Ask Jo: My Longarm

Every so often a comment or email comes my way that I think blog readers might want to know about.  Today is one of those days.

This question comes from Annette:
Hi Jo! Love your blog and read it every day! Would you think about writing a post about your longarm? When, where, how, etc? I would love to get one but just starting the research now.”

I saw someone else recently ask questions about a long arm in a Facebook group too so I thought I’d take this question and write a whole blog post about this one question.  If you’re in the market for a long arm, doing the research is essential.  When you’re about to spend a big amount of money, you want to make sure you’re getting what you want.

I did ZERO research when I got my first machine.  Technically it was a “mid-arm”.  It was a Pfaff Grand Quilter with Next Generation frame.  I was in the local quilt shop, I saw it set up and was in AWE.  I was so thrilled.  I thought this was my way to really be able to quilt the way I wanted to.

I didn’t want to tie my quilts.  I wanted to make quilts larger than the lap sized quilts I was making and machine quilting on my domestic machine.  I didn’t want to dish out the money for a longarmer to quilt things for me.


So..when I saw it, I was THRILLED.  It was just over $3000.  I asked the store owner about it and she listed off a couple people who had purchased one.  I knew one of the people and ended up asking her about the machine.  She gave it a decent review.  So I went home to Kramer and started my campaign.  I learned early on when we were married that I had to start in with an idea slowly and work my way towards asking.  Kramer was an awesome guy and I only asked once and he said he was on board if I wanted to buy the machine.  I did.

We had no room for it so it was set up in my bedroom on one end of the room.  I was happy with it for the most part until I started to realize I really couldn’t do all I wanted with it.  There wasn’t enough “throat space”.   As the quilting happened, the quilt rolls up on the bar in the back.  Check out the picture below.  See the black bar to the back?  Well that grows and grows as the quilt rolls.  It takes up more and more space.  By the time I would get to a big quilt that was 90″ long, I’d only have about 6 inches of space to sew my design into.  Most designs take much more room than that.

Then about three years into ownership, things went south.  WAY south.  I had used the machine a lot.  Kelli was quilting at the time too so we cranked out so many quilts.  It’s about the time Kelli and teamed up and started doing our own patterns and submitting them.  It was the worst time for the machine to act up.

I would machine quilt one quilt and everything would go perfect.  I’d machine quilt the next quilt and it was a miserable mess.  I can’t tell you how many crying fits I had over that machine.  SO-SO-SO many.  Kelli too!!  It was miserable.  The thread would break.  I’d go six inches and the thread would break.  I tried everything.  I took the machine in…I had Kramer look at it.  I bought new parts hoping it work.  Nothing worked.

Being we were publishing things through magazines, we’d get deadlines and of course that’s when it would act up.  I’d just cry.  After one especially terrible crying/thread breakage incident, Kramer said to me, “It’s time to get a new machine”.  Seriously, I was shocked.  I never thought about it as I knew we really didn’t have the money.

Well…we did have money, but it was my inheritance from my parents.  I had the worst time spending any of that money.  I felt like it wasn’t mine.  I felt I didn’t deserve it.  I felt like I’d rather have my parent than the money.

That’s when I decided that I’d be okay with spending some of the money if I would in turn do something charitable in return.  My dad was always giving $10 and $25 to every little cause there was.  If I did some charity quilting with the machine, then (in my mind) it would be like my dad giving he $10 and $25 to causes.

That’s when I started doing research.  This time…I was going to research the heck out of it.  I was not getting stuck with a lemon this time around.

My research wasn’t very scientific.  It was more of an observation.  I asked the quilt shop to the west what they had for a quilt machine.  They said as APQS.  I went on to pole the shops near me.  Most had an APQS.

Then I found out they were an Iowa company.  I figured that explained it.  Maybe these machine were just here as the company was from Iowa and the shops were in Iowa.  That’s when I asked the shop owners if they liked their machines.  I got ZERO complaints.  I got great reviews on customer service.

Then I checked out pictures from other quilt people.  At the time Judy at the Patchwork Times blog was quilting a lot.  She had an APQS.  I checked out pictures from Bonnie Hunter’s blog…she had an APQS.  I figured if both of these avid bloggers weren’t complaining about the machines, they must like them.  I read through their archives…I didn’t see a single complaint about their quilting machines.  That was saying a lot as bloggers are always trying to come up with content so if a machine was acting up, the readers would get told about it.

I had more or less decided that I’d get an APQS.  That’s when I found out that O2bquilting in Spring Valley, MN was a place a person could go and rent a machine AND they sold them.

I went and tried machines out.  Features were explained to me.  The differences in machines was explained to me.  After that…I ordered this lovely….

I have an APQS Millenium.  I’ve had no real problems with her.  After owning her for a year or so I called into the company and ordered more bobbins and needles.  I had great customer service.  I don’t think I’ve had any other problems with her.

I got her in October of 2012.  I think that’s saying a lot that I’ve had no problems.  Except for people longarming for a profession, I use my machine more than most.

My machine is a refurbished machine.   I ordered it from the company.  They get machines in on trade or they sell showroom models at a deep discount.  The machines have all been gone through and have a year guarantee.  I recommend this route.

Being my room was small, I was only able to get a 10′ table.  That’s my only real regret.  I’d love to have a 12′ table.

The lights you see above my machine did not come with the machine.  Kramer and Karl built them for me.

The lights have been AMAZING.  Here is the LINK for a little “how to”, it you have a long arm and are interested.

I would recommend APQS again and again.

I do want to caution anyone who is thinking about getting a machine…

There is a learning curve to a machine.  There’s a lot to get used to from the simple to complex.  It takes 20 minutes to load a quilt.  So all of your quilting time it’s machine time.

Learning to free hand or do pantos takes time.  Many people are frustrated with the first few quilts that they do.  As with everything, it takes practice.  You have to be willing to practice.

Some people think that now that they have a machine, everything is free.  Pantos are an added cost.  Buying batting on a roll is a larger chunk of money..and keeping a variety of thread isn’t cost free.

You have to be someone who can force yourself past the fear of learning something new.  Kramer and I were at a quilt shop a couple years ago.  I was in shopping. He was waiting outside and another husband was out there and they started chatting.  He said he bought his wife a long arm two years ago and she’s never touched it.  She hated learning new things.

Also another consideration…If you can get a machine for $10,000 (and that would be cheap) you’d have to quilt 58 quilts for you to have paid equivalent of $175 (about the cost for longarming a quilt) for each quilt you quilted.  I say that as I know someone else who bought a machine and thought they’d save “all this money”.  The person only made about 4 quilts a year….there was not money saving in that.

I do have to say…I still take a few quilts to Carla our longarmer.  She can do a better job and sometimes, some quilts, need a better job…like on this quilt.

I do like the freedom of machine quilting a quilt in my own time frame.  I’ve heard people have had to get quilts to a longarmer in October to guarantee Christmas delivery.  That would never work for us if we are publishing quilts.

Another caution…some friends will think you will do their quilts for them for free on their time frame.  I’ve been pretty clear that I’m willing to teach people how to use my machine and help them out but I’m not doing it for people.  I suggest setting early boundaries on that.

Do I regret having my machine?  No..I love having it.

Should I have a fire and the machine burn would I replace it?  Maybe not.  I don’t LOVE machine quilting.  I don’t mind it but don’t love it.  Carla our longarmer friend lives close and super flexible (Mostly she’s a talent), I might just take all my quilts to her.

I highly recommend buying a machine from a company that specializes in longarm machines.  I bought my first from Pfaff.  Although I like the company for domestic machines, I don’t think they have the long time experience in longarm machines like APQS and other longarm only companies have.

I also would not recommend some of the sit down machines I’ve seen.  Long term, it’s too hard on your upper body.  If you’re only doing lap sized and baby quilts, yes.  Bed sized quilts, no.

I hope that answers some of the questions you might have.  I can’t thank my dad enough for gifting me money at his death that allowed me to buy my longarm.  Without that, I’d likely still be stuck with that Grand Quilter.

My purchase of the Pfaff Grand Quilter wasn’t a complete bust.  I took the machine off the frame and have since used it as my main piecing machine.

The machine is a workhorse that I adore.  Kelli since went on and bought one of her own.  Both of us highly recommend this machine to anyone wanting speed and power.  This baby has it.  But it only does a straight stitch, and that friends, is just fine with me!!

I hope that helps you with choosing a machine…I hope you love it!

27 thoughts on “Ask Jo: My Longarm”

  1. Thanks Jo for your useful information on your machines. Since I am Brand New quilter, and have just learned to do FMQ on my home machine, I am just going to stick with that for now. My dream is to own one, but I just can’t justify it right now. But believe me, I can hardly wait. We enclosed our 16 x 30 back porch and I am hoping to turn that into my quilting and craft room, so there would definitely be room for a long arm.
    Just have to get more experience under my belt so I am not too intimidated by it.
    Much love and many hugs over the Holiday season to you and your family!

  2. Jo, I purchased an APQS Lenni in 2010 and have had zero issues! I, too, purchased the 10’ table due to space limits and that is the only thing I’d do differently. Okay, not really – I’d buy the APQS Millennium instead of the Lenni if I could afford it. But me and my Lenni get along just fine. Happy Quilting!! Tama

  3. Hi Jo,
    I’ve had my APQS Millennium for 19 years with no issues. The company is great to work with. They asked me to bring my machine in a couple of years ago and they used it in a training session for people learning to service machines. It came home from it’s spa day still no issues!!! The learning curve is there but my suggestion is to practice drawing on paper and then drawing with the machine. If you get the motion from hand to brain, it stays there.

  4. Great advice Jo! I have a Babylock Crown Jewel that I love. Just wish I had more time to quilt all the tops I’ve got in the line up! I stay busy doing quilts for the Royal Family Kids Camp, a few for friends and some of my own. Longarming isn’t for everyone. You also have to be physically able to do it. There is a lot of bending involved.

  5. Jo,
    Where do you buy your longarm quilting patterns? I have a Juki QVP and i love it but I would like to buy more patterns to download on it. Thank you for all you do for us! Hugs and blessings to you and your family this Christmas season!

  6. I’ve had an APQS Millie for 9 years with no issues. Customer support is great and they have lots of how to videos.
    My friend and I split the cost of one and I keep it at my house since I have more room. If you do this it needs to be a REALLY good friend that you would never let anything about the machine come between you.
    I’ve made 135 quilts so far myself on this machine. I mainly do pantos.
    I highly recommend APQS.

  7. Urban Elementz is my source of Pantos and I usually buy thread from Superior Threads and Aurifil. I buy at the Houston Quilt Show for better deals.

  8. Thanks so much for your insights. I too have bought a “lesser” model and have all the same issues. I am now saving for a better machine system and will do a better job on research of who can locally service and do great Customer Service, but it will have to wait till the funds are there.
    Even if I only do 10 quilts a year it will be worth it to my sanity


  9. Jeanine in Iowa

    I have had my APQS for almost 22 years and love it. I do not have any computer stuff on mine as that was not available when I purchased mine, but I don’t want all those extras. I have taken it one time to have it cleaned, but have not had any problems with it. I have quilted more quilts than I know on it. I do a lot for charity, but also for myself. Now my granddaughter has taken to quilting, and she has also learned to use the longarm, even though she is 9 hours from me. It is a real workhorse.

  10. Thanks Jo for all the insight on long arm machines. I have taken a class at a quilt shop that rents out there long arms and its a lot more complicated than one thinks and it takes time. I decided its not my love so I do all my long arming by check. If you find someone who does a great job and is in comfort zone on prices, its a win win. I don’t dream of owning one anymore and I love it when Carla shows some of her clients finished quilts, she is talented.

  11. When some people ask to have things done for them…. not expecting to pay I tell them:
    I do not do it well enough to charge for it and I do not love them enough to do it for free.

  12. Very good discussion, Jo. I bought a used Nolting 17″ Fun Quilter on a 10′ frame from someone who lived an hour away. The frame was disassembled so I never tried it. It has been easy to use and the customer service is excellent. I love having it. I was slow to quilt a real quilt and was slow learning to handle the tension. I do all free motion quilting.

    Try every machine you can at shows and, if possible, do a quilt on a long arm, from loading to finishing it. Learn what features you would like, and which ones you must have.

  13. I started with a Babylock Jewel. I quilted on her for 9.5 years. I recently sold her to a friend and bought a Babylock Regalia and the 12ft frame. I was frustrated having to send out the MOST expensive quilts to be done and at nearly $400 each for a panto, that is far more than your $175/each.

    My advice is to “try them on”. Don’t buy without sewing on one. Be sure you can call someone with expertise if you have a problem getting going. I had bobbin tension issues so I went to the shop with the bobbin. She demonstrated exactly how my threaded bobbin should behave. I can call with question clarification.

    Pantographs: I buy them from Urban Elementz

    If you decide to buy my best advice: jump right in. Get a small stack of quilt tops ready to go. You might think small is best? Well, by the time you get in the groove, it will be done and you’ll have to stop. Then reload another. I suggest several larger quilts for practice even though it’s counter-intuitive.

  14. Thank you! You made a good review of the pros and cons. I, too, bought a non-APQS system. Haven’t used it. To be honest, I can get incredibly excited about learning new things. Sometimes I jump before I look when committing to very expensive things, like a quilting machine. Turns out that I don’t like the quilting part of making quilts. LOVE the challenge of piecing, though, and sometimes designing, too. So now I’ll be doing what someone else mentioned, I’ll use the machine that came with the system (a lovely workhorse Juki) and take my quilt tops to an expert longarm quilter who loves what they do! The bottom line is that each of us has to come to terms with our personal likes, dislikes, and skill levels. Taking the time to carefully consider ALL the factors that are part of a major purchase is critical.

  15. Jo…I started with the Viking MegaQuilter (same machine as your Pfaff) on that same frame and had similar problems. I’d get to the end of a large quilt and only had a tiny space to continue quilting. I also hated that large quilts made the rods bow down and the quilt would end up with tucks on the backing fabric. It was frustrating. I bought an APQS Millennium in 2014 and have never looked back. It was the best investment ever. I decided to quilt for customers to pay off the balance and that happened quickly. I only quilt with pantos or simple edge to edge designs but I am as busy as I want and still have time to work on my own quilts. Just recently I added the computer and now it is even better. You can’t go wrong with APQS, the machines are workhorses and rarely need anything more than general maintenance similar to taking care of your sewing machine — clean out the lint and oil it regularly

  16. totally agree on NOT getting a 9″ throat machine for track quilting. Love it for piecing. Don’t waste your money – but if you want to waste it I have one for sale! And if you only quilt for yourself, is it worth the money? Yes, you can be creative. It is like the boat that goes in the water 10 weekends a year.

  17. Patricia Boelens

    I have a Juki sit down long arm. I have had it for about 3 years so that isn’t as long as many of you, but I’ve had no trouble with it in that time. I got the sit down because I have back problems and I can’t stand for long periods and lean over a quilt to work on it. I haven’t had any issues with managing a large quilt sitting down. I use dog grooming “sticks” to hold the weight of the quilt at the back while I move the section I’m working on. The main reason I got mine was that I wanted to be able to say I did the whole quilt. The quilting is nearly 1/2 of the quilt making part and I wanted to do that also. I practiced for nearly 6 months working on very small 12×12″ blocks. I was used to doing free motion on my Bernina QE440 but it is different on a long arm where you have more space but not necessarily a larger pattern. You have to learn to plan sections and quilt them rather than the side to side that a stand up long arm uses. But would I do it again? Yes and sooner if I could. Thanks Jo, for sharing all your experience with us.

  18. I purchased a used Nolting nearly 26 years ago. It has no bells or whistles and has been a Workhorse! I have quilted for others so I have a stack of my own tops. I’m cutting back on customer quilts now. I was like you, Jo. I didn’t want to tie my quilts and after doing one queen size on my domestic I’d had enough!
    I’ve had the motor replaced and a few smaller parts but it’s been good!

  19. Susan the Farm Quilter

    Nine months after I pieced my first quilt, I bought my Innova back in 2008. I still love quilting with it and it had never had to have a tech touch it. I love having a reliable machine with free 4/7/365 tech support via phone that has gotten me through any problem my ignorance with longarms got me into. Yes, people will try to take advantage of you to do quilting for them for free, if you let them. I was lucky, 1 week after I put my frame together, I had a customer quilt on the frame. It has become my favorite part of the quilting process. I did check out lots of other longarms, but none of them had the ability to move the handles like the Innova and my machine makes my quilting look so much better than any other longarm!! Plus it was less expensive than any other longarm I looked at and came with every bell and whistle I wanted for the base price.

  20. Nolting is another great Iowa company with fantastic service for a long-arm! I love doing quilting, I just wish I had more time to get to it!

  21. I am quilting on my friends longarm Avanti 19 inch. She has taught me everything she knows …she has been longarm quilting for 30 years. I am wanting to get an APSQ but don’t know where to go to get training on one. I live in Powder Springs, Ga. She said they are all basically the same. Is there a dealer in Ga.

  22. Thank you for sharing your insight…I wondered about the refurb machines. You have given me more to think about.

  23. Catholic Bibliophagist

    Great blog post, Jo! I got an 18″ Innova on a 10′ frame in 2013. Like you, I did a lot of research before I bought it. One thing I did was to visit major quilt shows where I could try out various brands of machines and really learn how they felt to use. I also took three long arm classes on different machines which helped me to compare the advantages and disadvantages of using various brands. I got an Innova and have been very happy with it. Very easy and smooth to steer and the handles are wonderfully adjustable. No problems, and 24/7 phone support which I’ve only had to use once. I’ve never tried to recoup the cost of the longarm by quilting for other people because I don’t like the stress. But I do a lot of charity quilts which makes me feel better about having spent the money.

  24. Thank you for the review. I started with a Nolting MAQ 14 and then went to a Nolting 20″ Fun Quilter. I absolutely despise Nolting. The first machine was fine…nothing fancy by any means. The second machine had a major repair for a simple error on my part. I would not, under any circumstance, recommend Nolting. Even their customer service is absolutely awful. I am considering an APQS. I’ve rented time on that brand for the past four years when I do really nice quilts and really love how they work. The dealer here says Lucey is the best for the money. It is really hard spending that much money and that’s the part I’m really struggling with. Like you, mine would be from inheritance and I’m struggling with using that money.

    1. Please look into floor models. They often sell them at a cheaper price. I’m seriously had zero problems with mine.

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