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!