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Asking For Opinions About Long-Arms

ElsieEli | Posted in Creative Machine on

I am going to fulfill a long-held dream this year and somehow – by the Law of Attraction- going to get my hands on a Long Arm Quilting Machine. I have made dozens of quilts on my Husqvarna, by cramming them through the throat, with all the pulling and shoving, but I saw a DVD of Karen McTavish doing her McTavishing quilt stitch on a Long Arm, and I can barely believe how wonderful that machine is! I know that some industrial strength types go for 17K +, and that is way out of my ballpark, and I see the frames that let you put your home machine sideways to quilt, but that isn’t what I want. I want the machine that does a jillion stitches a minute, and that can work at that speed!

Now, my question is, do any of you ladies and gentlemen have opinions about the longarms? Any experience with the machines? I have tried to look on the websites, but the information is confusing unless you already know the exact brand you are looking for.

I would appreciate any ideas, and thank you ahead of time for your help!



  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    I suggest that you check the yellow pages for quilting shops, they might be listed under sewing or fabric shops first.  Some of them have long arm machines set up that you can see and ask questions about.  I got a free demo just by walking into a shop.  I too would love to have one some day so I look forward to the responses here.  I know some of these longarms can be preset and run automatically and some you run it similar to a sewing machine, some have lasers.  I think you can find better prices.  Also there are some shown at http://www.allbrands.com.  Mary

  2. damascusannie | | #2

    I belong to a professional machine quilter's guild and here are some of the comments that I've heard:

    Don't assume that the job will be easier with the long arm machine. I was talking to a friend this week who is going to have to retire from long arm quilting soon because she now has a repetitive stress injury in her right arm from guiding the machine.

    I've tried a couple of different long arm machines and found them to be awkward and clumsy. They aren't all created equal. Be sure to ask if the height can be adjusted to fit you. I'm short and find that most of them are too tall for me.

    There is a learning curve with any new tool, so be prepared to take up to a year to get comfortable with the machine.

    Try a lot of different models and makes. Find dealers in your area and arrange to test drive. Talk to other quilters and find out their likes and dislikes. You may want to find an internet long-arm group and just lurk there for awhile and see what folks are saying about the different models.

    Most of my long arm quilting friends have ended up going professional to pay for their machines (and remodeling the house or garage to accommodate it) and now have no time to quilt for themselves.

    Be prepared to spend more than just the initial cost of the machine for patterns and whatnot. One friend of mine says she plans to replace her current machine with a different model and she's tacking on an extra $2000-3000 to her estimates over the cost of the machine. She says that a new long arm machine is a minimum $10,000 investment no matter what size you get.

    See if someone in your area is looking to sell one. My local quilt shop got a used one from a quilter who had decided to upgrade and she got a good deal on it. I have another friend who bought one over ten years ago and has only ever made one quilt on it. Someday, she'll decide to sell and a lucky quilter will get a virtually new machine for a bargain price.

    Customer service can be tricky. One friend fought with her new machine for over a year before they finally discovered that it had been put together improperly. With no dealer service or technicians in the area, they had to try to troubleshoot it themselves, talking to a factory rep over the phone and it took them that long to figure it out.

    I considered a long arm machine, but instead my husband built me a table that allows me to comfortably quilt on my home use machine (a 1950's treadle). It takes up less space than a long arm set-up, can double as a cutting table, has four other machines mounted in it and only cost about $100. If I pace myself and only work about four or five hours a day, I can easily finish a queen-sized quilt in a week. Very detailed work like McTavishing will take longer, but not every quilt is going to get that kind of quilting. The longest it's ever taken was an heirloom job at 40 hours.

    I'm not trying to talk you out of the decision, just pointing out some things that you may not have considered.

    I'm a professional quilt finisher and my work is often mistaken for long arm quilting--by long arm quilters.

    You can pix of the table and some of my work at:



    1. ElsieEli | | #3

      Annie:I am delighted with your reply to my question, and the several very pertinent points will get put into my pro and con sheet, pronto! The issue about people 'needing' to go professional just to pay for the long arm really hit home! I can see that happening. My situation is additionally impacted by the fact that I am disabled and can only quilt for an hour or less at a time. I did McTavishing on my last quilt and found that I got so involved I quilted myself into being very sore and needing to lay off for awhile! Not good! I am seduced by the way the long arms can quilt so fast. However, your comment about each machine and each skill having a learning curve hit home too. Just watching videos where professionals can make their machines fly is not like what I would be able to do, right out of the box.I do not have any places nearby that sell long arms. I would love to be able to testdrive, but I haven't figured out a way to do that. I wondered if the local quilt shop, that does have a long arm service, would rent me time. Annie, thank you again for all the time you took to answer my question, it was very generous of you. Do you really quilt on a treadle? Wow. And how did Damascus get into your name?ElsieEli

      1. damascusannie | | #4

        Hi Elsie--I'm called "DamascusAnnie" on the sewing machine collector groups because my first treadle machine was a Damascus Grand. Yes, I do machine quilt on a treadle. It's actually easier for most people, but that's another subject! You mention that you got sore when McTavishing on your home-use machine so it sounds to me like what you really need are some tips on ergonomics and time management at the machine. This subject just came up in another group and here are some of the tips I passed on there: First of all, since you have an existing condition (I have permanent tendon damage in my right arm and elbow, plus a bad back) plan to limit your free-motion quilting to no more than four hours a day. Because it's my business, I can quilt at any time, so I do it in the morning when I'm freshest and strongest. If I've taken some time off from it, I will have to ease back in, only quilting a couple of hours a day for the first two or three days, until my muscles are back in shape. Or I'll break it up into a two-hour session in the morning and then another two-hour session in the afternoon.Be sure that you are positioned correctly at your machine. When you are sitting at your table or cabinet, your shoulders should be relaxed and your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle when your hands are resting on the quilt. If you are either hunching your shoulders up, or bending down to reach the machine you must adjust either the height of your chair or the cabinet. I use an adjustable height chair at my machine. It will change heights as I swivel to get up and sit down, so I have to check this every day and sometimes even during the day if I've been getting up a lot. Make sure you take regular breaks. I cue myself in a couple of ways:
        1) Since I listen to audio books, I have my CD and tape players on a shelf that's far enough away from the machine that I have to stand up to get them. The action of standing up, walking to the shelf, and stretching up to reach the player loosens my shoulders and back and give the damaged tendons in my arm a break. Do a few stretches and go fill your water bottle, too.2) Drink lots of water. Not to be crude, but if you drink a pint or more of water an hour, you will have to get up to use the bathroom at least once an hour. 3) If you have a tendency to "get in the zone" and forget to drink your water or change your tapes, set a timer or alarm clock for 30 minutes and OBEY it! Be sure it's so annoying that you can't ignore and put it across the room so that you have to get up to reset it.You really must a short breather at least every 30 minutes. Diane Gaudynski, who is one of the premier machine quilters in the country, recommends a break every 15 minutes, but I find that to be excessive.Hope this helps!Annie

      2. Pattiann42 | | #5

        Look for Expos in your city or nearby cities.  There is always at least one long arm dealer in attendance.

        For $30,000 you can get one that runs via a computer.

        But, then you have to ask yourself......when was the last time I made (or sold) a quilt worth $30,000?

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