Ask Jo: How I Got Started Longarming -Part 2

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days. Today’s question is about longarming.

I started answering today’s question in the morning post but it got long and I decided to split the post up into two parts…Just as a reminder, this was the original question..Oh, and if you missed the original post, HERE is the link.

Sarah asked: “Loved your post!! How did you get started long arm quilting

I told you that I made a quilt top after my mom died…and that got me hooked on quilting. I looked at all types of magazines and quilting books but then I saw this magazine on the newsstand and I finally saw the kind of quilts I wanted to make. It’s the 1st edition of Quilt Sampler.

Oh my word…I loved the cover quilt. I loved the pictures of that shop. I was head over heels and this was the color and style of quilts I wanted to make. In the article in the magazine, it said that the people featured were from Garner, Iowa and there was a quilt shop there. WHAT??

That was my introduction to Country Threads. My life goal was to get there one day.

At about that time, I was heavy into doll making…and rabbit making. All of those country 90s crafts, I did them. I went to craft shows and sold them but it was always in my mind that one day I would go to Country Threads in Garner.

I can’t remember when I actually went the first time…once I did, it became a destination for me…but the problem, I wanted my quilts to look like their quilts and I just couldn’t. I didn’t have a longarm. That’s when I started dreaming about having a longarm. I knew I could take quilts to a longarmer and they could quilt them but as a young family now with five kids and me not having a full-time job, it just wasn’t something we could budget for.

Crafts started being made in China and the popularity of handmade bunnies went away so I quit doing crafts for money. By then we had moved to the farm where my husband worked and I started doing childcare full-time. Now I was quilting as a hobby obsessively but still really sad. I could only make small quilts.

I had learned to machine quilt them on my domestic machine but it was such a chore. I dreamed of having a longarm but we didn’t have the money. At the time, I only knew of APQS machines and they were $10,000. There was no way we could afford that.

Fast forward a couple of years…Quilting was still my hobby. I had resorted to tying quilts. I just hated it. I wanted my quilts machine quilted. I more or less quit sewing because I couldn’t make the quilts like I wanted them.

Then one day I went into Quilters Window in New Hampton Iowa. They sell Pfaff machines and there was something there called a mid-arm. I could get the machine and the frame for about $3000. WHAT!! REALLY?? I thought we might be able to afford that. Oh, I wanted one. I wanted one badly. I told my husband about it when I got home and we bought one within the month. I was SO INCREDIBLY EXCITED!!

Here it was…

I was so happy to have it and for about three years, it was a great little setup. I was making quilts right and left and my daughter Kelli stared quilting too. I was in heaven.

Then the machine started having trouble ALL OF THE TIME. I was having thread breakage ALL OF THE TIME…unless I wasn’t. For some reason the next quilt I did, it would work fine. I was miserable. By then we started having quilts published in magazines. I can’t tell you how many times I dragged my husband upstairs to try to help me figure out what was wrong. I took the machine in…no luck. But…again, no money to do anything else.

About then, my Dad passed away and left me with a little bit of money. After about the fifth crying session in two weeks my husband said, “That’s it.” He told me to take some of the money and get a new machine. I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to spend my parent’s money. I felt so uncomfortable about it.

Then my husband said- Remember how your Dad used to give $10 to this organization and $20 to that organization? Why don’t you just do come charity quilting with the machine and think of it as all of the $10 and $20 gifts your dad regularly gave away…so began the want for me do charity quilting. I could justify the machine then and I felt MUCH better.

I had a couple more crying sessions fighting the old machine until I made the final decision that I was getting a machine. Then the wonder was which machine. Two of the local quilt shops had APQS machines. At the time I was reading Bonnie’s blog at Quiltville and Judy’s blog at Patchwork Times. Both of them had APQS machines. They were an Iowa company too so I made the decision to get an APQS. There was a shop an hour north of me that had them on the floor and I could try them out…so I did…and I bought an APQS Millenium in 2012. Mine was a refurbished machine. I’d do that again in a heartbeat.

Here she is the day she was delivered.

That’s how I got into longarming.

I don’t longarm for others as a profession. Occasionally I do quilts for a few friends but not often. I don’t like the pressure of needing to feel perfect and I hate people criticizing my work. Nope. Not for me.

I don’t regret buying one…I very much enjoy owning one.

My machine is a workhorse. I rarely have had any problems with it at all. I have a thread or two breaks occasionally but it’s not troublesome. I don’t cry at the machine. I think in the 11 years I’ve had the machine I’ve only cried twice…that’s great in my book!!

If anyone is at all thinking about getting a longarm I would say this. Buy a machine from a company that specializes in longarms. APQS has only every made longarms. They know what they doing…they are the specialist. I do not recommend buying a midarm machine from Pfaff or other companies that have both domestic and midarms/longarms. They are dividing their attention between too many different products. If you’re spending that much money, go the extra and buy the best.

As I am aging I am often tempted to get a computerized machine. It would be an APQS again. My shoulder gets the brunt of things if I do too many quilts in a row or am at the machine for a long time…but again, that’s a little out of reach right now. It’s on my list to think about though. I feel like if I had a computerized one it might free up a little time and I could sneak in a few more charity quilts. It’s nothing I need or have to have but if I made a list of 5 higher-priced things I blow money on it would make the list. I’m content with what I have though. I do have an account that I’m throwing any unexpected money into with the intention of someday possibly getting a computerized machine…but if I never get one…that’s totally okay.

And that’s the story of how I started longarming…THANKS for the question!!

17 thoughts on “Ask Jo: How I Got Started Longarming -Part 2”

  1. I totally agree with you on the midarm machine! I have a Bernina 820 that serves that purpose. I’m always having tension issues and ever with a large throat space, you still can’t quilt more than about 6” by the time you get to the end of the quilt. You are basically locked into using an edge to edge pattern. I have some quilts I would love to quilt individual blocks, but I can’t. I would love to have a longarm, and the hubs would have purchased me one when I bought this. But, space is limited and I figured I could use this machine two fold…to piece and quilt. Now it just gets used to quilt, attach binding, and make garments. All my piecing is done on a vintage Singer. Maybe one day on the longarm…we can always dream!

  2. Jo, I have had really good results cleaning old linens with Retro Clean. I fold up the item to fit in a small cooler, mix 1 or 2 quarts of the Retro Clean using the pkg directions and really hot water, and pour it over the item. Then I fill canning jars with very hot water and weight the item down. This keeps all parts submerged & cuts down on the amount of Retro Clean needed. The extra heat from the jars keeps the solution warm longer. Put the lid on the cooler and don’t open for at least 24 hours. I have left it for up to 48 hours with no issues. After soaking, just rinse. I use a bucket or a laundry basket in the bathtub so I can rinse but not agitate. I have done several stinky hand-pieced vintage tops this way because they were so nasty. No loss of seams- I think the soaking without any agitation did it.

  3. Jo and Kelli,
    Saw your Piccadilly Circus quilt in the May/June Quiltmaker magazine. I really like it. It was the favorite of this issue.
    Your husband was a very wise man. And I think your Dad would have approved also to you buying a longarm.
    Love your blog, quilting, kids and grandkids, cross stitch and of course the cute dogs.
    Polly in Florida

  4. I had the same Pfaff setup you had. I used mine for 10 years. The electrical controls in the handles finally wore out, the machine started to speed up or slow down all on it’s own. Not a good thing if your machine only runs in manual mode! I finally took the plunge and bought a Handiquilter Amara, but no Pro-stitcher. What a difference! I love to free motion and learning to enjoy rulers. Like you I don’t quilt for others, but I do make donation quilts. I have used some of your patterns for those quilts, always appreciate the scrap busters!

  5. I enjoyed this story of the process you went through to get into longarming your own and charity quilts. I am 75, too old to invest in one at this stage, but if I were 20 years younger, I’d do so, too. Your husband’s kind way of helping you rationalize the expense was wonderful. The gift that keeps on giving! P.S. Please think about including in an auction one of your own quilts from time to time and add the money to your “computerized longarm fund.” I’d love that!

  6. Judith Fairchild

    I enjoy hearing about your past to present decisions. Losing your mom is a very hard thing to face. I know I was privileged to have my mom till she was 97+. I miss still miss calling and talking with her about things. You’re doing good things with your longarm. Keeping people warm makes a huge difference in lives.

  7. When we lived in IN, my neighbor had a long arm. I was always tempted to go over and ask her to help me learn how to quilt on a long arm. I’m sad that I didn’t – she was such a precious lady and would have jumped at the chance to help me.
    That being said, long arms don’t work in an RV but I can dream!
    Love and prayers

  8. Oohh…I hope you can reach the goal of a computerization! It’s a total game changer! I’m not sure where the APQS pricing comes in, but Intelliquilter can be added to any machine and you can start with a basic E2E and upgrade later if you’d like. I have the full setup, but do very little custom. Too nerve racking. I do have a few special tops of my own, that someday I’d like to custom quilt.

  9. For a quilter, having a long arm, or, in my case, a mid arm, is a true luxury. After two days of hand pain from pin basting a 96″ square quilt, I bought a used Nolting Fun Quilter with a stitch regulator from an ad online and have never regretted it. It is another set of things to learn, but it is easier in many ways. I like doing my own quilts and I really enjoy free motion quilting. If you are considering getting a longarm, try to rent time on one and quilt a quilt, start to finish. Then try as many brands as you can at a quilt show. Some machines fit better to a given individual.

  10. Jo,
    My goodness! I relate!
    My Mom died unexpectedly at 63 just a couple of months after retirement. My youngest was 9 months old. I’m older than you so had gotten into quilting more when I saw the first Sampler magazine. I live in west central Wisconsin but I wanted to go to Country Threads so much!
    I tied my quilts but didn’t like it. I liked the look of hand quilting but had hand/wrist issues from too much farming so I’d seen a longarn and wanted one! Somewhere I saw a sign for a used one. My Dad passed away and I had a little money but we have a small house and I wasn’t sure I could get it. Well, I took over our little family room in the basement and my used Nolting moved in. Then I started working part time at a quilt shop and a few years later they started selling Pfaff mid arms. I really had to bite my tongue so I would not discourage customers from buying one but after having a long arm they didnt compare(I think they may have improved).My Nolting is still going after 29 years! It’s smaller than yours and I have quilted MANY customer quilts and some charity so I have a stack of tops of my own to work on. I retired after 24 years at 3 different quilt shops so maybe I’ll catch up! Sorry for the long message but I had to share! Thanks for all you do.

  11. I always enjoy reading your blogs about your life. Your husband was so supportive of your desires and he made such a good suggestion for your use of some of your inheritance. Your quilts are beautifully quilted but I think I would feel the same about not wanting to do too many for others. My cousin has a long-arm and doesn’t do others either because she doesn’t think she is good enough but I’m sure she has same thoughts as you about that.

  12. I like having a long arm but mine is a FORD (fix or repair daily). It’s a Handquilter and I do wish I had bought the same brand as you. My hubby tries to fix it, my phone calls to Salt Lake are constant and my repairman comes to the house, now a close friend. It’s wonderful to quilt my own quilts but I sure messed up with the wrong brand.

  13. Thank you, Jo, for sharing this journey. I only had 3 children and still the budget was very tight. My husband was an autoworker and over his 32 year career, we went through months extending into years of layoffs. He worked on a 2,000 head hog farm during one of the most lengthy layoffs – 19 months. So I sewed to clothe my children, never on a new machine but machines I found on curbs, left for the trash pick-up. I cleaned and rebuilt these old beauties and, now retired, am learning quilt-as-you-go. I have so much respect for long armers and send some of my quilts to them. I am too old to head in that direction and we recently downsized – no room. I will long arm vicariously through you and others while I piece away on my old rescues.

    1. YES. I do freemotion my quilts. A few that are in magazines that have lots of white space I send to my friend Carla of Longarm Quilting Inspirations.

  14. Loved your story . I started with the same machine phaff Hobby Grand Quilter .
    But I used it as a table model . And only spent $1000 to start . I pinned all my quilts
    Was determined to quilt all my quilts . Sending them out …was not in my budget.
    I did this for about 12 yrs . Then. After retiring…my husband told to it was time to buy a long arm. I brought The APQS – Lucy . No computer . Was used to free
    Motion , meandering, Love this machine , Iowa made . Do a lot donation quilts
    For the guild I belong to . I felt if I brought the computer systems I would have to have business to help pay for that part. Happy Quilting .

  15. I can so much relate. I got tickled at some of the magazine fronts that you showed in Part I. I just recently threw those exact ones away, along with thousands of dollars worth of other old magazines. Times have really changed. Like you, I don’t want to deal with customers who would knitpick everything and want to pay less instead of giving a nice tip! LOL The recipients of my quilts don’t care about all of that. They are proud to have one of them. I did buy an Innova sitdown long arm at the Houston Quilt Festival one year. I have kept it pretty busy. It has been a workhorse for me. The machine seemed to be the most sturdy and industrial sitdown at the Festival that year. I tried everyone of them. This company made industrial quilting machines for years before entering the quilter’s market. I don’t live too far from their manufacturing facility so that was another factor. Thanks for sharing.

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