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Shopping for a Longarm-TIPS

Almost a year ago, I was presented with an opportunity to try out a longarm.  I’m not really a traditional quilter, in the sense that my family didn’t pass sewing and quilting along through the generations.  I pretty much just jumped in head first and have been mostly figuring things out on my own.  



I had a preconceived notion that I didn’t like longarm quilters.  I did all my own quilting on a little domestic machine (even King sized quilt!), and kind of scoffed at the idea of anything else.  My first time on a Sweet Sixteen Handiquilter really opened my eyes.  Here are the perks:
1.  NO MORE BASTING on the floor with safety pins. 
     That should be enough to get anyone’s attention.  
2.  And while you do still need to press your tops and backs prior to loading your            quilts, you don’t have to press the hell out of them like you would when hand basting,              since the roller bars keep your fabric fairly taut.  
3.  No more quilt wrestling.
     If you are quilting on a domestic machine to take the place of your arm workout, you
     may want to look into lifting weights.  There won’t be anymore tugging and rearranging 
     and rolling and re-rolling your quilt to fit under the 11″ (or less) throat of your domestic.
4.  SPEED!  
     Since most longarm machines are industrial machines, the stitches per minute is so much
     Faster than a domestic could ever dream of being.  
5.  Ease of quilting
      It’s much easier to plan your stitches, use rulers, channel locks, and other quilting
      tools to make your work easier.  Your quilt is flat and easy to work with, as opposed to
      being rolled up and squished.

So why am I writing this post?  
If you don’t own a longarm, there are lots of issues with using one.  

If you rent time on a community machine, the tension on the bobbin case may need to be adjusted every time you start to quilt (which could be the case anyway, depending on what thread you use).  

The machine height may not be right for you.  If the frame has adjustable capabilities, then no worries, but most of the time, these machines are set at one height and you have to deal with it.  Every quilt I did made me feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was finished from stooping over so much.  I was sure that if I didn’t purchase my own machine soon that I would develop a hump back!

Then there is the matter of your tools and supplies.  Hauling them around.  Constantly.  I needed a pack mule just to get all my thread, batting, rulers, etc. from point A to point B.  Seriously a pain in the butt.  This highly contributed to me wanting my own machine.

Drive time, machine availability (being at the mercy of open calendar days).  Okay–so if you are just quilting for yourself–no big deal.  But if you start taking client quilts, this is a problem.  If you aren’t able to finish a job in the time you reserve the machine for, you have to take your quilt off the frame and re-load it another time.  No me gusta.  

Basically, I wanted to be spoiled and have a machine at my beck and call.  Since I work a full time job aside from sewing and quilting, availability is a high priority for me.  I want to be able to wake up at 5 AM, crank up the longarm and get in 2 hours of quilting before I go to work.  And if I want to, I would like to quilt until midnight, walk to my bed and go to sleep.  And since I have a full time job, I have the financial means to do this.  

So, above are all the reasons I felt made sense to me to get my own machine.  I knew what things I wanted from a machine.  I knew what I liked and what I hated about the machine I quilted on.


Here are considerations you should think about before making the financial commitment of buying your own longarm (in my opinion):
1.  Set a budget and stick to it.
     Know what you can afford and what you can’t.  Don’t try out a machine you can’t afford.
     Be okay with the amount you’re going to spend.  If you aren’t, keep renting!

2.  Make a list of must haves.
     If you’ve tried other machines, you’ll know what you love and can’t live without.  Make 
     Sure the machine you purchase has EVERYTHING you can’t live without, or has the
     capability to add it later (which most of them do).  
3.  Find a venue where you can try lots of brands at the same time.
      Quilt market.  Just about every longarm manufacturer is represented at Quilt market.  
     Go.  Play.  Try all the machines.  Try them again.  It will be easy for you to cross some 
     brands off your list immediately, and you can narrow down your search between just a 
     few machines.  Then try them all again.  And again.  

4.  Make notes each time you try a machine.
     Write down your experiences.  If you are having issues with a machine at a huge venue
     like quilt market, chances are the machine is going to be nothing but trouble for you at 
     home.  If the manufacturer doesn’t bring a top notch machine to showcase, the product
     you purchase won’t be any better.  

5.  Make notes on the frame.
     The frame can be just as important as the machine that sits on it.  Some have hydraulics
     that allow you to adjust the height at the push of a button.  

6.  Ask LOTS of questions.
     Now is the time to ask the vendors.  Ask questions until you are confident that you have 
     all the answers you want and need.

7.  Ask about customer service/upkeep/troubleshooting.
     Will someone be able to come to your house?  Do they have a phone hotline?  What are 
     the hours it’s available?  Web chat?  Will you be able to deal with someone local?  How
    much will a service call in person cost you?  What is the amount of time you’ll have to 
    wait if you have a serious problem?  Is the customer service phone line outsourced, or will 
     you be able to talk to someone in your country?

8.  Ask for the BEST possible deal. 
     The price may be set, but you won’t know unless you try.  Quilt market may be the best 
     place for you to get a show special.  Ask for discounts.  Ask if they sell refurbished machi-
     nes at a discounted rate.  

9.  Training/delivery/setup
     Does the manufacturer provide delivery and installation?  Do you have to pay separately
     for that ?  Is there any kind of training or orientation offered for the machine?

10.  Think about the ability to sell your machine.
     (Should you ever have to…).  You want to have the option to sell your machine.  Even if
     you aren’t interested in computerized programs (which can cost as much, if not more,
     than the machine and frame), other people might be.  Try to purchase a machine that
     has the capability to add this later.  Who knows?  You may want it yourself!

11.  Research before you go.
      Do as much online research as you can.  This will save you a lot of time prior to being at         the venue.

12.  Know about space requirements.
       Not just of the machine, but the frame.  Ask about different frame lengths, various 
       throat depths of different models.  

13.  Ask how long before you’ll get your machine.
       For some reason, I thought I would be loading my longarm up at quilt market and 
       driving it home.  LOL.  4-6 weeks before potential delivery.  That may just be the time
       it takes for the manufacturer I bought from, but ASK.

I’m sure there are lots of other questions and things to ask, but these were the main considerations that I had.  I went to quilt market knowing exactly what I needed and wanted, and what things were not important to me.  Number 1 on my list was to stick to a budget, which I did not do.  I had every intention of buying a much cheaper machine, but when I tried it out, the thread broke several times, and then the machine froze.  It was worth it to me to spend more after thinking about dealing with those problems constantly.  

I ended up purchasing an Innova-22″ machine on a 12′ frame.  One thing I didn’t quite understand was that most of the people who own Innova’s rave about the “Lightning Stitch” stitch regulator (that comes with a whopping $4000 price tag).  I opted to not add that option, but may add it later.  The Innova machines come standard with, from what I understand, a lesser version of this stitch regulator.  I just couldn’t justify a 4 grand price tag on an upgraded stitch regulator (I stitch mostly in manual mode–but for those who stitch mostly in regulated…)  I will say…this machine stitches like a dream and I can’t wait to get that sucker in my house.  

Best of luck to you on your search for your personal longarm quilting machine!





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Scrappy Trip Quilt Project with the San Antonio MQG

Have you ever felt sort of isolated in this “hobby” (or lifestyle to be more accurate) that we call quilting?  I had recently discovered modern quilting and realized there was this whole other world of people that were just like me.  I’m sure we’ve all had a point in our lives where we thought Joann’s and Hobby Lobby were the only places you could buy fabric…I went through this phase for probably the first year and a half that I was discovering sewing (disastrous, I know!).  Once my eyes were opened (along with my pocket book), I needed to connect with other people that felt there was something more than just traditional quilting and subdued fabric.  

I found the San Antonio Modern Quilt Guild really by accident when I was trying to register for QuiltCon 2015.   I immediately joined and have missed just a handful of meetings due to my “real job”, but the experience has been nothing short of life changing.  I have made friends and contacts that have enriched my life so much.

We followed the tutorial posted on Quiltville’s blog here: Quiltville’s blog 
You should check it out if you’re interested in making your own Scrappy Trip quilt–the instructions are very well written and easy to follow.

Some of the guild members have started the journey of the “scrappy trip along”.  It’s really a cool technique to learn, and since we all have a bit of a competitive nature, there are prizes involved and a schedule for block completion.   

Somewhere along the way…I got caught up and ended up with 100 completed blocks.  

This was my starting point when I began cutting 2.5″ wide strips to arrange into blocks.  I obviously like very bright, saturated colors 🙂

My only plan for arrangement was to alternate bright, lighter colors with dark, duller colors.  I wanted a very busy, random quilt when I was done with it.

I think the scrappy trip quilt is an awesome project when you are feeling less than inspired and maybe lost your sew-jo, but need to find it.  Especially if you are doing a random arrangement, where you allow the fabrics to just do their own thing and speak for themselves.  It can be a relaxing project to just piece without thinking and enjoy the results and the process involved.  (It is kind of a lengthy process!)

These are some of my finished blocks (before sewn into the quilt, they measure 12.5″ x 12.5″), and I just love the brightness of them.  

And this is the first layout I set prior to piecing my quilt top.  So many times, we face difficult decisions with all the “favorite” fabrics we buy and not having fabrics to coordinate with them. In the scrappy trip, anything goes, and you don’t have to concern yourself with that.  

I ended up with 100 completed blocks…I kind of got wrapped up in the cutting strips, sewing together, cutting, seam ripping, sewing process and forgot that my intention was not to make a king sized quilt…My final layout was a 9 x 10 layout with the finished top measuring 120″ wide x 108″ long.  This was perfect for our bed since we have a little bit of a problem with cover thievery, and allowed for enough of a drop on both sides that neither my husband nor I end up without covers in the middle of the night.  I had 10 blocks leftover and pieced them all together in a 2 x 5 arrangement.  Then I cut them in half in the center of the middle block so they each measured 25″ x 31″.  I put batting behind each one and quilted these so we would have semi-matching pillow shams.  

I will say that I wanted to go nuts quilting this.  But with those super busy fabrics, I knew the quilting wouldn’t really be showcased, so any intricacy would be lost on anyone but me.  I went ahead and did some cool swirls that took me much longer than I should have spent, but I really had fun with it.  If you’re a beginner quilter, this would be a great project to really push your quilting skills, because any mistakes you make won’t show like a sore thumb.  


So, if you’re in the market for a pretty low stress project that you don’t have to think about, grab some scraps and get started on your own scrappy trip!  Enjoy the process and you’ll love the end product.  

I’m excited to show this at our November guild meeting when everyone will showcase their own scrappy trips and share their results.  

Until next time!
Joanna




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Something in the water…

There must be something in the water…or maybe I’m just at that season in my life where the wedding showers have ended and baby showers are now the reigning social event!  That being said, there’s nothing I love more than designing and putting together cute baby quilts.  Let’s face it…quilts are very time consuming.  BUT if you do small ones, they take significantly less time, and are loved the same!  It’s really fun to play around with layout and quilt design when you know the process will be quick and fun and you’ll learn something from the quilt you create.  I recently did a quilt for a baby boy with all gray fabric, and really loved the mother-to-be’s registry choices.  I could tell that she had very modern taste and would probably be okay with me throwing something together that was a little Libs Elliott inspired.


This was such a fun quilt to put together, and even more fun to quilt a little ruler work into the design.

And a quilt for a baby girl (with more more color), that I designed by changing up the typical chevron design slightly.  

Challenge yourself to play with color and design and sew up a quick baby quilt for a friend or family member.  It is a gift that they’ll love, and probably cherish for many years to come. It’s also a great gift if you use two layers of dense batting and the quilt can also be used as a playmat. 
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My Millefiori

You can probably tell that I like to dabble in all things quilty.  Last summer, I decided that I wanted to conquer English Paper Piecing.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that EPP is extremely addictive because you can take it anywhere…it’s easy to do on the couch while watching tv, great for road trips (when you aren’t driving), and can also be done at social gatherings.  

When people hear “EPP” or English paper piecing, many probably envision little hexagons, endearingly called “hexies” pieced together with traditional or reproduction fabrics that may end up looking a little dated.  I’m not crazy about that look, but I LOVE Willyne Hammerstein’s book Millefiori Quilts.  (And now there’s a second book to follow the first.)  In the first book, one quilt pattern in particular caught my eye–the “La Passacaglia”.  It combines pentagons, triangles, diamonds, and other shapes to create a myriad of rosettes that are breathtaking.  I will say there is a slight drawback if you are using the practice of fussy-cutting (positioning your templates on specific motifs on the fabric to create another design), and that is using fabric yardage inefficiently.  But you’ll be making scraps for other projects as you go, so really, it’s a win-win!  

Here are a couple of pictures of some of my completed rosettes.

These all show really great examples of using fussy-cutting with your epp. I really can’t wait 
to finally finish my quilt top.  I have all the pieces sewn together for the standard design by Hammerstein, but didn’t like the fact that I would be chopping several rosettes in half to square up the top.  So I opted to fill in the rest of the quilt to be even with the rosettes that stick out…the quilt top is really pretty small when you consider how much time and cutting goes into it.  

I laid out my quilt top on a piece of foam board and pinned it so it wouldn’t shift, then used the paper pieces to fill in around the edges.  I probably should really look into documenting the layout better than I did, but for now I just have some pictures on my phone.  I’ll share those with you once I have completed and know the layout works, so if you want to do the same thing you can!  

I started this project in December 2014 and finished Hammerstein’s layout in September 2015.  I’m not sure when I’ll finish the fill-in part, but hopefully it’s soon, because I am dying to quilt this thing!  

If you’re looking for other pictures of some really awesome La Passacaglia quilts, you should check out the following Instagram users: @kamiemurdock, @lilabellelane, @izy_sewbusy to name just a few.  You can also search the hashtag #lapassacaglia for some really inspiring pictures! 


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Longarming…my Love!

Since the last time I posted (I know…it’s been a while!), I have taken up long arm quilting.  Somewhere along the line, I had this idea in my head that long arm quilting was “cheating”, and if a quilt was quilted on a long arm, then it wasn’t really “your” work.  I could not have been MORE wrong.  

The time and skill that go into this type of quilting is ridiculous!  I also had no idea that there were multiple types of long arm quilting.  I just assumed that all “long arm” quilting was a computer program that you just pressed play, and BOOM! it’s done.  Once I realized there was a niche of long arm quilting that I would absolutely adore, I’ve been hooked ever since.  (And plus…there’s no more basting with safety pins on your living room floor!  You can’t beat that!!!)  

The category of quilting that I specialize in is free motion quilting.  That means no pantographs, no computer programs…just you and the machine.  Your hands and brain putting the thread and needle to work to create something magical that can’t be duplicated. 

Ruler work can also be seriously fulfilling, and there’s no limit to the  
amount of different designs you can create with straight lines. (collaboration quilt
for Janome)
Free motion quilting on a customer’s quilt (Valerie M.)

Free motion quilting on a customer’s quilt (Sarah J.) 
that was donated to a local charity fundraiser.

If you have any preconceived notions about long arm quilting, I would really encourage you to re-think them.  All it took was one time for me to know it was something that I would want to do for the rest of my life, and it’s really nice to have a break from piecing your own quilts to see the awesome talents your long arm clients have and the diversity of their work.  I never cease to be amazed by the quilts my customers bring me, and dreaming up designs to put into their quilts really challenges you to think outside the box.  I’m so glad I’ve started my FMQ long arm journey, and I really relish every moment I spend doing what I love.