Should You Buy a Long Arm Quilting Machine ?

To Buy or Not to Buy

Since I began quilting as a serious hobby I have had many people ask me if I own a long arm quilting machine. When I answer “no”, they seem surprised and often reply with comments such as, “Don’t you need a long arm to quilt?” Or. “I thought every quilter used a long arm quilting machine?”

Needless to say, this type of answer must be accompanied by an explanation and a definition. A simple “no” won’t suffice. It is interesting to see the reaction after I explain why. Their question is replaced with, “Oh… now I see.”

I Need a Definition!

The long arm quilting machine gets its name from the shape and length of the arm which is long allowing for an over sized throat to accommodate large quilts. Typically, the machine is attached to the frame (could be a large table) where the machine itself is placed on a track that allows the machine to be smoothly rolled along the length of the frame. As one section of the quilt is quilted the operator grasps the handles and slides the machine down to the next section.

On the surface this sounds like quite a deal – especially the computerized versions. All you do is load your quilt, select the program, set the needle in position and press the ‘on’ switch. The machine does all the work while you head poolside with a book and a bowl of berries!

Ahhh…” Quilting is so relaxing!”

However,…there is more to this type of long arm machine that meets the eye and the more you know the better you understand why more – actually, a great majority, of quilters do not own one.

Things To Consider:

1) They are HUGE.

The overall foot print is 3′ – 4′ wide and up to 14′ long. This image gives some perspective regarding the amount of space required if installing in your home. It my guess the quilter in this house also “wears the pants”. Not many family members would be willing to sacrifice this amount of real estate for something with such a small monitor and no remote control!

The example above is also a very high end computerized model. It not only has the capabilities of quilting very large and king-size quilts like all long arm machines, the claim to fame are the exquisite quilt designs. The speed and accuracy of this machine cannot be matched with hand quilting or even quilting on a mid-arm machine.

2) The Learning Curve

A long arm machine is not one you begin using straight out of the box. If you do purchase a machine like this, it will need to be set up by a trained professional. Next, you will need to invest time and money in your own training to learn how to use it and devote ample time to practice. After that you may need even more training and then more practice before feeling confident and comfortable using this on a daily basis or with a customer’s quilt.

3) The Price

A brand new long arm with every bell and whistle imaginable will set you back in the $14,000+ price range. Generally, those who do make this purchase are actually making a business investment (as this could be a business deduction – if that helps).

Lower priced models starting in the $3,000 – $4,000 price range are available. They have a much smaller footprint and are somewhat more affordable.

The advantages

1) A quilt loaded onto a long arm machine will have the layers rolled onto a large roller. This keeps the layers in place and provides the perfect tension on the fabric needed for consistent quilting.

2) This machine can produce quilt patterns that cannot be duplicated by hand or any other type of sewing machine.

One example of a long arm quilt pattern

And a few more examples so get a real feel for what these machines can do!

3) A large quilt with a pattern of minimal to moderate complexity can be done more quickly and efficiently = no mistakes or errors (unless a mistake was made while programming the quilt pattern).

4) A unique and eye-catching quilt is needed for display – to be considered more of a “work of art” than a pretty item that also provides warmth.

What about hiring someone to quilt for you?

If you want an elaborate and / or intricate quilting pattern or, if you are like me, it is not feasible to own one your best bet is to locate a shop or individual to do the long arm quilting for you.

Again, this service is not particularly cheap but as I always say – you are getting what you pay for. Once you fully understand the process of long arm quilting and the price is easily justified.

Middle of the road pricing is about .02 cents per square inch and if often determined by the quilter’s projected base pay. A quilter wanting to earn $25 per hour would base pricing of the quilt on this number.

For example, charging .02 cents psi for a queen sized quilt measuring 90″ x 100″ = 9,000 square inches.

9,000 x .02 = $180 which is typically for the labor only. Additional costs could include the cost of thread, batting, binding and backing, labels and / or hanging loops.

Taking this $180 and dividing it by the number of hours required to complete the quilt (say 4 hours) the net result is $40 per hour. Which sounds good until you factor in other costs: cost of the machine, electricity, time spend meeting with the client, driving to and from fabric shop, purchase price of batting and backing, cost of owning, running and marketing a small business and the top dollar amount is quickly reduced to $20 – $25 per hour.

The Verdict: Is it feasible to own and operate a long arm quilting machine of your own?

What I have presented probably appears to be more in favor of the argument against rather than for buying a long arm machine.

However, for the independent, small business quilter where this type of purchase is more of an investment the verdict is an unequivocal yes. Additionally, the return on that investment is only limited by the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the business of long arm quilting.

As far as long arm quilting for personal use goes, as long as you have the space, the skill level and the price easily fits within your budget there isn’t another reason (that I can think of) not to make this purchase. The more I am able to do for myself the better however, if owning a long arm machine allowed me to provide a needed service for others that would be a complete win – win situation!

I would love to hear stories from those who use a long arm machine either for themselves or as a service to others. What additional advantages have you observed to using this type of machine and / or what disadvantages have you encountered?

My Top 4 Beginner Patterns & Projects Using Fat Quarters

 

Moving Past the Square

As a beginning –
intermediate quilter, each day I am more appreciative of the time saving value precut
fabrics have to offer. Sewing together 5″ squares is quick and easy
but there are times when you want to create a pattern with more variety and
visual interest and yet not be so complicated and time-consuming that your
quilt top becomes another layer in your pile of unfinished projects.

I’m always on the
lookout for those interesting patterns that look complicated but in fact are
surprisingly easy to piece together with or without using pre-cuts. The
Disappearing 4 Patch is one such example and instructions for this block can be
found here (link).

However, before getting
into pattern selection I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite fabric
cuts: the fat quarter. The name is derived from the way in which
one yard of fabric is cut. The illustration below shows how a one-yard
cut (36″ x 44″) is divided to yield (4) rectangles each
measuring one quarter of that yard. It’s the 22″ width of fabric
that gives it the name “fat”.

 

Fat vs. Non-Fat

No dieting here…the fat quarter has just the right amount of thread count and inches. The 18″ X 22″ cut of fabric is such a convenient size to yield a variety of sizes and colors – and it is this variety that creates the visual interest that draws the eye to one quilt over another.

If, during your next fabric shopping spree, you find yourself undecided as to what type of precut fabric to choose I have compiled a short list of items to consider. Chances are, a fat quarter bundle is exactly what you need!

1) The long, narrow fabric cut is ideal when a pattern calls for a variety of shapes or one just one shape in a variety of sizes.

2) Strips cut along the selvage (with the grain) do not lose their shape.

*NOTE* Any fabric cut in the opposite direction or “crosswise” can become very stretchy and as a result will add to the difficulty nesting seams.

3) Fat Quarters are not just for quilting – it is my go-to fabric cut for a variety of other projects: tote bags, organizers, place mats and mug rugs to name a few.

Below are just two examples of how a fat quarter can be cut to piece a quilt top. You may also notice when choosing a pattern that is labeled “Fat Quarter Friendly” the fabric cuts produce very little waste – an important factor when using expensive, high end or limited edition fabrics.

 

Show Me the Quilts!

Fun and fabulous quilt patterns and fabrics can be found in your
local fabric or quilt store however, this market also has an incredible online
presence. One such resource is allpeoplequilt.com.
A few more of my favorites are the Missouri Star Quilt Co., The Fat Quarter Shop
and The Moda Bake Shop.

I should note that the website for each of the examples listed below can be accessed by simply clicking on the image. Another bonus – the pattern for each of these examples is FREE!

 

This first example, “Flower Show“, is probably
one of the quickest and easiest quilt tops to make. The print / solid
color is basically a series of rectangles cut into two different sizes.

Each of the white background / sashing (white) strips
could potentially be cut into strips the same width as the larger print
rectangles by the entire width of the quilt top.

Simply sew the print rectangle to a solid rectangle – and repeat
this pattern until the desired width is achieved. This would be one row.

Next, sew that patterned row to a long strip of white.

Before you know it, you have strip sets that can be sewn
together and your quilt top is ready for a border!

 

 

A second Google search of fat-quarter-friendly patterns placed this wonderful quilt image before my eyes. The quilt was made by Polly @ Pieces by Polly.

Taking a closer look, each “square” is made by creating a half-square triangle. True, this involves a few more straight cuts with a rotary cutter and ruler but these individual pieces cut from a fat quarter are larger than the typical 5″ square making the creation of each ‘square’ much easier. And these larger sized squares translate into a quilt top that can be pieced together and completed much more quickly.

I have some metallic Christmas fabric similar to this in my Christmas stash – it’s worth taking a look to see if I have enough to give this one a try!

 

 

 


Quilt Fabric is Not Just for Quilts

If you aren’t yet ready for a Christmas project here is one featuring an autumn theme. However, as we all know, the chevron pattern is season-less and theme-less. Do you have scraps of favorite fabrics stashed away in your sewing closet or basket? Here is a great way to use them!

And it’s not necessary to limit yourself to these yummy autumn colors. This pattern can be adapted for any season or holiday. In place of pumpkins make large fabric Christmas ornaments, apples, watermelons, beach balls. Reduce the size of the table runner to a mug rug size – the pumpkins reduced to a pin cushion and you have the perfect gift for the sewist on your birthday or Christmas list. You are only limited by your imagination!

 

 

Quilting fabric makes the most adorable mini treat and gift bags! The construction is just as quick and easy and provides a perfect canvas for most any embellishment. These bags require only (2) fat quarters. If a larger bag is needed – for example, a tote bag, just add another fat quarter – or two.

Cut another square or rectangle of fabric and attach to the front for a pocket. Add ribbon, a key chain, buttons, pins, charms or badges. In addition to these bags cute factor is their practicality. They are durable and reusable.

 

Be Inspired!

The goal of this post is to provide a short but very sweet introduction to fat quarter fabric cuts and the variety of projects that can be created. It is my dream that when you hear the term “fat quarter” you become inspired, get out those lovely fabrics fabrics and create something unique today!

What You Need to Know Before Purchasing Designer Quilt Fabric

Fibers to Fabric

Fabric…my favorite “F” word and one of my favorite things in the world. Should a situation occur that requires the rate of my heart to beat faster all I have to do is walk into a fabric shop! It may even skip a beat or two but there would be nothing to worry about…this is not the precursor to a heart attack. It’s just how a “Fabriholic” responds to quilt fabric – and it only becomes more intense in the presence of designer quilt fabric.


What Exactly is Designer Fabric?

In the world of fabric there are many, many options and correlating price ranges. Bargain fabric often purchased at a chain or big box store is much less expensive but the quality is also much lower. An exception would in an outlet type store that may from time to time include fabric from a high end manufacturer. Usually the fabric offered is what is left of a fabric line (remnant) and your choices are limited to what is available at that time.

Designer fabric, on the other hand is of higher quality. You can hold this fabric up to the light and not be able to see through it. Quilting fabric is also 100% cotton and the manufacturing and dye processes produce fabric a superior product. These higher thread counts – of 70 or so per square inch produce a fabric that is durable and able to hold its shape both during the sewing and quilting process. This translates into less shrinkage and improved longevity and usability of the finished quilt.

Improved colorfastness is another advantage. Fabric of higher color intensities, regardless of the fabric quality, will have some bleeding. This is one reason many quilters will first wash their fabrics before starting any aspect of the quilting process. If you do intend to use quilting fabric to sew a garment or any worn item, then washing the fabric first is a must.

So now that you have some insight into the various attributes of “high end” fabric, here is a very short list of some quilt fabric manufacturers I have personally used: Moda, Art Gallery Fabrics, Robert Kaufman, Andover, Benartex, Henry Glass, Cotton + Steel, Boundless and Kona Cotton. There are many, many more and each manufacturer carries hundreds of individual fabric lines from hundreds of fabric designers.

When you are ready to shop for high quality quilting fabric you will soon learn there is no shortage of options.



What is Good Can also be, Well… Not so Good

Yes, things have been rolling along so well…blue skies, yellow sun, pink daisies and all that’s good and right with designer fabrics until suddenly, from out of nowhere, a less-than-rosey memory surfaces to the forefront of my stream of consciousness.

Believe it or not, there is a downside to using these high end fabrics and that is the limited availability of each and every fabric line.

First, you find a fabric or collection you adore and purchase the amount needed for whatever project you have on your list. Seven or eight months down the line you receive a request to create that same project using that same fabric but guess what? It’s sold out – everywhere.

And when a designer fabric sells out, it is sold. out. forever.

Additional Things to Consider

Thing 1

The high cost of designer fabric. The old, old saying, “You get what you pay for” does apply but is it always necessary to use high end designer fabric every time you make a quilt of other fabric project?

When determining the true value of a quilt, your time and the complexity of the quilt are also factors. Juvenile prints – especially for a baby – come in the most heavenly colors and the fabric hand is equally divine but is it practical to use expensive fabrics for a quilt that will require washing at least once a week? An argument can be made for either side. The higher the quality of fabric the greater the likelihood the quilt will be able to withstand hundreds of washings. The flip side of course, is that babies grow quickly so, is it logical to spend a lot of time and money on an item with limited use?

There is no right or wrong answer – just something to be considered before deciding to use high end / high cost quilting fabric.

Thing 2

Each time I purchase quilting fabric from a manufacturer listed above, it will contain a tag which indicates where it was manufactured. So far I’ve received fabric from Japan, Korea, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. ( I can’t help but wonder how this also has an effect on the overall purchase price of the fabric).

For those who are concerned about the outsourcing of these manufacturing jobs and prefer to purchase from American manufacturers this may also be an issue. (Oh no…another interruption in my stream of consciousness – a memory from the not too distant past where most, if not all, designer wall coverings were manufactured in Europe…hmm).

Now I’m curious…has the same thing happened to fabric? Are there any fabric manufacturers in the USA?


With Google as my co-pilot I embarked on a little research and I am happy to report I was able to locate one company in Seattle, WA – American Made Brand. Their logo for their fabric division Clothworks incorporates their philosophy: “Celebrating a Farm to Fabric Movement” in which all aspects of their fiber and fabric manufacturing process occurs onsite.

In conclusion, I am an admitted fabric snob and will prefer designer quilting fabric over lower quality fabric most anytime with this one exception – that is when practicing the beginning sewing basics or learning a complicated pattern or block. Use the cheap stuff for this and other basic techniques described here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on designer quilting fabric. Tell me your favorite manufacturer and do you prefer making your fabric purchases online or in your local fabric shop.

Adding a photo of your latest fabric shopping experience would be fun also!