Are you considering buying a longarm quilting machine? It seems to me that every quilter, at one time or another, will at least think about buying one. Even newbies, like me. In fact, despite my lack of quilting experience, I bought a longarm quilting machine just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to the pros and cons of buying a longarm. Here’s my top five reasons to take the plunge:
- You are a doodler. If you doodle, or draw “for real,” a longarm will suit you well. I’m a doodler. Before I bought my longarm, I’d heard that quilting on a domestic size machine is like drawing by moving paper under a pencil, while quilting with a longarm is like real drawing: moving a pencil over paper. That analogy holds up for me. If drawing isn’t your thing, though – then a longarm might not be, either.
- You have dreams of starting a quilt business of some kind. When you go shopping for a longarm, you’ll often hear salespeople tell you that you can “turn your hobby into a business.” Since the price range of longarm quilting machines is roughly $3,000 to over $20,000, I’m guessing they tell you that to offset your shock at the price tags. Maybe ease you into thinking of it is a business expense instead. I’ll admit it’s a tempting, and frankly, practical, sales pitch. If you’re going to spend a small fortune on that sewing machine, it’d be nice if you could put it to work. And who doesn’t have dreams of working for themselves, from home? I know I do. With a longarm, that dream is possible. One caveat: dreams don’t happen overnight. I’ve had my longarm for just over a year now, and I’m still working out the details of a potential business. Businesses = work, so if you don’t want your hobby to become work, beware the business sales pitch.
- You love learning new quilting skills and have a lot of patience. Quilting may be the only thing in my life that I have patience with. I cry from frustration sometimes, but every round I go with my longarm, I learn a little something new. If you like learning new things, you’ll love a longarm. But don’t be fooled into thinking you will learn everything overnight. Not even with the computer guided longarms – with those you have the additional burden of learning a new computer program. Not simple, not fast. Fun, but only if you have patience.
- You are drawn to the tactile aspect of quilting. Piecing a quilt is different from doing the actual quilting. There is great skill (and a lot o’ luck) involved in both endeavors, but to me, the quilting is the thing that brings the project to life. Quilting adds the texture that gives depth to the design, delights the eye, and draws the hands out to touch it. Creating texture, that’s my zone.
- You enjoy secondary design. You may enjoy the design aspect of piecing a quilt top, but you mostly enjoy designing the quilting pattern that makes the piecing special. I appreciate an intricately pieced quilt (although I’ve yet to make one), and I love thinking about what quilting designs would highlight that piecing, without taking away from it. Secondary patterns, added via quilting, add to the visual appeal of the quilt.
There are, of course, other things to consider before you buy:
- Machine Cost: As I said above, longarm quilting machines are expensive. They start at about $3,000 and only go up from there. You can buy a car for as much as most of these machines cost, so make a responsible decision here. Financing is available – often “zero down, zero interest,” but be cautious. One thing that a lot of folks do not think about is how debt affects their credit score. Definitely something you want to consider if you are looking to buy a house or car soon, or already have a lot of debt.
- Accessories Cost. You will spend several hundred dollars on accessories to use with your machine. Rulers, special feet, stencils, lights, pantographs, etc. They all cost money, and they aren’t cheap.
- Dealer Location. You need a dealer close by, truly. When I was longarm shopping, I narrowed my machine choice to either APQS or HandiQuilter. The deciding factor was how far away the dealer was. APQS was three and a half hours away. HandiQuilter was forty minutes away. HandiQuilter won. I got an Avanté, and I love it.
HandiQuilter was a great choice – a local dealer not only helps you set up the machine, they teach you how to use it. My dealer (WV Quilt in Barboursville, WV) did an initial set up class with me at my home, came out to adjust the machine (twice) after I’d done something wrong, and offers continuing education classes – all free of charge. You can’t beat that!
Also – and this is more important than you might think – they offer you community. I’ve met supportive friends, found a guild, and taken classes at WV Quilt . Having a local quilt shop/dealer is a must if you want to build your longarm quilting skills.
- Space. A longarm frame can take up a lot of space. However, many manufacturers are offering smaller frames today, in response to customer demand. Check around, I think you’ll find one that works for you. HandiQuilter has a Footprint Diagram Handout that is quite useful for estimating the space you need. My HandiQuilter frame is adjustable, so to speak. It is a 12-foot frame that comes in 4-foot sections, and I only have two sections set up. Set up as an 8-foot frame, it works for my space, and I can quilt everything except king-size quilts with this size.
- Time. This may be the most important consideration. It takes a lot of time to quilt on a longarm. I’m a year in, and it still takes me about an hour to get a quilt loaded so that I can work on it. Then the quilting itself takes time. Edge to edge quilting is pretty fast, because there’s not much stopping and starting involved. But custom quilting with multiple designs takes….well, it takes what it takes. A custom quilt won’t take days to complete. It’s more likely it will take weeks (maybe even months) if you don’t have large blocks of time to dedicate to it. Food for thought.
Looking for more information on longarm quilting machines? Here’s some great resources, from various manufacturers:
- HandiQuilter – “Which System is Right for Me?”
- APQS – “Are you ready for a longarm quilting machine?”
- Gammill – Choosing a Machine
- TinLizzie Longarm Quilters
- Brother – Dream Quilt System
If you have a longarm – and you’ve made it to the end of this long post, 😊I’d love to hear why you chose the machine you chose. Why do you love it? Any regrets?