was about $150 for like 4hrs or so. Then after completing that class it was $15-20/hr to use her machine. I spent about 1hr on the phone with the proprietor, she was getting a feel for what types of quilting I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with my quilting so that she could get the right teacher for me that first time. I quilted about 3-4 quilts on her rental before I went to the MQX quilt show. At the show I tested all the machines. I brought a small notebook with me and wrote down all the things the sales person told me about their machine. While I was waiting for the show, I researched online the different machines, the different "bells and whistles", spoke with long armers. Basically to get a general list of things I wanted out of a long arm machine.

    For me, the important things were:
    Amount of control and precision with respect to rolling the quilt
    Amount of control with the stitch regulator (I am a hell-bent for leather sewer I needed something to slow me down)
    Size of throat (18, 22, 24, ....)
    Amount of regular maintenance
    Quality of customer service for the company.

    I had a general price range I was looking into, and when the show arrived, I tested every single machine. Drove the salespeople insane I am sure. Didnt even look at a single quilt at the show either....lol, Then that night I went over the information I had collected. I narrowed my field down to 2-3 machines, went back the 2nd day and tested only those. Then looked at the quilts on show...made my decision and bought the 22in Innova. I love it! Best decision I ever made. But I will say, long arms are not for everyone. Definitely check to see if there are any rental places. If not, ask at your guild meeting (if you belong to a guild) if any of the long armers have time to teach you about it.

    Good Luck!

  13. #13
    Super Member alleyoop1's Avatar
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    I have a Bernina 440 QE and a Bernina quilt frame. When I finish putting the quilt together, then I move my 440 to the quilt frame and load the quilt. It is not an ideal set up. The frame is large - 120" long and takes up an entire room. Also, my quilting area is limited to approximately 4 - 4 1/2" because of the small size of the machine's harp. I want to upgrade to at least a mid-arm but it's not in the immediate future for me right now. Having said all that, I will say having even my little machine on the frame is a whole lot easier than trying to quilt a bed size quilt on my sewing table. Plus I really enjoy the feeling of guiding the machine over the quilt. I've attached a photo so you can see my 440 on the frame. I bought the frame during quilt show time and got a really good price.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  14. #14
    Junior Member frecklestweety's Avatar
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    thank you for all your suggestions and there is a quilt show coming up in Hershey Pa in July which I plan to attend and will check out the LA machines.

  15. #15
    Power Poster mighty's Avatar
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    Yes, test, test, test! It is a large purchase and you want to get it right. I had a Viking 18x8 on an imperial frame for several years. It was a great machine. I just bought a new babylock crown jewel on the pearl frame and I love it. I did not now anything about longarms when I made my first purchase and later wanted a different machine, very expensive mistake.

  16. #16
    Super Member Yarn or Fabric's Avatar
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    I had a Bailey 15" machine on a frame and didn't enjoy quilting on it. I will say that there is a learning curve no matter what way you quilt. I free motioned nicely on my sit down machine and did nicely with the frame set up but just did not enjoy it - and it's a huge floor space waster. I now have a Tin Lizzie sit down and love it. I have oodles of space and I quilted an oversized queen on it in less than 5 hours while practicing my feathers. love, love love my Lizzie.

    I suggest before you buy a longarm, look for a longarm class nearby - especially if you can get a one on one class instead of in a group. If you take a class in a group you will not get to use the longarm nearly as long as if you were one on one... Ask the teacher to skip the maintenance part of the class and just dig in to the quilting. I know that our local class is like 5 hours long and one hour is on maintenance alone.. and the teacher only teaches if she has 5 students so doing the math... you don't get very much hands on time - which is why I didn't take her class... there are others out there though if you find it.

    If you enjoy the longarming after taking the class, then start to look for one that will suit your needs
    Once you decide you really want to go for it then I'd suggest going to a quilt show that has all of the vendors under one roof and trying every single machine so you can compare... then you can decided if you want to go new or trade in or Craigslist. People sell their long or midarm sets ups when they downsize(like I did and I don't regret it one bit) and when they upsize... you can get a great set up for a lot cheaper if you bide your time and keep an eye on the sales (and check the local dealers for trade ins as well)

    Best of luck on your decision

  17. #17
    Super Member CorgiNole's Avatar
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    Longarm quilting is a learned skill much like FMQ on a domestic machine, so the suggestion to test drive as many machines as possible before making a decision is very important.

    The biggest consideration for me, aside from cost, is the space that a frame takes up. This is not an easy-up/easy-down proposition - so a frame will take up a considerable amount of real estate for a long period of time.

    Next up is standing versus sitting while quilting. There is no way my back/legs would hold up to standing for long periods of time. I'm not sure if a rolling bar stool would help or be useful. One friend with a long-arm business has severe back problems, but I've not asked her if she is able to sit while quilting.

    Then there is a preference in style - would you rather move the quilt under the needle or the machine over the quilt? I'm a quilt under the needle person. I did get frustrated maneuvering quilts through my Bernina 830 Record, so recently invested in a Handiquilter Sweet 16 - a sit down machine with a large throat - considered a midarm. To me it is the best of both worlds and the minimum floor space is 30 x 36 inches. You can double the width by adding on their sides or simply but tables up against the Sweet 16 table.

    I also highly recommend Harriet Hargrave's Heirloom Machine Quilting as a reference if you decide to continue with your smaller quilts in your Bernina. She has great tips on preparing the quilt for quilting and exercises to practice to better develop free motion skills.

    Cheers, K

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